Friday, May 14, 2010

Top Chef Masters Week 6 - Weird Not Wonderful

Top Chef Masters - Scary Surf & Turf

All you really have to know about this week’s episode is that there wasn’t enough goat for Tony and there were way too many slimy animals for me.

Seven chefs are left. The Quickfire, at least, is an entertaining challenge. The chefs have to make a dish inspired by each of 7 characters from the Simpsons. The judges? Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons; Matt Selman, producer and writer, and Hank Azaria, who is many of the characters.

What amazes me is that six out of the seven chefs actually WATCH the Simpsons. The odd chef out? Susur. He says Marge’s name as Mar-Gill.

Don’t judge me, but I forbade my kids from watching the Simpsons the first 10 years it was on. I had the impression that Bart was kind of disrespectful to his elders, although I only ever saw the Lisa/Linda McCartney episode. I’m sure they watched it in every other house they visited, so don’t feel too sorry for them.

Here are the Quickfire AND Elimination Challenge dishes.

Jonathan came in second (WHY?!!) in the Quickfire with his Bart-inspired Ham and Cheese Sandwich and Spaghetti. It was strange, because the Simpson folks RAVED over the dish and said that it would unite all of Springfield.

Instead, Rick won for his Shrimp "Sloppy D'Oh!" (funny name) with Truffle Chips and Beer (for Homer).

Poor Tony got stiffed when Susur threw garbage into his pan of bacon fat and the judges thought his dish needed more bacon flavor. So did Tony!

The Elimination Challenge this week is a complete waste of time, as far as I’m concerned. They bring in gross things, half from the sea and half from the land. They have to choose one from each and cook this yucky stuff. There are only 2 portions of each disgustingness, so picking early is a great advantage.

Rick gets to go first and he chooses black chicken and monkfish liver.

The rest pick numbers and poor Susan goes last and gets sea cucumber and kangaroo. (I still remember my first acquaintance with sea cucumber, decades ago in a Cantonese Chinatown restaurant. Eww.)

The only thing mildly interesting about this challenge is seeing how these masterful chefs work their way around ingredients they aren’t familiar with. Susur is cooking Black Chicken and Monkfish Liver, both of which he’s done before, so no big deal.

Noteworthy moments:

Susur admitting that he’s eaten chicken testicles (I don't want that much personal information about chickens) AND that he liked them.

Jonathan admitting that he has NO strategy. He simply picks stuff that looks good in the supermarket with absolutely no plan.

Susan admitting to the checkout person that if she knew what Susan was cooking, she’d puke.

Tony admitting that the giant squid he was working with was “funkier than he thought”.

Marcus admitting that eating cockroaches, fish eyes and veal brain (as he has) is only strange the FIRST time you do it.

Jody dealing with the foreskin of the Geoduck and telling us she learned from Julia to make sure your technique is good and the quality of the ingredients are good. If you’re cooking disgusting things, does it really matter if your technique is flawless?

Rick admitting that black chicken is really just an emaciated wild bird. With its creepy black color, it looks like it survived Chernobyl…barely.

Jonathan admitting that duck tongue, which he has never cooked, looks like a duck penis (who knew?) and that he wants to LOVE what he’s cooking and he’s NOT loving this. I’m with him.

Susan is amazingly good humored having to cook “a slug”.

Susur screwed Tony during the Quickfire and, during the Elimination Challenge, he’s trying it again. He’s stealing most of their shared tabletop as Tony is trying to roll out ravioli.

When was the last the time you heard anyone say this: “I realize that I don’t have enough tender goat….I envisioned the dish being more goat than pasta.” Ick, but Tony's ravioli does look beautiful.

Since I’m not interested in the food, I’m noticing other stuff. The judges are sitting at a table for eight, which is set really weirdly. Perhaps to match the food?

There’s a black, to-the-floor tablecloth, and over that is an unattractive denim-blue cloth that covers only the middle two diners’ places. So the four people at all the ends look like they’re sitting in no man’s land. See?

The critics:

Jay, James and Gael.

The other diners:

Andrew Zimmern, who explains that the weirdest thing he’s ever eaten is a shark that pees through its skin and has to rot for eight weeks before it can be eaten. Is he sure that people aren’t just having him on?

Bill Esparza - Food blogger (YAY!), Street Gourmet LA

Marc Moss - Co-founder, LA Weird Food Festival

Eddie Lin - author, Extreme Cuisine


Poached Black Chicken Mousse and Roulade, Monkfish Liver Torchon, Buttered Leeks

Andrew says his pairing of black chicken with monkfish liver “was stunningly executed”. Eddie wants it “more in your face”. James: “I disagree…he’s treated both of his proteins very respectfully”, but James does NOT like the leeks.


Crostino with Calamari in Zimino, Braised Goat Sauce, Goat Cheese Ravioli

“I wish there was more goat, but it is what it is,” says the chef.

I get nervous when James says, “It smells.” After a much too long pause, he adds DIVINE. Why didn’t he just say that?

Andrew: “Tony’s crostini is beautifully balanced.” Here’s a guy who just ate out of an animal carcass oven in Mongolia. Should we really trust his opinion?

James doesn’t like that the goat on top of the pasta “has been reduced to just a few tiny threads”. Andrew mentions his trip to Mongolia. Gosh, great minds…


Poached Monkfish Liver, Black Chicken Veloute, Black Chicken with Monkfish Liver

Susur says his theme is French meets Japanese. Kelly loves the texture in the chicken leg. They all like every part of the dish, except James (or was it Jay?), who thinks the pastry is unnecessary.


Sicilian Spiced Roast Goat, Geoduck and Chickpea Chowder, Homemade Harissa

Oh, no. They all agree that the goat should have cooked more, but Andrew loves the geoduck chowder.

Ok, I have never heard of GOOEY Duck. When I first saw the word, I thought it was pronounced Gee-Oh-Duck and that it had to with a duck flying around the world.

I have no idea what duck has to do with anything clam-like. All I can say is that if I saw a Geoduck at the seashore, I would run screaming for my life. And I would probably have the same reaction if it were on my plate.


Geoduck and Kangaroo Sausage, Geoduck with Couscous, Geoduck and Kangaroo Tartare

Marc Moss: “I think the cacophony (of his dish) has turned into a symphony.“


Giant Squid Fritto Misto, Fried Duck Tongue, Fideo with Duck Tongue

Jonathan presents the critics with what he calls a big mess. They all exclaim over the abundance on the plate.

Eddie says it’s the best tongue he’s had in a long time. Andrew says his plate is like a brilliant writer in need of an editor. Bill is funny. He says it’s like a teenager was let loose at the buffet line.


Marinated Sea Cucumber, Fried Sea Cucumber, Kangaroo with Juniper Sauce

James says it’s too ADD for him. (They actually call it ADHD nowadays.) Andrew says, yes, there’s too much going on, but he can’t stop eating it. Eddie says this is the first time he’s had sea cucumber when it wasn’t braised and he loves it.

Okay, I don’t think Susur or Susan will go home. But Jonathan (my fav) might.

I did not enjoy this challenge at all and I didn’t get the impression that the chefs did either.

Gael says she was excited at the prospect of eating goat rare in Jody’s dish. But then when she tasted it, she realized, NO, goat shouldn’t be eaten rare. Jody says, “It WAS supposed to be exotic.” Everyone laughs.

Jay found Marcus’s dish too intense and he said Susan’s sea cucumber was amazing. James seems snippy tonight. His voice has an edge.

Gael makes a good point that the best dishes were from chefs that had the first choice of ingredients. James is particularly bothered by Susur’s puff pastry purse of vegetables. Gael says it was a cliché next to the rest of his very original dish.

Ooh boy, James and Jay look like they’re going to have it out over Tony’s dish. Jay says Tony’s crostini needed more salt. James says BECAUSE they weren’t oversalted, the ingredients really sang.

Jay loves Susan’s sea cucumber, but James says it was just too much.

James is literally picking at everything. Everyone else liked Jonathan’s fritto misto. But James says it was a bit oily and the temperature of the oil wasn’t quite right. Jay admits this is Jonathan Waxman on a bad day. What did he want? LOOK what he was cooking! Sorry to all you duck tongue eaters.

Uh-Oh, they call in everyone but Jonathan, Jody and Marcus. Oy! The remaining four have the top scores. The win is between Susur and Rick. Rick gets 16½ stars. Susur gets 5 stars from two of the judges and he ends up with 19 stars! He wins. He’s happy that they GOT his food. Rick says he’s going to have to take Susur out.

The other three go in. Commercial...Alright, which is more painful? A preview of the Countess "singing" or waiting to see if Jonathan goes home? Definitely, the Countess.

So who is it? Gosh, Jonathan’s score is low - 11 stars. 11½ stars for Marcus. He’s safe.

Oy, it’s between Jody and Jonathan. I think it’ll be Jonathan. Jody has to beat 11. She gets 2½, 2½, 3 plus 2½, WOW, it’s Jody! I’m kind of shocked.

Jody loved challenging herself, she says. I feel bad, because I don’t feel as if this was a real challenge. It proves nothing that the critics didn’t like how she cooked goat or gooey-clams.

I suppose the only useful part of this ugly task was to show that successfully dealing with nasty ingredients does indicate a certain level of mastery. Or it could just mean that the chef knows how to cover up horrible flavors.

These chefs are all very strong, but I can’t help being disappointed that a rare goat did Jody in. I wonder how she feels.

Oh no, in the preview for next week, Gael says something and then Jonathan says, “I TOTALLY disagree with you.” That can’t be good.


Anonymous said...

Considering how many things I saw on the Simpsons have been integrated into my daily life ("Bruch -- it's not breakfast, not lunch, but you always get a slice of cantaloupe!" "My cat's breath smells like cat food!" and knowing every word of their musical version of Streetcar Named Desire), I'm shocked, SHOCKED that you wouldn't let your kids watch it...of course, I was 29 when it first came on the air and look what happened to me!

This episode sounds like a good idea gone bad -- using just one weird ingredient would have made for a better concept, I think.

Java Joggers said...

Ah, don't feel bad. I didn't let my kids watch for the longest time, either. They, of course, saw it at other houses, so they weren't out of the loop. I've come to love the show, and think that it's brilliant in its ability to weave historical, political, and pop culture references into the episodes!

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Sorry I hated this episode. It was way too gross for me.

And - I *love* Jonathan Waxman. I almost cried.


Sue said...

That's funny, Tom. Seinfeld is like that for me.

I so agree. ONE weird horrible thing would have been more than enough.

Thanks, Ginny.
So do your kids protest that you didn't let them watch the Simpsons, but now YOU watch it? I DO like Family Guy, though. Stewie (sp?) is my fav.

We're definitely on the same page. I also didn't like that challenge and I LOVE Jonathan Waxman.

Why do you hate Susur? I didn't like him when he first appeared, but now he seems like kind of a character.

SayGrace said...

Just a word in support of the lowly geoduck. He is a horrible and disturbingly, well, phallic sort of appearing critter... but come visit us in the Pacific Northwest and you will come to develop a decided tenderness for the little guy. He can't help how he looks, but he tastes fabulous as long as he's not overcooked to the point of toughness. He's best as a finely chopped flavoring for soups and stews and makes a great conversation piece lounging on your counter as you prep a chowder for family or friends. The conversation usually starts with something along the lines of, "OhMyGod! We're not EATING that thing, are we????"