Monday, September 13, 2010

Top Chef Finale Part 1 - Wok’s Cooking?

Top Chef DC – Season Finale Part 1

What did you think when you learned that the finale of Top Chef would take place in Singapore?

I thought it would be exciting to watch, but, frankly, I was surprised that the chefs were so enthusiastic. I would have thought they’d be rattled by the prospect of having to cook such an unfamiliar cuisine.

Angelo, of course, is familiar with a lot of Asian cooking, but the cuisine of Singapore is complicated with elements from Malaysia, China, Indonesia and India…as just its PRIMARY influences.

It’s not an easily pinned-down style of cooking.

Also the chefs found out just how hot and HUMID Singapore is when they had to cook outside on a steamy night (all the nights are steamy, actually). Just imagine how physically draining it must have been for those four chefs. And it seemed as if they had to start cooking immediately after arriving. Everything was new and different, their senses were working on overload and they were probably exhausted.

In other words, it’s not exactly an easy place to cook. It’s not possible to just coast along and accomplish great things without breaking a sweat. Applying a Singaporean sensibility to their dishes is HARD, but I guess that was the point. I just think this was a really, really difficult challenge.

The chefs meet up at one of the hawker food centers in Singapore with tiny stalls that serve food. Tom arrives with Seetoh, the “King of Singapore street food”. Kelly describes him as Singapore’s leading authority on food. They ”explore” the market with Seetoh. Angelo says it’s his time to shine, since he “has a passion for Asian cooking”.

They taste fried noodles and the national dish of Singapore, which Seetoh describes as plain boiled chicken, which has been iced down and he says something about gelatin. Then they taste chili crabs and cuttlefish.

As they’re walking around, suddenly Padma is standing in front of them. With no down time, their Quickfire Challenge is to cook a street food dish for Padma and Seetoh, using a wok as their only cooking device and the ingredients from the markets.

Seetoh says a chef has to cook in a restaurant for 3 to 5 years before being allowed to hold a wok. Padma tells them that for the first time, the winner of the Quickfire is automatically going to the finals. Wow, that’s big.

They’re running around, hot and sweaty, trying to figure out what all the local ingredients are. Frankly, Angelo doesn’t seem anymore clued in than the other three. But that’s what I’m saying about the cuisine of Singapore. It’s complicated.

Kelly is happy that Angelo is doing frog’s legs, because they can get overcooked in a second, she tells us.

The dishes:

Angelo - Chili Frog Legs with Pineapple and Rambutan Salsa

Seetoh: “Was the shrimp paste the only salty agent you used?” Yes, says Angelo. Padma: “And I would imagine that you’re no stranger to the wok.” “I’ve dabbled into it a little bit.”

Kelly - Chinese Noodles with Lobster, Cockles, Bean Sprouts and Chinese Broccoli

Seetoh: “Not many street food operators inject THESE things into noodles. I like how you did that.”

Kevin - Seafood Stew with Lobster and Cuttlefish with Crispy Shallots

Padma asks Kevin if he’s ever used a wok. She is astounded (and kind of rude) when he says no. “What’s wrong with you?” she shouts.

I admit that that is kind of surprising, but give the guy a break. She’s so busy yelling at him that we don’t hear anything from Seetoh. Padma continues saying, I told you you could win $100,000 and you DIDN’T practice with a wok?!!

Kevin tells her he thought it was more important to study the ingredients. He tells us he didn’t have any huge burners to cook on. I think the whole thing is so hard that I’m not sure what difference pushing some food around in a wok would have made. He’s right, it’s the ingredients that are the challenge and not necessarily the cooking techniques.

Ed - Stir Fry Noodles with Black Pepper Sauce, Lobster and Gai Lan

Padma: “You used two different kinds of noodles?” And then she says, ”You HAVE used a wok before?” He nods. Closeup on Kevin looking worried. Ugh to Padma.

The results:

Seetoh liked the robust flavors of Angelo’s dish. He also liked how Kelly captured the essence of the ocean and how she burned and seared the noodles. He thought Kevin’s dish was very sophisticated and complex.

I don’t exactly get what Seetoh said about Ed’s, but he liked it a lot. Oh, he must have liked it, because Ed won and now he has immunity. Ed smiles widely. Angelo looks ill.

Padma tells them that the Elimination Challenge is to cater a party for Food and Wine Magazine based on local cuisine.

The chefs come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that they should only make one dish each. Why do I say it’s surprising? Because in the previews, we saw Tom stomping into the kitchen saying, “You’re only making one dish each?!!”

They have to work as a team to create a “cohesive” menu. We see a lot of discussion about them making only one dish, but since they’re going to be cooking to order, they think more than that will be impossible.

They go to the market and buy all this stuff, but they have no idea what it all is. They’re asking the merchants all kinds of questions. Ed decides on his own to make a second dish, but he doesn’t tell anyone. Is that going to screw everyone else?

They go back to the kitchen and have one hour to prep. Angelo is making lamb tartare. Does that even sound good?

Un-oh. Tom does indeed come in and express dismay that there are only 4 dishes on the menu. He asks them if they think that’s enough. Ed smirks and says that he planned for two all along.

Tom says he thinks they really should do two apiece. How is that even possible at this late hour? They have to root around and find out what’s in the kitchen and then, with not even an hour to go, make that AND their other dish? Could this be totally fake?

The others are po’ed at Ed for making them look bad. I don’t blame them, but please just me HOW are they going to do this?!!

Oy, there’s blood on the floor. Kelly really cuts herself badly and has to wear a glove to finish up, which doesn’t help matters.

They have a bit of time off after prepping and they go prawn fishing. Kevin is afraid to put the worm on the hook AND take the prawn off. Kelly says (to us) that he has to toughen up.

Dana Cowin and Seetoh are at the table with the judges.

There seems to be a problem with the wait staff. They don’t really understand English and they’re writing some of the orders in CHINESE! Ed and Kevin start speaking French to them. And I still don’t know how the chefs got their two dishes done.

Kelly - Chilled Cucumber-Yogurt Soup, Bitter Melon Salad

Dana: “It has a lot of acid.” I think that’s a good thing. Gale loves it. Seetoh: “The concept is…good. She’s balancing sweet, bitter and that yogurt touch is very good.”

Kevin - Clam Chowder With Flavors of Southeast Asia

Dana: “Delicious.” Tom: “I like the dish. Really great to look at it. The flavors are clean.” Seetoh: “This is good.” He likes the cockles that Kevin had trouble opening.

Angelo - Spicy Shrimp Broth with Ginger and Prawn Dumplings

Did he make or buy those dumplings? And HOW could he possibly have made them at the last minute?

Dana: “Comforting and yummy, but it’s very complex.” Padma: This dish has a refinement that’s very rare.” Gale likes the mushrooms, Seetoh like the prawns.

Angelo - Lamb Tartare with Rambutan Ceviche and Curry Oil

Dana says tartare is not her thing, but that Angelo “pulled it off”. Seetoh: “He did a good job. Imaginative.”

Ed - Crispy Rice and Potato Cakes, Sweet and Sour Pork, Kai Lan

Tom thinks the dish is full of the market flavors, but is much more refined. Gale likes that it includes flavors from different parts of Southeast Asia. Dana says she would eat a bottomless bowl of this.

Kevin – 63° Farm Egg, Pearl Tapioca, Radish Condiment

Wow, this ain’t easy. Read one blogger’s adventures with the 63° egg here. We don’t see if Kevin cooked the eggs sous vide, but I guess he had to. The judges think the dish is beautiful and cooked perfectly.

Hmmm. At this point, I don’t see Kevin going home. And I think Angelo is okay too. Since Ed has immunity, that leaves Kelly in danger. I don’t see it playing out any other way than Kelly going home. Let’s see how Kelly’s last dish does.

Kelly - Seared Prawns, Spicy Red Coconut Curry, Crispy Prawn Heads

Tom thinks it’s a NICE dish. (Uh-oh, is that our hint she’s going home?) Gale thinks it’s complex.

Ed - Fried Banana Fritter with Red Chili Paste

Tom and Dana are LOVING the fritters. Actually, they all do.

Dana makes a toast to the chefs thanking them for their food. Padma chimes in a little harshly, “We’ll see you back at JUDGES’ table.” Harrumph, can’t she give them even ONE SECOND to bask in the glow of a job well done?

Seetoh is at Judges’ table, not Dana. Alright, let’s hear it. Tom says everything was really good and it was the best food they’ve had all season.

The only bad thing they say about Angelo’s soup is that it was thick (Tom) and too salty (Padma).

Tom says the texture of the fish in Kelly’s soup was a little off. Gale wishes her prawn dish had had more heat. (Yup, they’re preparing to boot her off.)

Ed says that even with immunity he wanted to give the judges a great “product”. He often refers to food like that…as a product. I’m not sure I like that…as if he’s cooking on an assembly line and, at the end, there emerges a great “product”. I suppose it IS a little like that, though.

The judges rave over Ed’s dishes. Padma is smiling wildly at him.

Kevin’s dishes got good remarks too. Tom says the risk with the egg was worth it.

They go out and Angelo is SURE he’s going home. They go back in. The winner is…Ed. What does he win? We don’t hear anything about a prize. Okay. And going home is…Kelly. I’m not surprised, but I wish all four of them could have gone on. Angelo starts to weep.

The three guys sit down and congratulate each other. Then Padma comes in and says the judges want to see them. Oh gosh, what is it? We don’t find out, but in the preview we see three former Top Chef winners there. I guess they will be their sous chefs. That’s great that they have no duds amongst them and they’ll actually help.

So the finale of Top Chef is set. The battle lines have been drawn and it will be a fight between Angelo’s Asian prowess, Kevin’s scrappy ability to often land near the top and Ed’s inventive, highly-skilled dishes.

Right now, my sing dollars are on Ed, although I won’t be surprised if Angelo pulls it out, especially because, in the previews, they’re trying so hard to convince us that he’ll be too sick to compete. I’d also be happy if Kevin managed to be the best cook on that day. He would appreciate it the most, I think, and probably gain the most from the title of Top Chef.


Anonymous said...

I want Ed to win. I feel that he has been most consistently good. If Kevin wins, I'd feel like he got there because he managed to be just not as bad as some people on other days. It seems like too many better chefs - Kenny & Tiffany, and maybe even Kelly - made a mistake at the wrong time and he slipped by. Though, it wouldn't be as bad if he won, as it would've been if that girl Lisa won during the Dale year!

I wondered too how they had managed to make that second dish. Maybe before they'd agreed to just make one, each of the chefs had talked about making the second dish, and the producers went and bought the ingredients? It was weird.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Missed it yet again, but I'm not surprised about Kelly. It seemed that for a while she was just one those chefs who was "hanging in there" and sort of ended up as a dark horse. I had a feeling she wouldn't be in the finale.

Sue said...

I think Angelo has the background to win and Ed has the skill. But I don't think Kevin got to the finals ONLY through luck. Many of his dishes have been great, but we'll see what happens tonight.

I guess the chefs were working in a fully stocked kitchen, but still the timing seemed odd for them to be able to pull out a second dish so quickly.

You were right, unfortunately for Kelly.

Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen said...

Hi Sue! Just wanted to stop by and let you know that I have been thinking about you! Glad to see all is well over here on Food Network musings! :)

Sue said...

Hiya Jenn,
I'm so glad you did! I'm loving reading about your adventures in Vermont.

DebCarol said...

My observations . . . they are putting their hearts & soul into every second . . . it looks unbelievably hot, I don't think I could stand it . . . and wow, Padma is acting a bit crazed ~ must be the heat.