Monday, June 29, 2009

The Offal Truth

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!
Sir Walter Scott

For the Elimination Challenge our four chefs have to get down and dirty and sell their dishes to the real people of Hollywood. Or as real as they get in LA. The twist is the protein. Offal.
A friend of mine asked me if this version of Top Chef was more difficult than the challenges of 5 seasons of regular Top Chef? I would have to say yes. This challenge in particular is the reason why. The producers are basically doubling up on the elimination challenges. You've got a street food challenge (Season One and the Forgotten Jicama) which means that not only are you making the food in a less than optimal environment but you've also got to sell your food to a doubtful public. Doubtful why? Because you're not selling ordinary street food, you're selling offal street food. How often in America will you find willing participants to eat cow's stomach cooked outside a clean kitchen? For most Americans it's about two steps away from Bourdain choking down warthog anus in the African bush.Ludo, let's hope it never comes to that. Three hundred dollars to shop for additional ingredients and three hours to cook and pack. Shopping goes much smoother for these chefs then previous chefs since they actually ASK where items might be located. Like hominy.
Or Cheese.Or Irony.
(Thank you TV Gods for the Crazy Frenchman with the Bad Haircut and the Shifty Eyes)
Yes, thank you so much, been there, been called that. Moving on.
Their three hours of prep time begins and Wilo seems to be making a drastic move from Masters cooking to Michael Midgley Mayo Mastery 101. Nothing says American cuisine like smothering something with mayo or ketchup. Or mayo AND ketchup.
What is the French translation for "In the Weeds"?
Universal Studios is the "street" where our chefs will be cooking.
This is a Test of the ASSHAT ALERT SYSTEM. When an asshat appears, here's a sample of what you might encounter.
"Come on Rick, slip me some tongue?"
WHAT? You don't think Gael Greene hasn't been slipped some tongue?


Meanwhile back at the Isle of Gael.
Ludo tries his hand at diplomacy.
French diplomacy.

Time for Judgements.
Cindy's Menudo, which I thought was a crazy choice for an LA morn seems more appropriate after seeing both the tourists and the judges layered in jackets and scarves. The judges however wanted a bit more of a gut punch of spice.
Ludo's Pork Ear Quesadilla with Chorizo, Pinto bean puree, Lime Aioli and smoked paprika doesn't exactly wow the judges. A grilled cheese with Pig's ear is the best they can do.
Rick's Tongue Tacos with Chorizo, bacon, guacamole and pickled onions leaves Gael Greene wanting more.
Wilo's Beef Heart Tripleta with Ham, Chicken and a cheese sauce in Pita gives the judges too much topping and not enough toast on the bread before getting to the heart. Still they seem to enjoy the flavors.
The Chefs retire to the Wine Cellar Stew Room (which they always seem happy to see) while the Judges further gnaw on their decisions. They can gnaw all they want but as soon as Gael spoke the words "...and Rick used bacon..." it was all over. Sure, play your little game with the Counting of the Stars but you know that Baconized Dish won the day.
As for this man?
While he might still be a little young, we'd love another serving of this fine French cheese.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dim Sum Sunday - Summer Blockbusters

If you want to get down and dirty with Summer Blockbuster food, you've got to go where the Blockbusters are playing and that means the cool dark theater of your local movie house. Oh my how things have changed.
Well, no, the markup on traditional movie snacks is the one true constant. That will never change. But there are options to a ten pound bag of stale greasy popcorn and gallon jug of high fructose corn syrup. Crank open that wallet and prepare for the VIP Room experience.My first stop of the weekend was the Power and Light District, the engine driving Kansas City's downtown renaissance. AMC Theaters, which was founded in Kansas City in 1920, decided to save and renovate the old Main Street theater.
As part of that renovation AMC split the viewing experiences into traditional auditoriums and Cinema Suites. Twenty dollars for a ticket for a reserved seat but that includes a ten dollar voucher towards their Cinema Suites menu. The menu is fairly extensive for movie grub. There's all the normal bits and bites of popcorn and candy but there's also hot sandwiches, appetizers, entrees, salads and desserts. Don't forget the free refills on the non-alcoholic drinks and the unending popcorn bowl.
Arriving later than I hoped put me in a bit of a bind. Fork and knife dining in the dark is not something I'm adept at so I decided to go simple on the food. In addition to the popcorn I chose the Chicago Brew Dog with Waffle Fries. They make the food to order so it's nice and hot when it arrives at your plexi-plastic swing arm dining tray.
The waffle fries were nicely fried and easy to eat while watching the movie. My hot dog was another matter. I had no quarrel with the juicy thick skinned meat dog itself but the Bun Incident ruined it. If your hot dog bun is split on both sides, it makes juggling your dog with it slippery condiments a circus act. I stabbed the bugger with a fork and ate it naked.The popcorn was equally disappointing. Stale with no hot butter. Not to mention the guilty feeling of not even being able to eat half the amount served. I will say that the red leather recliners were deep and comfy. Plenty of table and tray space for your food, salt, pepper and ketchup on side table and a naturally placed drink holder in the arm rest complete your dining package. And how was the movie The Proposal? Sandra Bullock wears some nice shoes...

Blockbuster Movie Food Night Two found me at the Cinemark Theater at the Plaza, Kansas City's landmark shopping attraction. Their VIP Room at the Palace is apparently their only venture into the dining movie watching experience. Their menu is limited to the regular concession choices and a handful of appetizers and desserts. They seem more geared to the bar experience more than AMC's Fork and Knife focus.
Again finger food seems to be a good choice for movie watching food. Southwestern Chili Eggrolls were hot both in spice and temperature. Ranch dip was the only choice of dipping sauce but there were more than enough sauce and rolls to share with your movie watching compadre.
Like AMC, Cinemark has the free refills on non-alcoholic drinks. Their popcorn, however, kicked AMC's stale butt right out the door. Hot, crunchy, buttery with just the right amount of salt, I did do some serious damage on that bucket and experienced no guilt whatsoever. Cinemark might want to think about upgrading their VIP Room experience. With AMC getting into the market, Cinemark's twenty dollar ticket with no food voucher, less comfy seats, smaller tray options and a much smaller menu puts them seriously behind in the drive for upscale movie patrons.
As for the movie, The Transformers, Rise of the Fallen, let's just say I'm not a fanboy geek but I would have to believe that even the fanboy geeks think the two hour and thirty minute run time of this Michael Bay monstrosity is about two hours too long. Happily I wouldn't know what fanboy geeks do think since both movie food experiences restrict patrons to 21 and older. Sorry crying babies, seat back kicking toddlers, and sullen teenagers, your mommy and daddy will have to take you some place else. Movie waiter, where's my apple sauce?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top Chef Masters - Taste the Rainbow

Episode 3 of Top Chef Masters gives us another clutch of four, all eager and nervous to compete. Bayless seems to be a little more nervous than the rest.Perhaps with good reason. The chefs try and put their anxieties aside long enough to pull knives. Ludo Lefebvre, who apparently still suffers from Post Traumatic French Chef Disorder...... seems to be having trouble wrapping his mind around the Quickfire.
I can't say I blame him, I wasn't a fan of this challenge back in Season Two and it's not wooing me now. The four colors chosen to create a dish are Red, Yellow, Orange and Green. The clock starts blinking and they all scurry off to be monochromatic as possible.OR be as French as possible. Finally everyone's Starburst dishes are finished. Well, almost everyone's. Ludo forgot his tomatoes, then servers neglect to take out the sauce with his dish and Wilo gives his diners an extra of ring mold. Yes, even Master Chefs suffer vapor lock.Meet our Quickfire diners. Food Stylist Chris Oliver, Cookbook Author Joanne Chenchuly (and yes, I'm sure I've spelled that wrong but all my searching came up empty on the correct spelling of her name, so Joanne, I apologize) and Food Photographer Christina Peters. Three women who care about the color, presentation, lighting and layout of food. I have to point out that Chris and Christina, in their respective professional capacities, try to make food LOOK as appetizing as possible but not necessarily taste as appetizing as possible. So again, an interesting choice of judges for tasting and looking at food.Ludo's dish of Steak Tartare with Watermelon, Red Onions and Red Beet Gazpacho is served first. However since the waiter neglected the gazpacho, the photo above is how the dish looked naked. Nice huh? Our diners even tasted it without the gazpacho and seemed to be enjoying it. But Ludo really wanted that sauce.Not nearly as clean or delicate in appearance and apparently not as tasty.The color wheel rolls around to Cindy's Yellow Vegetable Curry over Corn Grits & Fried Corn Tortillas.The diners seem to like the look and taste of Cindy's dish or as she says, "They didn't spit it out".Rick gives the diners the second completely vegetarian dish of the challenge with his Roasted Vegetables, Mole Verde with Tomatillos, Green Chilies & Pumpkin Seeds. The diners claim it complex and tasty.
The final dish of the challenge is Wilo's Smoked Salmon Tartare with Coconut Milk & Tomato Paste Sauce, the naked version and....
...the armored version. Just how good is a dish to persuade food styling pros to ignore a metal ring in their food to eat up every bite AND...
...make a Frenchman pout?
Exactly four and half stars worth which gives Wilo the Quickfire win. He's going to need it. Why?
Up Next
Something Offal This Way Comes

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hey - Don't I know You?

For all you Top Chef Crack Monkeys out there scratching your head, wondering where you've seen Cindy Pawlcyn before, you have to go all the way back to Season One of Top Chef and the Napa Valley episode. She gave Dave his distinctive Pepper Monkey moniker. Too bad she didn't remember Dave's seasoning in her dish for her Elimination Round. (Love you Dave!)