Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Home Cooking

The second half of the latest Top Chef episode was aimed squarely at the Home Cook because they are cooking at home.Raise your digital hand if your house looks like this and you cook family style every night in your beautiful house (sorry Martha, you don't count). Padma describes the problem, that tough economic times have more and more people throwing dinner parties at home. I'm not sure if I'm following the logic of not having a job or health insurance and the number of dinner parties one throws but who cares, it's Top Chef where logic and common sense were stuffed in Glad Ziplock bag and thrown behind a pan of frozen scallops in the walk in freezer. Who are the chefs cooking for? Homeless families? People with no jobs? Home cooks?Silly me, it's 5 chefs who have restaurants, jobs and health insurance. What the hell was I thinking? Why it's the Macy's Culinary Council. Not to be confused with......the Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Would have made about as much sense as having Macy's connect with this challenge and a whole lot more fun. You know this episode isn't really about food or fun when you realize it's a pairs challenge. This has all the makings of Drama Stew. Stressed out chefs, 3 hours to cook from out of a bag, space limitations, high expectations and working with those you don't love. I'm sure the producers squealed with delight when Mike I. and Robin hooked it up knife-wise. Raise your digital hand if you knew we were all in for a whole lot of baby whining at that pairing. Off they go to stake out their space for the next three hours.Mike I's big fat head is so heavy that it drags the rest of him down into a full body slam onto the floor. I'm pretty sure they have special helmets for that condition.

Cooking happens in the crowded quarters but no disasters seem be developing. No fights over who does what probably because chefs who work well together were paired up while the rest seemed to have resulted in dominant chefs pairing up with don't rock the boat chefs. Kinda boring. Maybe if we throw a hunk of cheese in our Drama Stew that will thicken things up.Don't mind me, I'm not here to give feedback, I'm here to scoff at your efforts and get a jump start on my judging of your dish. Feel free to say something stupid so I can laugh at it during service.
Tom finally leaves and the chefs get closer to service. Ashley and Baby Eli are serving spot prawns over gnocci. Because spot prawns are so tricky to grill Baby Eli, being the most awesome chef ever, bails on cooking the more difficult item and apparently stir fries the gnocci in a wok. Ashley, being a Seattle chef, at least understands the tricky hand she's been dealt. That's a protein that's right in her wheelhouse so you know she understands the timing has got to be perfect. The real problem looks like sharing a gas grill with someone else while grilling the delicate prawns. Ash, on the other hand, has no such worries.If you've got time to set the table there's something wrong with your cooking. Or perhaps your cooking surface?The one time I felt connected to this challenge was when they were blowing electrical circuits. Probably because everything I learned about electricity and fuseboxes I learned from A Christmas Story.Looks like Brother Michael is knee deep in the kimchi because stop and go cooking is not the best method for fish. Right there in the kimchi weeds with him are Ashley and Baby Eli after Ashley discovers the heavy salt hand of Baby Eli's cooking of the gnocci. Can she do anything to save this dish? Her choices were pretty limited to not serving the gnocci and just serve the prawns or go with the gnocci and hope the judges are as clueless to Basic Seasoning 101 as Baby Eli apparently is. The gnocci stays.

Service begins at the very simple yet very beautiful outdoor setting overlooking the bright lights of Vegas.Interesting that both brothers had halibut in their bags of product. Bryan seems to have won this round, earning praise from the judges while Michael gets dinged not only for over cooked fish, undercooked pancetta but also the concept of egg yolk wrapped in pasta on top of the fish. Ashley and Baby Eli's gamble that the judges have all had tastectomies comes up craps. I don't think there was one part of their dish that was not harshly dissected. Jen and Kevin earn raves for their Korean Beef and Tomato Broth dish. Robin and Mike I. didn't end up killing each other and produced a dish that fell squarely in the middle.
They all head back to the M Hotel for Judge's Table. Bryan and Laurine, Jen and Kevin have the top two dishes. Jen takes her first Elimination Challenge win with her seemingly inspired on the fly Tomato and Cardamom sauce.She also wins a Macy's card loaded up with $10,000.She promises to buy her co-winner, Kevin, a suit. Apparently there are no good clothing stores in Atlanta or at least not any that Kevin shops in. As for the losing teams?No surprises here. But before we get to that, we did have a little bit of tension out in the stew room when the losing teams went in for judging. It's a pretty good indication of how tightly wound up these chefs are getting. Kevin seemingly asks Bryan an innocent question about Michael's dish and gets pretty much an FU for his efforts. Are we beginning to see the cracks in the Battling Brothers Voltaggio? Tension and stress do crazy things to people. While Bryan may have been worried that his brother was going home, I wasn't. Not with Eli and Ash in there with him. I really wasn't worried too much about Ashley. Why? Because one distinct pattern Top Chef judging has is that if you don't do anything or at the most, make a salad, you go home. Hell Tom's punted people for not cooking (cerviche) a dish. I thought Ash was a slam dunk for basically shaving fennel and setting the table (which I don't think is part of the challenge anyway). Not only did he not do much of anything, he admits that he's not in the top tier of chefs left in the competition. Short of taking yourself out of the competition, I can't think of a better way to auff yourself. Not that Ashley did any better to keep herself in the game. By taking the leadership role, by not throwing Baby Eli under the bus where he belongs, she's walking the fine line of accepting responsibility or giving up on defending the dish.Tom is shocked. What shocks me is what a lousy job of judging Tom does in this episode. He even admits as much in his Bravo Blog: Most of the questions we ask don’t make it into the final version of the program, but we really do try to ascertain who was responsible for what. We didn’t know, as you did from watching the program, that when Ashley gave the gnocchi to Eli they were fine, and he then oversalted them. We knew only that Ashley had made the gnocchi. Ashley made a personal point throughout this competition to treat the team as a team and never ascribe blame to her partners, even when it was merited. She did so both with Mattin and, now, with Eli. This is admirable, but it would have benefitted her to say to us, “Eli oversalted the gnocci I’d made. I knew it the moment I tasted them.” In the discussion between judges after the chefs step out, Tom even suspects that it was Eli that oversalted the gnocci. So now we're judging a chef's dish on whether or not they throw someone under the bus? It's down to which dish is worse and the consensus is Ashley and Baby Eli own that. To choose between the two means choosing between someone who under difficult circumstances undercooked delicate prawns and someone who choose to cook something delicate in a manner that guaranteed they would end up heavy and dense, oversalted them above and beyond the cooking method AND didn't seem to realize that they were oversalted. So who goes home?Brilliant. And sometimes a stiff upper lip is not as easy as it sounds.
Next up? The chef both brothers have worked for stops by for a little pimpage and guest judging.


MakingSpace said...

I venture to say that if there were a chance a dinner might net me 10,000 worth of Macys swag, I might just be persuaded to do more than brown ground beef and throw in a jar of Ragu. Just sayin.

MakingSpace said...

Don't mind me I'm messing around with my blog settings...

moi said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who found the whole "home cooking in light of tough economic times" event distasteful. If you want to make a statement about these tough economic times, go out and cook for a homeless shelter.

Buzz Kill said...

Some random thoughts:
The whole Macy's thing with the no-name chefs (except Florentine) was soooo contrived. I still don't get what that was about - other than gratuitous pimpage.
When Jen said that she'd have to buy Kevin a suit with her Macy's card, I'm sure he wasn't insulted or anything. Bwahahaha
Mike I. absolutely looks like the type that should be wearing a helmet. Maybe it's his eyes - it's something.
I think this is going to be Tom's last season. He's just sleep walking thruogh this season.
It's a shame Ashley went home because it looked like she was starting to step up her game. She's definitely better than Mike I, Ash and Eli. And Ash pretty much threw himself on his sword but the judges weren't biting.

Buzz Kill said...

I meant Tyler Florence. I don't know what I was thinking.

Big Shamu said...

I really hate these episodes where the judges tell the chefs how they would handle a real world situation like blowing a breaker and act as if these challenges are run like it's the real world.

I don't think Kevin would be insulted I just thought it was funny that's the thing she thought he most needed.
Bah on Ash, Eli and Mike I. Idiots.

Jenny said...

I wasn't buying the "let's try to help everyone during the recession" either, because the average family couldn't afford the fresh vegetables/fish/etc. that was in those bags.

Big Shamu said...

Yeah, I was wondering how those outside the Pacific Northwest could afford those lovely spot prawns. A bag of frozen, pre-shelled, farm raised pink shrimp? Maybe. Fresh spot prawns, HAH!

LaDivaCucina said...

They are REALLY STRETCHING the cross m

arketing this season, aren't they? I thought Tyler and Tom were being super hard on Michael for his electrical dramas as if they themselves are some kind of super heroes in the kitchen and can handle any crisis. Hell, let's face it, half of the restaurants out there can't even handle the extra pressure from all the two tops for Valentine's Day let alone having your cooking equipment short out.

Sometimes I think these "celebrity" chefs really take themselves WAAAAAAY too seriously. Cure cancer, then I'll be impressed meanwhile it's JUST FOOD PEOPLE!!! hmpf!