Monday, March 7, 2016

Top Chef Season 13 - ""Where It All Started"

QuickFire Challenge

Ooh, ouch. I'm not sure how I feel about a sudden death QuickFire at this late stage of the game, but at least this was handled fairly. And the show does have a history (in the past few seasons, at least) of having a sudden death QuickFire right when the last few contestants arrive for the finale, so this isn't much different. (Although a slight nitpick: when they do an "each judge votes," I feel like they should have to write their answers down before hearing what the other judges have to say. Otherwise it's too easy for cynical me to believe they're rigging it to get to the tie-breaking situation.)

Anyway, this particular QuickFire was all about artisanal toast. Apparently fine-dining toast is all the rage, although this is the first I've heard about it. But I'll take the show's word for it, since I'm not out there eating at new restaurants every night and reading all the top foodie magazines. (I only subscribe to Clean Eating, which I highly recommend, by the way, but it's about healthy recipes for home, not about the latest culinary industry trends.)

I can see where this was a tough challenge. You don't want the toast to be dry and tasteless, but you don't want it soggy either. Marjorie and Isaac did fine, but it was Jeremy who won the challenge, not to mention a $16,000 oven of some kind. He made a ciabatta toast topped with chicken liver mousse, pickled cherries, arugula, and jalapeƱos.

This left Carl and Amar on the bottom: Carl due to his unappealing combination of fish and cheese, and Amar's too complicated, too soggy rendition of fois gras, duck, and balsamic truffle glaze. Their challenge for the head-to-head elimination was to cook any dish, and Carl made a .... crudo. The technical definition of crudo is "a dish of raw fish or seafood, typically dressed with oil, citrus juice, and seasonings." Remember at that finale in Hawaii when Tom pitched a fit because one of the contestants didn't use any heat so therefore didn't "cook" in his opinion? I disagreed with him then, because of the local Hawaiian ingredients the chefs were trying to incorporate into their dishes. In this case, though.... if you're told to make the best dish you can make to keep yourself in the show, would you really just do raw fish again?

Not surprisingly, Tom preferred Amar's cooked fish dish (pan roasted fish with watermelon radish, plum yuzu brown butter, and pickled mushrooms) but Padma preferred Carl's crudo, and the guest judge, Traci Des Jardins, was the tie-breaker, choosing Carl. I was sorry to see Amar go. At this point I like all the contestants, so I can't be happy when any of them have to leave after getting so far.

Elimination Challenge

The Elimination Challenge brought back a familiar face from Top Chef Masters: French chef Hubert Keller. I didn't know it until they showed the clip, but apparently he was also a guest judge on the first episode of Top Chef's very first season! In any case, Chef Keller explained that he had just closed his signature restaurant, Fleur de Lys, but was going to re-open it for a group of 40 VIP guests for whom the remaining four contestants would cook. The chefs were given some time to study the restaurant's previous menus.

Poor Carl. He so desperately wanted to make foie gras that he just rationalized and rationalized until he could convince himself that he could make in three hours what he said normally takes three days to make. (Tom later mentioned that it took at least 24 hours.) Jeremy got ambitious too, settling on making "branzino," which apparently is sea bass. Personally, I was more intrigued by his fluffy little potato "pillows." Marjorie made lamb "saddle," which is both sides of the lamb loin with the attached backbone joining them together. But it sounded to me like she took it off the bone to cook it, which you know if you've watched enough Top Chef is another no-no as far as Tom is concerned. Isaac made duck ballontine, which means (I think) that he de-skinned and de-boned the ducks, then stuffed the meat back into the skin.

It was immediately apparent that Jeremy was the clear winner, and I have to say I was happy for him. Marjorie completely psyched herself out, which was unfortunate, because she has it in her to make it to the end. Isaac's ballontine was actually kind of unappealing to look at, just a mass of brown stuff on a plate, and the judges found the duck to be dry. And unsurprisingly, Carl's fois gras was seriously underdone, a mistake for which he was sent home. I wasn't surprised.

So now we're down to three, heading into a two-part season finale in Law Vegas. I can't say I'm overly excited about David Copperfield as a guest, but maybe that's just me. If I had to predict it now, I would guess we'll see Marjorie and Jeremy go up against each other in the end. I think Isaac is talented and actually a lot of fun, but I think the other two may have a bit more range than he does.

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