Thursday, December 11, 2014

Top Chef - Episode 8 - Clean-up on Aisle 2

Aaaannnnd here's where I get a little ticked off.

Although it may not seem like it, shows like Top Chef have rules. Remember the second season, when Cliff got kicked off the show for physically pinning down Marcel and threatening to shave his head? So we know that any unwelcome physical contact between contestants is not allowed.

Surely there is also a rule about stealing ingredients from another chef's workstation.

We've seen incidents before in which a chef grabs all of a choice ingredient and just parks it at his or her station simply to prevent other people from using it. That is completely obnoxious, but never before has it been suggested that another chef can just take what they want from someone else's station. So in this case, during a Sudden Death Quickfire requiring that the chefs make a chowder, Mei was not out of line to take all the littleneck clams -- in fact, I would think she would have to grab the basket, because if she tried to grab handfuls of clams she likely would have dropped a bunch of them. And more importantly, Mei then immediately shared the clams with Adam when he asked her to.

So unless we had some very creative editing here and we're missing part of what happened, Melissa was completely out of line to snatch the clams from Mei's station when Mei was in the pantry. Here is what I want to know: 1) why didn't Mei protest immediately? 2) why didn't Mei tell Padme and guest judge Jasper White that she intended to use littleneck clams but they were stolen from her station while she was in the pantry? and 3) and why didn't someone from the Top Chef staff intervene? Obviously the camera crew is just there to film, but I'm fairly certain that there are one or more assistant producers in the kitchen at all times during these challenges. Remember Lee Anne Wong from Season 1? After her season, she became a producer on the show and blogged about it; she was usually in the kitchen the entire time challenges were ongoing.

So either Top Chef doesn't have a rule against stealing ingredients, in which case it's odd that it doesn't happen more often, or it does have a rule and it is not being enforced. It drives me insane when an otherwise good episode is marred by some kind of injustice like this, or by some kind of ridiculous physical challenge that is unrelated to cooking (such as who can harvest cranberries the fastest).

The Quickfire

Now that my rant is over, on to the results.... The top chowders included Gregory's razor clam and sweet potato chowder with coconut milk broth; Adam's red wine poached littleneck clams with tomato water; and Melissa's cioppino chowder with littleneck clams and shrimp. Jasper White chose Gregory's dish, granting him immunity yet again. Gregory seemed to regain both his confidence and his ambition, the latter of which had apparently been missing during Restaurant Wars. All four of the other chowders came in for negative comments: Katie's sourdough base for her clams in lobster stock was overpowering and gummy; Mei's clam and lobster chowder was deemed the prettiest but was underseasoned; the poblano and jalepeno in Katsuji's green chowder completely overpowered the oysters; and Doug's grilled oyster chowder was too salty.

Katie's was deemed the least favorite and so she had to compete to stay on the show. Instead of getting to choose her competitor as has been the practice in this season's other Sudden Death Quickfires, Katie instead had to face one of the already-eliminated contestants: George, who got the most votes when the eliminated chefs each had to name one other person in the group as their choice to compete. (As a random aside, if memory serves, this is how Alan Shepard was chosen to be the first American in space: each of the Mercury astronauts had to name who they would want to go besides themselves.)

The challenge was rabbit, and it quite looked like George was not going to plate in time, but he pulled it off, presenting the judges with roasted rabbit loin with barley risotto and mustard rabbit jus. Katie made a braised rabbit leg with moroccan tomato sauce. With three judges, the first to get two votes would win, and both Jasper and Tom chose George, who thus cooked his way back on to the show and sent Katie home. I like Katie, I think she's a nice person and a talented chef, and I admire that she tended to try and stretch herself a bit during challenges, but I admit that at no point did I ever think she would win this competition. She just wasn't consistent enough.

As for George, I'd forgotten that in the very first episode, he'd come in at the bottom of a mise en place relay, after which he picked Gregory as his competitor in the Sudden Death challenge. Boy oh boy, would he ever had picked someone else if only he'd known how great Gregory would be cooking for most of the season! So it's kind of nice that George got to come back and actually cook.

Elimination Challenge

This week's elimination challenge was fun: the seven contestants drew knives to see which judge would be doing their shopping at Whole Foods so they could provide a tasting menu for 75 Top Chef fans. Adam and Doug got Richard, who bought them lots of proteins and vegetables and a couple of things suitable for molecular gastronomy. Gail shopped for Katsuji and Melissa and got them shrimp and lots of fresh veggies and herbs. Tom supplied Mei with lamb and eggplant. Last but not least, Gregory and George had Padme shopping for them. I have to admit I had no idea what the jackfruit were when Padme picked them up!

The dishes did look tasty. Katsuji made harissa-poached shrimp with Tunisian potato salad; I don't get excited by shrimp, but I would have loved to taste the potato salad and the white sangria he made to go along with it. Gregory made a coconut milk and chicken madras curry with jackfruit relish that Tom and Padme coudn't say enough good things about. Adam made a flash marinated shrimp with peppadew peppers, which Gail in particular found a bit "squeaky." Melissa produced a sauteed-to-order shrimp with harissa yogurt, fig, fennel, dill, mint, and artichoke salad. Mei did a rack of lamb with charred eggplant puree, scallion-ginger relish, and jus. Doug made chorizo-marinated mussels with sweet pepper and cauliflower relish, and George made a beef-lamb kebob with lentils and cucumber-mint yogurt. Overall the judges seemed pretty pleased with the evening's output, and the fans seemed to have fun too. (I was filled with envy for the fans who got to go, and slight annoyance that the judges kept referring to them as superfans. Please!)

At judges table, Gregory, Doug, and George were singled out as the three favorites, and Doug took home the win for the second week in a row. Personally, I would have given it to Gregory for a more creative dish due to stepping up to Padme's jackfruit challenge, but Gail actually remarked in her blog that they felt Gregory's offering was awfully similar to some of his earlier dishes. In any case, I was happy enough for Doug, and also glad for George -- stepping into that situation had to be really intimidating.

On the bottom: Mei, Adam, and Melissa. (I noticed that Katsuji looked none-too-pleased to be smack in the middle of the pack this week. I still don't like him.) I can see where the elimination decision would be a close one. We had two chefs with tasty dishes but with protein that was a little unappealing the way they prepared it (Mei's undercooked lamb and Adam's strange not-really-cooked shrimp). And we had Melissa, who all the judges felt played it safe and boring, with easy-to-cook seafood atop a little salad, which was similar to what she made in Restaurant Wars.

In the end, Adam went home, and looked completely stunned. I haven't really been admiring his attitude and personality lately, but he is talented and there is no mistaking his passion for cooking. I would rather have seen Melissa go home than Adam after what happened in the Quickfire, but I'm glad it wasn't Mei. I suspect this competition has shaken her confidence a little bit. I still tend to think she's the strongest overall chef after Gregory.

Chefs I Particularly Liked This Week: Doug, for simply cooking good food and getting it done, and Mei, who is always willing to compliment her fellow chefs when they deserve it.

The Dish I Most Wanted to Taste: Hands down, Gregory's chicken curry with jackfruit. I've never had jackfruit, and it looked exotic and delicious. Doug's flavor combinations also sounded terrific.

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