Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Top Chef Quickie - Episode 7 - Back in the Day

[Top Chef alum and guest judge Antonia Lofaso and Padma during the Quickfire Challenge.]

To start off the episode, the chefs finally returned to the actual Top Chef kitchen, where guest judge and Top Chef alum Antonia Lofaso was waiting to preside over the Quickfire Challenge. Each of the remaining chefs had 20 seconds to choose an ingredient, and those ten choices would be the only ingredients available to them. Phillip chose beef and Isaac chose chicken, which some folks weren't happy about because it meant they had to provide the essentials such as salt, vinegar, and olive oil as opposed to choosing an ingredient they themselves might really like to use. During judging, I thought it odd that Antonia made Kwame essentially admit that yes, he'd selfishly chosen garlic for his ingredient, but didn't do the same with Chad, who chose jalapeƱos. In my mind, garlic is a much more universal and adaptable ingredient than jalapeƱos. Other choices included mushrooms, tomatoes, and celery. Once again, some chefs were unhappy because they thought celery was a bad choice. But Antonia echoed Jason's comments about his choice of celery: you can serve it cooked or raw, and you can use the leaves as an herb.

Not surprisingly, there were several beef carpaccio-style dishes. Jeremy won the challenge, earning immunity, with Mark as a close runner-up.

Now this is a small thing, but as someone who always wants the playing field to be fair, I'm often distressed by the way things are done on this show, or by the fact that certain rules aren't explained, at least not to the viewers. First, giving each chef only 20 seconds to choose an ingredient meant that they had to run, in a kitchen. That's dangerous and stupid. Second, it was not clear to me whether the chefs only had the use of the exact amounts placed on the ingredient table. For instance, I find it hard to believe that they all had access to only that one small package of beef that Phillip chose. But at the same time, one of the chefs brought over an entire basket of tomatoes, yet Jeremy had difficulty getting anyone to give him a tomato to use. Kudos if Top Chef has suddenly decided to minimize food waste -- which I highly, highly doubt -- but if the chefs are limited to only a few ingredients, they all have to have access to each ingredient. Jeremy shouldn't have had to waste precious time begging for a tomato.

For the Elimination challenge, Padma tasked the chefs with creating a dish exploring who they were ten years ago, since this is the tenth anniversary of Top Chef (even though they're in Season 13). They served the food as a "Chef's Table for 10" right there in the kitchen, with show alumni Michael Voltaggio, frequent judge Richard Blais, and Mai Lin joining Antonia.

Not surprisingly, some chefs did better than others at turning memories into inspiration. Kwame struggled a great deal, in large part because he couldn't separate unhappy from happy memories. In addition to his odd choice of making jerk-seasoned broccoli, he cut his hand, which didn't help his plating any. He appeared on the bottom at Judges' Table, along with Jason and Phillip, and was seriously lucky not to go home. That fell to Jason. While I didn't think Phillip was likely to be the one eliminated, he really needs to stop talking. He still seems intent on somehow convincing the judges that anything he does wrong is because "they" didn't want him to cook his own food. Jeremy might have been on the chopping block too, had he not had immunity.

On a happier note, the top three this week were Marjorie, Chad, and Carl. Marjorie made a green curry inspired by the green cook she thought she was ten years ago. She was alarmed when Whole Foods didn't have lemongrass, which is an essential ingredient for a green curry, but she was resourceful, and successfully incorporated grilled lemon into her dish. I was glad for her win.

I have to say, though, overall I wasn't all that tempted by the Elimination challenge dishes myself. Most of them were bowls full of stuff, and while I have to imagine that the flavors can be incredible, I still prefer the more refined look of a dish artfully arranged on a plate. (I also don't like that much seafood, so I was a little biased.)

Two random thoughts: first, I think chefs should be careful with the plate smear. It can look elegant, but it's overused and it can also look distinctly unappetizing. Second, I sure don't miss Grayson, and I find I don't miss Angelina either. I feel like the kitchen is more grown-up without them.

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