Friday, February 19, 2016

Top Chef Season 13 - Hammer Time

The chefs hop up to Oakland to make rap-inspired dishes for MC Hammer! I thought this was a cute and quirky basis for a Quickfire, and I was really impressed that while the chefs were cooking outside under strict time constraints in an unfamiliar environment, they were obviously having fun with the challenge. It made me happy to see how much these people love to cook. And did you notice that when MC Hammer praised his three favorite dishes, the other chefs absolutely grinned -- they are genuinely happy when their friends do well.

(And it made me really happy that I didn't have to endure Phillip in this particular challenge.)

And then... the Elimination Challenge, with shout-outs to libraries and librarians! I became a librarian in my 30s, and I can tell you, if I had any idea how to do research when I was an undergrad, I would have been a freakin' Rhodes scholar. Information is everything.

The specific challenge, introduced by guest judge Jonathan Waxman, was for each chef to pick (in order of drawn knives) a specific historical time period that they would have to represent with their dish. Kudos to Isaac for choosing the Viking era. Granted, he had immunity, but he also chose it, without knowing anything about specifics, because it sounded like fun to him. That said, these poor chefs needed more than two hours to research, because the time periods chosen for the challenge were not all that simple.

Carl and Marjorie served first, he with a Greek and she with an Indian era dish -- and in her case, it wasn't necessarily what we would expect from our Americanized version of Indian food. I was definitely worried for her based on the judges' reaction. I think they were spot on with their criticism of her paratha bread, but I'm not so sure it was fair to call her out on serving medium-rare lamb when it would have probably been charred (i.e. had all the life sucked out of it) during the actual historical time period. To me, the best thing about challenges like this is to take the inspiration from the time period and improve upon what they actually would have produced during the time. Since lamb is almost always served medium-rare in the good restaurants today, I felt that was the right way to serve it now. In other words, if the flavors and ingredients recalled the time period, that should be enough. Carl, at this point, was clearly safe, as the judges loved his seafood medley that presented as simple but was quite sophisticated.

It was clear from service that the three chefs in danger were Marjorie, Karen, and Jeremy. For me, Karen and Marjorie's failings were more obvious in some ways, but Jeremy's dish was the one that least inspired recall to a specific era. On the plus side, the judges loved Kwame's duck (it was nice to see him do so well again) and Amar's squab, and also enjoyed Isaac's venison and Carl's seafood. I actually think Isaac's venison deserved even a few more points for the creative plating -- not that we want gimmicky, but he really did embrace the time period. At this point in the episode, though, I expect Amar to win, and I would not be at all unhappy about that.

And win he did. (And once again notice that his friends were happy for him!) Then we get to the expected bottom three, and may I just say that Karen's humility is a thousand times preferable to Phillip's boneheadedness. She knows what she did wrong, and she can accept what the judges are telling her. I really thought, and in a way hoped (but not really, because I like him) that Jeremy would be the one going home, but in the end it was Karen. I'll miss her beautiful smile and sense of fun. And did you notice how much Marjorie did not want to see her go? Women are often accused of being bitchy rivals, but not these two. I don't think anybody, judge or contestant, was happy to see Karen go home.

Solid episode. And if I could taste anything from this challenge, I think I would have Amar's squab, if only because I've never really eaten that kind of decadent French cooking.

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