Sunday, March 29, 2020

Top Chef: All-Stars L.A. - Episode 2 - "The Jonathan Gold Standard"

[The Top Chef contestants arrive at L.A.'s Union Station]

This week's episode had a little change-up in format; instead of competing in a Quickfire Challenge, the chefs spent a day exploring a handful of L.A. restaurants listed in the late food critic Jonathan Gold's guidebook. The first 17 minutes of the episode consisted of the chefs sampling some of Gold's favorite dishes, looking for inspiration for the dish they would each individually serve to 200 guests gathering to honor Gold, who passed away in 2018.

Elimination Challenge

After stuffing themselves silly (no judgment here; I'm just envious!), the chefs were given 30 minutes and $700 to shop at Whole Foods. That seems like a lot of money, but of course they want the best ingredients and they'll be serving 200 people apiece.

A little foreshadowing occurred during prep: Eric Adjepong said of his African-inspired scallops and braised red cabbage that it was a "kind of funky pairing" so it would be hard to pull off. Just as Tom Colicchio told Joe Sasto in the first episode that "glue" isn't a word you want to have associated with your food, so I would tell Eric the same about the word "funky." In the meantime, Stephanie Cmar realized mid-service that offering Indian food to Padma without having any experience cooking it might not have been the best strategy.

At the event, the two guest judges were food writer Ruth Reichl and Laurie Ochoa, an arts and entertainment editor and Jonathan Gold's wife. I enjoyed seeing director and actor Jon Favreau as one of the guests, especially because I recently watched his movie Chef, in which he plays a high-level chef who finds himself again by running a food truck.

The dishes were varied and interesting! I was drawn to Melissa King's mala beef tartare served on a little spiced potato chip, but sadly would have found it too spicy. I truly wish I wasn't a spice wimp. Same goes for Karen Akunowicz's pan-roasted cumin lamb dumpling. I'm a sucker for dumplings, but when describing it she used the word "chili" twice.... I was puzzled by Brian Malarkey's dish, which was (deep breath) a fried rice beef tartare with kimchi vinaigrette, cracked peanuts, and a fish-sauce cured fermented egg yolk.


Lee Anne's dish... I'm with Tom; you could see by his expression that he wasn't won over by the cheese and fish combination. And assuming the order of service aired is the same that actually happened, you could tell Lee Anne's confidence in it was shaken when she self-consciously greeted Padma and Gail with "Hello, ladies, I'm braving the fish and cheese boat."

One thing that puzzled me show-wise is that we heard chefs describing their dishes during prep, we heard again when the first set of judges tasted them, and yet again when the other set of judges tasted them. It seems to me that in years past, we would hear one set of judges' reactions or the other, but not usually both, unless there was something unusual going on. So this episode felt a little repetitious to me by the end. Is it because they had more time to fill due to the lack of a Quickfire Challenge? Meanwhile, the silhouette of Jonathan Gold projected high on the wall made me think that Alfred Hitchcock was there waiting for a murder mystery on the Top Chef show.

Judges' Table

Overall the judges thought the group did a good job honoring Jonathan Gold's legacy. Their three favorite dishes were by Nini, Kevin, and Brian Voltaggio. Tom loved Nini's broth from her "masa" ball soup so much that he told her he'd had someone bottle up what was left since he was feeling under the weather. Ruth Reichl said that she was expecting the worst from Kevin's "clunky ball" but that it turned out to be delicious, and she said twice during the show that he needs to bottle the apple butter that he used, which turned out to be his grandmother's recipe. Gail told Brian V. that his short ribs felt like a departure from anything she'd eaten before from him, which made me think: if someone asked me to describe Brian V's food overall, I couldn't do it. I don't have a feeling for who he is as a cook, but at the same time, I would have confidence in anything he put down in front of me. Of the three, the judges picked Kevin's dish as their favorite.

Next came the three least favorite dishes, and there were really no surprises based on the comments made during the event. Angelo, Stephanie, and Eric were called up to have their dishes picked apart. Stephanie accepted the criticism gracefully; she was obviously unhappy with herself, but she didn't disagree with anything the judges said. Of Eric's dish, Gail said that the two pieces (the scallops and the cabbage) were not talking to each other. When asked about his dish, Angelo talked again about being inspired by tumeric. Tom called the dish too sweet, Padma said that the tuna, while beautifully seasoned, didn't make sense in the dish, and Ruth had the severest criticism of the night when she said, not unkindly, that the tuna had died in vain because the dish was just a piece of flesh in broth. She also said that she felt like the three bottom chefs forgot that food is supposed to be delicious, and the cutest moment of the episode is Padma's expression when she says, "YESSSSS!!!" to indicate that Ruth expressed Padma's own feelings perfectly.

Ultimately, Angelo was asked to pack his knives. I'm sad to see him go, but I felt like his focus wasn't there as I remembered it from his previous season. I did watch "Last Chance Kitchen", by the way, and debated blogging about that too, but I've decided I'll just let that unfold as it may.

Elimination Challenge Winner: Kevin Gillespie

Packed Their Knives: Angelo Sosa

Dish I Most Wanted to Taste: Kevin's roasted pork, mushroom, and black currant terrine with apple butter, because I'm a sucker for hot little dumpling-type foods, especially with unexpected ingredients (as long as they're not too spicy!)

Question of the Week: When did everyone on Top Chef decide that saying "in broth" was too passe, and we must now refer to it as "en brodo" as much as possible?

Who I'm Most Rooting for After this Episode: Kevin Gillepsie, because who wouldn't be moved by his humble statement upon winning this week, and Melissa King. I can't put my finger on what it is, but there's something about her that I really like. I also liked Nini's sweet and apparently calm disposition. She thought of a dish, she made it, she served it with confidence -- no drama there at all.

No comments: