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Review Wed Apr 09 2008

Top Chef, Episode 5: Bringing Home the Bacon

This week’s episode of Top Chef was one of the tensest ones yet. The chefs were visited by Ming Tsai, from the restaurant Blue Ginger in Boston. As soon as Padma introduced him, the cameras zoomed in on Lisa, whose background is in Asian food. “I’m all grins,” she said. Moments later, the chefs are blindfolded and asked to identify the higher-quality chocolate, caviar, maple syrup and saki.

Editor's Note: Our recaps are as thorough as your high school transcript. Here be spoilers!

This is because a sense of taste is one of the most important tools in a chef’s arsenal. Richard was interviewed during the blind Quickfire challenge, and he noted that, “If you’re on the bottom three in this challenge, I think it’s a big embarrassment.” Lucky for his pride, he wasn’t in the bottom three. Stephanie came in at the bottom; Ryan and Jennifer both tied for second place; and Antonia won, recognizing quality in 12 out of the 15 items she tasted.

For the Elimination challenge, the chefs were once again broken into teams—something they all hate. The assignment was to create a first-course dish for the annual Meals on Wheels fundraiser. Each team represented a different element (fire, water, earth and air), and they had to use this element as inspiration for their dish.

richard.jpgHotshot “culinary designer” Richard and his two Water teammates (Mark and Andrew) opted to poach salmon sous vide (in a vacuum bag, the fauxhawk-sporting Richard explained to the camera), and serve it with a salad and a tapioca caviar that was served in an earlier episode. The judges noticed this repeat, too.

As they were plating the food, each Waterboy found a few scales on the salmon. Ming got some scales in his mouth as he was eating, while Tom, when he tasted it, said, “Some things aren’t good sous vide.”
The Air team was Ryan, Nikki and Jennifer. Their plan involved duck breasts, a citrus-herb salad and a prosecco aperitif with pomegranate. Ming and judge/critic Gail Simmons both huddled over the duck, pointing out that the chefs didn’t “render the fat.”

Things started out tough for the Earth team, which included Quickfire winner Antonia. Spike suggested a squash soup, Zoi agreed, but Antonia said she didn’t want to serve soup when they had a budget of $500. Instead they went with a beef carpaccio with wild mushrooms and sunchokes. Moments before the cooking time was up, Zoi was shown stir-frying the mushrooms, and saying, “Normally you would make it, taste it, think about how you could make it better. But this is not my restaurant, it’s not my plate.” Teamwork was taking its toll! The judges didn’t seem happy either. Gail said the rosemary on carpaccio was a bad idea; Tom said there was nothing earthy about any of it.

After a heated discussion about deviled eggs, team Fire decided to make prawns (with a chili rub) with bacon (which is smoked). In the kitchen, Stephanie pointed out that Lisa has a “nice method for cooking her bacon.” And Lisa, who had been worried about being able to show off her Asian-food chops, perked up a bit when talking about her bacon secrets. She lines up her strips of bacon, putting the fatty sides together so they fuse, and then she can cut them into perfect strips. She topped the bacon with a sweet, miso glaze. But after showing this moment of joy for Lisa joy, the show’s editors went on to highlight Lisa’s panic and her ability to conjugate the F-word.

The cursing wasn’t all for naught. Lisa, who had been talking about wanting to wow Ming, was the night’s winner for her bacon with miso-and-maple glaze. As it turned out, the winner for this challenge got a five-day trip to Italy. “She made bacon, and she gets a trip to Italy. Are you fucking kidding me?” asked her teammate Dale.

Earth and Water were the judges’ least favorite. Richard was asked if he was the one who had cleaned the fish. He looked puzzled look and asked, “In what regard?” This nearly caused the judges to choke up some of the scales they’d accidentally swallowed earlier in the evening.

The Earth team was chastised for not seasoning or salting their food, especially the mushrooms that Zoi had so sullenly prepared. Spike, who should have been kicked off the show weeks ago for his awful attitude, stormed into the chef’s holding room, and complained that he’d wanted to make squash soup but he didn’t stick to his guns because he’s “too nice.”

In the end, Zoi was asked to go home. Tears flowed all around, perhaps from relief (Richard, who knew his fish scales should have sent him home), and from heartache (Zoi’s girlfriend, Jennifer, won’t have anyone to cuddle with in the bunk beds). Several of the other chefs were still busy responding to Spike’s taunts, and the episode closed with bleeped out dialog and crashing chairs.

Looking for a recap of the previous episode?

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blackstreek / April 10, 2008 10:45 AM

Stephanie was robbed of the win. The idea was to pick the winner whose portion was the heart of the dish, and the bacon was a unique garnish more than anything. The heart of the dish was the shrimp, which everyone raved about. Ming said he was rewarding a new technique, but I think it's commonplace for Asian fusion restaurants to add miso to common ingredients.

I can totally understand Dale's frustration as well.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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