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TV Thu Dec 01 2011

Top Chef Texas, Episode 5: Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Bad Idea

The Chicago talent pool took another hit with this week's elimination of Chuy Valencia, for a poorly executed salmon and goat cheese dish. As always, three thoughts on this week's "Top Chef Texas."

It finally happened. Bravo created some sort of hybrid mutant super-show by combining cheftestants and a passel of Dallas housewives with this week's upper-crust progressive dinner party episode -- Top Dallas Real House-Chefs! We knew, deep down, this day was coming. But what could have been a slog through rich people behaving badly at the dinner table actually ended up more as a sort of class dialogue, as the chefs grinned through their teeth to obediently design dishes for couples who described themselves as "not adventurous," and whose lists of no-no ingredients included everything from cilantro (whaaa? In Texas?) to raspberries. Ty-lör summed up the chefs' general feeling saying, "This place smells like money. It smells nothing like my apartment." While the hosting couples were not exactly treated with absolute reverence (the camera relayed plenty of eye-rolls and blank stares as the hosts discussed everything from their 1,200-guest weddings to "making every calorie count" in the dessert courses -- Tom Colicchio increasing looked like he was about to implode from muted emotion), they still dictated the course(s) of the evening, and wise chefs played to their stated desires.

Which brings us to Chris Jones and his kale cigar. Despite all the rhetoric of innovation and originality with this appetizer, the Moto vet essentially gave us exactly what he knows -- the pulled pork Cuban cigar has been a menu mainstay there for as long as the edible menus. You could see him warming up his hostess, teasing her with the idea of familiar flavors that look like something else -- an idea she didn't seem particularly into. And it wasn't a bad notion, given the host's cigar cutter collection. But between grossing out the ladies (including judge Gail Simmons), being a bit challenging to eat, and not staying true to the ingredients that went into it, the cigar and Chris ended up on the bottom.

Top chef for dinnerSo it seems unlikely that the cigar will get a life beyond the show, say in a Healthy Choice Top Chef steamer meal. The product placement in this season seems to have reached a new height -- oh for the simple days of a lingering shot on the Kenmore oven logo! Now we have the uncomfortable and bored-looking Voltaggio brothers making mini-muffaletta sandwiches on behalf of...well I can't remember, but some corporate entity. We're bombarded with Healthy Choice commercials during the breaks, and if Mindy Kaling or Jane Lynch weren't enough to capture my interest, the TV-dinner purveyor has created its own cook-off challenge (Healthy Showdown, not to be confused with Last Chance Kitchen -- both available online) with a companion line of Top Chef-inspired frozen entrees. And last night, I ate one, while watching the show -- seemed the only appropriate way to go. The Chicken Margherita pasta dish with a balsamic basil sauce was, on the whole, not awful -- the noodles were a weird texture from the freezer/steam combination, and the sauce a bit sweet and one-note. Not, incidentally, a balsamic note -- there was less balsamic in the ingredient list than "raisin juice from concentrate," and no basil at all that I could find. All in all, it wasn't a particularly satisfying meal (any frozen Amy's creation would beat it), and didn't enhance my experience of viewing the show at all. I'd be curious to know if "raisin juice from concentrate" was on the housewives' no-no ingredient list...

 
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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...
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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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