Tom and Friends are back on Thursdays at 9 CST!! This season takes place in cities across California, and while there are no Chicago chefs representing our glorious city, there is certainly no shortage of interesting contestants.
With the finale of "Top Chef Boston" airing this week, I decided to cook up some stats on my favorite cooking show. These numbers are more observatory than predictive, though they offer some fairly interesting insights into Bravo's (only watchable) show. I beat up countless data points, sliced and diced the results, and whipped up three different rankings on 1) gender of the participant, 2) his or her home state, and 3) ingredients used in winning elimination challenges. Here are my results, presented on a glistening silver platter.
Fall is just a leaf drop away, which means it's time to whip out the light jackets, delicately sip pumpkin lattes, and binge watch food TV. Here are some upcoming shows you are obligated to watch: Mind of a Chef (premieres Sept 6 on PBS)
"Magnus Nilsson and Top Chef Edward Lee explore places and cook awesome stuff" is probably the worst description of this show, but that's exactly what these featured chefs do. Past season chefs have included David Chang and Sean Brock, and Mind of Chef won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Television Program in 2013. Plus, Bourdain is the Executive Producer, speaking of which:
Have you been watching "MasterChef" on Fox? You should be! There is nothing more fun/anxiety ridden than a TV show hosted by Gordon Ramsay. But who cares about cranky Ramsay, when there's a real live Chicagoan cooking her heart out on the show? Elise Mayfield is one of the show's standouts, and not just because she calls the Windy City home.
What was the audition process for the show like?
The audition process took a very long time! I started at an open call last September and I didn't get invited to the final audition in L.A. until January. There were lots of conversations and emails with the "MasterChef" Casting Team over those months, and it was so awesome to get to meet them in person once I arrived in L.A. Even though we'd never met face to face, I felt like I already had some friends before I even arrived.
How did you prepare to be on "MasterChef"?
As soon as I realized there was even a small chance that I might end up actually cooking for the "MasterChef" judges, I started preparing. I read, and I don't mean skimmed, I mean I read cookbooks cover to cover, and picked out recipe basics that I knew I needed to master before arriving. I love cooking but I'm relatively green in the kitchen. I've been baking for probably a decade, but I only really started cooking proper meals about two years ago, so I knew getting my basics down would be key. The Joy of Cooking became my text book. I've read it probably three or four times now. I also love the cookbooks from two of my favorite restaurants, The Hot and Hot Fish Club and The Loveless Cafe. I also held a tri-weekly dinner and lunch club during December and January so that I could test out my new skills.
Got a kid who can cook? Fox's food competition show "MasterChef Junior" is holding an open casting call in Chicago on Saturday, Jan. 18, from 10am to 6pm at the Hyatt Hotel Mag Mile, 633 N. St. Clair St. "MasterChef" judge Graham Elliot might make an appearance, considering he lives here.
Prospective child chefs must be pre-registered to audition, and should bring their own aprons.
Andrew Zimmern visits Chicago in tonight's episode of "Bizarre Foods" on the Travel Channel. Tune in at 8pm or 11pm tonight to see Zimmern visit Birrieria Zaragosa, EL Ideas, Joong Boo Market, Rare Tea Cellars and Supreme Lobster, among other spots.
When Homaro Cantu, chef of Moto and iNG, appeared on the third season of Food Network's "Iron Chef America" back in 2007, he bested original Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto by a single point in a battle of beets. This Sunday, Feb. 10, Morimoto and Cantu face off again in a bit of a grudge match. Will Cantu once again reign supreme? Tune in at 9pm Sunday to find out.
"Who here hasn't had ceviche before?" asked the bubbly blonde behind the kitchen demo counter. A show of hands went up. "Now take that hand and slap yourself with it." So was my introduction to Nadia G, the feisty, three-finger ring wearing, looks-like-she-should-be-in-front-of-a-camera-and-not-behind-a-mixing-bowl Italian chef personality from "Bitchin' Kitchen."
Following shortly behind Bobby Flay, who was spotted in Uptown in late September, Nadia stopped by Chicago for a food and wine tasting event with Apothic Wines.
The WTTW show "Check, Please!" kicks off its twelfth season this Friday at 8pm with reviews of Andies, GT Fish & Oyster and Midlothian's Hog Wild. Among the episode's reviewers is our own wonderful Andie Thomalla, so it will be an episode well worth watching.
POV, or "point of view," is important to a Food Network host, and so this week's episode of "Food Network Star" had the contestants honing theirs. The show opened to Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis meeting with their team members and giving them feedback on their work so far. When Alton got around to our Chicago contestant, Judson Allen, he summed up the issue with this mercurial guy who's been barely holding on: "Here's the big mystery: Who are you? Because I don't know who you are either."
In the process of defending himself, Judson explained again that he was overweight for many years and that his rediscovery of flavor happened through his weight loss journey, training himself to seek flavor instead of calories. Alton latched onto that and told Judson to make that central to his POV -- and to his credit, Judson seemed energized by the idea.
After the consultations, the teams assemble to meet the week's guest judge, past "Food Network Star" winner and superstar Guy Fieri. Each team will be hosting a live special segment with Fieri in front of a studio audience. Team Alton got Halloween as a theme, Team Giada got game day, and Team Bobby got kid-friendly foods.
This week on "Food Network Star," the contestants went to Fashion Week. Chicago expat Ted Allen was the guest judge, who introduced everyone to the homely home-favorite dishes they would be giving a "fashion makeover."
Chicago chef Judson Todd Allen got seafood alfredo. He opted to upgrade the seafood, using top quality fish and shrimp in his dish. We didn't get to see much of his preparation process because the focus was on Eric Lee and his rush to rescue his re-imagined fish sticks. But out on the runway, Judson seemed a little subdued and his dish seemed a little weird.. He led off saying that one of his mantras is, "Great cuisine plus exquisite fashion equals love." He brought out a "paella-inspired seafood pasta dish with a cognac cream sauce" topped with lobster wrapped in fried rice noodles.
The "Food Network Star" contestants were on the chopping block this week, facing a food basket challenge and the judges from "Chopped." Each team competed against each other to create desserts based on whatever was in the basket, with one contestant from each team heading to the elimination round.
Team Alton was given Hershey's kisses, pancetta, graham crackers and kumquats. Chicago's remaining contestant, Judson Todd Allen, made a pancetta cornbread-graham cracker cake, topped with kumquat-bourbon sauce. One the downside, his cake didn't cook all the way through; on the upside, judges Bob Tuschman praised him for toning down his corporate presenter style.
While there was no team win in this episode, producer Tuschman told Team Alton, "The judges felt that your team excelled this week, kind of beating the other teams."
"Food Network Star" has two contestants from Chicago -- and both of them ended up in jeopardy at the end of the second episode.
This week's challenge involved a New York neighborhood food tour by bus. Each team explored the restaurants and markets of a different neighborhood, and used them as inspiration for dishes that they then presented on a moving bus to 20 tourists as well as the judges. Team Alton went to the Jewish Lower East Side, Team Bobby went to Harlem, and Team Giada went to Arthur Avenue, the original Little Italy.
As a member of Team Alton, Judson Todd Allen ended up getting The Pickle Guys pickle store as his inspiration. He decided to do two types of cole slaw, one emphasizing the sweet pickle and the other evoking the shop's best-selling sour pickles. Unfortunately, he didn't really feel a connection with pickles, and ended up overselling his inspiration.
Later, on Team Bobby, Kara Sigle ended up with Melba's, a Harlem soul food joint. She went with egg nog waffles and fried chicken. She learned the history of chicken and waffles, and we learned that Sigle doesn't like chicken on the bone and prefers pancakes over waffles. In the cooking montage, she had some trouble finding the right balance of spices in the waffles. Her presentation was also rough -- she stumbled over calling Melba "black," then "African-American," and lost her composure, forgetting to tell the story of chicken and waffles.
The eighth season of "Food Network Star" debuted last night (they've dropped "Next" from the title -- which is good, since so many seasons have resulted in multiple stars, and not always the one who won), and Two Chicagoans are in the mix: Kara Sigle and Judson Allen.
Always a bridesmaid, eventually a bride, but not a Top Chef -- Sarah Gruenberg cooked her heart out on last night's finale episode of "Top Chef," but it just wasn't enough to stop Paul Qui from taking the title. Three thoughts on the last episode until "Top Chef Masters" returns to source some local talent.
In a twist on a familiar finale element, the top sixteen, PLUS three wannabe contenders who didn't make it past the Alamo, AND two master chefs were trucked in to cook a dish for Sarah and Paul to evaluate -- and choose by taste test which chefs would be their sous-chefs for a 100-person, 4-course dinner service. Sarah's recognition of a dish from Sable led her to pick Tyler Stone instead of fellow Chicagoan Heather Terhune. THIS GUY! The one who got eliminated mid-hackjob for butchering his butchering! Who then proceeded to advise her on everything from pickling techniques to mixing bowls, because who in the final round of "Top Chef" wouldn't benefit from his skills and experience? Thank you, TV producers, for gambling on that guy's plane ticket! Thankfully, Sarah also did figure out Heather's real dish, and constructed a strong kitchen team.
Grayson and Malibu Chris needs to star in their own show. And I think it should be called, "Jam Out With Our Clams Out."
Tom asserted at Judges Table that the final meal was some of the best food to come out of the show -- and with no kitchen disasters (REAL disasters anyway, un-wiggly egg custards and pin bones in salmon notwithstanding) and two very interesting menus, it's not hard to believe. Which made for some good TV viewing, but also made Sarah's loss by a nose that much harder for her to take. To come so close, and cook so well... Better luck next time, Sarah! I'm happy Paul won, and hope that Spiaggia might feature some of Sarah's finale dishes. Maybe as a special, low-price prix-fixe? Till next time...
You're yes and then no, you're in then you're out, as sage-of-our-time Katy Perry reminds us -- words that might be stinging a bit after some reversals of fortune on last night's episode of "Top Chef." As always, three thoughts on the last installment before the finale...
The Vancouver Chinatown Quickfire tag-team challenge featured some familiar faces, as the final three were joined by Anita Lo and Floyd Cardoz of "Top Chef Masters" and Chicago noodle-master Takashi Yagihashi. Which caused Sarah to do a full-force freak-out. "Takashi! Did you see Takashi? You got Takashi! Where's Takashi?" It was cute. And ultimately, while Paul's dish based on Takashi's "giant clam" sashimi was praised but for its excessive Thai chilis, Sarah and Floyd pulled out the win with a cod and crab salad over coconut curry, for both taste and alliteration I assume.
Is it just me, or has the food gotten just stunning and mouth-watering since the cheftestants arrived in Canada? Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of barbeque. But everything the chefs have made in the last two episodes just looked gorgeous. And interesting! Lindsey -- who was totally on top last episode -- made a halibut dish with multiple tomato components for the Elimination cocktail party challenge -- including something called a tomato nage (neige? nahj? I don't even know what word this is, it's so fancy!) that Gail described as an exquisitely seasoned piece of ice. (Ultimately, it wasn't enough to keep her in the competition but still -- ballsy!) Sarah's dish involved a ginger-spiced sformato made with something called an anti-griddle -- which I can only assume uses anti-matter to create anti-heat. And did you SEE how many lobsters Paul went through JUST FOR THE SAUCE of his winning dish? Lobsters in blenders no less.
Frozen sformato notwithstanding, Sarah is officially repping our fair city all the way to the finale against Paul. Based on this week's dishes, I'm genuinely excited to see what comes out of their very divergent chef minds and onto the judges plates next week. And if Sarah wins, you can bet Spiaggia is likely going to see an uptick in reservations. Go now during Restaurant Week, while you still can! You can say you knew her when...
Man, this season just WILL NOT END, will it? The final four were put through the ringer, and then we learn there's still one more elimination before the finale? Three thoughts on the increasingly interminable "Top Chef."
Natural Light + Padma = Pure Magic. I've been thinking all season that Padma just looked off her game, but put her in a fur hat on top of a brightly lit mountain and hot damn, it's like Season Four all over again. Take that, Texas denim and weird jumpers.
Last night's challenges managed to cover motion sickness and near-murder, as the chefs cooked in gondolas and then hacked their ingredients out of ice blocks with picks and pans. I seriously thought Bev stabbed Paul at one point -- and was then expecting to see Charlize Theron pop out of a nearby snowbank, cackling and rolling in the blood. (Did I mention I'm on some cold meds this week?) If you thought the final biathalon face-off between Chicago chefs Bev and Sarah looked comically easy -- chefs flailing in the snow, knocking each other off their skis and flopping down slight hills -- I would only comment that you may not be familiar with the hyper-demanding full-body workout that is cross-country skiing. Plus, they'd clearly never skied before! All I could think of was how SORE those poor girls are going to be for the rest of the finale(s). Bev showed off her bruises back in the ad hoc stew room, and they already looked painful.
But even with those war wounds, it wasn't enough to claw her way back to the top -- Bev's final dish of slow-roasted artic char with earthy celery root sauce and onion crust was deemed lesser than Sarah's braised rabbit with cherries. Chicago salutes you, Beverly Kim, for your tenacity! And you, Sarah Grueneberg, for repping our fair city into the final three. (And both of their home restaurants, Aria and Spiaggia are on the Restaurant Week list, if that pesky TV screen is getting between you and your Top Chef-quality eating.) Only two (?) more episodes to go...
What an exciting episode! Blindfolds! A choice between a spot in the finale and a Prius! More Priuses! FOUR Chicago chefs in the house! And as always, three thoughts on this week's "Top Chef":
This week marked the return of down-but-not-out Chicago cheftestant Beverly Kim, coming off her win over WI girl Grayson in the "Last Chance Kitchen" web competition within a competition. And the moment she walked into the room, you could feel the temperature drop. People were NOT HAPPY to see her -- except maybe for Tom and Padma, those drama-mongers. I don't know if anyone else watches the "Watch What Happens Live" show that comes after the 10pm showing of "Top Chef," (I hadn't seen it before last night, when Padma and Michael Showalter were guests) -- but Michael summed up a seeming universal when he said, it's not that he likes Bev, it's that he feels sorry for her. And clearly the competition respects her -- but there wasn't a lot of affection for Bev in last night's episode. Especially when she edged Ed out for a spot in the final four. (But hey, at least he's featured in Bon Appetit this month! It's not a new car and oodles of money, but he looks pretty happy with a drink in hand.)
This week also saw a flowering of Chicago talent on the screen, as the final five were joined by their mentors. So in addition to seeing our team of Sarah and, now, Beverly, we also got to spend a little quality TV-time with Tony Mantuano (who I totally saw quietly chatting on his cell phone at Bar Toma a few weeks ago, humble brag -- which is just slightly less than we saw him doing in this episode, as he and quickfire winner Sarah skipped out for lunch while the other chefs prepped for elimination) and Sarah Stegner, who praised Bev's technical skill and from-the-heart Asian cooking. More than anything, this heartwarming little reunion (plus Hughnibrow) just made me unexpectedly excited for the next "Top Chef Masters." EXCEPT...
...For when Paul was crippled by his own emotions and rendered speechless. Aaawwwww. I think I've found my new favorite as the gang packs up, trades their boots for balaclavas and treks up to horribly windy and raw-looking British Columbia for the finale. Will Chicago's lightweight winter leave our cheftestants unprepared to cook in the cold?? We'll find out next week...
I'm back! Just like Pee-Wee Herman, evidently. Three thoughts on this week's episode of "Top Chef".
Last night's installment felt sort of out of step with the rest of the season. Padma looked like a grown-up for the first time this season (did she finally put her beautiful foot down and refuse any more denim or weird jumpsuit things?), and a well-known child-like grown-up was guest judging. The connection to Texas was the most tenuous we've seen it (except for the Charlize Theron ep, which didn't even try). And despite multiple hurdles in the elimination challenge (find your own food, bike it around town, talk your way into someone else's kitchen), the cheftestants seemed pretty low-key on the drama index. All of which made for a fun episode to watch! Sing it with me now, "The stars at night, are big and bright..."
I was sad to see Grayson pack her knives and go. A Wisconsin girl who couldn't help but deliver gargantuan protein portions, sass Tom (twice!) and get away with it, and play nice during all the drama earlier this season -- I miss her already.And did anyone else catch her childhood cooking photo during the pancakes quickfire? While she was reminiscing about making a mess cooking in her home kitchen growing up, it looked more like an un-screened episode of "Little House on the Prairie," with the long pioneer-Victorian dress and what was probably flour but looked an awful lot like gunpowder all over the floor. The kind of photo that says, "Something terrible may have just happened here..." and that totally makes me like her even more.
All in all, it was a fun episode, though I'm not sure it was the best endorsement for biking... In Texas anyway.
And one last thought about Episode 12, for which I was asleep on the couch and failed to watch until the weekend. (Grad school, people. It's hard...sometimes.) While we lost Chris Jones (for the last time, not THAT Chris Jones) who we can only hope will cut his hair and be a good grooming role model for the family we never knew he had until the last few episodes, we gained what seemed like a sense of calm and stability that was utterly and likely purposefully lacking in the first portion of the season. The chefs that remain seem to genuinely respect and maybe even kind of...like each other.
To get your weekend started right: three thoughts on this week's "Top Chef" episode!
This episode was really, really fun to watch. It feels like I haven't been totally glued to the TV this season -- the food porn is dominated by smoke and meat glazes, the drama is a little offputting, and Padma's outfits have just been a little flat (a turquoise belt buckle is the best the costume department could do? For real?). So this episode, with plates like tuna tartare immersed in a sauce battle of good and evil (Ed), salad landscape threatened with a bloody-looking sauce handprint (Paul -- who took the win for this one), lamb heart risotto (Sarah), and of course, Grayson's black chicken slaughterhouse tableau -- to say nothing of a pack of excited, inspired chefs with happy cooking faces! -- was a real visual palate cleanser.
Of course, it wasn't all good vibes and murdered baby chickens -- there was some human carnage as well, as Beverly ended her term repping our fair city, her halibut with forbidden rice sending her home at the end of the meal. The judges seemed more pleased by the food than we've seen them in a long time, and only faulted Bev for a sticky sauce (and actually, in the photo of the dish, it does look like it's got kind of a skin growing). But really, against a field of such wildly creative dishes, it seemed like perhaps Bev's comfort in her own (highly-skilled) wheelhouse was what did her in. Black rice doesn't equate with drama when bloody handprints and poison apples are on the table as well. It's a shame to see another Chicago chef pack her knives, but it felt like the right decision -- and one that will hopefully result in less group meanness and discomfort for the rest of the season. Fingers crossed...
Finally, Chicago's Chris Jones finally got a little molecular gastro love from Tom this week, with his poison apple pie that looked like...a poison apple (liquid nitrogen applied table-side!). And suddenly, watching Tom dole out some begrudging by genuine praise, I totally remembered his anti-modernist Diet Coke commercial from a few years ago (which seemed to mock a very particular Chicago restaurant...). Sweet, maggoty retribution, perhaps, but more than anything it was nice to see Chris get some props after running a few paces behind the girls for most of the season. Only two Chicago chefs remain!
Another week of dramatic music cues, out-sized supermarket bills, and sweat in the kitchen. Must be time for a Top Chef recap. As always, three thoughts on this week's installment.
It's restaurant wars! Which, as I had to clarify for my less invested co-viewer, is just an annual elimination challenge, not an entirely new show. Though with the drama and strain this challenge always, always entails, it could be its own franchise. But for now, it's just that constant promise for TC viewers and cheftestants -- as much a signature of the show as Tom worrying a piece of criticism like an angry terrier (this week's can't-drop point of contention: you call it an Almond Joy and don't give Tom enough coconut, he will take major issue with calling your dessert "Almond Joy" -- even if he actually liked it. Tom is cranky like that). And every year the Magical Elves seem to dream up some variation to keep it new and fresh. In the past, it's been side-by-side dining in a divided space, or trying to make an original concept work in a pre-existing dining room. This year the teams were again asked to build from the ground up, tables and silverware and decor included -- and to then eat at each other's restaurants. I watched this episode last night after a full day of work and three hours of grad school -- and felt almost as exhausted as the poor chefs on my TV. Five hours to pull together a room, complete a service, and make everyone feel pretty happy at the end of the night. And as you could perhaps predict, the team that made every feel happiest at the end of the night this year -- the boys' team -- ended up on the bottom, and Ty-lor Boring ultimately was sent home. See, always dreaming up some variation to keep the viewer engaged.
My less invested but more awake co-viewed pointed this out to me. Did anyone else notice that guest judge Emeril Lagasse's commentary in this episode was a careful (and not particularly interesting, helpful, or critical) exercise in semantics? He constantly was asking for more flavor, more seasoning -- without ever once saying "Let's kick it up a notch!" Is it a copyright thing ya think? Bam!
Beverly Kim pulled out the win with her flavor-packed braised short ribs with Thai potatoes, but it was not pretty. After all the talking-down and blowing-up in the kitchen, it almost felt like Bev's win was the consolation prize for taking so much chef-on-chef abuse -- which also seems to be the engine that keeps this season moving forward, in the editing bay at least. With only three Chicago chefs remaining, and of course only one coveted spot at the top of the heap, will it be bossiness, crying, or liquid nitrogen that prove the keys to success? ...Stay tuned!
It's all Top Chef Texas all the time here on Drive Thru this week! Yeehaw!! Without further ado, three quick thoughts on last night's episode:
If you're anything like me, you perhaps spent some time a few short weeks ago reading some of the various gift guides for chefs and foodies that sprouted all over the interwebs. Maybe you even received a set of Nathan Myhrvold's 5-volume, $450 mother of all cookbooks, Modernist Cuisine, you lucky dog. But if you've merely heard about it, last night's episode gave us some sense of why it's so coveted (and so expensive -- those pages looked super-glossy), but also why modernist cuisine matters. Having Mhyrvold preside over not only a forward-thinking, avant garde quickfire, but also the couldn't-be-more-cliche Salt Lick barbeque challenge highlights the line drawn between the two, and the crucial role of technique in cooking. And despite doing their homework and staying up all hours with the book, the chefs who ended up on the bottom (everyone but Paul, Grayson and Lindsay) strayed from the bbq technique by roasting rather than smoking, not cooking properly, or over-seasoning rather than letting the meat speak for itself -- all failures of technique rather than vision.
This was sort of a weirdly personal episode, physically speaking, wasn't it? From Malibu Chris's nude art collection (good thing he didn't try out for that other Bravo show, amiright?), to Chris J.'s ass kissing with guest judge Nathan. Hey, remember when we saw his butt last week? "Crack kills," cracked Malibu Chris, which I thought was a nice gesture toward reaching for all age groups with the show this year, including 12 year old boys. (Which clearly I am, because I'm writing about it and it happened two weeks ago.) To stuffing beer cans up chicken, ahem, cavities (Chris J., again) and pelvic thrust-approval of a sauce from Grayson, who also also promised Tom her team's Asian-inflected 'que would be like "sex in the mouth" and generally seems like she'd be super-fun to invite to a stay-up-all-night sleepover. Which essentially...was what this episode was. In any case, I think we've all learned some things about each other, haven't we cheftestants?
And finally, this week saw Chicago talent seriously in peril again! While the show ultimately lost its "beautiful person" with the exit of too-salty Malibu Chris, this was a week with little redemption for our home team. After voicing my Heather-fandom in my last post and seeing her almost immediately pack her knives, I'm hesitant to pick a new favorite. (This is why I didn't watch sports for year, incidentally -- it always seemed like I jinxed my team as soon as I started to care about them.) Suffice to say, I'm still rooting for all of you, Chicago chefs. But with Restaurant Wars coming up next week...maybe it's a good thing I'm watching the late re-run of the show. Fingers crossed.
Better late than never, right? Right guys? Now that you've had a chance to ponder the vagaries of roasted squab and rack of elk, here are three short thoughts on this week's "Top Chef":
Typical. I publicly state my support for cheftestant Heather Terhune and she goes all crazy-eyes mean girl in this week's episode. This doesn't necessarily mean I'm not still rooting for her, as with all the Chicago chefs (several of whom were on the bottom this week for offenses like lack of cohesion on the plate and...sweet potato fries). But this week's episode veered into sort of uncomfortable territory, as chef Beverly Kim was helplessly put up for scrutiny over she and Heather's five-spice duck and polenta. Basically, we saw further proof of what we already know: Heather's tough and Beverly cries a lot, both attributes thrown into sharper relief by the editing, which, as with Angry Dale's wall-punching back in season four, eschewing food porn shots and overly descriptive commentary at Judges' Table for aggressive chef-on-chef confrontations. (What IS it with this season? Is a poorly seared scallop just not the drama it used to be, Bravo??)
After watching that tequila quickfire, I found myself wondering if it would even be possible to be a cheftestant (or a chef, for that matter) if you're a teetotaler. Is lusty enjoyment of the fermented beverages just a self-selecting mechanism for success in the kitchen? Or is it just the only way to get through those nights of 200 covers in a cramped, hot kitchen? You tell me, Chicago.
Undercooked venison = THE WORST. Shudder. Despite all the Heather-Beverly drama, it was no surprise to me to see Dakota and Nyesha pack their knives. Though I will miss Dakota's enormous, dangerous-looking earrings.
Half the fun of recapping "Top Chef" every week is coming up with a headline pun. I do it for you, people! As always, three thoughts on this week's episode.
The Chicago chefs were safe this week, with Heather Terhune of Sable even pulling out the win (and a new car) for her dessert -- a mild victory, given that the judges seemed less impressed with the dish than they were disappointed with most of the other components of the four-course Cattle Baron's Ball service. (Not to be confused with the Robber Barons' Ball. That was last week.) Heather seems to have made some enemies this week, with a few chefs complaining to the camera about her bossiness. So if we're organizing camps, allow me to plant myself in her favor. I like this chick. I like that she's a realistic-looking, experienced, kitchen-savvy professional woman (who looks DAMN GOOD for being 40). I like the food at Sable -- not that you wouldn't like just about anything they set down in front of you after a few of those cocktails -- whew! Of all the Chicago talent, Heather seems the most mature and well-rounded in her skill. For now, I hope she goes far.
Speaking of people I like, Ty-lor Boring is kind of great. I was really poised to dislike him based on the way he spells his name, but now I'm starting to think that maybe if MY last name was Boring, I'd want to spice things up in the first name as well. It's like the inverted mullet of names -- party up front, boring in the back. Zing! The way he shouldered the blame for the unevenly cooked steaks, and didn't whimper at judges' table about the heat, his lack of sleep, or the spurting blood coming from his hand the night before -- highly respectable.
I don't know if anyone else has this experience, but I often feel like the dishes that come out of "Top Chef," while beautiful and innovative and often mouth-watering on screen, are more than a little inaccessible -- and not just because there's a panel of glass and diodes between me and them. Sometimes I just can't taste with my mind's eye (with my mind's tongue? Ew) what these dishes are supposed to be like for the diner. So while the judges were super-unhappy with this week's fare, its predictability, its lack of risk -- I was fully enjoying the sense memory of the potatoes au gratin my Mom would make for Sunday night steak dinners with my grandparents growing up, and the mushroom, asparagus salad that she'd make with any leftover meat. Sometimes safety is a good thing -- comfort food is comforting for a reason, and that reason is rarely avant garde. Though if you mess it up, as Whitney did with her undercooked gratin, it becomes pretty dangerous pretty quickly.
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.
I've been in a car all day driving to Wisconsin, and there are spiced pecans in the kitchen that need to be, um, watched... So with no further ado, three quick thoughts on this week's Top Chef.
Bromance is pretty overplayed in the reality TV world. So it was refreshing to see a male friendship with some real depth and emotion to it, even though it was in the context of watching Richie Farina pack his knives before he could really "show what Moto can do." Voice breaking, tears welling, I think Richie probably came out of tonight's judging looking and sounding like most eliminated chefs probably feel on the inside -- but in the arms of fellow chef Chris Jones (not that Chris Jones), it all came tumbling to the surface in a rare and raw end-of-show moment. And while it's terrible to see Richie leave (the dead-animal mohawk! the Charlie Chaplin waddle!) his parting was surprisingly touching to watch.
Does Bravo hire a psychologist to work on this show? Is one of the Magical Elves, in fact, an organizational therapist with a mean streak? Tonight saw team members coming together as stony-serious Nyesha, smiling for the very first time since the PR photo shoot at the beginning of the season, comforted Beverly through what's becoming a pretty regular crying jag -- only to have to turn against her in the kitchen moments later as they, and Richie, cooked for their lives. Maybe it's just another recipe: 36 hours without sleep, emotional stress, high stakes, add to pressure cooker and slowly steam... Season liberally with salt in the wounds.
Finally, I have a hard time catching everything that happens in a single episode of TC when I'm at home with my DVR, watching in reverent silence. It's really hard to watch a quick-paced, action-packed show like this in a room with your whole family, significant other, assorted high school buddies, and a dog having an inverted sneezing fit (apparently it's a thing). Even harder to watch a chili episode when your dad is shouting his favorite Bridesmaidsquote every time someone pours their dish into a new container: "It's coming out of me like lava!" Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
I have eaten a lot of things in my day -- good things, weird things, chewy things... And the plate of rattlesnake I encountered as a pre-teen at some Sedona taco joint still sort of haunts me to this day. Flavor-wise, it tasted mostly like the sauce it was stewed in. Texture-wise, it had a memorably chewy yet pre-masticated quality to it. Shudder. So seeing the "Top Chef" cheftesants tonight create barbequed snake fillets, snake nigiri, and a frenched half-rack of snake was both nervy and impressively envy-inducing. Quickfire winner Dakota Weiss claimed that the inspiration for her battered snake fritter was beer, which seemed totally logical (to her), and seemed to have worked. Take note, Sedona. Take note.
As usual, three thoughts on this week's Top Chef:
Chicago chefs are holding strong, with Chuy Valencia even leading his team to this week's victory. Things were rockier for Sarah Grueneberg, who was faced with the terrible double sword of team-leadership and self-preservation at Judges Table. "That was awful," she says after the danger has passed, and we can feel it too. Safe for now, but the psychological damage has begun. And this week, 15-year olds were even getting in on the "my chicharron is soggy" action. (Tom Colicchio is totally thrilled about this.)
Grayson Schmitz was nigh-invisible for this episode. Until a final "Vote for Your Favorite" bumper listed as the masses' number one cheftestant. The only way I can explain this is that her name sounds like it was ripped from a CW spec script and people are just anticipating her bringing some witch/vampire/prep school queen bee skills to bear in the kitchen.
In theater, the well-worn aphorism goes something like, "If a gun appears in the first act, it must go off by the third." In the theater of reality television, it's sometimes difficult to tell what the gun is. Is it Beverly Kim's homemade Top Chef certificate? Is it Chris Crary describing the TC kitchen as an "explosion of body parts and knives"? As it turned out, this week's guns were Keith Rhodes's pre-cooked shrimp and flour tortilla-swaddled enchilada, and they went off at Judges Table as the big guy was sent home. To bad, though generally, seafood tend to be guns on Top Chef -- let's hope the Chicagoans take heed.
It was another full hour of self-proclamations of doom and shame about being sent home in the first cut, some editing-enhanced judging tension, and a little bit of cooking on tonight's "Top Chef" episode -- but unlike last week, this was a relatively Chicago-lite installment. Because most of our chefpresentatives (too much?) were already safely installed in their cook castle, we caught only a few glimpses of the five who made it through last week (and the mostly heat-related trials that seem to await them in the future of this season). The major Chicago moment came early in the episode, when Aria's Beverly Kim took a risk on a Korean-style octopus dish and was awarded her blue jacket -- the badge of entry to Chateau Chef, where Chuy, Heather, Sarah, Chris, and Richie were already enjoying champagne and bunk beds. (If you need a fix of our home team, however, Sarah Grueneberg and Chuy Valencia will be featured on Thursday's Chicago Live!, in conversation with Kevin Pang -- ticket info is on their site.) Three quick thoughts on tonight's episode:
The final 16 are chosen! Hallelujah, the chosen chefs have been proclaimed, and shall be feted throughout the -- what now? Someone else gets to come back? Son of a... Look, I'm all for the last-minute twists, but the minute has barely begun. The new online series "Last Chance Kitchen" is going to bring the last two chefs cut from tonight's show back for a final shot at redemption! First time in "Top Chef" history -- except for all of those other times when former contestants come back for a final shot at redemption. Perhaps they're using a different working definition of "final" than I'm familiar with. Because for me, this show just put itself in danger of becoming "Gossip Girl." Just because the whole "Top Chef University" attempt to create and monetize a TC social network hasn't panned out doesn't mean the standards for inclusion within the show itself need to be massaged into meaninglessness. I did not order the Blair Waldorf Salad. (Yeah, I said it.)
The selection of the 16th and final cheftestant at the tail end of the episode seemed to drag on far beyond the usual "Top Chef" standards. Like some rogue "Hell's Kitchen" AD sneaked into the editing bay and added an extra commercial break and some reverb to those tinkly dissonant chimes on the tension soundtrack. Couldn't that airtime have been better spent with, you know, the food? The first episode did an excellent job of side-stepping this reality TV show trap -- it'll be interesting to see which way the rest of the season leans.
As Drive Thru editor Robyn noted during tonight's episode, Bravo is sort of like the guy who steals your stash, and then offers to help you look for your stash. "Ohhhh, bummer bro, did you look everywhere? How about under the couch?" Oh, your intellectual and moral but still TV-watching self needs a break from reality shows where the stakes are constantly shifting and somewhat artificial drama tends to ride roughshot all over content? Check out our programming! Oh man, have you noticed how people are kind of picking on the cruise ship chef? Do you think those two Moto guys are going to turn on each other? And by the way, have you heard about this awesome "Real Housewives" thing? You're a tricky minx, Bravo. But you keep me coming back.
The king being, of course, the juggernaut that has become the Top Chef franchise. Padma, Tom, et al. have landed in Texas this season (but NOT in Western wear, as this promo photo would have us believe), and there's Chicago talent to spare: Spiaggia, Moto (times two!), Sable, Chilam Balam, represent!! About one-third of the chosen cheftestants, whittled down from a whopping 29 hopefuls hale from Chicago restaurants. We'll keep you updated as this saga unfolds -- because as they say, you don't mess with Chicago. Wait...
Three quick thoughts on the premiere episode:
Hugh Acheson cleans UP! You move some of that eyebrow up into bangs territory and it's a whole different television personality.
Bravo, you cruel mistress -- you toss me hater fodder like Tyler, Personal Chef to the Stars, and you yank him before he even has a chance to mishandle cooked pork the way he violated raw. Top Chef giveth, and Top Chef taketh away.
In a similar vein, there's still one Chicago cheftestant we've barely glimpsed yet, representing Aria, because the final 16 contestants haven't been entirely revealed yet. Top Chef taketh away closure! But on the flip side, this has meant a lot more dedicated film of every contestant we have seen, as well as their food -- elements that both make up Top Chef but often get lost behind the numbers early in the season. Think of it as an injection of extra tension...
"Chicago's restaurant scene is more vibrant and diverse than ever and we're thrilled to be able to showcase hot restaurants and hidden gems from all over the Chicago area," said "Check, Please!" Creator and executive Producer, David Manilow.
Season 11 promises first time culinary representation from Bosnia, Ghana and Kyrgyzstan. No word on whether or not the so-called "Check, Please! All-Stars" would be returning. While their addition in Season 10 was met with a notably mixed reception, it's impossible to deny the nerdy charm of bow-tied Italian economist Adolfo Laurenti.
Jeff Mauro, a corporate chef for Chicago-based mortgage company Guaranteed Rate and former stand-up comic, won the latest season of "The Next Food Network Star," earning himself a TV show in the process. His show, "Sandwich King," will air Sundays at 10:30am local time beginning Aug. 21.
Mauro will also be involved in promoting the first-ever book produced in conjunction with the series: Food Network Star: The Official Insider's Guide to America's Hottest Foods Show. He and fellow contestant Vic "Vegas" Moea will be at Macy's, 111 N. State St., Aug. 27 at 2pm for a book signing event. (Wonder if "Hearty Boys" Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, the first winners of "Next Food Network Star," will also be there.)
Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods" filmed here in Chicago this summer, and that episode finally airs tomorrow, Feb. 15 at 8pm on the Travel Channel. Sadly, our restaurant scene moves faster than that sort of delay allows -- Mado is showcased despite closing late last year. But "Bizarre Foods" does a good job of capturing the breadth of the city's offerings in terms of eateries featured. Zimmern visits Alinea and Graham Elliot on the high end, XOCO and Franks 'N' Dawgs for more of our trendier take on fast casual, Uncle John's for our indigenous aquarium-smoked barbecue, and the Maxwell Street Market for our incomparable Mexican street food, as seen in the video below. He also goes on a mini-tour of Albany Park, checking out Ruby's Fast Food, Kang Nam, George's Grill Kabab and Taco Chino.
Seeing as how one competing chef is from our fair city (Dale Levistki of Sprout) and several competitors are from the rad season that was filmed in our fair city (Richard Blais, Spike, Antonia), it seems worth spending a few moments to reflect on this week's Top Chef All Stars episode and apologize for missing the first episode until remembering I'd DVRd it this past weekend. Whoops. Assuming it takes you one second to read a long, rambling sentence or two, here are five seconds on Episode 2:
Dale Levitski is...kind of a jerk! Referring to a natural history museum cavewoman as a stuffed analogue to a fellow-cheftestant, trash-talking hyper kids (who he just gave sugar to! What do you expect to happen?!), and generally being surly and bitchy -- all of which does, however, make for some fine television.
Dale Talde thought Joe Jonas was a maybe a trendy pastry chef. Win.
Episode 1 featured liquid nitrogen-aided mustard ice cream (on the quickfire winning Chicago-style deconstructed hot dog, natch), and this week featured an entire vat of the stuff being used to solidify marshmallows, or...something. Ten bucks says by season's end a cheftestant accidentally immerses a limb in liquid nitrogen and sees it shatter when they're pushed to the floor in the mad rush to the fridge after the fateful words, "Your time starts...now!" (like this!).
And *spoiler alert* of course Jen, one of the consensus favorites to go far this season, went down in weird, fidgety, defensive flames -- channeling Spike, showing her true crazy-ass colors, or just the effects of a 24-hour run with way too much sugar and way too little sleep. You be the judge.
The FOX reality show "MasterChef" (which, yes, features Chef Graham Elliot as a judge) is holding an open casting call in Chicago this weekend.
Think you have what it takes? Pre-register here, then show up at the Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, 361 W. Chestnut St. with an application [PDF], a plated dish of something you've cooked, and photos of yourself and your dish. The open call runs Saturday, Dec. 4 from 10am to 6pm and Sunday, Dec. 5 from 10am to 3pm.
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 »