Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 6

Product placement criticism right off the bat: Catch Hosea's flagrant use of the Samsung phone? Those product placements are just a bit more than I need in a reality show. Pays the bills, I suppose. But still...

Martha Stewart as quickfire judge, very cool. Love the one pot idea. A nice constraint for the cheftestants. And there were some yummy entries to boot, and in 45 minutes too.

However, I couldn't believe that Ariane won with her cauliflower puree and beef--once again the big protein rules the day. Granted, I would love love love to eat the dish, and probably will attempt it at home soon, but in the realm of one-pot, her dish barely qualified in my thinking. (I may have to eat my words on Ariane eventually; time will tell... I'm not ready to completely roll over on this one.) In the one-pot realm, if the dishes tasted good, Stefan's goulash or Eugene's stew or Hosea's paella or even Fabio's polenta (minus the duck) would seem to fit the bill much better. Even Jeff's potato risotto. I think I would like that dish, in concept. I might even try that at home too, just to see if it could work. Martha's criticism of Fabio's polenta ("it was a little gray") didn't ring true as the video of the dish rolled and it was obviously yellowy and yummy looking. And her criticism that she couldn't "see the mushrooms" seemed odd. But, on-the-spot judging can't be easy. Martha didn't seem to really enjoy that process, and I heard her on some talk show earlier this week chatting about how she couldn't do a Top Chef style of show regularly, which presents her as softer than I envision her. I think of her as being rather sharp and ruthless... maybe not. She actually apologized to the people whose food she didn't like ("I'm sorry, Jeff, your risotto was a little starchy and heavy."). Ha.

So, on to elimination. Or so we thought...! The Twelve Days of Christmas for a charity event... not a bad idea. Fits quite nicely when you have 12 cheftestants left...

Ariane's comment about feeding 250 people being "a lot" made me laugh. Tis true. Most restauranteurs don't have a clue what caterers put out (so to speak) on a regular basis. So the caterers in the bunch (Carla, etc.) should have an edge there... but as we found later (pause for drama), not so much. There were also some comments while they were cooking about how much food it is for 250... again, ha! If you need to cook all courses for 250, maybe. But one little appetizer for 250? That's nothing. Really. When people ask me how to cook for large quantities, I always say just think about cooking for 10 people. That's easy, right? Now multiply it. There. Not so hard. Well, that and a little practice. I actually have a hard time scaling it back to just 10 now... Leftovers. Ugh.

Very interesting challenge, all in all. The major whoo-haa was having the fridge door open overnight and various proteins being ruined. That would be horrible. I haven't had that particular horror, but I used to have more than a few OCD moments with my walk-in reefer. I would check it, go to lock the door to the catering kitchen, feel somehow that the walk-in door must have opened (yeah, heavy door, on it's own...) and go back and check it again. Yeesh. But when you have hundreds of dollars of ingredients at stake, you can get a little twitchy sometimes...

Anyway, just before that little fiasco, I was just thinking about how nicely they are all getting along this season. No real swearing fits, no fisticuffs in the stew room, people helping each other. What's with that? Way too friendly. Obviously these people haven't been watching Survivor (but neither have I. Maybe they've gotten friendlier there as well?). But in it's own way, nice to see. So then, with proteins ruined, everyone pitches in to help Hosea and Rhadika. Very cool.

My favorite line of the night: "You aren't going to win with deviled eggs." I had been thinking, just prior to that comment (notice how my brilliance just preceeds Top Chef revelations? Curious, eh?) was that it was a very creative thing for Ariane to do, and how much I would love to sample six different varieties of deviled eggs. So Tom and I aren't on the same page about that one!

I was glad to see the winners get their kudos, but after the losers were called in and they revealed that really, no one cooked well this time around, it was a little sad. I do have to give some support to the chefs and a wee bit of criticism to the judges: I think that good food is entirely possible and expected in any one of the elimination challenges, and since I didn't taste the food, I can't say if it was all really as "disappointing" as Natasha Richardson (guest judge) said it was. But! This is a catered event. That means not cooking on site. That means difficulty with assembly and execution. When was the last time you raved about an hors d'ouevres, hot or cold or inbetween, at a cocktail party? It's just not the same setting as a restaurant kitchen and I felt like they were judging it AS IF that was the standard... maybe it was, but that's a bit unrealistic. I'm just saying.

So, no one went home. They got a little pep talk in the stew room from Tom, and next week they get to all cook "their food." Well, if they don't get great food with wide open no-parameter cooking, then definitely someone should pack their knives and go!

I've been waiting for Toby Young all season. I knew he was coming along, and I'm assuming he's here to take Gail's place while she honeymoons? We'll see. I'm looking forward to his wit and brutal honesty (though what he knows about food seems beside the point)! And from the previews, it looks like the chefs don't much like him. How very fun. Gimmicky, but fun. Which brings us back to product placement... gimmicky and not fun. Nuff said.

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