Thursday, February 5, 2009

Top Chef Season 5, Episode 11

So we kick off the top 6 with a fabulous favorite, Eric Ripert. There aren't too many yummier chefs around, in my humble opinion. He has always seemed so down to earth for all his many stars and accolades. His restaurant, Le Bernadin, is considered the pinnacle of French eating in NYC. Check out their web site. Completely breaks my rule for no music on a web page. Just gorgeous and ethereal and makes me want to book a ticket to NYC. Now. And then there's his other web site, Avec Eric, which is also quite fun.

So, with Eric around, it has to be fish. And more fish. For the elimination challenge, a three-round fish fillet tournament!

Round 1: 2 whole sardines to be filleted. 5 minutes to clean and and butterfly according to Eric’s instruction. Off they go... Priceless: the look on Eric’s face when he saw Carla’s fish… not so well done... Jamie's out as well. Fabio rocked. But apparently Leah did best. Hmm.

Round 2: Arctic char: fillet it. Again, 5 minutes. Leah stopped. Stuck out her bottom lip and just kind of pouted. (Of course Hosea has an opinion about that.) Out: Leah and Fabio. Winner of that round: Hosea.

Round 3: Eel: peel it and fillet it. Recently killed, but still may move while you’re working on it… wow. According to Stefan, skinning eel is like riding a bike. Yeah, right. Even in Germany I don’t think that’s true… However, Stefan DID rather rock this round… no immunity but "a really useful advantage," says Padma. (Since when does eel = fish? I get "seafood," but not fish per se. I'm just a seafood wimp, I guess.)

Here comes the lull... lunch in the private room at Le Bernadin. (Hello chefs, be on the ready, I don’t think that’s all there is to it… hello, pay attention chefs… but no, they are placidly just eating away in la-la land...) Six courses in, out comes the knife block. They must now recreate one of the dishes they just ate. And Stefan gets to choose his first. Lucky man. Some of those dishes were definitely more complicated than others. They got two hours to prep and then Chef Eric came around to taste and give subtle advice. Tension. Pressure. Being watched while cooking. Breathe.
And so it went... judges get to eat the Le Bernadin original and compare it to the Top Chef attempt.

Sourdough-crusted red snapper with tomato basil consommĂ©: Fabio. Eric was pretty impressed, details make the difference, a good forgery…

Baked mahimahi with miso and matsutake mushroom sauce: Leah. A definite flavor difference between the orignal and the ripoff. Fish overcooked, miso sauce not quite like the original.

Baked lobster with asparagus and hollandaise sauce: Stefan. They immediately notice that Stefan's sauce is not as light. (Eric's is made in blender. Good to know.) Well-seasoned asparagus. Lobster very much the same. Sauce tastes very good. Very, very close, says Eric.

Oil-poached escolar with potato crisps in a red wine béarnaise: Carla. She was cooking right down to the wire. (Really great the way the cheftestants help each other out. Carla would not have had a dish to present without her cohorts.) From Eric: Potatoes not as crispy as they should be. However, it was one of the more difficult dishes. She was loyal to original dish. She got it.

Za’atar-spiced monkfish with black garlic: Hosea. Fish overcooked. And, from Tom, monkfish needs to rest before you cut it (also good to know, new information for me). Hosea had never cooked with za’atar spice before and there was too much on the fish. But, fairly close with the sauce.

Sauteed black bass with braised celery with serrano ham peppercorn sauce: Jamie. Celery blanched out, way too salty. Salt aside, fish is well cooked. Although, according to Toby, not merely unremarkable, it’s remarkably poor, says she fell flat on her face. Tom actually defended her and said it wasn’t as easy as it looks. Eric agreed, not an easy dish.

On top: Carla, Stefan and Fabio. All did well, but the winner is: Stefan. Thank goodness. I was going to freak if Carla won another one. And Stefan won the book from Eric, as well as an amazing gift of working for a week at Le Bernardin and then flying to the Food and Wine Classic at Pebble Beach. (Watch out, that site also has music, and it's not quite the treat that Le Bernadin's is.) Holy cow, that’s an honor wrapped up in a giant pretty bow.

Jamie, Leah, Hosea on the losing end…
Hosea... somewhat surprised to be there. Hadn’t cooked with za’atar. Fish was overcooked, sauce was good, fish didn’t rest. The judges didn't really have anything new to say, but the dish wasn't inedible.

Leah tries to say she knew what she did wrong, but I’m not sure she really does. Missed the mark. Toby had least amount of miso, which resulted in rather dull fish, apparently. And briefly, the quickfire lay-down came back to haunt her. Tom asks about the giving up… she regrets giving up. Tried her best with the elimination fish.

Jamie: Celery was oversalted. She knew it, over-reduced… Padma says it wasn’t appetizing to look at or eat, would have sent it back if she could have. Whole dish completely toxic, didn’t want to eat more than one bite: Toby. Knew the mistakes, she says, couldn’t fix them, it was too late at that point…

I’d pick Jamie to go home. And sure enough, so did they.

Check out this defense of the Jamie-knife-packing on Eric's site. And this one in the Village Voice. Apparently it's all the rage to think that they're going to keep Leah and Hosea around to milk the wee bit 'o drama out of their pettiness... I'm not so sure. Jamie did quite well to this point, but now it really is down to the details between good and great, and she just didn't cut it in this challenge. And other than some selective editing for maximum petty comments, Leah and Hosea seem to be pretty much old news by now.
Down to five... so who's out before the top 4? My bet would be Carla or Leah, neither of which deserve to be in the finals. Can we send both home? I wasn't horribly sad to see Jamie go, but when I think about who should be in the finals, I think of her... so now I'm a little sad. Sniff.

For some great clips of Top Chef "behind the scenes," check out the site, as well as hulu. And here's a fun blog I like to follow that has some good fun at Top Chef's expense.

1 comment:

  1. Another great commentary on TC.
    And I like the phrase: "elimination fish"....sounds so monty python.


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