Friday, June 25, 2010

Top Chef Season 7: Episode 2

Week two and already I'm late with my little Top Chef commentary. Oh dear. But my excuse this week is that I completely forgot it was on! I'm not sure that's a valid excuse, but I was also a bit distracted by getting a couple of wisdom teeth janked Thursday morning. Now THAT's an excuse.

So this week started out with a fun quickfire, pretty standard Top Chef stuff except for one little twist... chefs get to cook together in teams of two--really together: the cheftestants wore an apron that tied them together and they each had to use one hand to contribute to the effort! Yikes.

The visiting judge for this episode was Sam Kass, Assistant White House Chef and Food Initiative Coordinator. He works with Michelle Obama on programs to utilize local and organic foods in the White House and to spread the word nationwide. I liked his tidbit of advice prior to the quickfire: "Leave your egos at the door and forget about taking credit." I think that fell on mostly deaf ears...

In honor of being in D.C., they made a bi-partisandwich. Ha. (I have a feeling we'll get lots of those kinds of political-angle dishes and challenges...)
Arnold + Kelly: Curry-rubbed chicken, honey and sambal, cucumber, mint, dill and cilantro. This one sounds delicious to me.

Kenny + Ed: Chile-rubbed tuna, cucumber-mango slaw on multigrain. They liked the flavor on this one.

Angelo + Tracy: Fish sandwich (flounder, spicy mayo, pickled red onions). Good flavor, say the judges.

Tiffany + Lynne: Flatbread saltimbocca with goat cheese, artichokes, peppers and white asparagus--was deemed pretty messy to eat.

Andrea + Kevin: "Philly Cuban" (pork, pickle, mustard, gruyere). The gruyere sounds good to me!

Amanda + Tamesha: Proscuitto, swiss, dijon and pepper salsa.

Alex + Tim: "Croque Madame" interpretation: lamb, mornay sauce and egg.

Jacqueline + Stephen: Chicken with avocado and onion. Judges thought this one was boring, no real flavor.

Sam Kass judged the sandwiches and put two teams at the bottom of the spectrum: Stephen + Jacqueline, Lynne +  Tiffany. He also named the top two: Tracy + Angelo, Kenny + Ed: Tracy and Angelo take it with their fresh flavor and spice. (Angelo is on a roll... Everyone is feeling it.)

Elimination challenge: based off Let's Move, Michelle Obama's initiative to increase childhood health and nutrition. So the challenge was to cook a healthy lunch on a budget... the average public school budget: $2.68 per child; $134 for 50 kids - $4 (labor and supplies) = $130 for each team. The meal needed to consist of a main course, side, salad, dessert.

It was kind of humorous that they were SO far away from Whole Foods for this shopping expedition. And even at the no-name food wholesaler, they had a challenge getting through the line without needing to shave major $$ off the total. Cooking on a budget... kind of gave them a new perspective on what schools have to work with, I'm sure!

Then back to the kitchen they go: already some personality tweaks going around between cheftestants. You'd think these people had been cooking together in really tight spaces for weeks on end rather than this being the second challenge. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the coming weeks...

Teams of four for the elimination challenge based off duos above:
1. Kenny, Ed, Angelo and Tracy: Chicken burger, sweet potato puree, apple bread pudding and celery and peanut butter

2. Jacqueline, Stephen, Amanda, Tamesha: Braised chicken thigh, sweet onion rice, green bean and tomato salad, banana pudding with strawberries

3. Andrea, Kevin, Alex, Tim: Picnic themed with coleslaw, BBQ chicken, mac and cheese, melon

4. Tiffany, Lynne, Kelly, Arnold: Black bean cake, pork carnitas, corn salad and carmelized sweet potatoes with sherbet

They turned things upside down by bringing in the losing teams first: teams 1 and 2. That left the other teams in the stew room, really confused! They had been feeling so confident until that moment... And for the two losing teams, it got rather interesting at the judges table. They started taking shots back and forth at each other: everyone was all of a sudden a nutrition expert and able to tell the OTHER team how they should have built a better menu and which dishes shouldn't have made it to the kids. The judges just sat back and let them have at each other for a little bit, then sent them back to stew before naming the loser.

Then they sent out the winning team: Kelly/Arnold/Tiffany/Lynne. The judges were impressed with the variety of vegetables, color, texture and total nutrition. Kelly was the overall winner with her made-from-scratch whole grain taco shells and pork carnitas.

They called in Ed, Kenny, Jacqueline and Amanda (two from team 1 and two from team 2) to declare who would pack their knives and go... and it ended up that Jacqueline's over-sweetened-yet-still-starchy banana pudding sent her home... Ironic, given her statement at the beginning of the show of wanting to win the quickfire so that she could just "breathe for a moment"--like they'd at this for months! Now she'll get more than a moment or two to catch her breath! I would have been really sad to see Kenny go so quickly, as he's such a bright spot and did so well last week. But he learned his lesson (hopefully) to speak up about the menu planning if he sees issues, and ESPECIALLY to look out for himself if two other people on the team have immunity. Oh yeah, he'll be watching his back around Angelo even more now!

For a fun and really comprehensive blog about Top Chef (other than the Bravo site), go to Blogging Top Chef. Lots of info about past cheftestants too!

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