Friday, August 31, 2012

Vote for Me on Food 52!

My recipe for miso caramel is one of two finalists in Food 52's best soy recipe contest! Please vote for me!

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Flashback Friday - August 31, 2012

This post was originally published on November 5, 2009. We can't really do Top Chef recaps as Flashback Friday posts because in most cases, a single post makes no sense out of context. But the Reunion Dinner Special was a one-off, so here it is.
Top Chef Reunion Dinner Special Recap

This week, the powers that be at Bravo decided to break the momentum of the swell of excitement that has been building on Top Chef Las Vegas (yawn). Instead of more Voltaggio bickering, we are treated to Marcel Vigneron being himself (you know, a complete and total ass) in a Top Chef Reunion Dinner special. Double yawn.

Bravo execs must have themselves bickered over whether the dinner party should be a nice family show full of fun, feel-good moments, or one filled with bad memories and acrimony. They chose the latter. Where it might have made for good tv to feature the most irritating chefs from each season, they instead made it easy on themselves and invited the finalists from each season, several of whom were pills. And to host this fun fest? Chef Fabio Viviani, who must have signed his life away to Bravo.

The show starts off like a finale episode, with scenes of chefs arriving at the airport in Los Angeles and then traveling to Social, once the location for the Elimination Challenge in episode 5 of season 2.

Tiffani Faison from season 1 arrives first. Fabio has already started drinking because he knows what is to come.

After Tiffany, we see her season's champ, Harold Dieterle arrive.

Next up is season 2 winner Ilan Hall and season 2 asshat, Wolverine Marcel.

Suddenly, the "Top Chef Reunion Dinner Special" becomes the "Marcel Vigneron is a Douche Not-So-Special." Marcel explains why everyone hated him.

Oh, we do get to see the other chefs for a bit, too. Season 3's Dale Levitski and Casey Thompson come in next. Dale talks about how he bonded with Sara Nguyen during their season and that they now live together and she's his "girlfriend/little sister." Casey says she had a little sister too that season - Hung. And on that note, season 3 winner Hung Huynh strolls in.

Season 4 finalist Richard Blais enters and is asked by Fabio if he copied his hairdo from Jennifer Biesty. Lisa Fernandes, sporting a new extra-butch buzzcut, is next to arrive. When asked what she's been up to these past few years, she states she's still with her same girlfriend. Um...I think Fabio meant chefly accomplishments.

Season 5's Carla Hall walks in next and Casey shits herself. It's the first time they've encountered each other since their unsuccessful pairing in that season's finale. But before Casey gets a chance to duck and hide behind the bar, Stefan walks in and starts flirting with the lesbians.

Fabio then grabs another glass of wine and sits down to talk with Marcel, Tiffani, and Hung, three of the more abrasive characters ever to appear in the Top Chef Corporate Sponsorship Kitchens.

Tiffani really owned up to her past bad attitude. But Marcel remained childish. He didn't want to answer any questions about the time he was hit over the head with a bottle by an angry Top Chef fan, requiring 30 stitches. Or about anything else vaguely interesting. Stefan then joins the klatch.

Fabio has enough of the chatter and brings out the knife block. While it would have been fun to watch him throw the knives at Marcel, it's merely a signal that there will be some sort of cooking challenge. Harold's thrilled.

The sight of the block prompts Blais to do a riff on his inquisitiveness.

One person from each season draws a knife which is numbered from 1 to 5. This number represents the course that they will be expected to prepare for the dinner. Hung, Casey, and Dale are doing the first course, Tiffani and Harold get second, Ilan and Marcel get third, Blais and Lisa get 4th, and Stefan and Carla get 5th course. Each season/team has an outrageously high budget of $500.

Cut to the chefs rushing around Whole Paycheck. At one point Stefan is holding a jalapeno pepper in his right hand and a large cucumber in his left. As Carla approaches, he nods toward the jalapeno and says, "Fabio," then indicates the cucumber and says, "Stefan." Carla gives him a "you wish" and walks off.

Ilan and Marcel decide to blow most of their budget on expensive wine. Although they exchanged some pretty harsh words in the past, they seem to have buried the hatchet. Unfortunately, Ilan wasn't strong enough and the hatchet bounced off Marcel's hair....

Back at the Social kitchen, Tiffani remarks that this time she's cooking in a kitchen full of professionals. Is she saying that they weren't professionals in the past? Meanwhile, Stefan is flirting with her. She calls him a "lesbian opportuniwhore," to which he remarks, "look out, Lisa!"

Time's up! Knives down! Everything gets plated and brought to the table, family-style. Looks like the former cheftestants are getting a lot of cold food today. Fabio stands up and gives a long-winded broken-English toast about being a weener and heem sorry he not have been een keetchen with them all.

Fabio then introduces a never-before-seen clip from last season: Blais, Casey, and Marcel in front of Judges' Table, being interrogated after the finale. Marcel, not surprisingly, is being a douche and insists on talking while the judges are talking, prompting Toby Young to tell him to shut up. Marcel then stalks off like the immature brat he is, feigning offense at being called offensive.

That causes Fabio to ask if the cheftestants thought they were unfairly criticized in their season, prompting a montage of various judges saying mean things. We then get another montage showing the cheftestants boozing it up.

Marcel and Ilan then serve their salt-crusted fish dish, giving the producers the opportunity to swing the topic of conversation back to Marcel, King of the Douches.

We momentarily move away from the Marcel Show and face the tension between Carla and Casey. Carla is happy for the opportunity to clear the air.

And Casey acts all innocent. She thinks we've forgotten this.

The chefs then decide they are tired of talking about Top Chef and what they went through. This incenses Fabio who stands up and demands the cameras be shut off. Which they aren't. So we get to see him yell at the group like an angry father, saying that eef they don' wan' to talk, they-a should pack up-a da food and leave because they-a make heem look-a stupid. And the cheftestants all laugh at him, making him look-a stupid.

Back to the Marcel Show: Fabio asks him about the head shaving incident, which he relents to relating with the help of a montage. And I relive cheering Cliff on as he wrestles the little jerk to the ground. Ah, memories! We are also subject to a montage of fights between cheftestants, namely, Howie and Joey in season 3, and the chair throwing incident between Spike, Jen, and Dale in season 4.

And finally, a montage of stew room antics which include faux magic, Glad beds, and volleyball. And I'm looking at the clock and thinking, "oh shit, is this going to be a super-sized episode?" But the credits start coming up on peoples' torsos and I'm relieved.

The end. Let's not do this again, shall we?

Next week: The Voltaggios are back, serving breakfast in bed to Nigella Lawson and Padma. Unfortunately, nobody gets naked.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Of Love and Regret - Part II

Mr Minx and I went to Of Love and Regret to celebrate his recent birthday. We started off with the crispy pig's ear appetizer, which I had enjoyed on my first visit, and a soft shell crab sushi roll, before heading to the main attraction:


OL&R makes hefty 8oz patties and serves them with an interesting array of toppings, on your choice of bun or house-made croissant.

Mr Minx went for the Canton Burger, which was topped with such sundry things as rosemary-infused portobello mushrooms, bratwurst pellets, and arugula. I probably should have had him put his hand on it for scale, because the thing was huge. As far as the burger is concerned, that's not a complaint. But the bun was far too large and unwieldy. (I had heard that the croissants were a bit over-the-top and fell apart, hence our choice of buns.)

I went for the French burger, with brie, brandy-poached pears, grilled onions, and bacon. The oversized bun really muffled the delicate flavors of my toppings, which were delicious when eaten separately. That quibble aside, the burgers were perfectly cooked to medium, were juicy, and came with outstanding steak fries. I'm usually not a fan of the thick-cut potato, because they're often too starchy and not crisp enough. Not so with OL&R's potatoes, which were cut with a slight curve, for just that much more surface area. They were crisp and nicely salted and something I wouldn't be averse to eating in a bottomless portion.

But that's not all, folks! Thanks to the half-portion beer servings available, we were able to try six different brews, all of which were outstanding. I wish I had written the names down, because the online menu of "current" drafts is quite different. All I'm sure of is that we tried the Stillwater "Existent," which reminded me of marigolds. Another beer was very caramelly, and would make a splendid dessert, and yet another had a lovely coriander flavor. Honestly, if you like beer (and even if you think you don't), head to OL&R and try a couple three. You will be happy you did.

Note: I'm praising the food at OL&R so of course Ted Stelzenmuller has left the restaurant and gone back to Jack's Bistro. Expect a complete food menu change by October.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Choice Bites 8.28.2012

Fans of See's chocolates (like us) will be pleased to know that the company plans to open brick-and-mortar shops in the East (including Maryland) within the next three years. Woo hoo! Read more about Warren Buffet's candy company in this interesting article from the latest issue of Fortune Magazine.

Art and food collide in this amazing magazine cover featuring the likeness of acclaimed Danish chef Rene Redzepi. Created with glasses, plates, food, etc. Clicky here to see it and read an article about its creation.

Americans eat 270.7 pounds of meat per year PER PERSON. That's outrageous. It's like eating one pound of meat EVERY 32 HOURS. I know I don't eat anywhere near that much, so someone(s) else is(are) taking up my slack. And the most popular meat? Chicken, at the moment, although historically it's been beef. For more info on this crazy carnivorousness and its impact on the environment, check out these NPR articles here and here.

I love Mexican cuisine, and was happy to see that Saveur has made its entire Mexico Issue available online. Find all sorts of delicious recipes and instructional videos here.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Smoky Eggplant Dip

I whipped up a batch of babaganoush the other night and thought that it would be even better had I smoked the eggplant first. So while the smoker was still not put away (weeks later!), I cut an eggplant into thirds lengthwise and popped it in with some hickory chips and a quarter of an onion, roughly chopped.

I still had babaganoush in the fridge, and I wasn't about to make another similar batch, so I winged it with stuff hanging around the pantry. I dumped a small can of chopped green chiles in the food processor with the smoked eggplant (which also needed 5 minutes in the microwave to make it tender), lime juice, tomato paste, the smoked onions, and a big pinch of Penzey's Arizona Dreaming spice mix. It was pretty good, but needed a little more sumpin' sumpin'. In went a squeeze of agave syrup and a dollop of almond butter. And salt and pepper of course.

Now we were talkin'. A Southwest-ish babaganoush that goes just as well with pita bread as the standard, but with a new twist. I know most folks won't have a stovetop smoker, so just fake it with some smoked paprika.

Smoky Southwest Eggplant Dip

1 medium eggplant (yielding about 2 cups of cooked pulp)
1 3-4 oz can chopped green chiles
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons agave syrup, or to taste
2 tablespoons almond butter
2 teaspoons Arizona Dreaming seasoning
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
chopped scallions and cilantro for garnish

Slice off blossom end of eggplant and discard. Cut the eggplant in half horizontally and place it, cut side down, on a microwave-safe plate. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 10 minutes, until it collapses and is very tender. Set aside to cool. When cooled enough to handle, scrape pulp into the bowl of a food processor. Add the next 8 ingredients and process until pureed. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with scallions and cilantro.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Flashback Friday - August 24, 2012

This post was originally published on September 22, 2009. Sake Bar Hagi was the reason why we were so excited to have Pabu open at Harbor East. Izakayas are delicious.

Eating New York - Sake Bar Hagi

A couple of seasons ago on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, he visited a hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant in Times Square called Sake Bar Hagi. I filed that away in the back of my head for a future trip to NY. When Mr Minx and I went up for Fashion Week, I thought it would be the ideal place in which to dine with my friend, the somewhat-infamous, always-entertaining, and fabulously snarky Mr David Dust.

Sake Bar Hagi is an izakaya, or a watering hole that also serves food, comparable to Spanish tapas. It's a very popular place, and from what I read on teh innernets, it's best to get there early to avoid waiting in line. So we decided to meet when the doors opened at 5:30. Even at that early hour there were several tables filled. (When we left around 7, there was a line out the door.)

David didn't have much experience with Japanese food before, and what I hadn't eaten I had at least read about, so I did the ordering. We started off with the kushiyaki (things on skewers) sampler: beef, pork belly, garlic, chicken meatballs, and chicken... order of gyoza and an order of fried calamari.

The skewered tidbits were all delicious, particularly the steak. The gyoza were good/standard, and the onion ring-like calamari were a little chewy, but they tasted fine.

The specials menu offered corn dogs, so we tried two. They were actually seafood sausages dipped in standard corndog batter, and served with ketchup and mustard on the side. Good, but somewhat weird. Tasted better than tofu pups though.

Next I ordered some more unusual fare: fried gobo (burdock) chips. They had that essential starchy/greasy/salty thing going on and tasted a bit like dark-cooked potato chips, or maybe even plantain chips. The accompanying dip was a creamy honey mustard.

I've always been curious about takoyaki, or octopus balls. Ok, they're not octopus balls, but balls of starch with octopus meat inside. Kinda like round, squishy pancakes. They were topped with a preponderance of dried bonito flakes that moved around eerily as if they were alive. The red stuff is pickled, non-sweet ginger. Interesting, I can say I ate them, but not a big favorite at the table. David wouldn't even try one. I think the bonito freaked him out a bit. :)

Because the first round of skewers was so good, we went for a second, this time asparagus wrapped in bacon, duck, and beef. So good.

Finally, we ordered a noodle dish from the specials menu. It was stir fried with bits of pork, onion, and green beans. I thought it would be somewhat like the Chinese "ants climbing a tree" but it was far richer.

We washed everything down with glasses of very apple-y apple sake. And lots of ice water (one needs to stay hydrated in NY).

All-in-all, a pretty great selection of stuff, and I would definitely eat there again and again. Plus, everything is cheap - the noodles were the most expensive dish at $9.50, and the skewers were about $2 apiece. We ordered a lot (and had trouble finishing), but someone with an average appetite could probably get out of there for under $20, not including alcohol.

Sake Bar Hagi
152 West 49th Street (between 6th and 7th)

Sake Bar Hagi on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

End Childhood Hunger With Bryan Voltaggio

On September 13, 2012, former Top Cheftestant Chef Bryan Voltaggio of VOLT, Lunchbox, Family Meal, and Range will host a very special multi-course benefit dinner for Share Our Strength®, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger in the U.S.

Voltaggio will be joined by chefs, including his brother, Top Chef season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio, Chef at ink. in Los Angeles, CA and Matt Orlando, Chef de Cuisine of the world-renowned Copenhagen restaurant Noma, under founder Chef Rene Redzepi to prepare a multi-course meal with a cause: ending childhood hunger in America. The cocktail reception starts at 5 p.m. with dinner seating at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $750 per person, with opportunities in the Chef’s Kitchen available at $1250, and at Table 21 for $2000. Make reservations at 202-478-6528 or visit Guests will also have the opportunity to participate in auctions that include one-of-a-kind culinary, travel and lifestyle items.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cherry Barbecue

I broke out the now-trusty stovetop smoker the other day to make some 'cue. I got it in my head to experiment with a cherry barbecue sauce, made with dried cherries and a good dose of bourbon. The sauce was just fine and dandy eaten straight out of the jar, but was even better on some smoked chicken thighs.

In previous smoking events, I didn't leave the food in contact with smoke for nearly long enough. This time, I cooked the bone-in, skinless, chicken thighs for a good 45 minutes, which imbued them with a ton of smoky goodness. I popped them into a saute pan with several tablespoons of sauce and a bit of vegetable stock and simmered it until the liquid reduced into a nice glaze. Delicious!

(The sides, an oatmeal risotto and sauteed radishes, did not match at all, but they were what I had. Next time - cole slaw!)

Cherry Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

3/4 cup dried tart cherries
1/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup minced onion
olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring cherries and bourbon to a simmer, then turn the heat down to medium-low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, until cherries are nice and plump and much of the bourbon has evaporated. Transfer to a food processor and puree. Set aside.

Wipe out the saucepan and add the onions, oil, and pinch of salt. Cover and cook onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are quite soft, 15-20 minutes.

Add the cherry bourbon puree to the onions. Add the stock, ketchup, vinegar, garlic, honey, and ancho powder, and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Special Day

A very happy birthday to my partner in crime. Love you!

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Monday, August 20, 2012


Do you ever get something stuck in your head that you just can't shake? I don't mean crappy pop music or commercial jingles (which, these days, can be one and the same) but stuff that your brain MUST HAVE NOW. The other day I skimmed something about esquites, a Mexican street food made with corn, and got the word stuck in my head. Only I pronounced it "ess-KWEETs" because I had never heard it pronounced. I just looked it up and it's es-KEY-tez. You're welcome.

It's corn season, at least in parts of the country not hit by drought, so after picking up a couple four ears of bi-color corn at the grocery store, I decided it was time to make some es-key-tez. Except, while I had the corn, I didn't have the cotija cheese, epazote, or crema to make an authentic esquites. So I improvised with some non-italicized ingredients. I'd seen recipes that called for mayo, which I did have, and for chile powder and lime juice, which I also had. As for the cheesy bits, what doesn't taste good with Parmesan and Cheddar? (Chocolate cake, that's what.)

Fake it 'til you make it should be my motto.

And what do you know? My bastardization tasted pretty freakin' fantastic. While it was good on its own, it was even better as a filling for veggie tacos with leftover black bean hummus. Wow.


4 ears corn, cooked to your liking, kernels removed
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chile powder
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped scallions

Mix everything together (except the cobs, natch) in a bowl. Serve warm.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Time Machine Chefs Recap

Did anyone watch Time Machine Chefs last night? No worries, because I watched it for you! Yes, I sacrificed an hour of my life to this entirely fake "reality" cooking competition show that ripped off everything from Top Chef to Doctor Who. Yes, I said "Doctor Who."

It really was quite remarkable.

The four contestants are no strangers to reality cooking competitions: Art Smith and Chris Cosentino are currently hating on each other on the fourth season of Top Chef Masters; Ilan Hall was the winner of Top Chef season 2; Jill Davie made a valiant attempt at being the Food Network's Next Iron Chef (but failed). Rather than competing for money for themselves or for a charity, the four are vying for the title of "Best Chef in History." How is that possible? It's really not. For one thing, there were probably far better chefs in the long history of cuisine than Art Smith and Jill Davie.

Anyhoo...the four intrepid travelers enter a giant set at the center of which is a huge blue Tardis. I mean...old-fashioned refrigerator which serves as their time machine. A Re-Tardis, if you will. The super-annoying Brooke Peterson, supposed "lifestyle expert" and otherwise loud/shrill blond, plays the role of Curtis Stone. She tells the chefs they will be traveling through time to cook, and the chefs pretend to get excited. Art Smith wants to end up in the court of Marie Antoinette because he wants to wear tights and a powdered wig, and Ilan Hall wants to roll out matzoh balls for Jesus at the Last Supper. He'd probably put bacon in them.

Peterson herds the chefs into the fridge and closes the door. Then some cheesy special effects take over and suddenly the Re-Tardis disappears...

...and reappears in China, 1416 AD - the Ming Dynasty. Or a Hollywood backlot made up to look like a market, with actors dressed up in coolie hats.

The chefs pretend to be excited. Suddenly, we see that Brooke has a completely different outfit and hairstyle, and for several minutes I'm not sure it's the same person, but another bland loud blond who is taking over the China leg of the tour.

She brings out the judges for the competition - Nancy Silverton, from LaBrea Bakery and Mozza, with obviously-dyed hair; Dave Arnold from the French Culinary Institute; and Silvena Rowe, chef from Quince at London's May Fair Hotel.

Silvena needs a show of her own. She's a big, imposing bottle blond from Bulgaria, with a tough manner. Art Smith is immediately afraid she's going to crack his head open like a walnut between her powerful thighs. And you know he wants to get nowhere near a woman's thighs.

It's explained that in China, Peking Duck reigns supreme (at least in Peking, maybe, sorta) and that despite not having the same modern conveniences as chefs do today, Ming Dynasty cooks were masters at achieving very crisp skin. The secret is to separate the skin from the meat by inflating the bird. Silvena happily demonstrates the technique - she grabs a duck, puts it to her mouth, and blows. Art's gonads immediately get sucked into his body cavity, but Chris Cosentino is turned on.

Each chef has to make a dish of crispy duck skin, and utilize any of the rest of the duck as they please. But first they have to light a communal outdoor oven, which Cosentino handles by rubbing things together to create a spark. No lighter fluid or charcoal chimneys in 1416! The four set to cooking, and Cosentino tries out Silvena's duck inflation method.

Ilan gets started by cutting off his duck's head and stuffing it before hanging it over the fire to roast. Jill Davie is running around like a duck with her head cut off, confused, and Art Smith is busy dropping celebrity names.

The end of the cooking time is signaled by a round of firecrackers going off, and the chefs' dishes are brought to the judging panel. Happily, they are all quite harsh in their criticisms, and Silvena especially seems to enjoy bringing the pain. She did, however, appreciate that Chris used her "blowing technique" on the duck skin.

The chefs are told that only three of them will get to travel back in the Re-Tardis, and one of them will be stuck there in China. Ilan and Chris are safe, and while we're hoping that Art Smith will be abandoned, it's Jill Davie who gets to spend her days in the past. (Eyeroll)

The three remaining chefs re-enter the Re-Tardis with Brooke Peterson and head off to another place and time. Their second destination is England in the time of King Henry the 8th, ca. 1532.

Their task there is to prepare a simple Sunday supper fit for a King. King Henry was fond of something called a "cockentrice" which is like an Old World turducken - several different beasts combined to make one new beast.

The beasts provided to the chefs are cod, suckling pig, venison, lamb, and peacock, and they are to use at least three of them to create their dish, which must be cooked on a rotisserie in a large fireplace. But first...they are introduced to their sous chefs.

Three women in period dress walk in with three tiny dogs wearing neck ruffles and leashes. Cosentino wonders for a moment if he's supposed to hold the dog while he's cooking before he's told that the cute little critters will be put into wheels which, once the dogs start running within them, will turn the crank that controls the rotisserie. That seems a little cruel, but once the dogs are put into the wheels, they dutifully start running, and the spits rotate at a nice speed.

This time, to signify the 2.5 hour cooking time is over, a candle has been stuck with nails. As the candle melts, the nails fall out. When the last nail falls, time is up. Rather clever, but Art doesn't understand.

Art is completely annoying. A shame he wasn't left in China. He flirts with Ilan, who may or may not be uncomfortable with it.

Eventually, the chefs get their beasts assembled. Chris started out with a deboned pig face, which collapses on the spit. He goes to alternate plan B, which is to turn it into a soup. Ilan uses a spit-roasted lamb's skull as the front of his cockentrice and inserts a peacock head into its mouth, Alien-style. His creature is the most fantastical and uses the most meats. Art's creature is just a hodgepodge, and not as well-designed as that of either of his competitors.

The judges enter to check out the spread and dine. With their hands.

They like Chris' a lot. Ilan's was the creepiest, but also on the chewy side. Art's was tasty, but not so hot looking. Brooke tells the chefs that two of them will be stuck in the Tudor period, and Ilan says, if he's one of them, he hopes he can find a job cooking. He also mentions that he has "weird man boobs," which I don't think we needed to know.

And then the judges quickly decide that Chris Cosentino is the Greatest Chef in History and put a tacky medal around his neck. What? I thought this was a series, and that the four of these chefs would be competing for several weeks, cooking in several different times and places, before someone was crowned a winner. But it seems this show is a one-off, which is a shame, because it was so cheesy, scripted, and awful that I really enjoyed it.

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