Friday, April 24, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Six

We're at the end of Week 6, both of Top Chef and of attempting to "flatten the curve." I've been teleworking with a heavier workload than usual and my hands are sore and my right arm is achy. I am not feeling this recap at all, mostly because I have to type it. Ouch. But, as they say, the show must go on.

When the Top Cheftestants enter the TC Kitchen, they find Padma with Chris Bianco, "one of America's greatest pizza masters." But no, this isn't a pizza challenge. It's a flour challenge. For this Quickfire, each chef must create a dish that uses any of several alternative flours, but not all-purpose wheat flour. There is no immunity for the winner, but he or she does get $5000.

The chefs somehow manage to choose different flours. Melissa takes almond while Bryan takes Hazelnut and rye. Gregory uses tapioca, Malarky attempts coconut, Lee Anne buckwheat, and Stephanie blue corn. Nini is smart and chooses rice flour, which is used in Vietnamese dishes. Karen uses garbanzo flour. Eric and Kevin are the only repeats, with their choice of cornmeal. Eric also uses cassava flour.

Malarkey attempts to make ice cream again, and he hopes to serve with it donuts. Coconut flour is essentially ground-up fiber; I think it would be like baking with extra fine mulch. Which is kinda what it ended up looking like. He tells Padma and Chris to close their eyes and pretend he's got a fabulous dish, but they're not fooled. At least his ice cream came out well this time.

What we'd love to hear Padma say someday soon.
Of course he's on the bottom, but then so is my boy Bryan. Voltaggio made a crumble with hazelnut and rye and olives  that he put on fish, which he also served on a pretty green sauce Though it was delicious, Padma and Chris didn't think that the flour portion of the dish was in the forefront. Poor Bryan.

Clever Melissa made the little French almond cakes called financiers with her almond flour. Nini also made something that is customarily made with an alternate flour--Vietnamese crepes, or banh xeo. Padma and Chris enjoyed both, but gave the win to Gregory for his light and delicious tapioca pancakes.

For the Elimination Challenge, the cheftestants will help celebrate the 100th season of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Or the "LA Phil," as Padma called it. Do they really call it that in Los Angeles? The "Phil?" Are they trying to make it sound more hip and trendy? Or are they just too lazy to pronounce the whole word? When she said it the first time, with "Phil" coming at the end of a sentence, I thought maybe the audio had blinked out, cutting off the end of the word. My brain said, "what's the LA fill? are they celebrating a landfill? wait, is this Florida?" Padma then said something about "conductor" Gustavo Dudamel, and my brain understood that "fill" must mean "philharmonic." Which I admit is a mouthful, but damn, people. We shouldn't go around talking like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian or whatever piece of uneducated ass is valued by the hoi palloi these days.

The chefs draw knives, each of which is marked with the name of one of the five tastes: sweet; bitter; salty; sour; umami. They then must pair up with another chef with a differing taste in order to create one dish that blends both. Nini and bff Karen get together with a umami/sour pairing. Gregory and Stephanie are working with salty and sour. Lee Anne and Malarkey (who seem like mortal enemies at this point, yet they are so much alike) must work with umami and bitter. Kevin and Melissa must make a dish that sings with salty and sweet. Finally Eric and Bryan are sweet and bitter. And hot and hotter.

Once the cheftestants are paired up, Padma gleefully surprises them with the announcement that this contest will end in a double elimination. Yowza. Those are never fun. Nini reminisces that she was booted last season as part of a double elimination. Maybe "reminisces" is not the right word. In any case, the chefs are then told they're heading to the Walt Disney Concert Hall for inspiration. There, they'll not listen to music, but will be lectured on the subject by Dudamel. After this, they'll shop, and the next day will cook at Timothy Hollingsworth's restaurant, Otium.

In the WDCH, Melissa remarks that the ceiling looks like cabbage. I'm not seeing it. The whole structure is a modern fantasy, the exterior resembling a grouping of random objects clustered together. The interior is all beige and brown curves, with a gigantic pipe organ that looks like an lumber accident waiting to happen at the Home Depot, or a handful of giant pick-up sticks that had been frozen in mid-drop. Or enormous french fries. The ceiling does not resemble cabbage.

Just before the cheftestants head to Whole Foods to spend their $700 per pair, there's a commercial for Perdue Chicken in which Jim Perdue, via cell phone selfie video, thanks everyone from farmers to shelf stockers. “Folks who are rarely seen, even more rarely thanked, yet they’re always there when we need them the most." Yeah, this is probably all the shelf stockers, cashiers, etc., who are helping us purchase food during this time, will be getting. Lord knows there won't be a raise in their futures, not for merely putting their lives on the line.

The chefs go wild at the grocery store. Lee Anne snatches all of the endive before Eric can get his hot hands on them. Unperturbed, Bryan says something about having plans B and C, so substituting ingredients is no biggie. Malarkey, however, isn't as calm as his namesake. Shopping with him is like shopping "with a monkey on crack," according to Chef Wong.

Nini and Karen put their hands all over some fish.

One of the elements of Bryan's and Eric's dish is a peanut-based sauce called maafe that they plan to use to "lacquer" their pork loin. Bryan opines that the sauce sounds like something "I want to lacquer all over me." Me too, Bryan. All over you, that is.

Once at Otium, chefs scramble for places on which to set up. Cooking goes fairly quickly before Gregory and Stephanie present their first dish, a sour/salty melange of sea bass glazed with miso, mirin, and sake, with sauteed celeriac, pickled apples, bacon, and yuzu. The judges love it, saying every element is both salty and sour. Kevin and Melissa then bring out their sweet and salty roasted ceiling...I mean...cabbage, with fish sauce caramel, apple, and cured pork crumble. It is a simple dish that brings a "bang of flavor" to Padma's mouth. Sparring partners Lee Anne and Malarkey, who battled over every ingredient that made their plate, please the judges with their umami/bitter combo of beef with miso anchovy hollandaise, bitter greens, charred orange puree, and a mimolette crisp. the dish is pretty but neither overwrought nor over-thought, which is typical of both chefs. Bryan and Eric then present their sweet/bitter dish of pork with maafe lacquer and bitter greens. Gail says the dish is subtle and focused, but could use more sweetness. Tom says the way the pork was sliced threw off the ratio of meat (too much) to lacquer (not enough). Finally, Karen and Nini serve the judges a umami/sour dish of tomato broth with poached cod and pickled cucumbers. It's not a particularly attractive dish, though Tom thinks it's beautiful. He says it reads sweet and sour, not sweet and umami. He then says the tomatoes should have been roasted rather than compressed and served raw. That tomato umami needs to be brought out via cooking.

Despite quibbles here and there, the judges admit that the whole meal was pretty amazeballs and that it would be difficult to eliminate anyone, much less two chefs. They'd be going home for making fantastic food. But rather than pulling a Project Runway and deciding not to kick anyone off, they make a decision and go with it. Kevin and Melissa's cabbage dish is declared the winner. Gregory and Stephanie and Lee Anne and Malarkey are declared safe, leaving Bryan/Eric and Nini/Karen on the bottom.

Poor Bryan must be getting a real complex this season (the hardest ever, he says) being on the bottom all the time. He should take comfort, well, a tiny bit anyway, that his dishes were all really delicious. He just might not have followed directions to the letter.

In the end, the judges determine that Nini and Karen missed the mark with their raw tomato, and they are sent directly into Last Chance Kitchen. Karen is too tired for this shit. She has to battle Nini. The winner then goes after Lisa, who beat Jenn in last week's episode.

Next week: machetes! skinny Stephanie Izard! Shrek?

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, April 17, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Five

If you're reading this, you're at the end of The Great Pandemic, Home Edition, Week 5. If you're not reading this, you're either dead, or merely completely unaware of the amazing humor that awaits you in my recaps. My five friends will tell you that you are missing out on the experience of a lifetime Well, four of them will. The fifth one doesn't read my recaps, either. She is dead. But were she still alive, she'd damn well be reading this and laughing her ass off.

Actually, probably not laughing. But reading nonetheless.

Had I told you all that my best friend died last year? In February. She had several strokes and a heart attack, not necessarily in that order, and she just wasn't strong enough to pull through. She was 67. The same age my mother was when she died 18 years earlier. In the same month of the year. My father died last year, too. 2019 was a shitty year, and 2020 isn't looking much better at the moment. Most of my close friends live in other states--New York, New Jersey, Washington. I made a new friend last year, and his (local!) presence in my life helped me more than he'll ever understand. I don't know why we're friends--there is an enormous age difference--but we are. He seems perfectly happy to cook/drink/eat/smoke weed/hang out/all of the above with me. (Clearly, there's something wrong with him.) I haven't gone more than two weeks without seeing his pretty face, and it's been three at this point. Thank goodness for Mr Minx, my everlovin' husband and bestest friend, who has been by my side (pretty literally at this point, as our respective workstations are now on the dining room table) for almost 20 years now. I'd go starkers without him. I can't imagine what it's like for folks who are living alone during this time, especially extroverts. Thankfully I am not one of those. In general, I don't like people and I never thought I'd miss them. I don't miss all of them, particularly the idiot joggers in my neighborhood that I can't seem to escape while I'm taking my daily walk. I just miss my loved ones.

Which brings us to this week's Quickfire Challenge. Yes! There is a connection!

When the cheftestants enter the Top Chef Kitchen, they notice that Padma is missing. They also notice that every workstation has a new cell phone sporting a giant cellphone carrier logo and a set of earbuds. Eric's phone rings first--it's his wife, Janell. Nini's mom calls next, then Kevin's wife. Soon everyone is jabbering happily with one of their Loved Ones...

...except Bryan, who wonders if his phone will ever ring. I WILL CALL YOU, BRYAN! Eventually his sister, Staci Rosenberger, who is the pastry chef at his restaurant Family Meal, gives her bro a call. Padma finally shows up and tells the cheftestants to hang up on their loved ones because what she has to say is more important than any of the cooing and chattering that is going on. The important announcement? Cellphone Carrier Co. is a sponsor of the show, and like the Ugly Dolls with Crazy Hair last week, the sponsors have to be worked into a challenge in some obvious way. This time, the cheftestants are going to use their nifty new phones to communicate with their loved ones, who just happen to be dining at Nancy Silverton's restaurant Osteria Mozza there in LA.

What? The cheftestants couldn't believe that their mothers/husbands/sisters/besties were eating yummy food while they were toiling over hot stoves in an attempt to win a competition that each of them had lost at least one time before. Padma goes on to explain that the Loved Ones were eating one of three classic Mozza dishes, which they would describe over their own new Big Cellphone, Inc., phones to the cheftestants, who would in turn attempt to recreate the dish at every level, from ingredients to technique to appearance. The team that would do the best job of this difficult task would earn the cheftestant not only immunity but also $10K, courtesy of Cellphones R Us.

The dishes in question were:
--Yellowtail collar with fingerling potatoes, Calabrian chile, and cilantro salsa verde
--Pork Chop with prosciutto braised beans, charred radicchio, and fennel tops
--Hanger steak marinated in balsamic vinegar with arugula salad and Parm

One really needs some food knowledge to be able to accurately describe (or comprehend the description of) a yellowtail collar, but only Bobby Flay's daughter might know the difference between her father's favorite Calabrian chile, and any other kind of hot, red, not dried (not fresh either--they are predominately jarred), chile. Though Bryan's sister is a professional (pastry) chef, she isn't a fish person and her description of the yellowtail caused Bryan to assume it was branzino. Jenn's sister actually thought it was chicken "with wings" but once she described them as being "horseshoe" shaped, Jenn figured it out. (Jenn once worked at seafood-happy Eric Ripert's Philadelphia restaurant, 10 Arts, so she knows her fish.)

The other two dishes seemed much more straightfoward, especially the steak. Lee Ann's mom described it as not having any fat, which translated to Lee Ann as the hanger cut. Mama Wong also correctly identified the arugula salad and Parmesan cheese. The only thing she didn't get was the vinegar, which she tasted as soy. Kevin's wife is an attorney, and proved to be a pretty sharp communicator. Melissa was smart enough to ask her childhood friend exactly how many of everything is on the plate, which certainly helped with appearance.

The guest judge this week was Nancy Silverton, who appeared to be wearing a frock made from old flags and a kindergarten's-worth of barrettes in her hair. Though she thought Bryan's dish was delish, he came in last for his use of incorrect fish. (Rhymes completely unintentional.) Melanie and Lee Anne did things right, but Kevin's was rightest of all, scoring immunity and the ten grand.

For the Elimination Challenge, each chef had to create a signature food product. Nancy Silverton made her mark with La Brea Bakery (the products of which I was once able to buy at my Baltimore-area Giant Foods; since I don't eat bread anymore, I don't know if this is still true). Not only were they to create a product, they would also need to use it in a dish to serve to patrons at an LA-area shopping mall. Patrons would receive tickets, which they would award to their favorite product. They would also be able to buy the product--though nothing seemed to be packaged in a particularly sanitary manner. The chef who sold the most product would be safe from elimination (even if the judges hated it).

It seems to me that Top Chef producers have been watching episodes of old Food Network reality shows. That Quickfire Challenge is done every season on Worst Cooks in America, on which it's called "Remote Control Chef." Contestants describe the components of a composed dish to Anne Burrell and her male counterpart (whichever poor FN sap is willing to compete--and lose--against her in any given season), who remotely attempt to recreate the dish. I've seen the Elimination Challenge a couple of times on Next Food Network Star. It's also Shark Tank-ish. However, I do understand that there are no new ideas. Anyhoo....

...the cheftestants, who are to be assisted by their Loved Ones, get $600 to spend at Whole Foods while thinking on their feet. I could never conceive a product in the time it takes to get from the Top Chef Kitchen to the grocery store! But Kevin immediately thought up a hot salt, which he planned to incorporate into chicken and waffles. Nini decided on the classic sauce of her people, nuoc mam, with roasted elements Jenn uses ginger and lemon in everything she makes and decided this combo would make a fine condiment. Eric and his wife made a yellow pepper "Calypso" sauce that he served on a fried dough known as doubles. Karen created a romesco with some non-traditional elements. Stephanie and her husband made a vegetarian chili base. Malarkey did a relish called "Smiles" named after his two kids, Sailor and Schmailor (gag). Geoffrey made a Haitian pickle. Lee Ann recreated her mama's mapo sauce for home use. Melissa decided on a kimchi based vinaigrette. And finally, Bryan bottled his almost-famous calamari bolognese. I saw him make this dish with his brother on a Voltaggio Bros TV special. They were both--as per usual--incredibly stiff and uncomfortable on camera (despite having already had one in their faces during Top Chef season 6). I'm pretty sure I heard Bryan pronounce gochujang as "goo goo jang" on that show, but I haven't held it against him. Actually, I have, but I've mostly forgiven him. In any case, the sauce sounded weird to me then, but after tasting a version made by a local Baltimore chef, we realized it was only weirdly delicious.

While the chefs are toiling, Lee Ann's mama suddenly seems faint. She is whisked off to rest while Lee Anne attempts to make hundreds of dumpling wrappers on her own. Luckily, she is beloved and both other cheftestants and their Loved Ones rush to her aid.

The next morning, we learn that Malarkey--not so beloved--has ranked the remaining chefs in order of likeliness of winning. His name is on the top, of course, followed by Kevin, Bryan, Melissa, Karen, and the rest. I agree with Kevin, Bryan, and Melissa at the top of the list, but am pretty sure Malarkey has no chance of winning this competition. But we'll see, huh?

At the LA Corporate MegaMall, the cheftestants and their Loved Ones set up their stations and await customers. Mama Wong reports for duty refreshed and ready for action. The judges arrive, with Nancy Silverton looking like someone's daft old granny, wearing a muu-muu and lots more of those crazy barrettes in her hair. She makes the rounds with Padma, Gail, and Tom, pretending to enjoy the dishes as they're tasting them, but then sneaking off to the side to make disparaging comments. Like, Stephanie's chili base lacked depth and complexity, and Malarkey's relish was muted and "tasted confusing." Also, who would name their kid, "Schmailor?" Karen's romesco was neither bold nor chunky enough for Nancy. Jenn's Sunny Lemon Ginger Love had terrible texture, needed more lemon, and wasn't "sunny." They liked Bryan's bolognese, but thought it would be a hard sell. Padma would buy Nini's sticky nuoc cham in a heartbeat though. Etc.

Back in the Top Chef Kitchen, we find that Melissa has sold 31 bottles of her kimchi vinaigrette, which is enough to keep her safe from elimination. The judges liked it, though they thought it could be spicier. The favorites were Gregory's pickle, which cut through the richness of his chicken dish, Eric's chili sauce, which was likened to sunshine and both craveable and accessible, and Nini's nuoc cham. Gregory gets the win.

On the bottom are Malarkey, Jenn, and Stephanie. Gail didn't think that Stephanie's sauce differentiated itself enough from other tomato-based cooking sauces already on the market. Malarkey's sauce, "ate oily," and was not fresh and bright, due to having both cooked and raw elements. Also Schmailor. But the stringy texture of the ginger in Jenn's sauce seemed like a mistake, and diluting it with yogurt killed the flavor. And so she was chopped. I mean, asked to please pack her knives and head over to Last Chance Kitchen to battle last week's loser, Lisa.

Next week: Our heroes pair up to battle evil in teams of two. Sadly, we don't get to see Bryan in tights. And there is a scary double elimination.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Four

Is it me, or was this episode a little lackluster? Boring, even? Must be me, huh? After all, I've just spent the last four weeks sitting at home, telecommuting from my dining room table, eating at my dining table, fooling around on Facebook at my dining room table. And currently I am writing this, you guessed it, at my dining room table. Life has so much sameness now from day to day. The only way I could think of mixing it up was to spend some nights on the living room couch, reading, rather than on the basement couch, watching TV.

Last night was a basement-TV watching night. We watched four episodes of Grace & Frankie before Top Chef came on. And honestly - G&F is so much more entertaining. And last night maybe a little exciting, but not in a good way. With two minutes or so left in episode 2 of season 6, the scene with Jane Fonda (Grace) sitting on the toilet, our internet decides to crap out on us. So to speak. Top Chef was starting in less than 10 minutes, and Mr Minx had to run upstairs to restart the modem so we could find out if Grace had a UTI or just needed Metamucil. (We jettisoned the unnecessarily expensive Comcast and switched to YouTube TV last month.) By the time the internet started to cooperate again, Top Chef had begun. When we came in, the cheftestants were busy cooking various colorful things and Kelly Clarkson was hanging out with Padma. We never did find out what was going on with Grace.

 Apparently we had missed opening scenes in the mansion with Nini, Karen, and Stephanie doing Charlie's Angels poses as "Padma's Angels." Oookay. Personally, I'd rather be one of Bryan Voltaggio's Angels. Let's leave it at that.

We also missed the crux of the Quickfire Challenge, which was to create a harmonious dish using one ingredient each in these colors: red, purple, blue, yellow, orange, and pink. No such thing as blue food, you say? (C'mon, blueberries are really purple.) Then how about blue cotton candy? Ok, while that's not an actual food, it was available for use on the wild multicolored unicorn-barf-themed display. What? it's not unicorn-barf-themed? It's Trolls themed? Ok. Apparently the whole challenge is a tie-in for the upcoming Trolls World Tour movie. Kelly Clarkson is doing one of the character voices, so that explains her presence. What it doesn't explain is why someone thought it was a good idea to resurrect Trolls, those hideous little crazy-haired dolls of my youth. They were ugly then. Justin Timberlake's voice work doesn't make them more attractive now.

Geez. I am full of rants today. (What else is new?)

Anyhoo...on to the challenge. When our Internet finally kicked back in, the cheftestants were plating their rainbow dishes to serve to Padma and Kelly. Kelly claimed to like everything, but then she seems like someone who enjoys food. The poor girl's weight has fluctuated for years, and at this point she's on the chunky side. As long as she is in good health, she should skip the yo-yo dieting and enjoy life. And food. The dishes that she and Padma enjoyed most were Gregory's golden yellow squash soup, Lisa's steak, and Karen's beef tartare with pomegranate, which had an enjoyable crunch. On the bottom were Stephanie's rainbow rice rolls with a peanut blue sugar dipping sauce that was too sweet, Nini's tough seared purple potato gnocchi, and my boyfriend's shrimp ceviche. Bryan looked gobsmacked at being on the bottom.Though I'll be honest with you, from the quick glimpse of the dish I saw on the screen, the shrimp looked raw. Which would explain why Kelly felt they were "mushy." Sorry Bryan! The winning dish was Gregory's soup, and for his endeavors, he received not only immunity in the next challenge, but also two tickets to the premiere of Trolls World Tour. When asked who he would take with him, he indicated that it would be Nini. She had lent him a can opener during the challenge and she made him promise to take her if he won. He pinky swore he would, and you know that's a binding agreement if there ever was one.

Too bad they'll be watching the movie from the comfort of their own couches. Not even together, unless they happen to live in the same house. Fuck covid-19 and fuck social distancing and fuck everything else, too.

Padma then introduces the Elimination Challenge, which will involve the famed Santa Monica Farmers' Market. After drawing knives that put them in two teams, the cheftestants are told that they will receive $1200 to shop for ingredients to create a 6-course progressive menu, with each chef responsible for one course. They'll then cook and serve a full house at Chef Jeremy Fox's restaurant, Birdie G's, in Santa Monica. Oh yeah, and the menu has to be totally vegetarian. Some chefs actually seem enthused, others are probably more "WTF," but we don't get to see their reactions.

Back at the Top Chef Mansion, they find a basket of ugly Troll merch from Kelly, which they idiotically put on their heads for the camera. Karen then calls her spouse, LJ. I hate when they have competitors call their significant others. Sometimes it's part of a loser edit. In this case, I think not. (That's more of a Project Runway trope.) Still. And any screen time given to a cheftestant other than Bryan is a waste of my time.

The next day, the cheftestants hit the farmers' market to buy their ingredients. They've already decided who is cooking what, of course. I feel that the Red Team's (Malarky, Bryan, Nini, Lee Anne, Lisa, Stephanie) dishes seem like a list of raw ingredients, while the Blue Team's (Eric, Gregory, Jenn, Kevin, Karen, Melanie) seem more like composed dishes. Also, apart from Bryan, it seems that the Blue Team has the stronger chefs. They think so, too.

Back to the market: Bryan intended to do something with mushrooms, but the mushroom man was out that day. Bastard! My BF switches gears to beets and sprouted legumes. Lee Anne is buying all the veg for her crudite. Gregory tells us that he's been sober 11 years and is into health and superfoods. Malarkey says he's going to try something new by going super simple and restrained with his dish rather than his usual vadouvan-coated melange of 20 different elements. Nini is confident in her dessert-making skills. Lee Anne is buying even more veg.

I'm not sure how they fit all 12 chefs in what appears to be a fairly small kitchen, but it happened.

This week, there are about a third of the judges/eaters as in past weeks, just the holy trinity of Padma, Gail, and Tom, plus Jeremy Fox. They sit at the counter and wait for their dishes to start arriving. Though the chefs aren't competing head-to-head, the courses are presented that way. First up is Malarkey's very basic burrata and raw tomato dish and Kevin's fancier tomato and melon with avocado tofu, fresh dates, and "California" togarashi. The judges prefer Kevin's, which, of course they do.

The second course is Blue Team Melissa's coconut corn soup with pickled garlic chives and puffed grains vs Lee Anne's butternut squash hummus, goat feta, and an entire market worth of crudite. Lee Anne was running out of time (because once again her dish had too much shit going on) so Malarkey helped to add olive oil and salt to her dish. Her hummus seemed bland, and the judges preferred Melissa's soup.

Blue Team Karen handmade trofie pasta with mint pistachio pesto, fava greens, pea shoots, and asparagus. Red Team Lisa made chili soy brussels sprouts with apples and pistachio. It sounded good, but the sprouts were not cooked in the middle, dried out, and cold to boot. Karen's pasta was "Spring on a plate," and very veg-forward. Karen's point.

Surprisingly, the judges actually liked Red Stephanie's cauliflower with quinoa and spiced piri piri sauce. She doesn't seem to fare very well most weeks. They judges also liked Gregory's grilled carrots, charred scallion coconut yogurt, and charred kale oil. I love carrots, and that dish sound amazing to me. Gotta try making something like that myself. Maybe now, while there's nothing better to do than sit at my dining room table and work or play on the internet or wish I was anywhere else in the world as long as I didn't need a mask and rubber gloves.

Red Bryan's smoked beet, sprouted legumes and grains, vegetable demi, pea tendrils, and watercress gets rave reviews. But they also like Blue Jenn's jerk cauliflower with cashew sauce, broccoli flowers, and grapes. Her original sauce had burnt, but she managed to pull off a new one without sacrificing the quality of the dish.

Finally, both Red Nini's peaches and cream cream puff with peach sorbet and Eric's butternut squash and goat milk pudding, chocolate hazelnut "soil" and ginger granita get raves.

Judges' Table: The Blue Team was the clear winner to both the judges and to me. Jeremy liked Melissa's corn and coconut soup the best, and she was declared the winner for the second week in a row. Red Team's Lee Anne was criticized for not using enough seasoning. She and Malarkey take turns throwing each other under a moving multi-passenger vehicle over who salted what on her plate. When Malarkey points out that the judges felt her hummus was underseasoned, too, Lee Anne is pissed. Malarkey is taken to task for his own too-simple dish, which might have been better had he used a roasted tomato element as well. Lisa's brussels sprouts were considered to be "clunky" though she insists they were "rustic." Though I was hoping for Malarkey's release, it was Lisa that was sent home. Cuz she's pretty low-drama. And we need the drama.

Next week: the cheftestants' loved ones show up to describe dishes to the chefs so they can cook them by remote instruction. This challenge sounds suspiciously like Food Network's Worst Cooks in America's "Remote Control Chef." Will it be more entertaining? We'll see... but only if our Internet doesn't crap out on us again.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, April 03, 2020

Top Chef Season 17 All Stars Recap - Episode Three

I realize as I read over my last two recaps that I tend to be quite wordy. Hey, I'm a writer - I like words. Today, however, I will attempt to be more brief. For one thing, I am teleworking and typing all fucking day long to begin with. I don't need to type more words! For another, I've been boring myself halfway through, so I know you can't be having a good time out there.

Correct me if I'm wrong. (I am wrong, right?)

In order to be as brief as possible, I will attempt to write this recap without referring to the copious notes I took while watching. So if I get things wrong, well, my memory isn't as good as it once was.

We start the episode in the Top Chef Kitchen. Padma is wearing a mustard-colored jumpsuit and I fear we are going to get some shots of her butt at some point. She is a beautiful 49-year-old woman with a beautiful body, but pants are never flattering on her ass. Maybe it looks better naked? I don't know and I don't care. (And I hope she won't sic her lawyers on me again.)

In any case, she calls out two surprise judges for the Quickfire Challenge: the multihyphenate actors-comedians-writers Randall Park and Ali Wong. The cheftestants go wild. Or they get mildly excited. Vietnamese Nini and Chinese Lee Anne are pretty happy to see Asian (Korean and Chinese-Vietnamese, respectively) representation in the house. The challenge itself is kinda meh though. The cheftestants are tasked with making the "best damn fried rice," but they must utilize oddball ingredients chosen by Park and Wong. How odd? Odd as in peanut butter, frog's legs, jelly beans, and bleu cheese.

The winner of this Quickfire will gain immunity from elimination in the second challenge of the episode.

I suppose a good chef should be able to make a universally beloved and seemingly simple dish like fried rice. Personally, I think it's deceptively simple. It's hard to get the rice the proper texture. Soggy fried rice is sad. My boyfriend Bryan has respect for fried rice but admits he hasn't made it often. Likely he realizes it's gonna be soggy, and decides to disguise it as porridge from the getgo. He tops it with crispy rice just so he can say he actually followed the challenge.

Lee Anne, in between jumping up and down and hugging the guest judges, declares fried rice a "lifestyle." The rest of the chefs rummage through red hots and jelly and do the best they can under the circumstances. Nini grabs a watermelon for no good reason and decides to pickle it and pretend its tuna. I'm sure it will fool the judges, as long as they don't put it in their mouths. Kevin is making a redneck rice with wieners, bourbon, and Cheetos that makes me throw up in my mouth a bit. Eric (who I have decided is almost as hot as Bryan) mixes peanut butter in his rice, which makes sense considering he cooks a lot of African food and peanuts are a staple. He also uses jelly, which loses me. Malarkey uses vadouvan, a French-style curry powder, to flavor his. Of course he does.

Eventually all rice has been fried and the judges taste. More than one chef used frog's legs, which doesn't seem that weird, actually. They just look funny. Park and Wong pick Nina's watermelon (which watered down her rice) and Jamie's SPAM surprise as the worst. (C'mon, it's SPAM.) Jamie's canned meat product is cut in such big chunks and is so salty that it takes over and ruins the dish. He's the loser. Kevin's weird-ass bourbon and Cheetos rice hits all the right stoner notes for the judges and he gets the win. And immunity. Let's not forget that.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs have to go to the Getty Museum and look at art for inspiration. They draw knives to put them into teams, though they are working individually. One person from each team will be eligible to be winner, one will be safe, and one will be on the line for dismissal.

Neoclassical - Karen, Eric, Jenn, and Kevin (who chose this group as part of his QF win perks)

Rococo - Stephanie, Melissa, Gregory

Renaissance - Lee Anne, Malarkey, Nini

Baroque - Jamie, Bryan, Lisa

Most of the chefs know nothing about art. They ponder paintings and take away things like "art is colorful" and "this shit all looks alike," and "didn't they paint anything other than Baby Jesus and his mom?" Then they head to Vibiana, an event venue in LA, formerly the Cathedral of St Vibiana of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles (I said I wouldn't use my notes, not that I wouldn't look things up on the Internet). The guest judge is Ludo Lefevre, whose French accent still makes him almost impossible to understand. There are other diners at the party, none of whom I know except for chef Ray Garcia. I don't actually know him know him, but I had just seen him on the episode of Ugly Delicious that we watched before TC came on. So basically I was somewhat aware of his existence.

The Renaissance group serves first. Lee Ann was inspired by a painting of Madonna and Child and does a metaphorical twist using duck and eggs and a thousand sauces with multiple colors of beets and whatnot. Too many elements that took too long to plate and ended up looking a bit of a mess. Malarkey was inspired by paintings of saints and chose to create a "halo of halibut." I think he was going with his own theme this week: vadouvan, cuz he used it in both challenges. Nini was inspired by the concept of renaissance in general. She's from New Orleans, which had to rebirth itself after Hurricane Katrina. Her gumbo was tasty but not very pretty.

Baroque came next. Lisa was inspired by the conflict she saw in paintings so she used her own conflict - Jewish but wanting to be Mexican - to create a brisket dish. It seemed like a brunch hash to a couple judges. Bryan only noticed colors, so he made a pretty and colorful dish that tasted good but really didn't represent the art of the period. Jamie makes a sous vide chicken breast which somehow comes out overcooked; also his jus didn't make it onto the plate. I forget what his influence was. Dryness, maybe?

The Rococo dishes are all uniformly gorgeous. Melissa presented a lobster wonton in a broth full of colorful vegetables, inspired by the excess of the period. Gregory chose to riff on the Asian influences in Rococo design by cooking short ribs with miso. Stephanie was inspired by the supple bellies on display to make tortellini stuffed with mortadella. Sounds like my belly after lunch, but more wrinkly than supple. I'M SORRY. YOU DIDN'T NEED TO KNOW THAT. Her dish was tasty, but undercooked.

Finally, the Neoclassical team brought out their goods. Karen's braised chicken, which was supposed to be simple, lacked flavor and visual appeal. Jenn made a simple fish dish which is tasty but is "just fish and sauce," according to Tom. Eric prepared a lovely and austere dish of halibut in a broth which really did represent the period and made Gail "feel something." (My guess is indigestion, after eating 13 dishes.) Finally, Kevin's dish of lamb with carrot tops had too many carrot tops and was unbalanced. Good thing he had immunity.

Judges' Table: Bryan, Melissa, Eric, and Malarkey were tops in their groups, with the win going to Melissa and her gorgeous lobster pasta. Lee Anne, Jamie, Stephanie, and Karen were on the bottom. I thought Stephanie was pretty safe, being that her only infraction seemed to be undercooking her supple bellies. Karen was pissed that Kevin was safe and didn't want to go home because he had immunity. Lee Anne was sweating it. But Jamie's horribly overcooked chicken got him sent home instead.

Next week: Another recap! Hopefully!

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