Monday, June 30, 2008

The Next Food Network Star - Episode 5

This week's episode starts out with the wannabes getting ready for the day's challenges. Adam does push-ups while commenting that he needs to "rock." Aaron says there is "danger" every week. And Lisa only needs to work on her on-camera persona. Hmmm...isn't that the most important part of the game? Besides rocking and danger, of course.

In the Food Network kitchens they are greeted by Cat Cora, one of the many FN chefs who are celebrities for absolutely no reason at all. Kinda like Paris Hilton.

She gives the wannabes their first challenge: create an original dish in 30 minutes with the 6 ingredients found in the 6 baskets in front of them, then be prepared to describe it in detail in a 90-second on-camera spot. Aaron gets a little nervous: "I'm not a camera person." Seems like he's suffering from the same delusions as Lisa - that one can be a TV star without having to be on-camera.

The wannabes cook and practice their spiels about their dishes. But Cat throws them a curveball: they have to describe their neighbor's dishes, not their own.

Shane and Kelsey switch. He does a pretty good job of describing the flavors in her dish. She doesn't fare so well, as there seems to be a lack of adjectives in her vocabulary. And she doesn't seem to know the difference between citrus peel and habaneros.
Adam and Aaron switch. Adam thinks it's better to show off the capacity of his mouth than to speak coherently about Aaron's cake preparation.
Aaron, on the other hand, prefers not to say anything at all. For the first 60 seconds.
Then he still doesn't say much.

Lisa doesn't like to make eye contact with the camera, but she does a better job than usual. Not that she's any good, but she's a real pro compared to Jennifer.
She couldn't tell the difference between udon and linguini, despite the obvious visual difference in thickness and shape. Not a bastion of food knowledge here.

Shane pretty obviously did the best job and was given the win for this challenge and an advantage in the next one: to take a complicated dish and make it accessible to home cooks, from grocery bag to table in 45 minutes. Cat Cora's boss at Bon Appetit, Barbara Fairchild comes in to tell the wannabes that the winning recipe will be featured in the August issue of Bon Appetit. And the crowd goes wild! Better than shitty ol' USA Weekend!

The wannabes are to work in pairs for this challenge, the same team-ups as in the previous description challenge. Shane's advantage is that he not only gets to pick which dish he and Kelsey will work with, but also to assign dishes to the other two teams. Much to Kelsey's delight, Shane picks Beef Wellington.
He assigns the Coq to Aaron and Adam.
And Lisa and Jen are stuck with turducken.

The wannabes get 30 minutes to shop. Then they tote their ingredients to Cafe Gray in the Time Warner Center to prepare their dish for the judging committee, Cat Cora and Barbara Fairchild, and the staff of Bon Appetit magazine, including the poncy Andrew Knowlton who still seems to be deathly allergic to parting his hair neatly.

Aaron and Adam go first. They bought two kinds of chicken; Adam picked bone-in, skin-on breasts, and Aaron thought more carefully about the 45-minute time limit and bought boneless, skinless breast fillets. They used both, when Adam realized some time into the cookery that there was no way those bone-in pieces would be done in time. He remembered that raw poultry products didn't go over too well with Susie Fogelson in the past and didn't plan to make that mistake yet again.

They served their breast fillets with a spicy sauce and two side dishes: polenta and pasta. Is coq au vin Italian? I didn't think so.

Next up were Lisa and Jen recreating Turducken. A Turducken is a ridiculous combination of partially de-boned turkey stuffed with a de-boned duck, in turn stuffed with a de-boned chicken. Deboning takes a long time and lots of skill, and cooking the resulting monstrosity through takes some time. I say throw out the tur and the ken and just serve the tasty part - the duc. But Lisa and Jen make a deconstructed version with turkey cutlets that will be served with a stuffing containing duck sausage and roasted chicken meat. And Lisa cleverly has one confitted duck leg that she plans to use for flavor enhancement. That is, until Jen gets near it.

Yeah, when I can't get a jar open, I do tap the lid on the counter to loosen the suction. But I don't smash it Hulk-style on the COOKTOP. Glass went everywhere, including on Jen's acorn squash side dish minding its own business on the grill, and that beautiful confit. It all went into the trash. As did Team Moron's chance of winning this challenge.

Barbara Fairchild was not impressed.

Next, Shane and Kelsey get to show their stuff. Beef Wellington is the easiest of the three to make quickly, with sliced tenderloin and frozen puff pastry. Shane prepares a side dish of creamed onions and Kelsey makes her mama's roated Spring vegetables.

Their "No Nightmares" Beef Wellington presentation went well, apart from the comment that they made the dish in culinary school. The judges don't need to be reminded that Kelsey is so young.

The wannabes head back to the Carriage House and do a quick costume change before judging. We hear Adam lament, "If I make it through, it's not because I did anything good but because I was less awful." But the Food Network loves awful! Guy Fieri has a job, doesn't he?

Team Men with A-Names's coq au vin had good flavor, but was nothing like actual coq au vin. Adam's polenta sucked. He's definitely there based on his personality and not his culinary prowess. Bobby Flay took great pleasure in telling him he was on "very very very very very very very very thin ice."

Aaron was told he needs to stop self-editing himself and he said, "well, I was gonna say we took the coq au vin from a hoopty to a coupe de ville...." In that case, Aaron, self-editing was a good thing. France would be in an uproar if you referred to one of their classic dishes in that way. Hoopty or CdV.

Jen was called out for her lack of knowledge in the first challenge, but was told she showed the most confidence ever in the elimination challenge. Lisa got weepy and realized she shouldn't walk around with such a big stick up her butt all the time. She was safe from elimination this week because of her skills and expertise (which really has no place on the Food Network, but whatever). Aaron, surprisingly, was safe too.

No big surprise as to the loser this week: Jen. She lacked culinary knowledge, and I wonder how she lasted this long. Nobody seemed sad to see her go...she ran upstairs, put on her coat, and left, without hugs or goodbyes. Editing...a wonderful thing!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dinner at Roy's

Last evening Mr Minx and I took Minx Dad and Minx Bro to dinner at Roy's. Since we go there so often, a couple of weeks ago they sent us a $20 gift card that needed to be used by the end of July. My Dad just started chemo and I thought it would be good for him to go out someplace nice to eat in case his treatments end up making him sick, so this seemed like perfect timing.

Mr Minx and I ordered Mai Tais and the other guys made do with water. We started off with a round of appetizers - Hong Kong wok fried calamari, wood grilled Szechwan spiced pork baby back ribs, and a bacon-wrapped fish dish with gnocchi that isn't on the menu available online (and of course I didn't make mental note of the type of fish). The calamari was more breading than fish, but it tasted fine and the squid wasn't chewy. The ribs were fantastic - nicely meaty, with a good grill flavor. Not hardly Szechwan though. And the elaborate fish preparation was much like an entree in itself and really delicious. It was like a bacon-wrapped filet mignon, only of firm-fleshed white fish.

Minx Dad loves Roy's short ribs, so that's what he ordered for his entree. They were meltingly tender and served with a little puddle of mashed potatoes and some interesting yellow cauliflower. Minx Bro went for the Korean Kalbi-flavored boneless rib eye which was amazingly succulent and only slightly spicy. It was served with sliced purple potatoes and a melange of baby vegetables plus a barely-grilled cippolini onion. I'm so lucky that my brother is generous - he kept on slicing off pieces of meat and onion and reaching across the table to add them to my plate! And I shared my duck leg confit/pork belly combo. Yes, I went to a restaurant known for seafood and ordered meat and meat! I can't help it - I find Roy's meat preparations to be so much more interesting and flavorful than those of fish. My husband more than made up for it though by ordering lump crab-stuffed rainbow trout in a spicy yuzu sesame sauce (the fish in bacon was his too!). The stuffing was all crab, and a generous portion of it at that. I think the only thing I didn't like too much was the steak fries that came with my entree. They were a little dry and flavorless and reminded me a little too much of the potatoes at Red Robin.

For dessert we had a macadamia nut tart that was gorgeous - very nutty, only slightly sweet; a coffee mousse bombe with honey graham ice cream - oh so rich!; and Meyer lemon semifreddo that was not very freddo at all, more like a chilled, very lemony egg custard. Delish all around.

I suppose because Dad didn't get appetizer or dessert (but we fed him from ours) and nobody wanted wine, we managed to escape for about $45 per person, $40 after the discount was subtracted. Roy's ain't cheap, but they do have a $35 3-course prix fixe that won't break the bank. Also check them out for Restaurant Week!


Friday, June 27, 2008

Perusing Baltimore Restaurant Week Offerings

I've already got a Restaurant Week lunch reservation at the Black Olive and am currently checking out dinner options for other days in the week. Not everyone has a menu up yet, but so far a handful of them look promising. I tend to skip the restaurants that offer boring fare - that would be most of the places in Little Italy, the Rusty Scupper - and go for places that offer food that might bring me back again.

I still puzzle over Ding How's participation in RW. Not that they don't serve good food - their crispy beef and Ding How duck have long been favorites of mine - but you really have to pig out to spend $30.08 on a regular night...for two. At least they don't offer $20.08 lunches when you can get a lunch special for under $10. :)

I'm also puzzling over this offering at Tugs, the restaurant in the Tremont Plaza Hotel:

Salmon Filet Southwestern Style - Herb Crusted Filet of Salmon served Over Savoy Cabbage, Onions, Carrots, with Shrimp Yogurt Mustard Sauce

There's absolutely nothing about that description that makes me think "Southwest." Certainly not the savoy cabbage, nor the "shrimp yogurt mustard sauce." Actually, it doesn't even sound good to me, regardless of regional origin.

Ze Mean Bean offers one entree only, and it comes with braised pistachios. Someone's been watching Top Chef!

Cazbar offers a mixed mezze plate appetizer: Acili ezme, cacik, Patlican salatasi, spoon salad, Baba Ghanoush, haydari, piyaz, and hummus. I know baba ghanoush and hummus, but need a translation for the rest. Turns out their regular menu reveals what makes up "acili ezme" (finely chopped tomatoes with pomegranate dressing and hot peppers with olive oil), but I can't find patlican salatasi or piyaz anywhere. Anyone know? Never having been to Cazbar before, should I try it out?

I've got a short list compiled, but am willing to take recommendations. Got one (or two)? Leave 'em in the comments, please.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dumpster Diving...for Food

Would you eat food pulled out of a Dumpster™? Check out the new Brit game show, Ready, Steady, Skip (skip being the Brit word for Dumpster™) where contestants do just that.


...for the tease a couple weeks ago. I am still waiting for Mr Richard Blais to get back to me with answers to my questions. He is a very busy guy, what with the recent opening of his restaurant, Home, and of course, the new bébé.

Rest assured, I will have the interview posted here as soon as humanly possible. :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Next Food Network Star - Episode 4

This week, the wannabes are met at Food Network Studios by Tyler Florence who informs them that their first challenge will be to make 60-second technique videos. Shock! Something they may really have to do on camera if they had a show on TVFN. You know, one of those cooking shows that run at 6:00 AM on Sunday....

As a bonus, the winning video will supposedly be featured on the Food Network home page. (As of 10:29 AM, there's no sign of promised video.) Of course there's a trick to the challenge: the wannabes have no idea what they will be demonstrating until the camera starts rolling and they start freaking out.

Adam has to break down an artichoke. He doesn't do too badly, but Tyler thought he was funnier than he was instructive.

Aaron gets to demonstrate cutting up a pineapple, although he is too involved with home decorating tips and doesn't get past cutting off the top and bottom. Tyler thinks he needs to learn how to cook and talk at the same time, which is kind of the point of a cooking show, no?

Kelsey had to French a rack of lamb chops, which sounded dirtier than it actually was.

Shane had to open a coconut. He had no f*cking clue as to what he was doing, but he sure made it seem like he did. Bad (or no) technique, but good camera skills.

Nipa has to demonstrate cleaning squid, but she got all squeamish and acted like she had a pile of festering turds in front of her. Her mangling of the poor dead squids shocked and dismayed Tyler.

Lisa's duty was to truss a chicken. She was clearly worried about getting chicken juice on her $1000 trousers and did not make love to the camera in the way she should have.

Jennifer, on the other hand, looked directly at the camera and dissed oysters while not doing a very good job of prying one open.

After that debacle, Tyler Florence announces Kelsey as the winner, then leaves to drown his sorrows in his second lunch of the day while Michael Symon steps in to give the next challenge.

Symon shows off a table full of various fish and introduces the Senior Executive Chef of Red Lobster, Michael LaDuke. I was totally surprised that Red Lobster has chefs of any kind working in their establishment, what with the chum they serve.

Behind the display of fish was another table...

The challenge was to make two fish dishes, one of which required use of a junk food ingredient. The winning dish would be featured on the Red Lobster menu for a limited time. Highly-sweetened processed food products + seafood = something for the Red Lobster "Fresh Fish and Tooth Decay" menu.

As Kelsey won the first challenge, she was first to pick her fish and foul - tilapia and white chocolate. Adam took caramels and halibut; Aaron cola and cod; Jen faux Fruit Loops and mahi mahi; Lisa took Atlantic char and coffee; Shane got sole and marshmallow creme; Nipa was last and got stuck with grape jelly and trout.

She did *not* want to touch that fish, for fear of becoming a lesbian. She cut off one tiny piece and threw the rest of the fish in the garbage, which did not go unnoticed by the ever-vigilant eyes of Michael Symon.

The Wannabes get some time to prep at the Food Network Kitchens, but must then take the food on board a Coast Guard ship and present it to thirty hungry Coast Guard men and women. Again with the copycat Top Chef-type challenge.

Kelsey gets to prepare her chow first. She serves her tilapia as a fish cake and with a white chocolate beurre blanc, and her presentation is remarkably low-key for her.

Adam is next and he continues to be the comedian of the group (especially since the departure of Corey Kahaney in episode one). He thinks it's a good idea to trip over the bottom of the doorway into the mess hall. Needless to say, the joke falls flat and everyone thinks he's an idiot.

His halibut was overcooked and Bob Tushface calls it a "train wreck." Wouldn't "ship wreck" have been more appropriate for this challenge?

Jennifer does something horrible with Fruit Loops and fish and warns the diners about the potential grossness factor of her dish. Way to make a crowd hungry!

Nipa tried way too hard by adding a little Bollywood dance instruction to the presentation of tandoori trout and trout with a ghastly grape jelly marinade.

Lisa, on the other hand, is a big hit. She slips on the floor in the galley and spills a container of coffee glaze all over herself. Her presentation is affecting and she cries a little at the end as her brother is currently in Iraq and would be proud of her cooking for members of the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, she made a char tartar, which although fun to say, isn't a dish that would be served to the retirees who eat at Red Lobster.

Shane's marshmallow-n-fish dish goes over well, but Aaron's cod is overcooked. And he didn't show enough of himself in his presentation. Note to Aaron - maybe you should just flash them next time?

Once everyone has served their food, they go back to the Carriage House to await their fate.

At judging, we see Michael Symon standing in for Bobby Flay who is probably throwing someone down or doing the ubiquitous grilling. They comment on the Wannabes' performances in both challenges.

After making a couple people cry (ok, just Jen, but it wasn't for lack of trying on the judges part) Kelsey was announced the winner for having good energy and not forcing herself on the world this week. Plus her fish dishes were actually good. Now lets all avoid going to Red Lobster to try them, shall we?

Although Adam's pratfall was "shocking" and his dishes weren't good, Nipa sucked far worse. Symon was actually offended by her mistreatment of the poor trout she mangled. And so Susie Fogelson showed her the door.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cookin' Somethin' Up

Check out my friend Jim Six's song, Cook Somethin' Up, "a
tasty blues concoction filled with references to celebrity chefs from
the Food Network."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Reunion

Bravo's Andy Cohen hosted the awkwardly named "Bravo See What Happens Top Chef Season Four Chicago Mostly Gay Reunion Show," along with Gail, Tom, Padma, and Ted. All of the cheftestants were present, except for Richard who was live via satellite from Atlanta where he was awaiting the birth of his daughter. Plus Bravo spent all their money on the special prizes for the Elimination Challenges this year and didn't have enough for one more plane ticket.

First off, Andy congratulates Top Chef Stephanie and then asks Lisa how she feels about the situation. Lisa was completely pleased with her performance in the finale and even thought she might win. A round of snickers went up around her.

Andy then asks the chefs if there are any regrets. Dale regrets the caramel sauce, because of course it got his ass kicked off the show. Jen wishes she hadn't used the word "phallic" because now that she's looked it up in the dictionary and knows what it means, she feels all icky about it. Especially since Padma got so excited upon hearing it. Spike said it was probably too hot in the bathtub.

Which brings us to the many bromances that brewed all season long. We knew about some of them, but...Richard and Dale?

Apparently Richard had a thing for Dale's nipples. Who knew? Maybe he was just missing his wife a whole helluva lot?

Andrew and Spike fell in love at first sight. Andrew was happy to "meet a cat I could connect with." And do other things.

Spike couldn't decide whether he loved Andrew or Mark more.

Then the conversation turned from man-man-man love to the ever-popular girl-on-girl action. Andy wanted to know if there was any truth to the Internet rumor that Zoi and Jen had broken up. Jen muttered something about maybe having gone through some rough patches, and Zoi said she didn't want to talk about it. Looks suspiciously like they've broken up. I thought Zoi was "the love of [your] life, Jen?

Then we get a montage of Spike's Extreme Asshattery throughout the series, already well-covered in this blog so I'm not going to bother rehashing it. (Sorry, Evangelos Mendelsohn - you've already got too much free PR from me!) Stephanie admits that she hates him for at least the first eight episodes, then has a change of heart when she realizes he's a really awesome guy. Andrew apparently slipped her some of whatever he's been on all season to get her to change her mind that dramatically.

Ryan gets a montage of what he does best, babbling bullshit, disguised as being "well-spoken." Nimma, Valerie, Erik, & Nikki barely get any face time. Manuel is allowed to say a few words. But none of them are lesbians or involved in a bromance so of course they're not interesting to the home audience.

Then there's this whole new thing we've never seen on the show - Antonia as the "Black Hammer" because she seemed to have a knack for getting others eliminated. It's called "being a better chef."

A montage featuring the Glad Family of Products Commemorative Storage Room, a.k.a. the stew room, comes next. Judging can take 6-8 hours and sometimes the cheftestants got a little wacky while waiting. Plus there was an endless supply of Michelob with which to fuel the crazy. Out front, it wasn't any easier on the judges and sometimes Gail liked to take a wee nap to keep her boobies refreshed and perky.

The topic then turns to Lisa and her crappy attitude. We are forced to watch a montage of bitchface and double chins, for which Lisa is in no way apologetic. She almost bragged that people on the street sneered at her, and even other lesbos were afraid to approach her in bars because she might have her knife kit with her. "I make good TV; maybe I'll get an Emmy."

In a perfect world, the next topic of conversation would have been about some of the more prominent guests that appeared this season. That's right - the Boobies.

Andy brought up that he thought Andrew and Gail had a connection this season, and she suddenly got all weird and girly. I hope she realizes she could never replace Spike in his heart.

Time for yet another montage! Andrew, of course, was entertaining enough to merit his own of all the cracked-out things he did and said during the season, and Bravo is kind enough to have a video of it for us to watch over and over again.

One of Andrew's most famous bons mots earned him his very own Bravo T-shirt, modeled for us by Spike and available at the Bravo store (sold out at the moment). I am so getting one of those.

The next montage (man, I'm getting sick of these) is a symphony of bleeps as it deals with the rampant cursing among the cast, not only in "private" but during their candid interviews. Chefs curse - it's a fact of nature. Why is that surprising?
Then Blais gets his own montage of shots of him playing with tiny smokers, immersion circulators, and other gastronomical gadgetry. Andrew compares him to Felix the Cat because he has such a bag of tricks. Andy Cohen mentions that Richard has received a gift for the new baby from Bravo - a onesie printed with the Top Chef logo, a baby spoon substituting for the knife. (If it were Lisa's baby, no doubt the knife would be left in.)

Finally, finally, for crap's sake, we find out who the Fan Favorite is. I admit to stuffing the ballot box for Richard (and maybe one or two votes for Dale) so I was disappointed to find out the winner is: Stephanie. Hasn't she won enough already? Sheesh. :::tossing remote on the table, walking away::::

I'm done. Seeya next season.