Friday, February 27, 2009

Um, No Thanks

Thoughts on Top Chef by Toby Young

There's an interesting live chat with TC judge Toby Young over on the LA Times site. Here are a couple of excerpts that help explain the way the show is judged and why nobody's favorite - Hosea - won over Stefan.

"A lot of people ask why we don't judge the contestants according to how they've done over the course of the entire season and the reason, I think, is because it would be obvious, from a very early stage, who the winner is going to be. In the current season, for instance, Stefan would have emerged as the strongest contestant very early on and, if we'd have been judging it that way, he would have won. That might be a fairer way of assessing the chefs overall, but it would make for boring TV. Judging people entirely on how they perform on the day means there's always a chance one of the stronger contestants could go out and one of the weaker ones pull through. For those who follow sports, it's a problem the organizers of the Grand Prix have encountered. The final is often very boring because by then everyone knows who's one. Case in point: Lewis Hamilton won this year in spite of not coming first in the final."

"A lot of people have accused the judges of keeping Leah in the show in order to keep the romantic subplot alive, but the producers are very scrupulous about not trying to influence the judges' decisions one way or the other. Leah was definitely one of the weaker contestants, but they don't always get eliminated early because of the way the show is designed. Ambitious chefs who over-reach are the ones that get punished in the early rounds; unambitious chefs who stick to what they know tend to survive."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Oohh...Harsh, Casey!

Casey speaks.

Boobs and Burgers

Padma Lakshmi is no food snob. She's apparently got a taste for Hardee's/Carl's Jr. Bacon Western Thickburger. Or the extra dough it puts in her wallet. (No, I did not Photoshop that!)

Does this make her the Indian equivalent of Paris Hilton?

BTW - what's wrong with her right leg?

(Thanks to Cliff for the tip!)

Interview with Stefan

I just got off a conference call with Stefan Richter. He had some interesting things to say (what I could understand - my connection was horrible) and as soon as I get my hastily scribbled notes together, I'll post some of it here.

Mr Richter is an avid reader of my blog, and I'm sure he'll jump in to clarify in the comments if I get anything wrong. :)

Top Chef New York Finale

For this last episode of Top Chef season 5, we go back to the tried and true formula of showing the chefs performing their morning ablutions.

Hosea and Carla in particular are excited about the competition.

Instead of a Quickfire - no loser chefs this week - Carla, Hosea, and Stefan have breakfast on the Creole Queen.

There are high hopes that Baldarama 2009 will involve fisticuffs and someone being thrown overboard, but no such festive hijinks ensue.

Hosea shows his maturity.

After snarfling down beignets and nearly choking on the powdered sugar (c'mon - you know one of them at least coughed a little), the chefs don their whites and meet Padma and Tom.

Tom seems to have narcolepsy this week. He wakes up long enough to give the chefs their challenge.

The chefs must create the best three course meal of their lives. They may use any proteins they like, and dessert is not a requirement. The dishes of all three chefs will be presented - simultaneously - to twelve diners who will all roll their eyes - simultaneously - as Toby Young struggles to make pithy comments for each of the nine dishes.

They get two hours to prep at the Audubon Tea Room and then three more hours the next day at Commander's.

Hosea's not the only one....

Before the chefs leave to start their prep, Padma tells them about their sous chefs.

Think again, Carla....

Why, it's Richard Blais, Casey Thompson, and Marcel Vigneron! Chefs that made it to the top three in the last three seasons but did not win the title.

Because Carla won the last Elimination Challenge, she got to draw the first knife to determine the order in which they chose their sous chefs. Hosea got the 1 so he picked Blais. Can't blame him - I would have picked him too (and did, last season, to win it all). Stefan takes Marcel.

(I think that's the most accurate description of Marcel ever.)

...and Carla gets Casey. I never understood why Casey made it all the way to the finals in season 3, and certainly not why she won fan favorite that year. Over CJ? Over Tre? Over Dale? Oh yeah...she wore a bikini....

But I digress.

The chefs immediately head to the Audubon Tea Room to get started. Balderama is in full swing as Hosea and Stefan squabble over both the foie gras and the caviar.

Here - you can borrow my foot.

Meanwhile Carla wants to make a simple meat and potatoes main dish, and Casey talks her into trying a new technique. Carla's spirit guides must have been napping, because they weren't giving her the "Danger Will Robinson!" alarms they should have.

Stefan has the right approach.

The measly two hours they get for prep is over in a flash and the chefs must pack it up for the night. The next morning, they head to Commander's Palace where they find Tom grinning idiotically over a platter of seafood.

Yup, that's gator all right, and blue crabs, and redfish (no telling when the one fish, two fish, and blue fish are going to make an appearance in this challenge). Tom, still grinning idiotically, reveals the monkey wrench he's about to throw into the chefs' plans: create a passed appetizer using the new ingredient. Rather than drag out that knife block again, this time the chefs eat King cake in order to find the baby toy hidden inside. After a few disgusting seconds of watching the big lummox masticate a huge slab of danish, Hosea discovers the prize. How appropriate.

Hosea gets to choose his protein and assign the other two. He takes the redfish and gives Carla the crab, leaving Stefan with the alligator.

Remember, Stefan is no dummy. He lops the tail off the critter and makes soup with it.

The three hours of cooking is over very quickly and the cheftestants scramble to get their appetizers plated.

The guests start arriving - New Orleans chefs Susan Spicer of Bayona and cutie John Besh of August; chef Hubert Keller; Cat food and frozen pasta salesman Rocco DiSpirito; owner Ti Martin and chef Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace; musician Branford Marsalis; everbody's favorite Italian, Fabio Viviani; and Toby, Gail, Padma, and Tom. Whew! That's 12, right?

All three passed apps went over well. The diners were then seated and presented with the three chefs' first courses. Carla did a deconstructed bouillabaisse that was well received. Yay Carla! The baldies both did raw fish dishes. Hosea's lacked seasoning, and Stefan's was watery because he had frozen the fish before slicing it thinly. Works for dense proteins, but apparently not for halibut and salmon.

The mains came next. Hosea's fish dish on pain perdu with foie gras foam and 100 other fiddly things on the plate scored high marks (he must have been channeling Jeff for a few moments there). Stefan's squab was the favorite dish of the night. But Carla's Casey-driven sous vide beef was tough; even the delicious sauce couldn't save it.

The Hose takes another opportunity to bitch about his competition.

Quit your bitching already. Remember, this isn't Top Pussy.

Third course comes out - Stefan made dessert, but his ice cream, mousse, and banana lollipop don't impress anyone. Carla originally had wanted to make a cheese tart, but Crazy Casey convinced her to make a bleu cheese soufflé instead. A fricken baked soufflé! And of course Carla forgot to turn down the oven and of course the soufflé curdled and of course serving half a dish was the kiss of death for Carla.

The Hose served venison with some weird carbonated blackberries that Blais made.

Finally, after lots of debate and dissention at the table, the cheftestants and four main judges head back to the Hotel Monteleone for Judges' Table.

Eating what is essentially 12 courses will do that to you, Tom.

First they discussed the overall high quality of the apps.

Gail was disappointed that Carla didn't serve her soufflé. Tom thought maybe she was influenced too heavily by her sous chef.

During the deliberation, it really seemed like Toby was on Stefan's side. He questioned Hosea's choice of making two meat courses, saying that Stefan's meal was better thought out.

When asked why they deserved to be Top Chef, Stefan comments that he was consistent. Carla says she had a lot of heart and a lot of flavor and she thinks her food is good. She starts to get teary and Stefan tries to console her a bit. It's pretty obvious at this point she has no chance in hell of winning this thing. I find myself getting teary too. (Never cry in front of me because I'll start right up.)

And then we get the final verdict:

Unfortunately, it's worse. Hosea is declared Top Chef. Ok, so maybe it is Top Pussy.

At Casa Minx, after a rousing chorus of "bullshit!" Mr Minx turns to me and says, "this is the first time I'm actually angry at the result." I have to agree. Seems to me that Hosea only made it to the top three because he was never actually bad enough to get kicked off the show. He only won two Elimination Challenges, whereas Carla won three and Stefan won four.

Twelve hours later and I'm still pissed off. I haven't been this annoyed since that asshat Ilan won in season two for using all of Andy Nusser and Mario Batali's recipes. But I felt a little better after watching one of Stefan's exit videos. Go on, watch it. Team Euro is amusing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Craft Steak

While in NY, I had the opportunity to dine at Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak (which hosted a party just a day or so before after filming the TC reunion special...sorry I missed that event!).

The space is beautiful (as evidenced by these photos taken from the Craftsteak Web site), with a two-story glass-cased wine room (seen at the right of the first photo) separating the bar and dining room and a soothing neutral decor. Our party of eight sat at one of the round booths in the second photo (the center one, as a matter of fact).

When at a place that specializes in steak, why order anything else? I opted for the filet mignon, served medium rare with a charred exterior. It came exactly to order - a thing of beauty. My only complaint is that they serve all of their steaks pre-sliced, for easier sharing. Pre-slicing means that the steak gets cold a lot faster than one would like, particularly since it had already rested a bit after coming out of the pan. But the flavor was good and beefy, and the crust was well-seasoned. The steaks came with tiny sauceboats filled with chimichurri, an ethereal whipped bernaise, a flavored creme fraiche, and the house steak sauce (a little sweet to my taste).

The table also ordered several side dishes - brussels sprouts with bacon, cauliflower, baby carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, fries, onion rings, mushrooms - all fab. I would have been quite content making a meal out of the veg alone.

Dessert (which I neglected to photograph) was also well-received by the group. I had the monkey bread which was actually a little ring-shaped brioche doused with toffee and pecans and served with rum raisins and a wee pitcher of creme fraiche. Our waiter pronounced it "phenomenal" - not an adjective I'd ever use to describe food - but I have to admit it was quite delicious, as was the lemon soufflé I tried.

Along with dinner came a dish of hazelnut petits fours and housemade "Oreo" cookies with a minty filling. And as we were leaving, we were handed individual scones for breakfast the next morning. A nice touch, and well-appreciated by someone who had a train to catch (that would be me).

Craft Steak
85 10th Ave

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Marco Pierre White, of the upcoming NBC series The Chopping Block is quite the character.  Check out these "Marcoisms."

There are 3 more videos at Tell me what you think.

Top Chef Finale Previews!

Here they are - the last three previews of the season....

Do or Die
The Best Meal of Your Life
No Finale Without a Twist

Top Chef Contest!

MinxEats is having a Top Chef contest! The prize, to three lucky winners: a 2009 Top Chef calendar!

So how do you win? All you need to do is answer these twelve trivia questions correctly.

If more than three respondees answer all 12 questions correctly, I'll draw the winners at random. If nobody gets all 12, well then I'll have to see who has 11, 10, 9, etc. But it won't be that tough. ;)

Send your answers to me at with the subject "Trivia Contest" by Monday, March 2. I'll notify the winners by e-mail, then will post their names - and the answers - here on Wednesday the 4th.

1. Which Top Cheftestant (that we knew of) has only one testicle?

2. Who was the original host of Top Chef?

3. Season 4's Ryan Scott had trouble preparing a classical chicken dish. What was it?

4. Whose winning dish is featured on the menu at T.G.I Fridays?

5. In how many episodes did Anthony Bourdain appear?

6. Which famous musical performer's sibling appeared on Top Chef? (Name both the performer and the sibling.)

7. Why was Andrea Beaman brought back to compete in season one?

8. Who were the fan favorites from the seasons prior to season five?

9. Which chef was eliminated for cheating?

10. Whose hometown is Niceville, Florida?

11. Who is the champion nutcracker of Top Chef?

12. Name the locales for the finales of each season.

FINE PRINT: Contest open only to U.S. residents.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Top Chef New York Episode Thirteen, AKA Finale Part One

Maybe I should have titled this post "Top Chef New Orleans" because that's where we find our intrepid finalists....

Instead of the usual scenes of eating breakfast and making beds, along with the occasional "exploitative" beef cheese cupcake shot of a shirtless Jeff, we see the final four arriving in the Crescent City after several months of not seeing each other.

Nice pink scarf, Fabio. Must be a European thing, eh?

Everyone is excited about the finale. Hosea is pumped to be in New Orleans for the first time. Fabio is sure he's going to win this competition. Stefan has a cigarette. And Carla is completely tickled at the thought of winning.

Before we head over to see what the Quickfire challenge is all about, let's rejoin the Baldarama Pissing Contest, already in progress:

Just to let you know, we'll be seeing quite a bit of that throughout the episode. Along with scenes of Stefan indulging in his nasty little nicotine habit.

The chefs head out to meet Padma, who introduces the guest judge for this episode, none other than Emeril Lagasse. Once upon a time, I thought Emeril was a real cutie-pie. What the hell happened to him? He's starting to look like a horror movie villain. Maybe I've seen him do that awful "Bella Lagasse" schtick too many times at Halloween....

Actually, no, Emeril, that's not the challenge.

(Didn't our Superior European look a bit chilled throughout this segment? Guess the warmth of California has spoiled this Finn.)

If the finalists don't cook in the Quickfire, then who does?

Losers do! Jeff, Jamie, and Leah compete for a chance to be in the finale.

The Losers get one hour to create a dish with crawfish.

Funny. And several million viewers thought you should have been eliminated weeks before.

Leah says she's never cooked with crawfish. How is it that an untrained home cook like me has worked with ingredients that the pros have never used? To quote Eric Cartman: "lame."

Jamie is intimidated to cook for a "badass" like Emeril. So she thinks he looks like a horror movie villain too!

...and Jeff's mind has "a couple people talking in it." Hmmm....

After tasting the dishes, Emeril declares Jeff's the winner. Jeff not only gets a chance to compete in the semi-finals, he also gets a copy of Emeril's new grilling cookbook.

Emeril then extends a dinner invitation to his restaurant Delmonico to the now five finalists, Jeff, Carla, Fabio, Hosea, and Stefan.

At dinner, we find out why Fabio really wants to win:

A noble cause, Fab. Much better than using the dough to pay your wife's Prada shoe bill.

I don't know, Stefan - what is a butt-rubbing contest? Sounds kinky. I thought this was a penis-length contest. Does "coming out with the short end of the stick" mean anything to either of you?

The next morning, the chefs meet Padma and Bella at Mardi Gras World.

The Elimination Challenge is revealed: each chef must prepare two dishes and one cocktail for the Krewe of Orpheus' annual masquerade ball at the New Orleans Museum of Art. One dish must be in the Creole style.

If Jeff is to compete in the finale, he must win this challenge. The winner also gets a new Toyota Venza. Not only does Fabio need the money, he needs a new car.

As eloquent as ever, Fabio.

Emeril invites the chefs to use the kitchen at Delmonico, including all of the foodstuffs found therein.

But didn't the Top Chef keetchen have stoves and ovens too?

Although the challenge is to make two dishes, Fabio opts to make three. Actually, he bakes bread, which doesn't quite count as a separate dish. Carla has decided to make oyster stew, but has no experience shucking the creatures. And the Hose and Stefan both decide to make gumbo.

Stefan is getting Hosea's goat. Ha ha. :)

Clearly one person is going to win Balderama 2009.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Finally, prep is done and the cheftestants head to The New Orleans Museum of Art to start a rousing game of Go Fish.

Carla has cream for Jeff (and that just sounds so wrong). Hosea asks for a whisk and Carla says "go fish." Then we hear Hosea in a voiceover talking about not bringing a ladle for his gumbo. Did he need a whisk AND a ladle, or just a ladle but he couldn't tell it from a whisk? Someone send the boy to culinary school, ASAP!

Despite getting an "asshole edit" this week (a pretty convincing one, I might add), to his credit, Stefan did help Carla shuck her oysters. Hmmm...I thought we weren't supposed to know that the man can actually be nice. (This unsolicited boost to your public image does not come without a price, Stef. I'll just add it to your tab. ;)

Finally the guests arrive and hit up the various stations for food and drinks.

Huh? What kind of porn do they have in Italy? Hmmm...Padma's outfit does seem a little bondage-y, doesn't it?

After the party, the chefs and judges head back to the Hotel Monteleone for Judges' Table. The lovely and boobaceous Gail Simmons is finally back, but oddly enough, Bravo doesn't include even a glimpse of her in the preview or recap videos.

Although Emeril thinks that Jeff is a refined cook, Carla's oyster stew and piping-hot beignet were better.

That means, of course, that Jeff doesn't make it to the finale. And Fabio doesn't get a new car.

Hosea is congratulated for not winning or losing, and is dismissed by Tom. Stefan and Fabio are left and one of them is going home.

First it looks like Stefan's time is up.

But gumbo on grits wasn't necessarily a bad thing, especially since the grits were delicious. The roux was criticized as being a little light, but the flavors were all there.

Fabio's maque choux was good, but could have been spicier. His flavors, however, didn't have as much depth as the judges would have liked. And his drink was too sweet. Sadly, this was enough to lose him the competition.

So Stefan lives to smoke another day (and that, ironically, will probably kill him in the long run) and makes it to the finale with Carla and Hosea. My prediction: Carla takes it all.

Back to Baldarama 2009 - any last words?

Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion!