Charleston

Top Chef: Tastes Like Strawberries

It’s the moment all the chefs have been waiting for: Restaurant Wars!  There is no Quickfire this time.  The chefs find themselves face to face with Daniel Humm, Will Guidara, and of course, Padma Lakshmi.  The space they stand in will be their restaurant… both teams’ restaurant, as they will serve on separate nights to see how each team can transform the same space.  They draw knives to determine teams.

Shirley and Katsuji pull knives to make them team captains.  Katsuji, who’s pulled first pick, selects Sheldon who admits he’s “had some luck” on this challenge before.  Shirley pulls Brooke, another solid Restaurant Wars veteran.  Katsuji picks Casey and Shirley picks Sylva, leaving John and Emily who are both tough picks after the last elimination.  Katsuji goes for John having worked successfully with him before and leaving Emily to Shirley.

Shirley naturally takes the role of executive chef.  She gives Brooke front-of-house, where she excelled in her last Restaurant Wars.  Katsuji, for whatever reason, does not want executive chef.  He wants to make three dishes.  He assigns this role to John and gives Casey front-of-house.  Katsuji also got to choose which night his team serves, and he’s opted to go second.

So, Shirley’s Red Team serves first.  Their restaurant is called Latitude, inspired by the sea.

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Brooke’s salmon is well received, but Emily’s squid ink pasta lacks both texture and flavor.  Shirley’s snapper goes over pretty well, but Sylva’s halibut is a big hit!  Shirley’s panna cotta is a disaster, though she knew it would be.  Emily buttermilk cake is surprisingly well received, though!

Katsuji’s Blue Team goes the next night.  They merge their styles using the south as their inspiration, since it is Top Chef Charleston after all.  Southern Belle serves up family style, making Tom ask, “Why are we sharing small plates?”

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Katsuji’s tamale is a bit confusing, but his beef tongue is a restaurant favorite.  His dessert is undercooked, though.  Sheldon’s soup doesn’t really work.  Casey’s dessert is nice and “tastes like strawberries.”

The Red Team wins, putting the Blue Team on the chopping block.  John, as executive chef, is under fire.  Katsuji, as the ultimate decision maker, takes the brunt of it and ends up packing his knives.

This was a tough one for me, as I like Katsuji!  Who do you think is next to go?!

Top Chef: Maybe Captain Planet is Coming

Last week’s Top Chef started with the most interesting Quickfire.  Based on the cheftestants’ zodiac sign, the chefs use ingredients to represent Air, Water, and Fire (there are no Earth signs among them) for Padma and guest judge Michael Cimarusti.  Unfortunately for the group, it’s a sudden death Quickfire.

When the dishes are tasted, Katsuji, Sheldon, and Jamie are the favorites, but Jamie takes the win and immunity.  Emily, Jim, and Sylva are on the bottom and fight it out in a cook-off.  Because there were no Earth signs, they must use those ingredients to create the same dish.  They choose steak tartar.  Graham Elliot joins Padma and Michael for judging.  Jim is shockingly send packing his knives!  Guys, this one hurts.  I’m rooting for him in Last Chance Kitchen!

The mood focuses to Black Beard the pirate, who apparently threw quite the party!  The chefs are breaking into teams for an ingredient treasure hunt through Charleston!  They draw swords to determine teams of three.  The yellow team is Sheldon, Shirly, and Sylva.  The black team is Katsuji, Brooke, and Casey.  The red team is John, Jamie, and Emily.  This seems like such a fun challenge, but it’s a tropical storm…

They run around in the rain with a map given to them by a pirate.  There are seven chefs, each with three ingredients.  The first team to the chest gets their first choice of ingredient.  Yellow is the first team to finish.  Black is just a few minutes behind, despite Katsuji’s abhorrence for the rain.  Red is the last to return, but they have plenty of time to cook with their booty.

The yellow team took an easy win, being the judges’ clear favorite.  Shirley is given the win for the team!  While Katsuji had a good dish, there were some issues with the rest of the black team’s dishes.  There were equally as many issues on the red team.  Jamie had immunity, but one of the worst dishes.  Jamie offers up his immunity to the judges to be judged for elimination among his peers; he feels that his dish landed his team on the bottom.  (Funny, Tom said the same thing tasting them!)

Tom & the judges think that Katsuji’s dish saved the black team.  Padma asks Jamie if he’s sure he wants to give up his immunity.  He confirms, and is sent packing his knives.  That was kind of crazy!  Jamie was very noble, and is off to Last Chance Kitchen to fight his way back.

Top Chef: If Snooki Served This

Well hello!  I hope everyone’s has a lovely Christmas/Hannukah/winter holiday of choice.  It’s time to get back into the blog groove with a Top Chef recap just in time for tonight’s new episode!  (We try.)

Hey, did you know there was a new editor at Food & Wine?  I hadn’t realized until Padma annouced Nilou Motamed, who brought the chefs Quickfire gifts.  The chefs have 30 minutes to create a dish using everything (and we mean everything) in the wrapped boxes before them.  The box holds a pressure cooker (which I actually just got for Christmas!), Patron Tequila, pomegranate, chocolate-covered pretzels, cloves, wasabi, squab, and a melon baller.  Ooookay!

Shirley basically has a bad time.  She sets fire to her squab.  Sheldon accidentally works on her station and steals her melon baller, so she doesn’t even know to use it.  Padma makes a comment about how it’s a good thing it’s not a sudden death Quickfire… (“or is it?  I don’t know yet.”  Cute, Padma.)  Shirley finds herself in the bottom with Emily and BJ.  The top of the pack is Brooke, John, and Casey, who takes the win and immunity for the elimination challenge.

Local chef Mike Lata joins Padma for the elimination challenge.  He once fired Emily, so it’s super awkward for her.  The elimination challenge is a take on a tradition that I just experienced, the Feast of the Seven Fishes… but, with trash fish.  The chefs draw knives to pair off and grab a less-than-ideal fish to work with.

They serve to Padma, Nilou, Mike, Tom Colicchio, Richard Blais, Hugh Acheson,and Graham Elliot.

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Having recovered from their Quickfire spat, Shirley & Sheldon come together to create a harmonious mullet dish– even the multitude of bones can’t detract.

img_2510Jamie and Sylva’s fish may taste a bit like blood, but they’re able to turn it into something that looks like tuna.  Impressive!

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Poor Brooke got no support from a frazzled Emily.  This dish needed editing.

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The broth and, what BJ calls, “Silvia’s Italian cracker than I can’t pronounce,” were the only things good on this dish.  The barrel fish ate like chicken.

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An unlikely duo, Katsuji & John, hit it out of the park with their triggerfish.  Okay, they served two different preparations of tomatoes… Katsuji’s sauce sealed the deal for this one and egos were pushed aside!

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Amanda was kind of a nutcase in the kitchen and undercooked her beans.  She and Jim’s dish came off a little pedestrian for the judges.  Tom calls it “South Jersey” cuisine.

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Since Casey won the Quickfire, she got to work alone.  She was grateful to have immunity this week, as she would’ve rather not served anything than this dish.

At judges’ table, Shirley and Sheldon, Jamie and Sylva, and John and Katsuji are the standouts.  Katsuji wins for his sauce, as he & John had the judges’ favorite dish!  The rest of the crew is the bottom, save for Casey with her immunity.  I was nervous for Brooke, but BJ is ultimately sent packing his knives.

I’m so looking forward to what seems like a very interesting Quickfire tonight.  Who’s ready?!  Who do you think is next to go?

Top Chef: Didn’t Inspire Biscuits

“Southern Hospitality” picks up straight where we left off– it’s on to the elimination challenge!  To truly experience Charleston cuisine, the chefs are dining in the homes of local chefs Carrie Morey and BJ Dennis.  It’s a team challenge: rookies vs. veterans.

Shopping goes pretty terribly for the rookies and they panic at home over their menu.  The veterans are calm, cool, and collected in comparison.  Cooking with that many people in the kitchen is always interesting too!  The rookies serve first:

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The irony of the rookies not serving biscuits is that Carrie Morey is the owner of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit.  She is not pleased that she didn’t inspire biscuits and neither are the judges.  Tom comments that there are a few misses.

Then the veterans serve:

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John served okra despite knowing that Tom can’t stand it, but it totally paid off ’cause even Tom admitted he enjoyed it.  All and all, the veterans cleaned up.

It’s no surprise that the veterans won the challenge.  Casey, John, and Sheldon are noted for the top spots, but Casey takes the win for her collard greens!  On the losing side, BJ, Annie, and Jamie are called out for the bottom spots.  (Seriously, can Jamie stop burning vegetables?)  Annie is eliminated for her tomato tart and goes to face off in Last Chance Kitchen.

I’m ready for a Quickfire & Elimination Challenge all in one episode now!  I hate to say it, but I think the veterans are going to keep dominating until the teams are mixed.  Any early favorites?  I happen to love Jim from the rookies and am partial to Brooke and Shirley from our old favorites.  Who are you cheering on?

Top Chef: It Looks Easier on Television

Top Chef is back!  This show is a staple on nikkisee.com, and my recaps will be up every Monday!  It’s season 14, and we’re in Charleston, South Carolina.  The first episode, “Something Old, Something New” introduces a concept that I, admittedly, was apprehensive about.  We’ve only got 8 new cheftestants this time and 8 returning Top Chef veterans.  I don’t usually like the idea of returning chefs until you see someone like Katsuji– a chef you really like, and thus are happy to have back.

Our 8 new contestants don’t know who the second group will be.  They face off against each other first.  Their Quickfire is a chicken: use it, make as many dishes as you’d like, and serve it to Tom & Padma any time before time is up.  Only one chef manages to put a dish up before time is called– Italian chef Silvia, who’s pasta impresses.  When time is up, everyone puts up a dish– Silvia puts forth a second and Emily puts up two.  It’s no surprise that Silvia and Emily come out on top, as does my early favorite Jim, who wins the challenge using only chicken innards!  On the bottom, we have Jamie, (who burnt his vegetables,) Annie, (who nearly cried when Tom questioned her use of the term panzanella,) and Gerald, who faces the sudden death elimination against the losing veteran and admits that it looks easier on television.

Graham Elliot joins Padma & Tom to judge the veterans Quickfire, which is to do their take of shrimp and grits.  The most successful are Amanda, Shirley’s bowl of hug, and Brooke’s beautifully runny scotch egg.  Brooke takes the win.  Katsuji, Casey, and John find themselves at the bottom of the pack, but it’s John who has to face elimination against Gerald.

The next day, Gail Simmons meets the chefs at a historic plantation where Gerald and John are to face off in an oyster roast.  John, not wanting to go down this early, whips out his secret ingredient: truffles.  He lighly poaches his oysters in the cream broth of the soup he serves.  Gerald takes a more traditional approach and prepares a Thai-style mignonette.

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In the end, the judges choose John’s dish over Gerald’s, getting John through to the true elimination challenge.  Having lost the sudden death Quickfire, Gerald is headed to Last Chance Kitchen.

I’m so excited for a new season and lots more food!  Who are you cheering for?