Mexico

Top Chef: Ancient Mayan Tools

I’m so dumb, you guys.  I’ve been calling this episode the finale, when in fact the finale is tonight‘s episode.  I just assume this is it once they’re actually in the finale location!  We’ve seen finales with three in the past, can you blame me?  Anyway, I’m calling this penultimate episode “finale part one,” because, well, I’ve already put it out there.

Anyway, the final three relocate to the heart of the Yucatan for a habanero challenge.  They have to shop for their ingredients, which, as my fiancé notes, should be no problem– if you work in a kitchen, you speak Spanish… unless that kitchen is in Hawaii.  Sheldon seems to speak as much Spanish as I do, that is, none at all.  He ends up with a tamale instead of cheese.  Shirley used to work in a Mexican-Chinese fusion restaurant, and thus is complete in her element, but Brooke ends up taking the win again.

For the final elimination challenge, they are to create a dish like the Maya used to using traditional Mayan ingredients and traditional Mayan cooking methods only.  So, no tools and open flames.  The chefs are also shocked to see how limited the ingredients are– hey, they said only!

They cook in front of this amazing Indiana Jones-esque set and come up with the following:

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Shirley is the big winner and makes it into the [real] finale first– she’s full of joy!

“I get to cook, I get to cook!  I can’t wait to show you!”

Between Brooke & Sheldon, the choice is tougher.  What the judges really would love is Brooke’s fish on Sheldon’s dish, but they need to choose one.

It hurts, but Padma asks Sheldon to pack his knives before the real finale.  After, she & Tom both appear teary.  I was watching too!  Sheldon is so amazing, I’m truly sorry to see him go.  I do love a female finale, though!

Team Brooke or Team Shirley?!

Top Chef: Breakout and Dance

I figured I’d say my finale part 1 recap for right before the grand final tonight!

We’re in Mexico now with Shirley, Sheldon and John.  They find their way to Chivas Stadium, home of Guadalajara’s soccer team and their Quickfire Challenge.  They are joined by the winner of Last Chance Kitchen… Brooke!  I’ve got to say, I’d have been happy with either her or Casey here, but Brooke just feels right.  After being beat by Last Chance Kitchen in the finale, it’s only appropriate that she gets her chance to win again through Last Chance Kitchen.

Since Chavas means goat, they’re cooking goat.  A little morbid maybe?  Also, hard to do in 45 minutes!  Here’s what they makes:

Brooke wins the Quickfire, making her return all that much sweeter.

For the elimination challenge, it’s all about Patron!  They have to make a unique margarita to pair with a dish to serve to 100 Patron employees.  Also, they have sous chefs!  Casey, Sylva, Katsuji, and Emily walk on out.  Brooke gets to assign them since she won.  She takes Casey for herself, gives Sylva to Shirley, Emily to Sheldon, and Katsuji to John.  Yup, that last one’s trouble.

Here’s how they do:

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Sheldon was worried about his octopus, and the commercial led us to believe that we should be worried too.  Have no fear, though, Sheldon’s food is great!  The drink gets compared to a fish tank, though– too much garnish.

I was really worried about Shirley.  Sylva accidentally grabbed vanilla instead of agave nectar and, while Shirley thought it was a happy accident, the judges did not agree.

Brooke’s only criticism was that maybe her drink wasn’t that strong, but it made the pairing with her dish that much better.  She ends up taking the win!  Two wins directly after being eliminated, or three wins in a row– she’s on fire!

John’s drink is a big part of his un-doing.  He really wants to create a classic margarita, which is not the creative drink the judges asked for and with just tequila and lime, completely overpowers the food.  He is asked to pack his knives.

Tonight’s finale is actually the match-up I wanted– Shirley, Sheldon, and Brooke will face off for the title.  Who do you think will win?!

 

Top Chef Boston: Finale

I’ve honestly been dreading this episode, because that means this wonderful season of Top Chef is over!  However, I’ve been dying to see who will take this title… especially when it’s down to Gregory and Mei, who, as the episode notes, have traded wins all season.

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It starts off with a lovely hot air balloon ride over San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  Though Mei seems a bit nervous (“We might die today!) both she and Greg get to take is some breathtaking scenes.  As they come down, they see a more familiar scene: Tom and Padma.

They know and we know: this is the start of their final challenge.  It’s a simple one, according to Tom: Create the best four course meal of your life.  No pressure, right?

It’s time to pick their sous chefs!  Since Gregory won last time around, he gets first pick.  He choses Doug.  Mei is happy that leaves her the opportunity to pick her first choice, Melissa.  Gregory then selects George to round out his team.  Mei grabs Rebecca with the intentions of making a dessert.

They’re cooking for a panel of intimidating chefs including Michael Cimarusti, Donnie Masterton, and Gavin Kaysen.  They are also cooking, of course, for our fabulous judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Hugh Acheson, and Richard Blaise.

On a couple courses, Mei and Gregory are going head to head.  Mei is doing dessert and Gregory is not.  They are both bringing their A games and they are both bringing influences from their experience in Mexico.

Mei makes:

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Greg makes:

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Both first courses go well, though Mei’s octopus is noted to be a bit chewy.  Gail likes it, but Richard calls it the biggest technical mistake of the dinner.  Greg seems to win this course.

The second course winner is Mei’s congee, as the shrimp heads in Greg’d didn’t go over well with Padma.  The third course winner is Mei as well.  Gregory made a mistake in his sauce and couldn’t correct it in time for service.

The final course was the best for each chef, majorly impressive all the judges!

After deliberation, Mei and Greg stand in from of Padma, Tom, Hugh, Gail, and Richard.  All of their Boston competitors standby to watch the big moment.  “Mei,” says Padma, “You are Top Chef!

I am so excited for Mei!  Though I think both she and Greg (and a lot of the other cheftestants) deserve to be there, I was really cheering Mei on!  She had so much drive to make her family proud and to live up to her chef, Top Chef Michael Voltaggio!  She call him at the end of the episode overwhelmed, and it’s a very sweet moment!  Can you believe she’s only the third woman that has ever won?  Hopefully we can see some more female Top Chef winners soon!

What did you think of Mei’s big win?!

Top Chef Boston: You’re A Cheese Chef

Last night was part 2 of the 3 part Top Chef Boston finale in Mexico!  Mei, Gregory, and Dougie, the final three, are all hyper-focused and ready to compete for that title.  A Quickfire and an Elimination Challenge stand in their way.

Mei, Gregory, and Dougie show up at a beautiful organic farm for their last Quickfire of the season.  They are greeted by Padma and executive chef Enrique Farjeat.  For this Quickfire, they are cooking with a Mexican staple: chocolate!  Each must create two dishes: one savory and one sweet.  The winner gets first pick of sous chef for the Elimination Challenge.

Here’s what they make:

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There’s no doubt Dougie struggled with the sweet ingredient.  When Mei asked what his dessert was, he simply replied, “Chocolate.”  Gregory ends up the winner!

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs must work together to create a six course progressive dinner.  Each course is to feature a prominent Mexican ingredient.  Each chef is responsible for 2 courses.

Greg, who’s won first choice of sous chef picks George.  Mei picks Melissa, who is exactly who she wanted.  Doug picks Katsuji again, who served him well last time.  He jokes that he only picked him because he speaks Spanish.

The six ingredients are:

  • Guava
  • Avocado
  • Poblanos
  • Cheese
  • Huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn and makes me nervous)
  • Escamoles (ant eggs)

It’s kind of a free-for-all when the chefs see what ingredients they have to feature.  Gregory and Mei make their choices quickly, selecting guava and poblanos, and avocado and huitlacoche respectively.  Dougie gets stuck with escamoles and cheese.  Gregory’s guava course will be first, followed by Mei’s avocado feature, then Doug’s escamoles.  Mei will then present huitlacoche, followed by Greg’s pablanos, and finishing with Doug’s cheese course.

The chefs serve to a table of Mexican chefs, Padma, Tom, and Richard Blais who wears awesome purple glasses and puts his face so close to the food its hilarious.  They serve:

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After the meal, Gregory is a solid yes from the judges to go into the finale.  They vie between Mei and Doug to face off against him.  Mei’s guacamole came off as too simple, and Doug’s escamole dish did not allow the flavor through at all.  They make a decision, and call the three to the judges’ table.

Gregory is told his good news, and tears run down Mei’s face as she awaits her fate.  Padma asks Doug to pack his knives.

It must be a big blow for poor Dougie, but I am by no means surprised to see Gregory and Mei as the top 2!  I knew these two were going to be here from the beginning, but who is going to take the title of Top Chef?!

We’ll find out next week!

Top Chef Boston: Fine Art & Food

Six weeks after our last elimination in Boston, Melissa, Mei, and Gregory arrive in Mexico.  Melissa, originally trying to prove something to her father has let that go and is ready to win for her.  Mei, determined from the beginning since she works for Michael Voltaggio, a Top Chef winner, has been sent training at Top Chef runner-up Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant Volt.  Gregory, worried about his weaker second half of the competition, is back with a lot to prove.

The three are greeted by Tom and brought to the last battle of Last Chance Kitchen, Adam versus Dougie, going on before their eyes!  Dougie is declared the winner, which I am so pleased about.  He deserves a spot in the final.  The new final four are sent to meet Padma for the Quickfire.

Guest judge Enrique Olvera is there to help Padma announce the challenge.  One of the most popular foods in San Miguel de Allende is the prickly pear.  They will be highlighting the xoconostle, the sour fruit of a cactus.  Here’s what they make:

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Enrique ranks Gregory and Mei on the bottom and Doug and Melissa on the top.  Doug wins!  He gets an advantage in the elimination challenge. (more…)

Top Chef Boston: Bye, Beantown

After an episode without eliminations, the chefs don’t have to pour one out this week.  One chef can sleep easy– Melissa already has secured her space in the finale in Mexico!  The real challenge is between Mei, Gregory, and George to grab the last two spaces available to them.

Padma and Wylie Dufresne (!!) announce the final Quickfire Challenge in Boston.  Wylie is one of those guests that Top Chef fans are always excited to see.  If you watch this show and its spin-offs, you probably know Wylie well.  For the Quickfire, Padma mentions the nickname for Boston, Beantown.  Before I can roll my eyes at this (locals never use it!) she says that the name and the dish (that is, baked beans) have fallen out of favor in recent times.  Thus, the challenge is to make a bean dish!  The winner gets a trip to Turloto Wines in Napa, California!

Here’s what the chefs make:

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George’s dish is nicely cooked, but maybe didn’t need the pork.  Melissa made a nice plate, but beans were not the star of the dish.  Gregory overcooked his beans, which is what they were warned not to do. Mei knew her audience.  Since Wylie Dufresne loves eggs, she incorporated one into her dish.  Though maybe not the best looking plate, she wins the challenge!  This is surprisingly her first Quickfire win, and she’s pretty psyched about it… “Napa, here I come!  I’m gonna get wasted.

The final challenge in Boson has to do with a newer face of Boston– not so much Beantown, but instead, a city at the center of new ideas.  The last challenge is to make an innovative dish!

They head to Catalyst, in the Kendall Square, Cambridge area to do their cooking.  Around the table sits the biggest group of judges we’ve seen yet– Gail, Padma, Richard, Tom, Wylie, and Dr. Michael Brennan, a physics professor at Harvard.

The innovative dishes are:

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Melissa and Mei are on top again this week!  Melissa actually ends up the winner of the last challenge!  She gets a nice cash prize to take with her.  Mei secures her ticket to Mexico and her spot in the finale!

Gregory and George end up on the bottom for not being innovative enough and bitter charred octopus, respectively.  Only one can move on to the finale, and it’s Gregory!

I happen to think these three were the right choices.  We knew that Mei and Gregory we destined for the finale from the beginning, but Melissa was kind of a sleeper at the beginning– she sure has come on strong as the competition picked up!

Of course, the Last Chance Kitchen winner will also be joining Mei, Melissa, and Gregory… I won’t ruin it for you if you’re not caught up, but I happen to think this person is very deserving as well!

I’m psyched for the finale, but so sad this wonderful season is coming to a close!

See you in Mexico, kids!

Top Chef Boston: Final Four & Family

After another tough elimination last week, the final four enter the kitchen to a bit of a surprise.  Padma announces that there will be no Quickfire Challenge this week.  There will also be no elimination this week.  Instead, the winner of the challenge will go straight into the finale in Mexico!

Each cheftestant is responsible for both an appetizer and an entrée.  Because of the extra work, each receives a sous chef in the form of a family member– Melissa gets her mom, Alice; Gregory gets his sister, Jessica; George gets his dad, Mr. Tony; and Mei gets her brother, Harly.  The family member is in charge of the appetizer and the chefs can’t touch it!

The challenge makes me long for summer, as they head to Island Creek Oyster Farm in Duxbury.  They dredge up some oysters and also get some other beautiful seafood options provided by Island Creek.  IMG_1188Then they head to this gorgeous house in Gloucester where the spend the night before the challenge.

The chefs talk about the challenges their families create.  George used to work for his father and is unsure how the role reversal will go.  Mei, a self-professed control freak, is very apprehensive about having to work with her brother.  There are some really nice moments too.  Melissa’s mom Alice is really the star of the episode.  “No Sesame Street, always cooking shows,” she says of her daughter fondly, “That’s not a normal child!”  She jokes further about asking Melissa where she wanted to go to college.  When Melissa replied not college, CIA, Alice asked, like James Bond?!  Too cute.  Having said her father is not supportive, Melissa is lucky to have this awesome mom.  Mei confesses that both her parents are like Melissa’s dad.

The next day, against a gorgeous seaside backdrop, the chefs and families serve up their dishes to a table including judges Richard Blais, Padma, and Tom.  Here’s what they make:

Gregory paid more attention to his sister's dish than his own and wasn't happy with the cook of his fish.

Gregory paid more attention to his sister’s dish than his own and wasn’t happy with the cook of his fish.

Melissa's mom made a fantastic custard and was even ahead of schedule.  Melissa's dish was raved about, saying it was the best lobster ever and the veggies were the star.

Melissa’s mom made a fantastic custard and was even ahead of schedule. Melissa’s dish was raved about, saying it was the best lobster ever and the veggies were the star.

Mr. Tony was able to take direction from his son, but maintained his pride.  When Tom asked how he prepared his dish, he says that he prepared it, but in George's way.  Hah!

Mr. Tony was able to take direction from his son, but maintained his pride. When Tom asked how he prepared his dish, he says that he prepared it, but in George’s way. Hah!

Mei and her brother ended up working together well and both dishes came out great!

Mei and her brother ended up working together well and both dishes came out great!

 

The top two are Mei & Melissa, and the winner, headed straight to the finale is Melissa!  Her mom is elated and through tears proclaims, “I just had such a good time!”

I cried too.  It was lovely!

But it’s back to fierce competition next week at a new time!  (Yup, Top Chef is moving to 9 pm Eastern!  Thank goodness; I’m so tired.)  Who do you think will join Melissa in Mexico?!

 

World Cup 2014

I’m not big on sports, but man do I love the World Cup!  Soccer is so fun to watch, and the games are pretty quick.  Why this thing only happens once every four years is completely beyond me.  I’m super sad that my team, Italy, is out.  Like, my heart breaks for Azzurri.  I’ve still got the USA and Argentina in the mix though!

Now that the group stages are over, I’m going to attempt a bracket of sorts for the knockout rounds.

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  • Brazil v. Chile: Chile has played well, but Brazil wants this badly as the home team.  I’m voting Brazil advances the quarterfinals.
  • Colombia v. Uruguay: This is a tough branch!  Colombia has more wins than Uruguay heading into knockouts, but for some reason I think Uruguay will advance.
  • France v. Nigeria: I’m predicting France will win; I haven’t seen anything too special from Nigeria.
  • Germany v. Algeria: Well, after watching Germany play today I’m convinced that they’ll be able to beat Algeria.
  • Netherlands v. Mexico: The Netherlands have played very well.  They should have no problem beating Mexico.
  • Costa Rica v. Greece: Greece hasn’t impressed me.  I’m betting on Costa Rica here.
  • Argentina v. Switzerland: I’ve enjoyed watching both of the teams a lot!  Since Italy is out I’m throwing my support behind Argentina. I definitely think they can beat the Swiss.  My boy Messi has got this!
  • Belgium v. United States: Oh, USA.  Belgium will definitely give us a run for our money.  I’m praying that the US can take them down.  That would put my two favorites teams against each other in the quarters, though!

There you have my quarterfinal predictions!  I’m actually hoping Argentina wins it all.

What are your predictions?