Tom Colicchio

Top Chef: I’m Not Crying

We’re down to the final four at the start of last week’s episode– Brooke, Shirley, and Sheldon I knew would be here, but I’m as surprised as John is to see him there!  But yeah, no; he’s not crying.

The chefs find the Quickfire set up to be a little different– 4 identical sets of 2 work stations divided by a wall.  The chefs are to instruct mystery guests and make a dish that tastes and looks the same!  Now, these mystery guests are their nearest & dearest– John’s wife, Sheldon’s wife, Shirley’s husband, and Brooke’s sister.  (Fans will remember; Brooke’s husband is a chef too, so he clearly wasn’t allowed to play.)  It cracks me up that no one seems to recognize their loved one’s voice!  Sheldon picks up on it right away, but he keeps the surprise for everyone.

All four dishes are successful, but Sheldon ends up taking home the win and a prize fo $10k for him & his wife!  The chefs all get to spend some time with their loved one that evening when Padma cooks for them in their home.

The elimination challenge for the week is equally as sentimental as the Quickfire ended up being.  The chefs are to create a dish to reflect on their time in Charleston; winner gets to cook at the James Beard house!

Here are the results:

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John worries his dish may be a little simple by comparison, but his oceanside point-of-view is clear.

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You know Shirley’s going to knock it out of the park when she says she’s not made this for the judges, but for her family who inspired her.  With a request to open up a Chinese soul food restaurant in Charleston heard, I think it’s safe to say she did just that.

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Brooke takes a literal interpretation of the challenge, as that’s how she works best.  She uses ingredients and elements from dishes that have brought her success in Charleston.  Though she’s not confident, the judges do enjoy what she presents.

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Sheldon works magic melding cultures– he takes Carolina gold rice and turns it into chow fun.  And with it, he wins!

Tom says there are no losers, just one person who’s not moving on.  Sadly, and honestly surprisingly, that person is Brooke.

Let’s not forget, Brooke was beat by Last Chance Kitchen’s champion, so she’s really still in this!  Maybe.  We’ll see tonight, right?!

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Top Chef: Just Don’t Suck

Fresh off a win, Sylva is feeling “a little unstoppable,” which he thinks is a bad thing.  The six remaining chefs are met in the stew room by Tom Colicchio himself!  He promises a treat for them since they’ve been working hard.  They meet him at a marina the next day and they’re going out shrimping!  Even Brooke with her boat-phobia has a great time.

Padma is waiting for them when they dock.  It’s Quickfire time!  They’re obviously making a shrimp dish, which is not news to them, but the fact that it’s a Sudden Death Quickfire is!  The chefs struggle a little bit being outside their kitchen.  Sylva complains about opening a can with his $400 knife and Shirley is a little loopy from the motion sickness medication she took to brave the boat.

The three chefs with Tom & Padma’s least favorite dishes are facing off for elimination.  Sheldon is definitely safe, producing the best dish.  Casey, Shirley, and Sylva are going to have to fight to stay in the competition.  For the cookoff, the three are to use the other things they caught during their shrimping trip– squid, skate, and the like.  It’s a close fight, but Casey is eliminated for chewy calamari.

Phew, all that before the episode’s main challenge!  Padma says it’s time to have fun with your food.  The creator of the cronut, Chef Domanique Ansel, comes out to talk about brunch.  The chefs are to put on a brunch– the judges aren’t looking for anything traditional, but for unique mash-ups.  Man, this sounds hard!  (Slash, I really want to try Tom fois grasffle.)

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Top Chef: Ah Spicy, Ah Ginger! Next!

It’s the episode I’ve been waiting for!  Michael Voltaggio guest judges for a very fun Quickfire– the blindfolded taste test!  This is one of my favorite challenges from the best of the Gordon Ramsay shows, so I always like seeing it.

When all is said and done, Emily, Silva, and Shirley named the fewest ingredients.  Brooke, Sheldon, and Casey did the best.  Sheldon got 10, Casey got 11, and Brooke crushed the competition with 16!  (John goes unmentioned in the middle of the pack.)

The challenge for the week is to create a meal that is reminiscent of your childhood. (more…)

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: 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: Magic Hour

Wasn’t this technically the finale part 1?  Anyway, it’s hard to believe we’ve gone from 17 chefs to just three: Marjorie, Jeremy, and Isaac.  I kind of feel like I love them all at this point.  Let’s not forget our Last Chance Kitchen winner: Amar!  These four are ready to fight it out for the title of Top Chef in Las Vegas.

They meet Padma and Tom in the MGM arena for a culinary battle.  Instead of an elimination, the winner of this challenge is going straight through to the finale.  Padma deals them some cards.  So, I learned something new: each suit represented a class of people– spades were royalty, hearts were clergy, diamonds were merchants, and clubs were peasants.  They’ll have to cook with a pantry of ingredients selected for the class they were dealt.  The higher classes can pick from the lowers, so royalty can go to any pantry, clergy can use any but royalty, merchants have their own plus peasants, but peasants just have their own to work with.  Marjorie gets the spade, Isaac gets the heart, Jeremy gets the diamond, and Amar gets the club.  They also get some help in the forms of Karen, Carl, Kwame, and Phillip (respectively).  Here’s what they make:

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Tom is really impressed overall with the food.  Everyone rose to the challenge,  but Jeremy is declared the winner and secures himself a spot in the finale.

Then it’s time for the magic of David Copperfield.  They chefs all go see his show in Vegas for inspiration.  Jeremy gets to sit this one out, but Marjorie, Isaac, and Amar need to put some magic on plates for the judges.

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Marjorie puts on a show and tells a story.  Her liquid nitrogen trick almost bit her, as she burnt her tongue with it, inhibiting her from truly tasting her food.  Her performance is well-received, and her food is too!

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Isaac actually preforms a magic trick!  He pretends to chuck an egg at Padma, then throws nothing to Gail having made it “disappear.”  His play on chicken-fried steak is very well-received, though his nerves don’t keep him talking as much as Marjorie had.

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Amar doesn’t put on a show at all.  He doesn’t preform to the table of judges, but rather, let’s his food be a surprise.  When the cloche comes off and the smoke clears, they judges have a plate full of surprises!

When it comes down to it, Amar met the challenge best.  He wins and will face Jeremy in the finale!  When Jeremy finds out who his competitor will be, he says Amar is about as well-rounded as they come.  Truly, both Jeremy and Amar have been consistent in this competition.  Yes, neither without their bad moments, but they deserve to be here now.  I can’t wait to see who wins!

Any predictions?