Top Chef

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: Best Meal Ever

Last week’s Quickfire was a play on the mise en place relay.  After drawing knives, the chefs split into a Blue team of Sheldon, Brooke, Jim, Shirley, Sylva, Emily, and Jamie and a Green team of Sam, Katsuji, BJ, Casey, Amanda, John, and Silvia.  The must peel & mince 5 oz garlic, finely dice 2 quarts of onions, properly turn artichokes, peel & devein shrimp, shuck clams, and cook!  The best dish wins.

Katsuji and Sheldon are their teams MVPs, both finishing the onions first and moving on to each station to help pull them through.  Blue wins!

For the Quickfire, the same teams work to create a 7 course progressive dinner and each course faced off head-to-head.  The losers of the head-to-head challenges on the losing team will be up for elimination.  Each course must also feature guest judge Chris Cosentino’s favorite ingredient, radishes!

The chefs serve:

Emily (Blue) vs. Sam (Green) |  Emily wins; one point for Blue!

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Jim (Blue) vs. Katsuji (Green) | Katsuji wins; one point for Green!

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Jamie (Blue) vs. BJ (Green) | Jamie wins, bringing Blue back into the lead!

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Sylva (Blue) vs. Casey (Green) | Silva wins and makes Blue just a win away from taking it all!

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Shirley (Blue) vs. Amanda (Green) | Amanda wins, keeping Green in the game!

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Sheldon (Blue) vs. John (Green) |  John wins, tying the game again!

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Brooke (Blue) vs. Silvia (Green) | Brooke wins and Blue wins it all!

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Despite the winners and losers, it’s very stiff competition!  Padma calls it the best meal ever on Top Chef!

Sylva and Brooke are the top two, but Brooke wins!  She gets vindication for the dessert she never got to serve against Kristen Kish in the final and rival Mei Lin’s dessert for Tom’s title of best dessert ever served on Top Chef.

Silvia, Casey, Sam, and BJ all lost their head-to-heads and thus were up for elimination.  Sam is sent packing his knives to Last Chance Kitchen.  It’s a little bit of a shock to see Sam out this early… thoughts?!

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?

 

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?

Top Chef: Where It All Started

Guys, can you believe this episode was the last QuickFire of season 13?!  This has flown by!  Five chefs– Isaac, Amar, Carl, Marjorie, and Jeremy– meet Padma and Traci Des Jardins for an interesting final QuickFire: toast!  An artisanal toast QuickFire is about as San Francisco as you can get, but it’s a delicate balancing act– it can easily go too simple or too complicated.

Here’s what they make:

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Jeremy is the clear winner for Padma and Traci.  Oh, did I mention it’s a sudden death QuickFire?  In this case, the bottom two dishes are facing off and the loser goes home.  This, sadly, puts Carl v. Amar cooking for their chance to cook for a space in the finale.  Tom comes out to judge along with Padma and Traci.

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Padma prefers Carl’s crudo, while Tom prefers Amar’s dish.  Traci acts as tie-breaker preferring Carl’s and saving his place in the competition.  Amar goes home… over toast.

Hubert Keller comes to help announce the elimination challenge.  As a send off to Fleur de Lys, which hosted Top Chef’s first ever QuickFire, they chefs will create a tribute dish to serve to a room full of Hubert’s nearest and dearest.  After a meal from Hubert himself and browsing some past menus, the chefs find themselves inspired.

They make:

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Isaac’s ballontine wasn’t perfect, nor was Marjorie’s lamb.  Carl’s over-ambitious foie was made in three hours when it should take three days.  Jeremy is the clear winner– wow did he have a great day!

Carl had a really bad day.  Marjorie and Isaac move on the the finale, while Carl has to pack his knives.  I was so sad to see him go as he’s been my favorite throughout!  Last Chance Kitchen is always a possibility, though!

Who do you think will rejoin the competition for the finale?  Who do you think will be the next Top Chef?!

Top Chef: Wok This Way

In this week’s Top Chef, just six chefs remain… Karen is not one of them, and her Chinese challenge finally came up!  Sorry, Boston.

Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook is with Padma to introduce the Quickfire: using a wok to create their versions of chop suey.  With immunity now off the table, the winner receives an advantage going into the elimination challenge.  Carl, Kwame, and Isaac are on the bottom, while Jeremy, Marjorie, and Amar are on the top.  Marjorie wins with her Lobster Chop Suey with Ginger, Thai Chili, Orange & Fresh Vegetables Over Rice!

For the elimination challenge, each chef has to create a dish to embody a concept for a fast-casual restaurant.  Each chef is given a sous chef to help them accomplish this task.  As the winner of the Quickfire, Marjorie not only gets to choose her sous chef first, but also gets to assign everyone else’s.

Marjorie selects Angelina for herself.  She gives Jeremy Jason to work with, pairs Carl with Chad, Amar with Karen, Isaac with Wesley, and leaves Phillip for Kwame.

Here are the concepts and the representative dishes:

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Marjorie and Carl, my two favorites in the competition, are the best two of the night!  I’m happy to see Carl claim the win – let’s go, Cambridge!

Jeremy and Kwame find themselves in the bottom.  It’s hard to see two such strong chefs up for elimination.  Kwame made the fatal mistake of using frozen waffles for his chicken and waffle concept, and for that is asked to pack his knives.

This was as hard of an elimination as last week.  As we get closer and closer to the finale, who do you think we’ll see there?!

Top Chef: Restaurant Wars – Dinner

Oh hey – I took my three day weekend really seriously and this post is super later!  When we last left Top Chef, it was Restaurant Wars part 1.  Lunch service had come and gone; one team’s service may have gone better than the other’s, but in the judges’ eyes, the score was pretty even.

Team District LA– Amar, Jeremy, Kwame, and Phillip– are in the weeds a bit when it’s time to switch to dinner service.  Team Palate– Carl, Isaac, Karen and Marjorie– has a lot of prep to do too.  This time it’s Karen at the front of the house and Carl as executive chef.  Get it, Boston!  Here’s what they make:

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Not pictured above is Marjorie’s appetizer, parmesan parsley garlic bread.  The judges are always impressed with Marjorie’s baking skills and I’m super impressed that she pulled off bread and two dessert courses!  The judges aren’t crazy about her berry soup, and they definitely aren’t keen on Karen’s trout, but overall the meal goes well.  Isaac’s braised lamb is the real winner.

District LA serves:

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This team does an extra amuse, and also (not pictured) an aperitif– Phillip’s Bangkok Dangerous served, awkwardly, right at the hostess stand.  With Amar as executive chef and Phillip at front of the house, the service does not impress the judges.  In the bottom right corner pictured above, Tom and Padma note that Phillip is probably talking about his own LA restaurants, not the one he’s currently running.  Almost none of the food impresses, and the judges have a clear winner when they walk out.

Thankfully, team Palate takes home the win, specifically, Isaac!

Padma asks Phillip to pack his knives and go, and the viewers breath a collective sigh of relief.

What did you all think?!

Top Chef: Restaurant Wars – Lunch

This week on Top Chef, it’s the classic challenge: Restaurant Wars!  You know the drill.  The remaining 8 chefs are split into two teams by drawing knives for first pick & second.  The two teams need to execute pop-up restaurants and impress the judges!

Oh, but there’s a little twist this season.  Restaurant Wars is actually a two-part event, as each team is to execute both a lunch and dinner service.  No big deal, right?

Orange Team Captain Amar fills his team with Jeremy, Kwame, and Phillip– he picks Phillip for his front-of-the-house experience and interest, not knowing that two chefs would have to play front-of-the-house with this Restaurant Wars double-header.  They form District LA.

Gray Team Captain Karen chooses Marjorie, Carl, and Isaac.  With both my Boston chefs on one team, this is my favorite.  They open Palate.

Here’s what the chefs put forth for their lunch menus:

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Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and restaurateur Bill Chait dine at both restaurants.  They prefer District LA’s appetizers, but Palate’s entrees.  Kwame is at front-of-the-house for District LA and does a decent job– he makes sure there’s someone there to greet the judges, but does forget to provide them silverware.  Marjorie, the general manager for lunch at Palate, is sadly away from the hostess stand when the judges arrive, but does a great job contending with the tables who just don’t seem to want to get up… she bribes them with wine!

Lunch service ends pretty smoothly for Palate, but the same can’t be said for District LA.  The tickets are still pouring in by the time Palate’s service is through… but to be continued!  I can’t wait to see what the teams come up with for dinner, because with the judges opinions so far, it could go either way.  What do you think?!

Top Chef: Eyes, then Hands

You eat with your eyes first, right?  The Quickfire Challenge from this week’s Top Chef was all about #foodporn!  Yes, with the hashtag.  It’s a plating challenge.  The twist?  It’s junk food that they’re plating.  The other twist?  Instagram likes will decide the winner of immunity.

Here’s what the chefs create:

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L to R, top to bottom: Phillip, Carl, Chad, Jeremy, Marjorie, Karen, Kwame, Amar, Isaac

While the Quickfire was all about eating with your eyes, the elimination challenge was all about eating with your hands!  Neal Fraser introduces the concept of beefsteak– a traditional event in which there are no utensils, and no napkins.  Three teams are three are to make a meat dish, a fish dish, and two sides each.

The red team is basically all of my favorites– it’s Kwame and my Boston people, Karen & Carl.  The blue team is Marjorie, Isaac, and Chad.  The green team is Jeremy, Amar, and Phillip.

Here’s what they make:

It was pretty hilarious to see everyone in black tie and eating with their hands.  The best part, however, was that Hugh Acheson (heart-eyes emoji) was there to judge!  He also flung a piece of lamb that Padma had nibbled and hit some guests for the charity event.  Miss you every episode, Hugh!

Karen is announced as the winner of the instagram Quickfire securing herself immunity.

Most of the plates suffered from being too dainty and missing the point of the challenge.  Ultimately, the green team won for being the closest to hitting the mark, and Phillip claims his first win for his on-the-bone lamb.

The blue team ends up being the least favorite.  Luckily for Marjorie, my favorite member of this trio, Tom announces her the best baker Top Chef has seen– seriously, my mouth is watering for that milk bread!  Chad is sent to pack his knives.  Sadly, his instagram was my favorite, but he had trouble switching gears.

Which ‘gram is your favorite?  Seriously, how pretty are they?!