Top Chef

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: Cooking with Your Soul

With only 11 chefs left, the Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthymeets them to introduce the Quickfire Challenge.  Their challenge is to make classic comfort foods healthy.  And, since Padma thinks it’s a bit easy, these meals are going to have to be vegetarian.  To add a physical aspect, the chefs are only allowed to grab one ingredient at a time… that’s a lot of running back and forth!

After the tasting is done, Vivek calls out Sylva, Casey, and Katsuji as his least favorites.  Emily, Jamie, and Brooke get called out for the top spots, and Jamie takes the Quickfire win!

The elimination challenge is a tribute to Edna Lewis, a pioneer Southern chef.  Alexander Smalls and Toni Tipton-Martin come to educate the chefs about Edna Lewis, who Padma likens to Julia Child-level influence of Southern cuisine.  The chefs draw inspiration from her cookbook, too.

Here’s what they come up with:

At the top of the pack, we have Jim, Sylva, and Sheldon.  Sylva takes the win!

Amanda, Emily, and Brooke find themselves on the chopping block.  Tom says there was once fish that didn’t give them that feeling associated with Southern cooking… and it’s Amanda who packs her knives!

I can’t say I’m too surprised… but I’m so glad Brooke lives to fight another day!

Top Chef: What if it’s not biscuits?

The most recent episode of Top Chef opened with a hilarious Quickfire.  With Padma no where to be seen, the chefs walk in to a set time clock and no direction.  When the clock suddenly starts running down and the pantry opens, the chefs snap into action.  Well, it’s more of a we should cook, right?! attitude.  I hate to admit it, but I’d probably be one of the ones saying, “but is this what they want us to do?!”  Brooke is in my school of thought and yells, “We can’t just decide our own challenge!”

It’s Sylva who figures out it’s a biscuit challenge.  Padma’s voice broadcasts to them, Charlie’s Angels style, when their biscuit challenge is almost complete.  At the bottom of the pack, Shirley, Jim, and Sheldon– who admittedly, just watched Brooke to see how to make a biscuit.  The best of the bunch were Brooke, Katsuji, and Jamie.  Brooke wins the Quickfire and immunity for herself!

The elimination challenge switches gears to slow and low– barbecue!  The chefs arrange themselves into three teams of four.  It’s worth noting that it’s Italian chef Silvia’s birthday, and there is a birthday curse on Top Chef…  It’s a long challenge, because barbecue.  Sheldon continues to have a bad day and sneaks away for a quick MRI but returns.

The yellow team– John, Emily, Brooke, and Sheldon– impresses.

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The red team– Jim, Shirley, Jamie, and Casey– also puts up a solid spread.

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The green team– Sylva, Silvia, Katsuji, and Amanda– is a little all over the place.

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John’s mac and cheese wins the day.  Though he either forgot or misplaced his flour, Katsuji was nice enough to give him some xantham gum to create this dish.  Despite his good deed, Katsuji’s team is on the bottom and Silvia is taken out by the birthday curse… and her potato salad, which was unrecognizable as potato salad to the Southern guests.

I can’t believe the birthday curse claimed another one!  Thoughts?

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?