Monday, June 15, 2009
"Top Chef: Masters" Episode 1
Before I begin with my thoughts on the mini-season of Top Chef:Masters, I have to say, I'm starting to think that Top Chef really jumped the shark last season when they name Hosea (mediocrity) Top Chef instead of Stefan (perfection), mostly due to the fact that Stefan was completely unlikable as a character. They compromised skill for character, and that's not what cooking is all about. Cooking is about skill, technique, and inspiration. Hosea made some of the most boring food I'd ever seen (but not tasted, to be fair). Boring food does not a Top Chef make.
On to the show, though. I am excited for Top Chef: Masters, because it's a complete departure from the up-and-coming young punks and a focus on seasoned chefs making well-seasoned food, although I have a feeling that I'll eventually refer to Lefebvre (later in the season) as a "young punk." I really wasn't expecting the layout for the show, pitting only four chefs against each other to win a spot in the final challenge, but I suppose asking 24 master chefs from all over the country to leave their restaurants for 6 weeks for filming was probably too much. The layout makes sense.
In this episode, Chefs Hubert Keller (of Fleur de Lys, a former Top Chef judge), Christopher Lee (of Aureole), Tim Love (of Lonesome Dove), and Michael Schlow (of 606 Congress) went head to head to, first create a dessert to be judged by four Girl Scouts, and second, cook a three-course meal in a college dorm room using only a microwave, a hot plate, and a toaster oven. The elimination challenges are judged by Gael Greene, Gail Simmons, James Oseland (my future boss), and Jay Rayner.
The host, Kelly Choi, is adorable; more polished than Katie Lee Joel, but still approachable like Padma Lakshmi. I miss Padma, though. She wears skinny jeans like no one can.
Note: When the show was introducing Tim Love, they showed his little Texas flags on top of his dishes as they went out to the dining room. TEXAS TOOTHPICK FLAGS. Anyone who knows me knows how irritated I get when there are inedible things on my plate. This includes sprigs of rosemary or gratuitous branches of thyme. Wow. If I ordered a twenty-dollar steak and a tiny Texas flag was skewered in it, I'd probably walk out. Sorry. The kitsch isn't worth it.
The Dessert Challenge was fun. As one chef who has actually had dessert/pastry experience, I can see how trying to make an exciting dessert without any experience would be extremely difficult. I loved the red-haired Girl Scout and her brutal critiques that made the chefs cringe. She was so honest and unafraid.
Also, as soon as I saw Keller's little whipped cream quenelle mouse on the plate, with the cute little almond ears and chocolate tail, I almost squealed with glee. I would have voted for that immediately. I must have more whipped cream quenelle mice in my life. It's no wonder they gave him 5 stars.
Elimination Challenge: I think it's sad that executive chefs forget how to grocery shop. I love grocery shopping. I also think it's sad that they don't generally make pork chops. Bone-in pork chops are one of life's pleasures.
Surprise! The master chefs will not only be cooking dorm-room style, they'll be cooking in an ACTUAL dorm room, complete with students!
One note about the pasta showering thing Hubert Keller did. That's gross. I have to agree with James Oseland on that one. TMI. I remember how the showers were at BYU when I shared a shower hall with 25 girls. It wasn't completely clean all the time, and wow. I wouldn't have set the colander on that shower seat. No way.
I was impressed with those students at the judging table. When I was in college, I really had no idea about gourmet food, and the idea of a scallop carpaccio or salmon crudo (with popcorn!) probably would have scared the pants off me.
Critics Table: I miss Ted Allen and Colicchio. It seems like the fun is totally gone from the Table. The seems like a total departure from the original Top Chef, a great example of how the right combination of personality can really change the dynamic of the show.
The great thing about these chefs is that they're not afraid to take risks. The risotto made by Christopher Lee was really an issue. To do risotto on a hot plate in a dorm room and then serve it to the likes of the critics is pretty ballsy. If this was a usual Top Chef episode. We'd probably see a lot of maple-seared salmon and microwaved, instant rice tossed with dried fruit, chervil, and walnuts. That's probably what I would have done. Boring.
I was glad Keller won. Lee just seems a little too cocky for me, and Schlow didn't translate well to camers (a little sluggish for my taste), and man, Tim Lee, please get rid of those stupid toothpick flags.
Learn to make Hubert Keller's Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese dish HERE!