Posts Tagged Carla Hall

Real World, Top Chef

Good Stuff Eatery

A photo of Spike Mendelsohn, a contestant from Top Chef Season Four. The photo hangs in his restaurant, the Good Stuff Eatery, proving that life does indeed go on after Top Chef.

Still annoyed that Hosea won season five of Top Chef? I am. However, The New York Times had a rather soothing article on Friday about how fame after Top Chef can be more of a nuisance than a blessing, and that winning the show doesn’t really prove anything about one’s professional ability.

In many ways, I found this article painfully obvious – and a rehash of an article New York Magazine wrote back in 2007. After all, has Top Chef really produced an actual Top Chef? Has the likes of Marco Pierre White or Thomas Keller or even Tom Colicchio ever graced the studios of Top Chef – as a contestant? I would argue that the closest Top Chef has gotten to that kind of talent is Harod Dieterle, winner of season one, who won over the judges with his precision, finesse, and passion. And, as the Times article points out, Harold’s restaurant, Perilla, received a tepid review from New York Times’ restaurant critic Frank Bruni.

No, I think that actual Top Chefs are probably too busy opening restaurants and honing their craft to appear on Top Chef. At least, in the vast majority of cases.

Like I said, I found this article rather soothing – and maybe just a little sad. It points out that the artificial rules of reality TV shows aren’t the best predictor for success in life. I would argue that the same thing could be said for high school, or college, or grad school, where one can successfully navigate the arbitrary, rule-bound bubbles and be completely unprepared for the real world. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m totally speaking from personal experience here.

Reading this article and finding out that Hung Huynh, the cocky and competitive winner of Season Two, isn’t even working right now, is kind of like finding out that the brilliant kid that used to sit next to you in English class ended up working at his father’s auto dealership.

That being said, it’s also good to know that the chefs we loved are still going strong – even if they didn’t do well on the show. Nikki Cascone, from season four, is planning on opening a second restaurant. Harold may not have pleased Bruni, but his restaurant is popular and successful.

I was sad that the article failed to mention the two DC-based Top Chef alums: Spike Mendelsohn, and Carla Hall, both of whom have successfully cooking careers in DC. After the success of his first restaurant, The Good Stuff Eatery, Spike is planning on opening up a pizzeria, and rumor has it that Carla is eying a cooking school space in Columbia Heights.

But what this article really made me want to do it go eat. After all, the frustrating thing about watching Top Chef is that you can’t taste the actual dishes – but now I have the good fortune of being able to eat the cuisine of at least one Top Chef alum. Anyone up for a run to Good Stuff this Friday?

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Weekly Roundup: Top Chef Controversy Continues

WSJ Wines

February 28th was "Open That Bottle Night." Did you pop a cork on anything special?

Good morning Modern Domestic readers! Can you believe it’s Monday yet again?

  • But wait, there’s more Top Chef drama! The Best Bites piece linked to this SideDish article, where Casey Thompson (Carla’s sous-chef and past Top Chef Contestant) has harsh words about Carla’s cooking. Like, really harsh words. Wow, is someone still bitter about her horrific loss in Season Three?
  • Do you have a bottle of wine that you’re saving for a special occasion, except that no occasion ever seems special enough? That’s why Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, the Wall Street Journal’s wine critics, invented Open That Bottle Night.” Each February 28th, the famous duo opens one of those “special” wines with their friends and family –  because, after all, wine is meant to be enjoyed, not to gather dust on a shelf. Terry Gross interviews John and Dottie about the 10th anniversary of Open That Bottle Night on NPR’s Fresh Air.
  • If you’re interested in branding and marketing, you’ve probably noticed that Tropicana rebranded it’s orange juice — except the new “brand” is so boring it looks like it belongs to a generic. The Kitchn alerted me to this New York Times article: Tropicana is rolling back all the new branding. Wow, maybe because it sucks? Boy am I glad that I don’t work at the marketing firm that put that little project together.

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Top Chef Finale: Top Chef Jumps the Shark in Horrific Season Two Flashback

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This photo is wrong. Wrong.

Hosea? Seriously, Hosea is Top Chef? I didn’t even think he should have made it to the finale. I’m having flashbacks to Season Two, when Ilan won even though it was obvious he could only cook Spanish food, and he could only cook that because he worked in a Spanish restaurant. Throughout the entire competition, Hosea was “fine.” His work was “fine.” I would place him solidly in the upper middle of the pack. But the work of a Top Chef? Give me a break.

There’s been a lot of internet angst unleashed because of Hosea’s win, and while I think that Gawker’s going too far, I agree with other bloggers who are upset that Carla undermined herself. I also agree that this season was really a competition in mediocrity.

The more I think about it, the more I think that Hosea’s win was the result of poor culinary casting. Season Five was cast for personalities, not for cooking skills, which is why it lacked the inspired cooking of seasons past. There was no Richard Blaise, no Harold Dieterle, no Stephanie Izard, who didn’t just turn out good food – they turned out creative, skillful creations that were on a different level from their competitors. Actually, I’m wrong – Jamie was this person for Season Five. She turned out simple, creative, well executed food week after week (with a couple slip ups, like the celery that sent her home. And those scallops). But instead, she didn’t make it to the finale!

Instead, everyone was just “okay,” allowing Hosea to win essentially because he didn’t make any huge screw ups. I also think this is why Stefan was able to win so many challenges – even if his dishes weren’t always the most creative, he was able to execute them consistently.

And poor Carla! I was rooting for her all the way, and I was so disappointed that she didn’t do better. Considering that she was going up against a middling Hosea and an overly-cocky Stefan, she really could have won this thing. On the one hand, I admired that she collaborated with Casey – working well in a team is a good skill in the real world. But great chefs are artists, and artists work to execute their singular vision. Carla had the vision, but she just wasn’t ruthless enough to execute it. It’s a real shame.

Also, before I go into the actual recap, thanks to Elipis and Justice for saving the day last week and doing an excellent recap of part one of the season finale. Please visit her blog and check out her cool posts about health disparities.

End Rant

The actual recap, with some more ranting.

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Top Chef: Soul(ess) Cooking in New Orleans

As moderndomestic had mentioned in her last Top Chef recap I’ve been asked to step in to “save the day” and take the blogging reigns for a post.  I’m not quite sure why she would request Elpis and Justice, who is usually busy writing about public health issues, but I’ll enjoy my power trip.  

Top Chef has been miraculously transplanted to New Orleans!  The guest judge is Emeril Lagasse!  The chefs are back and looking well rested.  I think the producers required each of the contestants to get a new haircut to emphasize the how much time has passed.  Modern’s boyfriend Fabio is sporting an miniature mohawk.  I’ll have to ask her how she feels about the new look.

What a beautiful setting for a Quick Fire Challenge!

What a beautiful setting for a Quick Fire Challenge!

The Quick Fire Challenge will take place on the grounds of the lovely Houmas House, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens and, ahh, as Fabio so eloquently put, trees with “stuff hanging all over.”  As the camera pans to the quick fire area there is something missing… a fourth table!  What’s this??  Will there be teams?  Will there be a duel to the death?  Will Stefan be heckling from the sidelines??

No no, in a Project Runway style tactic, to honor the rebirth of New Orleans three old contestants will be brought back to compete to get back into the competition.  Jamie, Leah, and Jeff (wtf?) are competing in the Quick Fire Challenge.  I quickly write off Jeff, and assume this will be a battle between Team Rainbow and Team, ah, Slumpy.

Jamie is back- I’m so excited!  Her perfect opportunity to redeem herself.  I can see it now.  Jamie will win, she’ll be amazing, she’ll be in the top three, it will be a close race between her and Stefan… but, oh wait they have to cook first.

The chefs have one hour to create a dish that incorporates crawfish.  

Looks sort of like Leah, rather "meh"

Looks sort of like Leah, rather "meh"

Leah produces a nice crawfish soup with andouille and sausage.  She’s never made a gumbo before, but her product looks pretty nice.  I’d say it’s a bit heavy on the broth.  Personally I don’t like to drink a think soup in hot weather.

This just looked like a bowl of mush to me.  The judges thought otherwise.

This just looked like a bowl of mush to me. The judges thought otherwise.

I assume Jeff is going to make three things poorly.  However it seems like he realized something during his time at home- on Top Chef it’s best to do just one thing well, or if you’re Stefan- three amazing things and a mango lollipop.  He makes crawfish with grits with andouille and beer.   This sort of grossed me out.  There wasn’t much variation in texture and looked like a big mush meal to me.       

Will this dish be good enough to bring Jamie back?  I hope so!

Will this dish be good enough to bring Jamie back? I hope so!

Jamie gets down to business and makes corncake, greens, poached Egg with andouille and crawfish cream sauce.  This seems much more creative than Leah’s interpretation, so mentally crown Jamie the winner during yet another uncomfortably long commercial break.  

The judging begins.  Jamie should…. wait.  Apparently Emeril didn’t watch the tapes.  He should know that Jeff sucks.  I don’t know how he made it so far in the show.  He consistently made mediocre/bad food, messed up other people’s good food, and, and, and Emeril names him the winner!?  Wait!  That was Jamie’s spot!  Nooooooo!  Jeff triumphantly accepts his copy of chef Lagasse book Emeril at the Grill.  

The chefs are invited to Emeril’s DelMonico and will retire for the evening at Hotel Monteleone. 

What a great hotel to be totally stressed out in!

What a great hotel to be totally stressed out in!

Before the competition begins, the contestants run through why they’re here.  Fabio is looking to win the money and help his sick mother in Italy, Hosea just wants to win, Carla is motivated by her family’s love… and Stefan tells us that this isn’t a “butt (or back? speak clearly!!) rubbing contest- there will be a slaughtering.”  Okay.

Carla, I gotta give it to you Carla.  I’ve never believed in you.  I’m a convert.  You cook good food, you cook it with compassion, and you’re just sweet.  I don’t think Stefan would think twice about spitting in your Finnish fish if he felt like it would either make the food taste better or he had a vendetta.  I don’t trust you- Finn.

The challenge is unveiled.  The chefs will be cooking for a masquerade party hosted by the Krewe of Orpheus at the New Orleans Museum of Art.  The chefs must make two dishes (one inspired by traditional Creole cooking) and a cocktail.  Winner gets a car (I shall not say the name just to spite shameless product placement!)  Fabio hopes to win because his car “is a piece of poo.”  Jeff needs to win in order to stay in the competition (stipulation of the quick fire).  

The chefs dash off to Emeril’s kitchen and begin their work.  Hosea decides to make a gumbo as his traditional Creole food.  He’s acting like a true Top Chef by putting a lot of time and effort into making a proper roux.  Roux is a combination of oil and flour, that is slowly cooked.  A good gumbo has a well developed roux.    

Jeff has also embraces the Top Chef spirit by making his own sausage.  I’m too mad at Jeff to care. 

Padma looking beautiful as usual.

Padma looking beautiful as usual.

Fabio decides to add an Italian twist to his food.  He’s busy making pasta and bread from scratch.  Oh boy Fabio, this might not be such a good idea.  Creole cooking is already a fusion of so many cultures, fuse it any more and there will be fission- and physicists can’t even do that.

Carla has decided to make an oyster stew.  Although she shucked her first oyster last week, she’s decided to shuck 100 for one of the most important challenges.  Carla, you may have just shucked yourself out of the running, and no, the boys aren’t going to chip in for one second.

The producers have edited Stefan into a real jerk this episode.  He’s behaving much like the hare he’s stewing by playing with sausages, going out to smoke, and creatively dragging his feet.  I don’t know if you learn about Aesop’s Fables in Finland, Stefan, but screwing around in the final leg of the race is a real no no.  The other chefs are equally annoyed.

It’s time to set up for the party.  The chefs go to their respective stations.  Hosea managed to forget a whisk, Carla laments about no one offering to help with the shucking, Stefan is out smoking with his bar tender, and Jeff is wringing his hands.

The party begins and the judges are mysteriously wearing black masks.  They remove them to reveal that the judges are…. Padama, Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, and Emeril Lagasse… why were they wearing masks??  That wasn’t a surprise!  Fabio mentions that the masquerade theme reminds him of an old po–adult film.  Padma is looking quite foxy in her gown.  I have a feeling Wonk would agree.  

Hosea took the challenge seriously.  His risk of slow cooking the roux was a good move.

Hosea took the challenge seriously. His risk of slow cooking the roux was a good move.

Hosea made duck, andouille and chicken gumbo, pecan crusted catfish, and a hurricane with Grand Marnier.  The slow cooked roux seems to have paid off.  Emeril loves the gumbo, although Stefan disagrees.  The judges are also pleased the catfish isn’t dry.  Cooking it on the spot helped with that.

I don't care how good that mojito is Jeff- Jamie should be here.

I don't care how good that mojito is Jeff- Jamie should be here.

Jeff made fried oyster with sausage, crawfish with pot de creme, and a cucumber mojito.  Jeff surprised me again.  The judges felt he made “smart choices” with his crawfish, and were pleased with his homemade sausage.  The cucumber mojito was also a big hit and scored him some extra points.

I feel like the pasta in this dish made the menu much too heavy.

I feel like the pasta in this dish made the menu much too heavy.

Fabio’s table offered grits with sausage and rabbit, crawfish and crab stew with pasta, and a bell pepper martini.  The reviews here were mixed.  I think Padma has a little crush on Fabio.  While Emeril and Tom Colicchio picked his dishes apart, Padma defended his honor.  The pasta was nice, but needed heat and the flavors weren’t layered.  The martini smelled good, but tasted too sweet for the judges’ liking.  

The judges could taste the love in Carla's dishes.

The judges could taste the love in Carla's dishes.

Although Carla’s table didn’t have booze (Carla doesn’t drink) her guests seemed to be having the best time.  The judges were thrilled with her food.  She made and oyster stew, shrimp and andouille beignet, and a non-alcoholic cranberry spritzer.  The food was “smokin’ hot,” the oysters were perfect, and the judges appreciated the care she put into it.  I was glad Carla’s philosophy of cooking with compassion was given another chance.  In a previous episode when she sent out runny ice cream “with love” the judges ripped her apart.

In the judges' eyes the taste wasn't as big as Stefan's ego.

In the judges' eyes the taste wasn't as big as Stefan's ego.

Stefan served the guests and the judges with a smirk on his face. Duck and rabbit gumbo with grits, an apple beignet, and a black cherry rum cocktail were on his menu.  The judges were not impressed.  The gumbo wasn’t bad… but they concluded his food wasn’t worth a return trip- not even for the dessert.  Tom was even less impressed by Stefan’s cockiness both in the kitchen and at the party.  In short, Stefan’s food lacked soul.  

The elimination meeting is tense.  If Jeff wins, then two of the finalists go home.  If Jeff loses, one of the chefs must pack their knives.  I liked the new attitude Emeril brought to the judging table.   He is a chef that not only cooks, but is also playing a role in the recovery of New Orleans. I felt like he was less about gimmicky remarks and took a holistic view of both the food and the chef.

The chefs are brought out for elimination.  Jeff is praised for his good effort, but is still sent home.  Stefan and Fabio are in the bottom two.  Stefan produced not only mediocre food, but also brought a bad attitude.  Fabio just missed the mark with his menu.  In the end it is Fabio who is sent home.

But who wins?  Carla!  Carla is just thrilled.  Not only is she closer to winning, but she also gets to take home a new car- nice!  Emeril’s words to describe her food were “balance, flavor, simplicity, temperature, yet creative.”  I think Carla really does represent what it means to be a Top Chef.  She has the foundation of a loving family, has excellent technique, the maturity to fuse food traditions properly, and sincerely loves cooking for others.  For now Team Europe has gone the way of Team Rainbow.  Good thing Bravo didn’t spring on the tee-shirts for that one!  

Next week, moderndomestic will be back to recap.  Who will be Top Chef!  Who??

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Top Chef: Let Them Eat Chicken

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What's that computer programmer doing standing next to Padma? Are they in Seattle? Did she meet him on Match.com?

This episode of Top Chef was so focused on cooking, it was weird. There were no disgustingly obvious product placements, no big dramatic blow outs, no making out. Instead, the chefs just had to cook a good meal. Is anyone else a bit bored now that we’ve become so inured to the crazy Top Chef drama? Or maybe it’s that compared to Gretchen’s copious drinking on The Real Housewives of Orange County, this seems tame in comparison?

Anyway, the little recap of last week makes me sad, because I still think that Jamie shouldn’t have gone home. She was really, really talented, and she consistently made excellent food. Even Tom Colicchio can’t explain this one away, in my opinion.

Moving on, the guest judge this week is Wylie Dufresne, a world-famous molecular gastronomist who really, really needs a hair cut. Seriously dude, you look like all those creepy computer programmers who are on Seattle Match.com (not that I would know anything about that. Oh no). Even if you do own wd~50 and you’re extremely famous, it’s all the more reason why you can afford a hair cut. And a stylist.

Dufresne is well known for his love of eggs, so the Quickfire is to make an egg dish. I actually like this challenge, because I really like eggs – they’re one of those underrated but perfect food items that are versatile, easy to cook, and delicious. Since all the chefs know that Dufresne is a molecular gastronomist, they feel that they have to do something weird and scientific with the egg. Unfortunately, they forget that the dish also has to taste good.

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Don't you think it's time to shave those side burns?

Next: Hosea pulls a Jeff

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Top Chef: Le-Bored-ardin

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Eric Ripert, of the Pod People.

Top Chef starts off with a nice shot of Whole Foods (Product Placement Number One). I guess that means there’s no Whole Foods shopping trip in this episode. Well, you have to fulfill that sponsorship contract somehow.

At the Quickfire challenge, Padma introduces guest Judge Eric Ripert, who is the chef at the famed New York seafood restaurant Le Bernardin. Ripert looks like a pod person — his hair is frozen in place with a swathe of gel, and his fake tan sends shivers down my spine. Given his appearance I was expecting him to be a major prima donna, but he was actually pretty subdued. It’s a pity — if he had been more of a jerk this episode would have been more interesting. Instead, his introduction is the high point of the episode.

Given that Eric is a seafood chef, the Quickfire is a fish filleting tournament. This concept didn’t work for me, and made for a boring challenge. Unlike that awesomely manic Quickfire where Hung destroyed the chickens, I have no idea how one properly fillets a fish, so I really couldn’t tell when one of them did a bad job. 

Round one of this snooze-fest involved filleting tiny sardines. Carla is out of her element and does a really horrible job. To her credit, she doesn’t try to hide it—when Ripert comes and looks at her fish she just says “it’s butchered” and laughs about what a bad job she did. Jamie also has problems with the filleting—she has almost no sardine left after her awful butchering job. Neither of them continue to the next round.

Next: More stuff that almost sends me to sleep.

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Weekly Roundup: Can This Furniture Store Be Saved?

Domino Cover

Domino is closing! Domino is closing!

Good morning MondernDomestic readers! Here’s domestic news from the internets to accompany your Monday morning coffee.

Domino Is Done For

  • No! The rumors are true! My beloved Domino, the hip and stylish home-decor magazine, is closing its doors. The last issue will be in March. Read more and commiserate over at Design*Sponge.

Carla and Spike Party Top-Chef Style

Sugar and Champagne Wrap-Up

Desperation Hits Home Furnishings Market

  • Wow, so those increasingly desperate sale emails I’ve been receiving from The Pottery Barn aren’t just an isolated trend for home decor stores. The New York Times has an excellent piece on how the home furnishings market has collapsed in the economic downturn.

Delleicious DC Checks Out Red Velvet Cupcakery

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