Posts Tagged Top Chef

Weekly Roundup: Holiday Cookie Edition


It's cookie time. Now that's my kind of time.

What is it with the cookies? With the exception of an ice cream recipe (I can never resist a good ice cream recipe) all the recipes I want to try this week are cookies. I think that the holidays are just cookie time – people bring them to parties, they give them as presents, they put out plates of them at the office. Hell, even I posted a cookie recipe this week for salty and sweet chocolate thumbprints (which you should make because they’re a-mazing), and usually I’m more of a cake girl.

And no, in case you’re wondering, I haven’t done my holiday shopping. I haven’t even really thought about it. Is it acceptable to give one’s marathon-running sister and theater-loving brother trays of cookies for Christmas? No? I didn’t think so.

Recipes I want to try, as found on the Internet this week:

  • Polenta ice cream, from David Lebovitz. Can I just move to Paris and become his ice cream taste tester? Please?
  • Chocolate creme de menthe bars, from A Measured Memory. These seriously look like these mint brownies I used to get from Humble Bagel, this bagel shop across the street from my middle school. God those were good. And God, these look good too.

And in other news:

  • The Tipsy Baker shares her thoughts on “Cleaving,” Julie Powell’s new memoir about her obsession with butchering, and her extra-marital affair (and yes, that’s the same Julie Powell of the Julie/Julia Project).
  • The Arugula Files is asking for your input about what she should make from the farmer’s market.
  • Micheal Voltaggio wins Top Chef. It feels weird that that means nothing to me, after recapping Top Chef last season (I was rooting for Carla Hall, by the way). The Voltaggio brothers, both of which were Top Chef finalists, have launched a new Web site where you can keep tabs on the brothers. So you can . . . stalk them? Via Top Shelf.
  • The Washington Post published an investigation into Founding Farmer’s food sourcing (the restaurant has built its brand on the image that they get their food from small family farms). What did they find? Well, some of the food comes from small farms, but a lot if it doesn’t. It’s an interesting look at the difference between a brand promise and the reality of running a restaurant. And I’m still planning on going there with Miss. Nonnka, by the way.
  • The Washington Post publishes their holiday cookie guide. See what I mean? It’s cookie season.
  • Lemmonex posts her 500th post. It is a cause for celebration. And interviews.

Happy Friday!


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Weekly Roundup: Blog Anniversary Edition

Peanut Butter Blossom

Happy blog anniversary to me.

I’m still mulling over my first blog anniversary – what does it mean? How should I try to grow? What should I do for next month’s baking project? I have many blog-related things to ponder. But not this weekend, since I have a friend from college visiting from New York – and I couldn’t be more excited to see her. Question – where should we go for dinner on Saturday? Somewhere cute, but no so loud that you can’t have a conversation.

Recipes gathered from my weekly Internet adventures I want to try:

  • Amelia over at Gradually Greener is making nocino, an Italian liqueur, from foraged black walnuts. Okay, so I don’t think I have the gumption to try this, but it makes me want to do a tamer version of flavored liqueur. Like strawberry. Or blackberry. Or vanilla. Man. I am such a girl.
  • Take the Cannoli has a simple vanilla cupcake recipe. Another one to try in my quest for the perfect vanilla cupcake.
  • Mary at the Arugula Files is making “honest” blueberry jam. All these articles about canning and preserving have made me want to get on the jam train. Anyone want to go berry picking some weekend?

And in other Internet news:

  • Carla Hall was such a hit on Top Chef that two more DC area chefs are lined up for season six: Bryan Voltaggio of Volt and and Mike Isabella, chef de cuisine at Zaytinya. Via Best Bites.
  • Oh my God! My furniture prayers have been answered! CB2 may be opening up a store in DC! Via 14th and You.
  • Young and Hungry reports that Kim O’Donnel is ending her blog, “A Mighty Appetite,” of The Washington Post. Sad – I really liked that blog. Did they let her go to let on Ezra Klein?
  • Soon, the nation’s capitol will be awash in peeps! Just Born, maker of peeps and other delicious candy items, is planning on opening a Peeps store at national harbor. Via We Love DC.
  • Can I just tell you how happy I am that Lemmonex is back to blogging? This week she reviewed Red Rocks in Columbia Heights and was underwhelmed. Still, I may check it out – after all, I need to explore my new neighborhood some more.

Happy Friday!

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The Good Stuff Eatery Is Merely Okay

Good Stuff - Outside

The Good Stuff Eatery

It’s ironic that the tagline of Spike Mendelsohn’s burger restaurant, Good Stuff Eatery, is “say hello to fresh,” since Spike got kicked off Top Chef for trying to pass off frozen scallops on some of the most sophisticated pallets in the country. Needless to say, the judges noticed something was amiss with the scallops, and promptly sent Spike packing.

It’s because of flubs like that on season four of the famous Bravo reality show that I was wary when Spike Mendelsohn opened up DC’s Good Stuff Eatery back in July 2008. After all, Spike was more famous for his crazy hats on Top Chef than he was for his cooking prowess.

Now that Spike is planning on opening two more restaurants in DC – a Greek restaurant and a pizzeria – I thought it was even more important to take a look at Good Stuff Eatery, to see the kind of restaurant DC can expect from this celebrity chef. And from my dining experiences there, I think we can expect a greasy, crumpled bag of mixed…um…stuff.

The Good Stuff Eatery walks the line between modern chic and American nostalgia. The restaurant space itself, housed in an old row house on Capitol Hill, is a mix of modern design with retro details. The clean and open red and white decor is accented with large blown up photos and vintage-style signs explaining Good Stuff’s philosophy on food, along with a few not-too-subtle reminders of Spike’s supposed “celebrity” status. The space takes the simplicity of the 1950s and repackages it with 21st century savvy.

Good Stuff - Motto

The restaurant's ironic tagline.

The same could be said of the menu, which serves up America’s favorites – burgers, fries, milkshakes, and salads – with a gourmet twist. The “hand cut” fries are topped with sea salt, while the “hand spun” milkshakes come in trendy flavors like toasted marshmallow and dulche de leche. You can’t just order a hamburger – you have to order a “farmhouse” burger. There’s even an Obama burger, served with foodie-friendly toppings like red onion marmalade, horseradish mayo, and blue cheese.

Usually I’m a complete sucker for these types of places. I’m the cash-strapped foodie that is Spike’s ideal target audience. I nodded approvingly when the menu specified that the French fries were “hand cut” and that the milkshakes were “hand spun,” even though I wasn’t really sure what that meant. Just looking at the menu is like a who’s who of trendy gourmet ingredients – burgers are topped with Vermont cheddar cheese, vidalia onion rings, and “dairy fresh” American cheese.

But staring at the menu was by far the highest point in our visit to the Good Stuff Eatery. The food Wonk the Plank and I ate in our two visits there was just okay stuff.

First of all, the restaurant has a problem with the way it serves its food. The place operates fast food style – you order and pick up your food at the counter. This would be fine, but there’s no “dine in” option; even if you’re eating at the restaurant (and there’s ample seating), you can only get your food “to go,” with everything wrapped in paper and placed in a paper bag.

This is a horrible way to serve food. As soon as the “hand cut fries” are placed in a paper bag, they become damp and soggy and stick together in an unappetizing mass. The burgers come out of their wrapping paper with squished, slightly sweaty buns. To make it even more bizarre, there’s a large sign in the restaurant proclaiming its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. So why serve the food in a manner that generates huge amounts of unnecessary waste?

Good Stuff - Enviro Sign

Another ironic sign . . .

Good Stuff - Packaging

. . . in light of all the wasteful packaging.

The packaging would be more forgivable if the food was top quality, but we had an uneven meal both times we visited the Good Stuff Eatery.

I was especially disappointed with “Spike’s Five Napkin,” a burger served on a brioche bun and topped with cheese, bacon, a fried egg, and “Good Stuff Sauce.” The burger was nicely cooked, but the bacon was so salty that it overpowered all the other toppings. I couldn’t even taste the egg and cheese, which might have well been left off entirely. The brioche bun held up better to the packaging and was less squished than Wonk’s burger, but I couldn’t taste it through the salt, so it didn’t end up adding much to the dish. And as far as I could tell, the “Good Stuff Sauce” tasted like mayonnaise.

Good Stuff - Five Napkin

"Spike's Five Napkin" - only one napkin required.

I had a much better experience with the “Colleti’s Smokehouse.” The onions, chipotle BBQ sauce and bacon worked together in a tangy, salty harmony, although the squished and untoasted burger bun didn’t add much to the equation.

Like the burgers, the fries were inconsistent and underwhelming. On both of our visits, the fries were soggy, probably due to their packaging. And on one occasion the fries were incredibly salty, to the point of being inedible. And believe me, I like salty food – usually I’m the person in the group insisting the french fries need more salt.

Good Stuff - Fries

A mass of stuck-together French fries.

The milkshakes were the best part of the visit, although they also had consistency problems. On our first visit, the chocolate shake had a weird, “off” flavor that neither Wonk nor I could place. Thankfully, on the second visit the chocolate shake tasted fine and had a nice, thick consistency. Wonk ordered the Black and White milkshake, which was a hit both times; its rich vanilla flavor amply satisfied my sweet tooth.

Good Stuff - Milkshake

Thankfully, the milkshake was good - the second time, at least.

Given that Spike is slated to open two new restaurants in DC, I think it’s high time to hammer out some of the problems at Good Stuff. Is it so hard to offer a dine-in option for people eating at the restaurant? Could they figure out a way to package the French fries in a cardboard holder? And could they figure out the right level of saltiness? Just a couple of tweaks could make a huge difference in the quality of the food.

The most frustrating thing about my entire Good Stuff experience is that DC needs more places like the Good Stuff Eatery – moderately priced restaurants that care about quality. But the bad thing about catering to cash-strapped foodies is that, even though they’re strapped for cash, they still pay attention to their food. Talking about “dairy fresh cheese” sounds great in theory, but if I can’t taste it because the burger’s too salty, then there’s no point.

Spike needs to take a couple notes from his Top Chef days and start paying better attention to the details of his food. If his food could match the quality of his branding, Spike could take Good Stuff from good to great.

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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: Pretty Things Edition

Spring Flowers

Pretty things for a Friday.

Good morning readers! Feeling the need to procrastinate this Friday? Look no further than this round up of the blogosphere.

Recipes I want to try:

  • Lemmonex has a recipe for breakfast quinoa that sounds really good. I’ve been eating quinoa all week and I now believe that its fluffy, soft texture is ideally suited for breakfast – it’s almost like a heartier cream of wheat. Lemmonex spices it up with berries, walnuts and honey.
  • This is actually an update on last week’s roundup, where I mentioned I wanted to try the Three Alarm Tofu from Serious Eats. Well readers, I tried it, and it was amazing. Wonk the Plank doesn’t like tofu, and he doesn’t like spinach, and yet he loved this dish. Try it. You will not be disappointed.
  • Orangette is making Every Day Cake. I would also like to make Every Day Cake.

And in non-recipe-related news:

  • Young and Hungry reviews the baked goods from Marvelous Market. Maybe this only means something if you work in Dupont (or used to, like me), but I found their assessment (they’re not fans) to be utterly fascinating.
  • DCist reports that an IHOP may be opening in Columbia Heights. Did anyone else go to IHOP in college solely for the purpose of people watching? Or was that just me?
  • WeLoveDC has a guide to maragaritas for Cinco De Mayo. I think WhyIHateDC should do a counter-guide – like a guide to the city’s worst margaritas, or the top five DC bars for Cinco De Mayo posers.

Happy Friday!

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Stock vs. Broth: What’s the Difference?

Chicken Stock

Chicken stock. Or was it broth? Now I'm confused.

I’ve been trying to make my own chicken stock more often —partly because Mark Bittman has shamed me into it, and party because I picked up Martha Stewart’s Cooking School from the library and her stock recipes are absolutely beautiful.

However, as my interest in stock grew, I realized that I couldn’t answer a basic question: what is the difference between a stock and a broth?

At first I thought there was no difference. In fact, after all those stupid Swanson Broth Top Chef product placements, I was convinced that it was a made-up marketing term. But my interest was piqued and I decided to investigate.

It turns out that there is a wide body of opinion on the subject, at least in Internet land.

According the the food dictionary on Epicurious, a stock is made from cooking vegetables, meat, or fish and straining the liquid. A brown stock is made from browning bones, meat, vegetables, or other ingredients before they are cooked and strained. A broth is made from simmering meat and vegetables in water.

Um, okay, and these are different how?

Chow is more enlightening. While a stock and a broth are similar, a broth is made from simmering mostly meat and vegetables, while a stock is made with more bones and less meat. While stock is mostly used as a basis for other dishes, broth is richer and can be served on its own.

I also suggest that dedicated foodies check out the excellent article from La Lama Mountain Ovens. A broth, according to the article, has a higher flesh to bone ration; a chicken broth can be made using a whole chicken. A stock is made from a low flesh to bone ratio; a chicken stock can be made with chicken parts, like necks, backs and breast bones.

The best part, though, is that the article explains how to make stock the traditional, Italian way. Step number one? “To pluck a freshly killed chicken or stewing hen first dunk and hold in a pot of boiling water 30 seconds to loosen the feathers.”

Wow. I will never look at stock in quite the same way.

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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

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


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

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 (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.


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

Next: Hosea pulls a Jeff

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