Thursday, December 20, 2012
A Dallas Top Chef finally falls
It was only a matter of time.
This week's episode of Top Chef: Seattle was once again heavy on the Dallas chefs. However, one of them would surely have preferred to not be in the spotlight. But let's not give it all away just yet.
The Quickfire challenge is cornucopia of shiny confusion, as the chefs are allowed to cook anything they want, but every ingredient in the kitchen is covered in aluminum foil. Once they open an ingredient, they have to use it. Oh, and they have to use foil to cook the dish, leading to all kinds of craziness as the chefs try to fashion pots and pans with foil.
The guest judge is former Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard. She gives high praise to Dallas chef Danyele McPherson (of The Grape), who made cannelini bean stew with asiago and bacon. Her dish is chosen as one of the best, a big boost for someone who has been struggling with her confidence thus far. Fellow Dallas chef Josh Valentine (FT33) was called out in the bottom three with his roasted chicken, poblano, tomatillo, and heirloom potatoes. The challenge winner was Kristen Kish, who somehow made a sponge cake. Impressive indeed.
In the elimination challenge, the chefs will be cooking in a head-to-head challenge at a berry festival -- except Kish, who has immunity and will cook alone. The remaining five chefs with the best Quickfire dishes get to pick whom they will cook against. McPherson challenges Valentine, "so we can have the Texas-Oklahoma battle." (Although Valentine is in Dallas now, he hails from Oklahoma.)
The other pairs:
- Stefan Richter vs. Dallas chef John Tesar (Spoon Bar and Kitchen)
- Sheldon Simeon vs. Micah Fields
- Josie Smith-Malave vs. Lizzie Binder
- Bart Vandaele vs. Brooke Williamson
Each pair draws a different kind of berry they must use in their dishes. All of the chefs profess to be excited at the prospect of the head-to-head, probably because they are tired of the dreaded team challenges. The guests at the berry festival will be casting votes to determine who wins each battle.
While the chefs are shopping for their ingredients, Richter buys frozen tuna from Japan. Tesar gives him a hard time about buying a frozen product, but it seems to be pretty good-natured. It seems less good-natured later, when Tesar makes sure to bring it up to judge Tom Colicchio as he's making the rounds while the chefs are cooking. They joke about Tesar throwing Richter under the bus, but Tesar says later in an interview, "I'm not throwing him under the bus. I'm making a political statement today. It wasn't the fact that it was frozen, it's the fact that it's not sustainable." (Funny, he didn't mention that at the grocery store.)
On to the dishes and the judging. McPherson makes a chicken pine nut terrine with blueberry mostarda, which gets dinged for being too crunchy. Colicchio also calls the terrine rubbery. Valentine serves a savory goat cheese mousse with blueberry compote, Thai basil and Serrano ham. Judge Gail Simmons calls it "very balanced, and very delicate."
Tesar makes a white gazpacho with Spanish chorizo, gooseberries, and sweet grapes. He's facing off against Richter's crudo with (frozen! the horror!) tuna, radishes, gooseberries, and Asian vinaigrette. Tesar's dish is criticized by the judges because the chorizo overpowers the rest of the dish. (Richter, for his part, had this to say about Tesar's gazpacho: "I wouldn't flush my poop with it. That's how bad it was.")
The festival attendees may not have felt quite that strongly, but they disliked Tesar's dish enough to land him in the bottom five, along with McPherson, Smith-Malave, Fields, and Vandaele. Colicchio tells McPherson, "You're getting halfway there with your concept and stopping." He loved the idea of the blueberry mostarda, but said the end product was just OK.
Annnnd ... McPherson is out. I had really high hopes that she'd be able to overcome her crises of confidence and deliver some great food, especially after doing well in the Quickfire. But alas. She goes out with grace, declaring herself "ready to go" in Last Chance Kitchen, where the eliminated chefs fight it out each week until one eventually returns to the competition.
Valentine lands among the head-to-head winners, but the overall victory and $10,000 prize goes to Kish, who made toasted sage and matcha goat milk custard with macerated tayberries. That's back-to-back wins for Kish, who is emerging as a force in the competition.