Thursday, November 15, 2012
Recap: Top Chef throws a big twist at Dallas chefs
"I hate them all," says Dallas contestant Joshua Valentine about the new chefs invited back to the show. He's kidding. We think.
With Wednesday's second episode, Top Chef: Seattle began in earnest, as the chefs who earned the coveted chef's coat began competing for real.
The producers are not fooling around this season, as they hit the contestants with a huge twist right from the start. The judges for the first Quickfire challenge are three contestants from past seasons: Josie Smith-Malave from Season 2, C.J. Jacobsen from Season 3, and Stefan Richter, a finalist on Season 5. That's fairly typical, but after the former cheftestants judge the challenge, host Padma Lakshmi informs the new chefs that Smith-Malave, Jacobsen, and Richter are getting a second shot at the Top Chef title, and are now competing in the game again.
The new cheftestants? Not pleased. There is much grousing.
"It's our turn," says Dallas chef Joshua Valentine. "None of them sealed the deal. It's our turn. I hate them all." He laughs, but doesn't exactly seem to be joking.
Episode 1 recap: Dallas chefs take over spotlight on Top Chef: Seattle
Get to know the 3 Dallas chefs on Top Chef: Seattle
(In case anyone who watched Season 5 is wondering, Stefan's ego is still firmly intact. He lets the viewers know he has nothing to prove, because he drives a Porsche and owns restaurants. Allllllll righty then.)
But back to the Quickfire. The 15 chefs are asked to separate into five teams of three. Initially, all three Dallas-area chefs seem to be reaching for the same color aprons, but John Tesar notices that Kuniko Yagi (of French brasserie Comme Ça in Los Angeles) is going for a blue apron, and he changes course.
"I've watched every episode of Top Chef," Tesar says, "and I think the decisions you make are just as important as the dishes you make."
Meanwhile, our other two Dallas chefs, Valentine and Danyele McPherson, are working together on the Yellow team, with Eliza Gavin (chef-owner of 221 South Oak Bistro in Telluride, Colo.). Each team is tasked with creating a dish that highlights local shellfish. There is a big race for geoduck (pronounced like "gooeyduck"), and the Yellow team loses out. They have to change their dish on the fly and wind up making a razor clam and grilled corn chowder, with Fresno chili and grilled lime.
Tesar, Yagi, and Sheldon Simeon (of Star Noodle in Lahaina, Hawaii) are working well together on their dish. "Who says the 'most hated chef in Dallas' can't get along with people?" Tesar jokes.
Time runs out, so on to the judging. The Blue team's dish of geoduck sashimi with ponzu, apple and cucumber was praised -- particularly for the apple, which C.J. calls "amazing" with the geoduck. But all agree it needs a little salt.
The Yellow team's razor clam chowder also is dinged for needing salt and being watered down.
Tesar and the Blue team win the challenge, and draw knives for immunity, which Tesar wins. So he's in the clear. The Yellow team, with Valentine and McPherson, are the losing team because of a lack of seasoning.
Elimination challenge: The competitors will stay in their teams of three and must make a dish using using regional ingredients for award-winning Seattle chef Tom Douglas. They'll be cooking in SkyCity, the revolving restaurant atop the Space Needle. They'll have exactly 47 minutes to cook, which is the time it takes for the restaurant to make one revolution.
Blue Team: Yagi has the idea to poach ling cod in chili oil. "She's a risk-taker," Tesar says. "She's challenging me after all these years, and I'm just loving her choices." He doesn't love the choice when Yagi burns the chili oil and has to start over. But they finish the dish, seemingly without problems. They serve to the judges chili oil-poached cod with dashi and spot prawn shabu-shabu. The judges praise it because the chili doesn't overpower the dish. "The spot prawns are great," judge Gail Simmons says.
The Blue team wins the challenge, and Yagi is declared the individual winner. Certainly a strong start to the competition for Tesar.
Yellow Team: Valentine, McPherson, and Gavin grab a fish at the market that they're not even sure what it is, which seems dicey. But they realize when they start cutting it that it's cod, so they make a pan-roasted cod with sautéed mushrooms, fava beans, sea beans, and pickled green apple, with garlic scape pistou. "The apple is the best part about the dish, and you need much more of it," judge Tom Colicchio says. The Yellow team is safe in the middle, so Valentine and McPherson move on.
The bottom two are the Red team (C.J., Josie and Stefan), who made quail breast with confit spot prawns, cherries, and porcini mushrooms, and the Gray team, with pan-roasted halibut, mushrooms, English peas, and a wheat beer, and herb sabayon.
The Red team's dish was dinged for overcooked quail (Stefan), while the Gray team had the same problem -- overcooked halibut. Apparently the overcooked halibut was a worse sin, because the culprit, personal chef Jeffrey Jew, is eliminated.