Thursday, January 24, 2013
Dallas chef Josh Valentine impresses in Top Chef fried-chicken challenge
Josie struggles with time management again.
After the stress and chaos of the "restaurant wars" challenge, the name of the game was simplicity on this week's Top Chef: Seattle. As usual, some chefs were up to the task, while others overcomplicated and overthought.
For the Quickfire challenge, the chefs were asked to create a dish to impress guest judge and master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi. He urges the chefs to keep it simple. "I don't want you guys to touch too much, don't mix up too much ingredients," he says.
Sushi isn't really in the wheelhouse of a few of the chefs, including Oklahoma-bred Dallas chef Josh Valentine (now of FT33). "Sushi's good, but it's not something that I crave, like, say, bacon," he says. Hey, his Twitter handle is @chefporkbelly, after all.
Josh makes tempura bacon with an omelette, salmon belly, and yuzu kosho aioli -- "my interpretation of a pressed sushi." Chef Uechi calls it out among the worst dishes, saying he liked the combination but the bacon was too greasy.
Chef Stefan Richter is the big winner with his his two-item dish -- yellowtail with grilled shiitake mushrooms, and raw lobster with seaweed and unagi. He gets $5,000, but no immunity. That's off the table from here on out.
The guest judge is restaurateur David Chang, owner of New York's Momofuku Noodle Bar, and many other restaurants. He and judge Tom Colicchio present the chefs' challenge: Make fried chicken for a dinner party at Colicchio's rental house. The guests at the dinner party? Colicchio, Chang, and host/judge Padma Lakshmi, of course, but also chefs Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Michelle Bernstein, Jon Shook, and Vinny Dotolo.
As one would expect, Josh is thrilled about this challenge, which goes right to his roots.
"I grew up eating traditional Southern fried chicken," he says. "My grandfather probably made the best fried chicken I've ever eaten. When I eat fried chicken now, that's what I think about."
Other chefs stay away from the traditional approach. Stefan makes chicken Cordon Bleu, which seems like a huge mistake right from the outset. The judges hate it, and can't understand why he did it. Stefan claims they don't make fried chicken in Europe, but Wolfgang Puck (who's from Austria) shoots that down.
Chef Lizzie Binder, who's from South Africa, also doesn't have a history with fried chicken, but the judges love her crispy chicken breast with a coriander black pepper coating. She only used the breasts, though, which befuddles the judges.
As usual, chef Josie Smith-Malave struggles with time management again, and plates her fried chicken straight from the fryer, so grease literally pools on the plate.
Josh serves his dish, which is chicken that's been smoked and then fried, with a sweet hot sauce and a bleu cheese salad. The judges love the way it's cooked. Bernstein calls it wonderful, and Colicchio says it had "the most flavor of any chicken on the table."
Josh gets in the top three, along with Lizzie and Sheldon Simeon, who made umami drumsticks and thighs, and wings with usukuchi and fried in grapeseed oil.
The judges award the victory (and a year's supply of Terlato wines) to Josh, who does his late grandpa proud while finally getting one in the win column. And boy, what a time to do it, as the chefs are whittled down to five.
The bottom three are Stefan, Josie and Brooke Williamson, who admittedly overthought her dish of chicken breasts coated in Egyptian spices. But she's not going home; the judges dispatch Josie, which will no doubt thrill fans who thought she should have been sent home last week.