Top Chef: Three Tiny Bites

Top Chef: Miami
Cooking by the Numbers

Over the weekend, I watched the Top Chef marathon from the first season and was so glad while watching it that they got rid of the team concept since I liked seeing how the chefs worked on their dishes individually. Then in this episode, they had to split into teams. Oh no! At least they just had to decide on a similar ingredient and then could figure out how to prepare it their own way for their own little dish. It was the right combination of individual and team work. I still hope they stay away from the team work idea though for the rest of the season.

Quickfire Challenge

Before they went into the team concept though, they had to make it through the quickfire challenge. The guest judge for the quickfire challenge was Jamie Walker who is a Global Master Mixologist for Bombay Sapphire Gin. He makes cocktails and pairs them with food. I did not know these jobs even exist!

Jamie made a bunch of cocktails with the gin and each chef would draw knives to see which cocktail they were to work with and create an appetizer dish that matched it. Finally the show took pictures of the quickfire challenge too so I can share those while talking about them. Yeah!

Joey – Roasted Pineapple and Vanilla Martini

Caramelized Diver Sea Scallop & Jasmine Rice Risotto

Jamie said the dish tasted good, but it was not a match made in heaven.

Howie – Melon and Chili Martini

Balsamic Glazed Diver Scallops with Arugula, Blueberry & Grape Salad

Jamie commented that Howie’s dish added some richness to it, which cut through very nicely with the chili in the drink.

Hung – Raspberry and Mint Martini

Sour Cream, Meyer Lemon Balsamic Sauce, Salmon & Salmon Skin

Hung said he thought the fatty in the salmon would compliment the sweetness in the drink. Jamie didn’t agree. He said the drink was too sweet for what he made.

CJ – Lemon Bomb

Caramelized Watermelon with Avocado & Squid

Jamie said that the drink would needed bolder flavors than what CJ had come up with.

Dale – Sapphire Sherry

Seared Foie Gras with Candied Parsnips, Orange & Rice Wine Vinegar Gastrique

Jamie knew Dale’s dish would work even before trying the drink with it. He agreed with himself after trying the drink. He also told Padma she had a tough job since she just goes around eating everything on the show.

Tre – Strawberry Basil Martini

Sumac & Black Pepper Seared Halibut with Smoked Sea Salt & Watermelon

Jaime said that Tre created a great balance between the halibut and the melon that really worked with the martini.

Casey – Strawberry Balsamic Rickey

French Toast Baguette with Pecan Crusted Foie Gras & Raspberry Sauce

Casey went the sweet route to play off the drink. The richness of the foie gras worked very well with the drink. Jamie liked it a lot.

We never saw a dish from Camille or either Sara so I guess they landed somewhere in the middle of not exciting enough to share with the audience. Jamie’s least favorite was Joey’s dish that was too robust and too heavy. He said it was too clumsy with the drink. It just didn’t balance. This caused massive confusion on Joey’s face. He also didn’t like Hung’s dish. He said it was too muddled and needed a richer flavor to offset the drink. Hung, of course, took offense to this since he knows everything and said, “You are saying that sweetness doesn’t go with creaminess? Gotcha.” Off camera, he commented that he called out the guy on it, yet he didn’t really.

He loved Casey’s dish. He liked how she brought out the subtle botanicals in the gin with her raspberry sauce. He also liked Tre’s dish. He thought it was going to be too light when he looked at it, but after he tasted it he said the melon and strawberry worked really well. His final favorite dish was from Dale, especially since he had such a difficult cocktail to pair with for his appetizer. He said he dealt with it deftly and beautifully.

The overall winner was Casey with her bold flavors and excellent balance. She would not be eliminated at the end of the show.

Elimination Challenge

The challenge was to create a tasting menu in groups of three. There would be four courses and they would split up into teams of three. Each course had to have the same main ingredient, but they had to prepare it three different ways. They would be judged first as a team for who won and loss, but then in each team, they would be judged individually on who won overall and who lost overall for their individual food item on the plate.

They would be making their four course meal for a fine dining club with a fancy French name. I had never heard of it before and they all looked snooty, rich and white. I checked out their website and the only way to become a member is to be invited so it sounds exactly like it looks. I laughed when they were all wearing their medals on sashes at dinner. What did they win medals for? It was never explained. Even if they did, why would they wear them to dinner? Do they walk around town with these goofy things on?

Anyway, the teams first decided to split up into teams by drawing names out of a bowl. Then everyone ended up picking themselves since no one really wanted to be with either Howie or Joey based on past performance. No one really wanted to be with Casey since she had immunity. They didn’t have to create a dessert course as the last course, yet they thought they needed to have a dessert course as part of a tasting menu or they would be called on it. Dale was willing to be on the fourth course as dessert and grabbed the two other people that had some kind of pastry experience before, which was Sara M and Camille. Others jumped on first course and meat, which left Howie, Joey and Casey together, which worked for everyone else, but not for them.

Brian, Lia, Hung
Raw Pink Shrimp in Ceviche Marinade with Radish & Caviar; Olive Oil Poached Shrimp with Avocado, Cucumber, Lime & Grilled Pepper Salad; Sauteed Shrimp with Corn Pudding, Bacon & Corn Salad, Shrimp Foam

The first course team really wanted to do scallops, yet when they got to the fresh market, the scallops were all frozen so they switched to shrimp. It was a very wise choice for them. They also tied their entire plate together with Brian’s tomato going into Lia’s avocado and then into Hung’s corn to make the flavors get more intense with each bite.

During the dinner service the judges and fancy people were overall very impressed with the first course. They really couldn’t find anything wrong with it and were satisfied. The judges loved that Lia poached the shrimp in oil, which isn’t done very often. Ted did like Brian’s dish best, but wish it had more contrast.

Casey, Howie, Joey
Tuna Tartare Bird’s Nest with Cucumber & Jalapeno; Coriander Crusted Tuna with Blood Orange Marmalade, Cilantro Salad, Shiitake Mushrooms; Confit of Tuna with Fire Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Crispy Shallots & Bacon

Casey wanted to do something with pasta and cheese, but Howie and Joey didn’t want to do it. They finally decided to do duck until they got to the store and decided it might be too expensive so they switched to tuna. The judges said later on that duck would not have been more expensive and should have just went with it to be more impressive to the palates of the judges than tuna.

When Casey tried to make her tuna tartare, she found out that Howie used almost all the soy sauce. Then she forgot to go back later and add salt to it to make up for it. Later on when Tom came around to check on the teams, he asked if they had a way to tie their plate in together. Howie said that Casey dish was from the east, Joey’s was from the west and Howie’s was in the middle. Tom commented that they were all using soy sauce. I would not have guessed any kind of east meets west connection with their dishes, and it seemed Tom didn’t either. This completely rattled Joey and I can’t wait for him to leave since he’s such a spaz.

The fancy people found the blood orange marmalade too overpowering in Howie’s dish. No one was impressed with the tuna tartare. Tom commented that it was something that might have been good on paper, but it didn’t seem like she tasted it before it went out.

CJ, Sara N., Tre
Beef Carpaccio with Sherry Vinaigrette, Cigar Tuile, Parsley Oil; Butter Braised Beef Tenderloin, Baby Asparagus & Carrots, White Truffle Sauce; Black Pepper & Rosemary Seared Beef Tenderloin, Mushroom Risotto Cake, Sherry Reduction

The third course team got along really well and made the decision to use filet mignon. There was no drama with this team. Their plan was to go from light to robust with the meat and truffles. The judges thought they took the rules too literally by picking filet mignon when they could have gone with three different cuts of same protein, not necessarily the same cut prepared three different ways.

The fancy people did not like Sara’s braised beef. One guy compared it to roast beef at Denny’s. Ouch! They did love the way the entire course looked though and they all liked Tre’s dish best, especially the risotto cake.

Sara M., Dale, Camille
Semifreddo with Pistachio & Ginger, Blueberry Sauce; Macadamia Nut Pastry with Marinated Raspberry, Vanilla Coconut Cream & Roasted Pineapple; Pineapple Upside Down Cake with Ginger Sabayon

Dale brought up that he can make a pineapple tart, so Sara started throwing out ideas on what Camille could make. Camille didn’t seem very confident, but kept saying she thought she could do it. Sara had issues with the power gelatin that she never worked with before. It was not setting properly and with their time constraints, it wasn’t working so she tried to make her dish into something else. It did not fool the judges though.

While plating, Dale thought the dessert plates were a mess. He wished he could serve it to blind people. The judges thought the semifreddo was very bland. It tasted like frozen cream with no flavor. Camille’s cake did not taste like cake at all. It was very dense. They didn’t think any of the dessert was good.

Winners & Losers

The winning course was the shrimp course. Tom loved Lia’s dish and she glowed when he said hers was his favorite. The judges argued a lot amongst themselves over who would win since they were all strong dishes. Lia won overall. She is going to cook at a charity event later on as the guest chef.

The two losing teams were the tuna and dessert courses. All the desserts were pretty bad. Dale argued his point about needing a dessert course. The judges said the flavors were not there. Sara thought she could pull it off, but couldn’t do it. She did want to take a chance as a chef. Her dish tasted like nothing and she had so many excuses for it. Camille admitted to using corn meal in her mix, which I have no idea why you would use that in any cake mix. She didn’t give a good reason why she did what she did. Dale did show a lack of leadership with his pineapple idea.

Casey did get immunity, but the judges let her know that her dish was their least favorite and it was a good thing she had immunity. She felt so guilty for having immunity since she is the one that led them to being in the bottom of the pack. Joey’s dish actually got decent reviews out of the course, but Howie’s dish did have some issues with it. He didn’t let the tuna shine with his overpowering marmalade. The judges did attack Joey and Howie for not tasting their teammates dish before it went out. They were so set on their own individual dishes, they didn’t think about what they were presenting as a team to the judges.

Overall, Camille was sent home since she seemed so unsure of herself and failed baking 101 with her cornmeal in her cake mix. They didn’t think she can improvise if she doesn’t know the basics.

Source: Top Chef

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