Top Chef: Creative Culinaries

Top Chef: Chicago
Film Food

Here is a quick run down on the two challenges:

  • Quickfire Challenge: Demonstrate culinary techniques by creating a beautiful vegetable plate using at least three different techniques.
  • Elimination Challenge: Create a six-course dinner where each course is inspired by your favorite movie.

Quickfire Challenge

The guest judge for the quickfire challenge was Daniel Boulud, who is the chef/owner of Daniel, DB Bistro and Cafe Boulud. He said the most important foundation for any chef is knowing good techniques. Their quickfire challenge would be to demonstrate culinary techniques by creating a beautiful vegetable plate using at least three different techniques.

Lisa and Zoi were a bit nervous since neither one is classically trained in techniques. Daniel did tell everyone that he knew Richard and Ryan since they had both worked for him before. Ryan told the camera that he only worked with Daniel very briefly since their styles did not mesh. Manuel was confident with his knife skills, but nervous about being cut apart by Daniel. Spike trained in France so he was ready to show off. Nikki said she thinks she falls the shortest in this area with different techniques. I am thinking where does she think she has shown strong since she had a brick of cheese in the last episode, bear poop mushrooms before that, and dry, doughy pizza in the first episode. Does Nikki realize how horrible she has been?

The chefs presented their dishes to Daniel.


Zoi
Shaved Asparagus, Poached Egg, Batons of Green Beans, Chiffonade of Radicchio & Frisee

Daniel said the chiffonade was well done since it was paper thin.


Dale
Daikon Marinated in Tobanjan, Tournee of Avocado & Cucumber

Daniel said he was very impressed and Padma wanted to check out how pretty it was before they destroyed it by eating.


Lisa
Poached Egg, Blanched Asparagus, Batonettes of Bell Pepper & Grilled Zucchini

Daniel asked if she marinated the zucchini before she grilled it. She said she just put on a little olive oil and salt. He giggled and said, “Back to basics.” That doesn’t sound good!


Richard
Blanched Mushrooms, Pickled Beets,Sliced Radishes with Lime Juice & Scallions

Richard talked up that Daniel taught him about restraint and that a radish on its own can be a beautiful thing.


Spike
Carpaccio of Cucumber, Tagliatello of Asparagus, Cucumber Cup & Tournee of Mushroom

Daniel commented about the different skills Spike showed in how he cut everything.


Manuel
Blanched Asparagus, Brunois of Yellow Pepper, Supremes of Lemon & Endive Fennel Frond

Daniel told Manuel that his fennel frond was not a technique but a composition. Poor Manuel. He seems so nice, but is never quite there in the challenges.


Nikki
Blanched Green Beans & Asparagus Quenelle, Shaved Fennel & Radish Salad

She said she grilled a zucchini for color and Daniel picked on it saying you never ever grill without any seasoning.

Other food not shown on television (I apologize for them being out of focus, but those were the only pictures available on the Top Chef site):


Andrew


Antonia


Jennifer


Mark


Ryan


Stephanie

Overall, Daniel said he advised in the future everyone would give themselves five minutes to think of a plan and then execute it.

Losers:

  • Nikki – She took a plain piece of endive and used it as a boat. He said it was cute, but not well thought out.
  • Lisa – She did not have a single train of thought to the overall composition to link everything together.
  • Manuel – He said it was level one technique and if he is competing for Top Chef, he needs to push it past level one.

I agree with Nikki because she just needs to go. She has been horrible since the beginning, but someone else seems to be slightly more horrible than her. Lisa was worried about not really knowing any techniques so that came back to bite her. He seemed toughest on Manuel, but I took it as he sees the potential there, but Manuel just has to try harder. Maybe he isn’t pushing himself enough.

Winners:

  • Zoi – He said her poached egg was perfect and it was composed into a dish she could serve.
  • Dale – He loved that he had a plan and showed off his knife skills. He showed what a chef could do.
  • Richard – He did an amazing presentation and the mushrooms were interestingly prepared.

Quickfire Winner: Dale

Daniel said his dish was amazing. Dale felt good winning especially after being on the losing side twice in a row.

Elimination Challenge

Create a six-course dinner where each course is inspired by your favorite movie. Chicago film critic Richard Roeper is throwing a party for his friend Aisha Tyler so they are preparing the meal for them.

They will have two hours to prep and cook before the first course needs to come out. They will work in pairs and draw knives to know who they will be working with and which course they will be in charge of making.

Dale did not draw a knife. He got to pick which team he wanted to work with. He decided to go with the first course team, which was Richard and Andrew. Dale was excited to work with progressive, creative chefs like Richard and Andrew. Andrew saw Dale as a third wheel and said the weaker picks the stronger. I was actually warming up to Dale in this episode since he wasn’t seeming so cocky. Andrew being a dork doesn’t make him any more likeable, even though I think he’s talented in his spazzy way. I think the first course has a lot of potential with those three so Andrew should just give them all a chance.

1st Course
Andrew, Dale & Richard

Richard brought up Willy Wonka was an easy movie to work with since they could really get the creative juices flowing with it. When they come up with their idea, Andrew declared that people will “culinary crap in their pants” when they see it. Well then! When they were getting ready to head over the next day, Andrew came up with the idea of dressing up like an Oompa Loompa. Richard very nicely talked him down from his crazy idea and Andrew didn’t go through with it.

2nd Course
Spike & Manuel

Manuel wanted to do something Mexican and offered the movie Like Water For Chocolate, which Spike has never heard of. Spike has been cooking Vietnamese food for the past two years, so he offers Good Morning Vietnam. They seem to go with Spike’s idea. Manuel is great for being open minded, but I don’t think he’s really putting himself out there enough and he might not last in this competition by being so nice and going with the flow. Manuel does get himself in there in a way since he wants to use a Chilean sea bass while Spike would have rather used a tilapia, but Manuel said it will hold up nicely, especially with the chili rub he is going to make for it. Spike says that he needs to listen to the people he works with and compromise when necessary.

3rd Course
Jen & Nikki

They decide to go Italian since Jen cooks it and Nikki is Italian. Nikki brings up Il Postino and Jen immediately agrees with it. They start talking about it being beautiful and romantic.

4th Course
Ryan & Mark

Ryan said before that he rarely watches movies. I used to like Ryan, but the more I see of him, the more I think he’s an airhead. He doesn’t seem to know common things like chicken piccata or mayo should be in waldorf salad. Now he doesn’t know any movie outside of Dumb and Dumber, which he thinks is great. What course idea is he going to get from that? Mark is upset that Ryan hasn’t seen Road Warrior or Mad Max. Ryan tries to explain A Christmas Story to Mark who doesn’t know what he is talking about. Ryan explains the scene where the Christmas turkey gets destroyed so the family ends up at a Chinese restaurant eating a duck. They go with that. I feel so bad for Mark in this group. While shopping, they run into a problem of the store not having any duck so they go with quail, which makes Mark happy. I have no idea how this is going to relate to their movie though.

5th Course
Antonia & Zoi

Antonia said Zoi cooks the same way she does. They decide to go with Talk To Her, which is a Spanish film about two very strong women so they thought they could identify with that. They are going with rack of lamb, which is very expensive so they can only afford four. They are going to have to cut it and be very careful since they have none to spare.

6th Course
Lisa & Stephanie

Since Lisa and Stephanie just worked on the cobbler for the last elimination challenge, they decide they do not want to do dessert again. They are going to go with some short ribs and use the movie Top Secret, which does have a cow on the cover (I own it!). Lisa is the one that is a fan of the movie, while Stephanie seems vaguely familiar with it and describes it as having funny humor. I guess that is compared to the unfunny humor. 🙂

Overall dinner menu:

1st Course
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Smoked Salmon with Faux Caviar & Wasabi White Chocolate Sauce

2nd Course
Good Morning Vietnam
Summer Roll with Chili-Rubbed Chilean Sea Bass & Pickled Swiss Chard

3rd Course
Il Postino
Tortellini with Cavolo Nero, Ricotta, Pecorino, Squash & Peppercorn

4th Course
A Christmas Story
Quail Breast with Carrot Puree, Cranberry Chutney & Quail Spring Rolls

5th Course
Talk to Her
Rack of Lamb with Cauliflower Saffron Puree & Romesco Sauce

6th Course
Top Secret!
NY Strip Steak, Braised Short Rib & Apple Potsticker with Caramel Sauce

The first course is plating to go out and Richard is using his little portable smoker to capture some smoke under plastic wrap around the dish. Guests can poke through it and smoke will billow out. I think that sounds annoying, but willing to see how it works. After the third plate, the smoker goes out and they are scrambling to figure out how to fix it or come up with another idea. How about just serve the dish without smoke? They finally decide to just remove the plastic since Richard said the smoke was just a bonus and their dish was strong enough without it. Then they are smoking a piece of wood and while it is on fire, holding the salmon on top of it to give it a smoky flavor. They get done just in time.


1st Course Andrew, Richard, Dale
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Smoked Salmon with Faux Caviar & Wasabi White Chocolate Sauce

They made some pear fizzy drink that fit into a shot glass to go along with their dish. Daniel said that the flavors were great, not expected to go together, but well executed. Tom said it was surprisingly good. Aisha really liked the spices. Richard Roeper loved Richard’s explanation of why he chose the movie and how the dish tied into it. Ted Allen said that he loved that the dish was very light and an appropriate starter dish.


2nd Course Spike & Manuel
Good Morning Vietnam
Summer Roll with Chili-Rubbed Chilean Sea Bass & Pickled Swiss Chard

Spike said Vietnamese food was just starting to be recognized as a world-class food so he wanted to show it off. Daniel said he would have not used fish inside the roll. Ted said with their budget, they could have bought lobster or crab. Aisha thinks of spring rolls as light, but she felt like she had to really work her way through it. Tom didn’t know what to do the little swiss chard way over on the side of the plate. It seemed like an afterthought. Someone commented that they didn’t really see a connection to the movie. Padma guessed that they wanted to do Vietnamese food and they chose the movie based on that. Richard agreed.


3rd Course Jen & Nikki
Il Postino
Tortellini with Cavolo Nero, Ricotta, Pecorino, Squash & Peppercorn

Nikki said they wanted to transport them all to the hillsides of Italy. Tom said it was good, but not great. Daniel commented about how they didn’t care about the pretty shape of the pasta. Ted loved the rustic look it had. He said he prefers hand made pasta that does not look like it was made with a machine. Richard said he thinks it is very good and better than what the “experts” are saying. Ted agreed that they are being as picky as can be, but it was kind of “one note.” Random lady spoke again (who is she?) said she can picture the village with the sheep running around, so she liked it.


4th Course Ryan & Mark
A Christmas Story
Quail Breast with Carrot Puree, Cranberry Chutney & Quail Spring Rolls

Ryan explained the scene from the movie that inspired the dish. I was waiting for him to explain why they do not have duck, and why they had to switch to quail, but he didn’t. Padma said it was very delicious. Ted said after trying half of it, he has a new favorite dish. He thought it was beautiful, sophisticated and complex. Some things looked like they might not work together, but they do. Richard loveed the movie and liked how they described a specific scene to talk about the dish. Aisha loved the carrot puree and was trying to put it into her mouth as fast as possible. I guess I was wrong about explaining it! I am now wondering how much of the dish was saved by Mark. Did Ryan really do much with it besides pick the scene in the movie?


5th Course Antonia & Zoi
Talk to Her
Rack of Lamb with Cauliflower Saffron Puree & Romesco Sauce

They describe the movie as a Spanish movie with two strong, passionate female leads so they wanted to bring themselves and that into the dishes. They also said they wanted to bring the vibrant colors of Spain into the dish. Daniel said they talked about the fiery Spanish food, but he isn’t tasting any of it. Tom said the colors are not very vibrant. He would have also preferred a single chop and it is cut too thin. Aisha wanted to feel transported into the movie from the dish. She said it was good and fine, but there was nothing transcendent about it. Tom said, “It didn’t bring you to Spain,” and Aisha responded, “No, not even a little bit.”


6th Course Lisa & Stephanie
Top Secret!
NY Strip Steak, Braised Short Rib & Apple Potsticker with Caramel Sauce

Lisa describes how the dish relates to the movie since she loves the cow scene and thinks of it every time she sees a piece of meat from a cow. Daniel said it was very Asian, very well seasoned and he liked the spiciness of it. Tom said it was delicious and he liked it a lot. Aisha said it was a original dish. It goes above and beyond an iteration of a classic dish. Different random lady said she could not make any of these things at home so they pass that bar for her. Ted asked if it says Val Kilmer in a cow suit? He doesn’t know, but everyone just laughed since they all seemed to like the food.

Judges’ Table

Yeah! This episode actually shows the judges discussing things after the dinner. It is Tom, Padma, Ted and Daniel. For the Willy Wonka course, Tom thought it was whimsical and fun. Daniel loved that there were many surprising flavors and they went well together. Daniel said it was the most professionally executed dish. Ted said it was really impressive that they did all of that with the subtlety and refinement of a first course.

Tom said the Good Morning, Vietnam course had some flaws. The fish was too fishy and the garnish on the side had no connection at all. Tom thought the Il Postino dish was good, but it wasn’t the best dish. He thought the pasta had too much flour and was too dry (Nikki said it is her specialty!) and the filling was a little funny.

Tom thought Mark and Ryan did a good job translating A Christmas Story, especially with the colors of the holiday, the bird, and the Chinese food all mixed in together. It all made sense. For the Talk to Her course, they talked about fiery, passionate women and vibrant colors, but there was none of that on the plates. For the Top Secret! dish, Daniel loved all the flavors and simplicity of it. Tom said the flavors and garnish were good and the meat was flawless. It was a great dish.

Winners

Padma called in the Willy Wonka and Top Secret teams as the two favorite dishes of the evening. Everyone was very excited and I don’t think Lisa could believe she was on a winning team. Tom told them all they did a great job with the food and also connecting the film to the food.

Daniel asked who was responsible for taking the risk of putting chocolate in the first course. Richard said it was him. Tom said he kept looking for ways for the dish not to work, yet it did. Daniel said it was punchy enough that it elevated it. Ted liked the faux caviar and Andrew said that was his idea.

Padma asked how the other team came up with the dish. Stephanie said Lisa had the great idea for the carmel sauce and they built it around there. Ted loved the reduction sauce and was worried that the carmel sauce would mess it up on top of it, but all the flavors were very harmonious. Tom said the beef was technically cooked really well. It was a perfect medium rare and seared nicely.

Daniel was able to pick the overall winner. He said the overall execution that was the best was the first team and the one that took the lead with the dish was Richard.

I am glad that Stephanie made it into the best dishes, even if she didn’t win this time. I think I would have gone for the first team with their wackiness and creativity. I loved how creative they were able to be in the challenge.

Losers

When the winners were getting the good news, others outside were talking about them. Nikki said Richard is light years ahead of the way she cooks. Jen says she would never think to put white chocolate and wasabi together. Spike says those flavors do not go together. Jen said they do not sound good. Zoi said they do not taste good together, she promises, and if this is what the judges want, then she’s ready to leave.

The teams come out and Richard said they won. They get a few claps while others just look at them. They tell Good Morning Vietnam and Talk to Her to go in. While I am sad that once again Nikki is not on the losing team (how does she survive?!?), her dish was middle of the road and probably saved by Jen. At this point, I am ready for Zoi to go home since I didn’t like her comment she just made over the other stupid comments, including Spike’s comment. Also because Spike seems to have some talents, and I really haven’t seen much from Zoi. Let’s see what the judges think.

Padma asked Antonia and Zoi why they think they are there. Antonia said she was surprised. She thought their lamb was cooked perfectly and the romesco sauce was very nice. Tom said one of the issues was how they sold it with the strong women with vibrant colors, but there weren’t very vibrant colors. Zoi said they wanted the colors to be more vibrant, but they had to think about flavor and adding too much color would affect the taste. Tom said they shouldn’t have sold it that way then. Zoi agreed. Tom asked why the lamb was cut so thin since it was cooked so beautifully. Zoi said they wanted it to be two cuts like the two women in the movie, but they should have expressed that better. I am impressed with her explaining! Antonia did some more explaining but Zoi really nailed it. Padma said she wished they would have told them all of this when they were serving the meal. They both agreed.

Padma asked what the thinking was behind the Vietnam dish. Spike admitted he wanted to make Vietnamese food so that’s why he chose it. Padma asked if he decided what went in the roll. He said they collaborated on what went in it, but it was what classically went into a summer roll. Ted pointed out that something that wasn’t classic was the swiss chard and wondered where that came from. Manuel said that it was vibrant and beautiful. Tom said the problem wasn’t that it was there, but that there was no connection to the dish. Uh-oh, I think Manuel might be going home since he’s the one explaining random swiss chard and he was the one in charge of the fish they didn’t like, even though they don’t know that. Tom asked them if they had used all of their budget. Spike said they did and Tom was surprised since it seemed the other teams had a different budget. Their dish was something that you could find at a local Vietnamese place for $8 as an appetizer. Ouch! Manuel did talk about how he thought he could learn from Spike about Vietnamese food. Daniel asked if it was too late to be learning from his partner and Manuel said everyday he needs to learn something new. Padma asked who should go home if their team is chosen. Spike said he doesn’t play that way and he isn’t going to say that he should go home. Go Spike!

The teams were sent out. Tom said that Antonia and Zoi’s story didn’t match up with the dish they were presented. If it matched up, they might not even be here. Spike and Manuel seemed to have the dish before the movie. Ted was confused by Spike being confused that you could get a roll like that in any decent Vietnamese restaurant. Tom said Spike clearly drove the dish and he could be sent home for that, but then there is Manuel who knows very little about Vietnamese food and allowed himself to be led down that path.

The teams were called back in. Tom said Antonia and Zoi told a great story, but that story did not translate well on the plate. However the dish was a good dish so they are safe. Spike and Manuel’s dish was their least favorite and it was voted the least favorite of the other eight diners as well. oops! Spike took the lead on the dish and Manuel was happy to go along with the lead. Winning the competition is about the drive to lead and they didn’t see that from him. Since neither one was forthcoming about the process, they had to make a decision based on what they could see, so Manuel was asked to pack his knives and go.

I agree with what they said, and I wish Manuel would have stepped up and pushed himself more. Bye Manuel!

Questions

  • Spike mentioned that even though he thinks that Jennifer and Zoi are great and complement each other well, he is ready for one of them to go due to them having an advantage of knowing how the other one thinks. He thinks it puts others at a slight disadvantage. Are those two really have a bigger advantage over the other contestants or could it be a disadvantage when one of them eventually has to leave? Will one of them ever sabotage their own cooking to help the other or go for the other’s weaknesses just to win?
  • Did Ryan and Richard have an unfair advantage by working for Daniel Boulud before or did it actually hinder them? Did it matter at all?
  • Should Andrew have gone through with his Oompa Loompa idea in presenting the food?
  • Should the losing chefs really talk badly about other dishes when they didn’t even try them? Should they just assume that they tasted bad because they don’t think it sounds good? Are they just sore losers?

Photo Source: Top Chef

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