Top Chef: Casino Inspiration

Top Chef: Casino Inspiration

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Top Chef: Las Vegas
Strip Around the World

Here is a quick run down on the two challenges:

  • Quickfire Challenge: Breakfast in bed
  • Elimination Challenge: Create a dish inspired by a casino

I love when they have breakfast challenges and I never understand the chefs that aren’t fans of breakfast. It is the best meal of the day!

Quickfire Challenge

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The chefs were directed to the kitchen of the Venetian hotel instead of the usual Top Chef kitchen. They received a phone call from Padma telling them about room service being a multi-million dollar industry. The chefs needed to make breakfast for Padma and guest judge Nigella Lawson. They had 30 minutes to prepare something with anything they could find in the kitchen and then come up to their suite to serve them.

There wasn’t a lot of room so the chefs were broken up into two groups. The first group was Eli and Robin.  Eli had a plan and made it quickly. He even kept his plate warm the last couple of minutes. Robin was scrambling all over the place trying to get her dish done in time. She wanted more on the plates, but she ran out of time and she was also hoping that her presentation would look better.

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Robin
Blintz with Goat Cheese, Caramelized Pineapple & Blueberries

No one really said anything after trying it.

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Eli
Fried Egg Reuben Benedict with Thousand Island Hollandaise Sauce

Eli told them that he usually isn’t up at the breakfast hour so he made one of his favorite sandwiches into a breakfast item. Nigella said it would be a really great hangover breakfast.

The second group was Michael and Kevin. Michael had to use the station that Robin had used. She had left it a mess so he had to use some of his time to clean up her mess. Kevin said he didn’t really like room service so he was making steak and eggs since he wanted something hearty and it is one of his favorite breakfast items. Michael was making something with a lot of components, but while he was trying to make up for lost time spent cleaning up Robin’s stuff, he wasn’t plating it the way he wanted and it wasn’t seasoned the way he wanted it. Robin came downstairs from delivering her food and totally got in the way while saying she was told to pick up her stuff. I agree that Michael can be an ass, but she is just clueless of how she comes off to other chefs too.

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Michael
Huevos Cubana with Banana Puree, Rice, Bacon & Arugula Salad

Michael told them to break the egg and eat it all together. Nigella said the best thing about breakfast was you could eat it any time of the day. Michael agreed and then said it depended on how much you had to drink that night. That’s when it’s the best, I say!

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Kevin
Steak & Eggs with Creme Fraiche, Aged Cheddar & Green Onion

Kevin said was from the South so he likes hearty breakfasts. Padma made a comment that everything was nice and warm. It made me wonder if other people’s dishes before were not warm.

The third group was Jennifer and Bryan. Jennifer said she currently works at a hotel and is pretty experienced with room service. She was making cream chipped beef on toast or shit on shingles. It’s an old military breakfast and also what my dad used to make for me and my brother sometimes growing up!

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Jennifer
“S.O.S.” Creamed Chipped Beef with Toast, Potatoes & Tomatoes

Jennifer said she made an American classic breakfast that she grew up eating. She had noted that Nigella made a face when she put it down in front of her, so she wasn’t sure she liked what she saw.

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Bryan
4 Minute Egg with Vanilla Beurre Fondue, Crab, Asparagus Spears & Corn Polenta

Nigella could smell the vanilla right away. After Bryan left, she told Padma that the vanilla was throwing her off. She thought the dish would have been a complete star if the vanilla had not been there.

Losers

  • Bryan – She said she couldn’t quite cope with the vanilla. She felt like she was breathing in dessert and eating crab, so it threw her.
  • Robin – There wasn’t enough contrast in the blintz with the berries and pineapples. It was too much one-note.

Winners

  • Kevin – She thought his dish showed an understanding of the challenge.
  • Eli – She thought his dish had wit. She thought the tang of the sauerkraut slapped the jet lag out of her.

Overall Quickfire Winner: Eli

She picked the dish that had the most robustness. Eli would have his recipe in the new Top Chef Quickfire cookbook.  Even though I am not an Eli fan, I did think that food looked really good. I do love a Reuben sandwich.

Elimination Challenge

Padma said for their elimination challenge, they would be celebrating the strip. They would be making a dish inspired by one of the casinos. They would be touring some of the casinos on the strip to get their inspiration. They had to draw knives to see which casino they would get.

  • Bryan – Mandalay Bay
  • Eli – Circus Circus
  • Michael – New York, New York
  • Kevin – The Mirage
  • Jennifer – Excalibur
  • Robin – Bellagio

They would be catering for 175 guests to a party of Las Vegas elite on top of the World Market Center. Each chef went to go explore their casino. At New York, New York casino, Michael saw the Statue of Liberty, a New York City fire department boat, and the big American flag. He decided to do a tribute to the FDNY with his own twist on it. Over at Excalibur, Jen wandered around and checked out the Tournament of Kings where everyone was eating with their hands and drinking out of huge mugs. She said she had no idea what she was going to do. I think she’s lost it in the competition.

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At Mandalay Bay, Bryan saw all the gold windows on the outside of the hotel. He went in and checked out the Shark Reef Aquarium. He saw some signage about sustainable fishing practices so that helped him start to make a dish in his head. At the Bellagio, Robin noticed the glass sculptures on the ceiling. She is a big art fan so she wanted to combine the art with her food.

Kevin checked out the Mirage. He saw the waterfalls and flowers. He also got to pet the dolphins. He said he got a lot more out of it than he was expecting. Finally, at Circus Circus, Eli started to take in the bright pinks and dark purples. He saw the food that people usually get at a circus like candied apples, peanuts and cotton candy.

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The next day, the chefs had three and a half hours to cook and one hour to prep at the World Market Center. The judges were Padma, Tom, Nigella and Toby Young.

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Jennifer – Excalibur
NY Strip with Red Wine Reduction, Beets, Truffles & Herbs

When guests arrived, Jennifer’s table was still empty while she was trying to finish preparing. When the judges arrived, her table was empty again. She said her inspiration was the Sword and the Stone. She said the bites were bigger since it was medieval times. Nigella said she thought she needed Excalibur to cut it. She finally just picked it up to bite it, while saying, “This is the stone.”

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Kevin – The Mirage
Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon with Napa Cabbage & Cucumber

Kevin suggested they eat the salmon and salad together and then drink the broth as the last cleansing taste of the dish. Nigella said it was delicious. Toby said the combination of the spice and the mint gave it a Thai flavor, which was very appropriate. Tom said the tomato water was very stunning.

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MichaelNew York, New York
Boneless Chicken Wing Confit with Curry & Blue Cheese Disc

He said his inspiration was what every New Yorker would eat. One guest loved the cheese and the hot sauce in the middle of the wing. He found it wonderful. Nigella loved the crisp skin. Padma loved the cold dollop of blue cheese dressing. She said it was a nice surprise with the hot sauce. Toby liked the contrast between the hot and the cold, but didn’t particularly love the flavor of the cold disc of blue cheese.

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Robin – Bellagio
Panna Cotta

She told them she was inspired by the glass sculptures, but the sugar spun “glass” that she tried to make wasn’t successful so she showed it to them, but said she wasn’t putting it on the plate. Nigella liked the smell before she had a bite. She said the texture had too much gelatin. Toby said the gelatin was way too solid and the syrup was like what you get on a slushie. Padma said as far as inspiration, it did work. Nigella said she did show them the glass. Tom pointed out that she didn’t serve it to them though.

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Bryan – Mandalay Bay
Escabeche of Halibut with Bouillabaisse Consomme, Parsley Coulis & Garlic Chips

Padma said she read parsley fluid gel, she thought it sounded disgusting. Toby said it was quite nice, which Padma agreed after she tasted it. Nigella liked it. She thought it had fantastic balance to it. Tom said it was quite nice. Toby said it tasted like a really professional dish.

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Eli – Circus Circus
Caramel Apple Peanut Soup with Popcorn & Raspberry Froth

Eli said he took a risk, but he thought it was worth it. Looking at it, Nigella said she was frightened and waited for someone else to take a bite. Padma said she didn’t like it at all. Tom said the soup was a little grainy. He thought he could have used some of Robin’s gelatin. Nigella said the texture didn’t quite work. Toby said he admired his willingness to go all in. He said like most people in Vegas, he had gambled and lost.

Judges’ Table

Padma called in Kevin, Michael and Bryan.  They were told they had their three favorite dishes at the party. Tom told Kevin the texture of the salmon was great. The compressed vegetables were really nice, bright and flavorful. Toby said he really liked the broth. He also liked seeing guests tipping up their bowls to finish it off. Nigella told Bryan that he had a beautiful dish. She thought the garlic chips were fantastic. She thought it was quiet and elegant. Tom told Michael that he took chicken wings and reworked them to make them into something much better than what they were used to. Toby said it was perfectly expressive to the kind of cooking Michael does. Nigella picked the overall winner. She said it was difficult, but the winner fulfilled the challenge perfectly. She chose Michael. He won a huge bottle of wine and a trip to Napa Valley.

The other three chefs were sent in. Padma asked Jennifer if she was surprised to be there. She said she wasn’t since she did not have a clear vision of what she wanted to do. She thought that translated into her food.  She thought her food was a little boring. Tom said it could have been a lack of knowledge of medieval cooking. Tom said it was usually associated with a tons of spices since the food was so rank that they had to use spices to mask it. Tom said he wished she would have taken it a little further. Nigella said that everyone else’s meat was tender, but she couldn’t saw through her piece of meat.  Toby said that it was more Spamalot than Camelot.

Robin said her vision and flavors she was happy with, but she didn’t think she nailed the execution. Tom asked what happened with the glass. She said she was waiting for it to harden, but she wasn’t a sugar master. She said she was playing with something she hadn’t played with before, which she shouldn’t have done. Tom brought up she was playing with two things she hadn’t done before, since he knew she hadn’t done a panna cotta before. She said it came out stiffer than she expected. Tom asked if she was looking around at the other chefs and seeing their tricks, wondering if it was influencing her. She said she was envious and she was inspired by their tricks. Toby said he applaud her being so ambitious, but the cost of being so ambitious was that she would sometimes fail.

Nigella told Eli that the textures didn’t work. She didn’t know what was going on when she ate it. Tom said he had the idea of the pink dome to match the casino, but then said he covered it up so they couldn’t see it. He said it was more of a textural issue that ruined the dish for him. Eli said he was fighting with time to smooth out the soup. Tom said that was why it was grainy since that stuff doesn’t melt. Eli thought that conceptually, he was pretty close to the mark. Tom said the dish was a failure.  He said texturally it really failed. Padma said she didn’t like the flavors. Personally, she would never want to eat it again.

They were sent out.  Toby said Jennifer’s sauce was disappointing. It was more of a smear than a wine reduction. Nigella said that not one part of the dish that wasn’t a disappointment. She thought the dish was almost hostile with its lump of meat and brown smear on the plate. Tom said she started off really well, but the last three challenges, she has been terrible. Toby said it is a marathon and maybe she is hitting the wall. Toby said Robin’s vision was her problem. She was so inspired that it clouded her judgment. She was trying to do stuff that was technically beyond her. Tom said the issue he had was panna cotta is simple to make and she couldn’t make it. Nigella agreed and said it is child’s play. Padma said the flavor was non-existent. Tom said he didn’t see the glass sculpture in the dish at all. Toby said that the sugar that was supposed to represent the sculpture wasn’t there. Nigella said Eli didn’t have a dish. It was a fiasco. Tom said he couldn’t pull it together. He said he had bad texture with grainy peanut butter soup and more bad texture by grinding up popcorn. He said terrible execution and bad textures. Toby said that it looked really unappetizing. Nigella said she had to bring every ounce of upbringing to keep her from spitting the bite she took right back into the cup. She said that she can eat anything, but that dish challenged her.

The chefs were called back in. Tom said the challenge was to visit casinos and find inspiration either from the theme or design. He said at this point in the competition, they are separating talent from top chefs. Tom told Eli that he gave them a dish that was sort of a mess. It was almost circus-like. Tom told Jennifer that she left them with a pretty boring dish and story to match. Tom told Robin that he didn’t see Dale Chihuly”s work at all in her dish. It is a lot of live up to, but that’s what she chose to do. Padma asked Robin to pack her knives and go.

Questions

  1. Was anyone else shocked that Eli was sent home after they seemed to be so revolted by his dish?
  2. Do you think Robin was sent home based on it was her time to go, even though they are only supposed to base it on the current dish? Or do you think she was sent home for not being able to make panna cotta, even though they didn’t say that to her directly?
  3. What do you think the chefs could have made from the casinos they visited that they didn’t make?

Photo Source: Bravo

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