Top Chef: Platter Perfection

Top Chef: Platter Perfection

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Top Chef: Las Vegas
Culinary Olympics

Here is a quick run down on the two challenges:

  • Quickfire Challenge: Create a version of Gavin’s Bocuse D’Or dish
  • Elimination Challenge: Create a regal presentation platter with 1 protein & 2 garnishes

This was the last challenge in Vegas before the finalists go on to Napa Valley!

Quickfire Challenge

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The guest judge for the episode was Gavin Kaysen, Executive Chef at Cafe Coulud. He represented the United States at the Bocuse d’Or, which is a world-wide cooking competition, similar to the Olympics where it tests a chefs fundamentals, technique and passion to show what chefs know with classical French cuisine. Padma asked him what he prepared during that competition. He made a chicken valentine with crayfish in the middle, which was crayfish inside of chicken liver, inside of chicken, and inside of another chicken. It took him four months to figure out how to do it, but they were going to figure it out for a quickfire!  They would be creating their own version of the dish. They would have a protein in a protein and in another protein. They would have 90 minutes to prepare it. The winner would not get immunity, but would get a significant advantage in the elimination challenge.

Bryan was making a dish that he had made before. Michael viewed the challenge, not as a valentine, but just putting three proteins together. Kevin thought Michael and Bryan were risking a lot trying to make what they were making in only 90 minutes of time. Kevin said that he and Eli knew each other before the competition since they both live in Atlanta, but had become better friends on the show. He said they were concentrating on bringing home-style food they grew up with into fancy cuisine world and proving it could be done.  Bryan told the camera that Kevin puts out less complicated food than he does, but making something simple is okay, if you do it correctly. Bryan has the right attitude towards Kevin compared to Michael who looks down on him not making things complicated. Eli thought that Gavin was going to love or hate his dish, depending on his taste. Jennifer had never done a valentine before, but she was stronger with seafood so she was sticking to her strengths.

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Eli
Bacon-Crusted Breakfast Sausage with a Six-Minute Egg Center

Gavin liked the concept of the scotch egg. It would be something he would put on a brunch menu. He loved the concept.

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Michael
“Poultry Terrine” Chicken with Turkey & Bacon Mousseline

Gavin saw it as more of a terrine rather than the valentine that they were looking for in the challenge. Michael told the camera that they weren’t told to make a valentine or else he would have made one. He also threw it that it would have been as good as the one Gavin made in the Bocuse D’Or. Oh Michael, your arrogance is grating on me.

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Jennifer
Calamari Steak, Scallops, Salmon, Shiitake, Shiso with Rice Noodle Salad

Gavin asked why she chose seafood. She said it was her strong point. Padma said “Welcome back.” Gavin said he expected it to be tough with the calamari, but he was pleasantly surprised. He found it to be a successful dish.

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Bryan
Rack of Lamb & Merguez Sausage Wrapped in Caul Fat

Gavin said the lamb was cooked very nicely. He said it was a risky dish in the amount of time that he had, but he pulled it off.

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Kevin
Cornmeal-Fried Fillet of Catfish with Scallop & Shrimp

Kevin said he wanted to do something cliche and Southern. Gavin thought the catfish was a bit overcooked and the breading dried it out. a bit. Kevin disagreed with it being dried out to the camera later, but said it was okay, since sometimes people’s tastes were different.

Overall Quickfire Winner: Jennifer

Gavin said what Jennifer made really reminded him what could be in the Bocuse D’Or.

Elimination Challenge

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Padma said the chefs would be competing in the Top Chef’s version of the Bocuse d’Or where they would create a presentation platter containing one protein and two garnishes. Gavin said the garnishes had to be intricate to show a lot of technique. He said an example would be taking a zucchini and weaving it into a basket and filling that basket with a garnish. They had a choice between lamb or salmon as their protein and they would use a traditional Bocuse d’Or platter to present in front of the judges. The next day, they would have four hours to cook. As the quickfire winner, Jennifer got an additional 30 minutes to cook the next day. They would be cooking for 12 judges, including Thomas Keller, the only American-born chef to have two three-star Michelin restaurants in the U.S., including the French Laundry. The criteria for the challenge would be taste, creativity and execution. Every element of the platter had to be perfection.

That night the chefs were planning their menus while watching a DVD of past Bocuse d’Or events, except Michael who went straight to bed. Kevin was figuring out he was going to need to use a technique he had never done before so he was asking Bryan how to do it. Bryan said that’s what some chefs do in terms of sharing techniques and ideas. He would have felt like a prick if he hadn’t of done it. He didn’t think his brother would have done it. I don’t think so either since I think Michael views Kevin as his biggest competition outside of his brother.

Tom made the rounds while the chef’s prepared their dishes. Tom talked to the camera after talking to the chefs. He was concerned that Kevin was doing something that he normally didn’t do. He said Jennifer seemed nervous, but she won the quickfire, so he hoped that gave her some confidence going into the challenge. He said Eli really needed to pay attention to the details since that will separate a great dish from a good dish. He didn’t say anything about the brothers. Before he left the kitchen, Tom told the chefs that the winner of the challenge, would also win $30,000.  The judges for the evening were Tom, Gail Simmons, Padma, Gavin, Daniel Boulud (Chairmain of Bocuse d’Or), Traci Des Jardins (chef of Jardiniere), Alex Stratta (chef of Alex), Jerome Bocuse (VP of Bocuse d’Or and son of the founder of the competition), and Timothy Hollingsworth (2008 competitor in Bocuse d’Or and chef at The French Laundry).

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Kevin
Poached Lamb Loin, Sherry-Glazed Beet & Asparagus in Sunchoke Cream

Kevin said he chose lamb over salmon since he wanted to be sustainable in his food choices. He said the lamb he picked came from a sustainable Colorado farm according to the packaging. Tom said he could really taste the swiss chard. He said it was a small bite, but it had so much flavor. Daniel Boulud said he loved the lightness of the garnish of asparagus in sunchoke. Thomas Keller said he needed to be very critical. He said Kevin did a great job, but it was so elementary from the amount of time that he had and the quality of chef that he is. I have no clue if that was good or not. I hope Tom makes sense of that later.

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Michael
Salmon with Cauliflower Chickpea Tart & Zucchini Tzatziki

Michael said he had Mediterranean flavors in his dish. Daniel asked if there was a certain direction and he said again about the Mediterranean flavors, but I don’t think Daniel bought that. Traci said it was pretty, there were a lot of components, but the flavors were disparate. She said the “whole Mediterranean thing” threw him under the bus. Tom asked where you get cauliflower and caviar in Mediterranean flavors. Alex found a little bone in his fish. Oh, that’s bad! He said that at the Bocuse d’Or that would take him right out of the competition. Daniel said the dish had a total lack of harmony in the composition. Gavin said he should have taken the cucumber, hollowed it out and given the judges some sort of surprise.

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Bryan
Crusted Lamb Loin, Lamb Shank Crepinette & Orzo Au Gratin

Bryan was scrambling while his time was running out. Jennifer jumped up to help him since she had some extra time. He looked at his platter while it was being taken out and saw that he had little mistakes. It was driving him crazy. Thomas Keller was very interested in the garlic chip and asked Bryan how he made it. After describing it (I didn’t understand what he said or what it meant), Thomas said that it was a nice technique. Jerome liked the way he plated the dish. He said he had some great techniques and strengths. Thomas was very impressed with Bryan’s platter and he wanted to enjoy it. He was looking forward to it, but he made the critical mistake of under cooking the lamb. Traci said if the dish had been well executed, it would have made a lot of sense. She said he obviously ran out of time. Tom asked Timothy how coachable he thought Bryan was and Timothy said he was very coachable. He said he could tell by Bryan’s demeanor and the way he talks about food that he was very knowledgeable.

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Eli
Sausage Wrapped Lamb Loin, Carrot Puree & Tomato-Piquillo Canape

Eli came out and carved table side. Daniel asked if he was happy with the lamb. He said he felt he let it rest long enough that he got the results that he wanted. Tom said he didn’t know how Eli cut the lamb, but it was thin on one side and thick on the other. Jerome said the lamb was undercooked. He said he could taste the raw fat, which was very unpleasant. Thomas said it was a shame since it was a beautiful piece of lamb and no one really enjoyed it. He looked around at everyone that only took a few bites of lamb on their plate. No one finished. Padma said he had some nice, distinctive flavors that were nice. She found the foam to be very flavorful. She thought the foam had more flavor than Michael’s tzatziki.  Daniel said he had good ideas, but he failed on his technical execution.

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Jennifer
Salmon & Caviar, Shrimp Flan & Truffle, Celery Root & Shitake

Traci said everything tasted good and the flavors were nice, but to her the dish wasn’t very well thought out. Padma asked her what she thought of the salmon. Traci said it was almost undercooked. Tom said his salmon was perfect, but looking at Traci’s dish he could see that they were all over the place. He said that most of it tastes pretty good. Thomas said his favorite part was the custard she made with the shrimp. Gavin said he felt like the vision of the dish was at a dead end. He said that he felt that if Bryan was given more time, it would be executed compared to this one. Padma said out of all the platters, it was the most intriguing visually.

The chefs were called back out for a round of applause. Thomas Keller also told them that the winner would have a spot in the 2011 Bocuse d’Or.

Judges’ Table

Padma came in and asked to see all the chefs at once. Inside was Tom, Padma, Gail and Jerome. Padma reminded them that it was the last judges’ table in Las Vegas.

They started with Michael. Tom asked him what about salmon caviar spoke Mediterranean to him. He said that everything he made went well with the salmon and as he was putting it together, he noticed a Mediterranean theme. Tom said that he had couscous, which is Mediterranean, but the flavor was cauliflower, which wasn’t and the main thing that they noticed. Tom said with the particular challenge, the didn’t have enough of a license to play around like that. Gail let Michael know that Alex found a bone in his piece of fish. Tom said with all that said, parts of the dish were really great. He just didn’t understand the direction.

Jerome told Bryan that the lamb was a little underdone. Bryan said it was rare to medium rare. He said it had some great marbling and he didn’t want to take it past that point. He apologized if it was underdone. Jerome said that he thought they all agreed that if he had more time, it would have been a different dish.

Jerome told Kevin that his dish was very simple. He asked if he thought he could so something a little more technical, maybe using more culinary skill. Kevin said if he had made it more complex than it was, he didn’t think he would have achieved the right balance of all the components together. Gail asked if it was fair to say that he played it safe. Kevin said it was a risk to use less obvious technique in favor of something else.  Tom said that some of the chefs at the table thought that with four hours, it might have been a little too simple.

Tom asked Jennifer to walk him through the cooking process of the salmon. She said it was placed in water, cooked very slowly, from the bottom up so it cooked evenly all the way through. Tom said that she said it should be cooked slowly, but he didn’t believe that happened. He said the hotel pan was very thin by nature and transferred heat very quickly so the fish cooked too fast. Jerome pointed out that the cut of her fish had some thinner and some thicker parts. He said that’s why some were undercooked and others were cooked better.

Gail told Eli that the idea of the sausage could have been great and very appropriate to the type of competition. Unfortunately, there were big pieces of fat in the sausage, which made it hard to eat. Eli said that it was a beautiful rack of lamb and he didn’t think it needed to be cooked all the way through. Tom cut him off and said it was really undercooked. Jerome said it was a lean piece of meat, he could get away with it, but since there was fat in there, it was hard to swallow.

Tom told all the chefs that he loved watching them cook all season long and had an incredible amount of respect for each of them. Then he sent them out of the room.  Gail said she loved the elements on Eli’s dish, especially the two sauces on the lamb. She wished she could taste the sauces with the lamb as it was meant to be tasted, if it had been cooked properly. Padma thought it was the worst lamb that they ate during the meal. Gail liked Jennifer’s garnishes, but the salmon was inconsistent. Tom said there was no precision in the cutting, which led to uneven cooking. Tom thought Kevin’s dish was well executed, but it was a little simple. He said if it was offered in the official competition, it would have been dismissed immediately. Jerome said that his dish was cooked correctly, so it took an advantage over the others. Tom was impressed with Michael’s dish. He said it showed a lot of technique and there was a lot of work going into the dish. Padma said in the past when he had done elaborate presentations, he didn’t lose on flavor, but she thought he did on that dish. Gail thought the protein was perfect, but the garnish was weak. Padma brought up the bone in Alex’s salmon and said that would have disqualified him immediately. Jerome agreed. Tom said Bryan used a lot of technique in the dish, but the cooking wasn’t properly done. Tom thought that put the dish on the bottom. Gail said he tried a complicated technique, but he couldn’t execute it. Tom said if he had cooked it properly, they would be having a different discussion since in terms of technical merit, he did more. Jerome agreed with that.

The chefs were sent back in. Jerome was able to announced the overall winner. He said the chef that was above the rest was Kevin. He looked surprised. He won $30,000, a spot on the American team at 2010 Bocuse d’Or competition and a spot in the finale. That left the remaining four standing after Kevin left the room. Tom told Eli that conceptually his dish was solid, but he had some problems with execution. Overall, they were impressed with the amount of work he put into his dish. He told Jennifer that her dish had great flavor, but the cooking was a little uneven. She showed a tremendous amount of work in her dish. He told Bryan that he reached high, but the lamb was slightly undercooked. He said all the chefs applauded the amount of work he put into his dish. He told Michael that they were not impressed with the cucumber tartare side of the dish, but it wasn’t up the level of proficiency that they liked to see in the competition. Padma informed Eli to pack his knives.

Questions

  1. Were you surprised Kevin won overall or did you think he deserved to win?
  2. Were you shocked that Eli was sent packing or was it past his time to go?
  3. Who do you want to be the final three?

Photo Source: Bravo

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