Funky Cold Medina

Anyone else miss Cheven?


Hello my little tanginess! This week we headed to Marrackech, Morocco, and would you believe it? Cat and Curtis are there! Hey, guys! I'm still jet-lagged from my trip to London, where I too, made a point to visit Borough Market. There, I had a memorable bacon butty (one of my goals for the trip), and a tender salted beef sandwich. But, we're here to talk about Marakech, aren't we?

Cat and Curtis issue the group's Courses. First, they determine their teams by hopping into pedi-cab-like carriages. The chefs throw out a lot of criticisms of each other. Chaz says Avery takes credit for other people's work. Pot, meet kettle. Nookie and Avery work well together, so they team up. Nookie has also been to Marrakech. Gary speaks French, so he'll once again be an asset in Morocco. I hate saying this because I like Gary and I know it's irrational, but his grandiose French drives me nuts, much like I guess Jenna's Italian will bother John's next week as we see in the "next on" portion of the show. He and Jenna yelling, "Vite! Vite!" to their drivers almost drove me to the edge. Like I said, irrational.The first course is to head to Ben Boubker Spice Shop within the Medina. I've seen Sex and the City 2, so this all looked very familiar (she says with complete and utter sarcasm.) The teams have varying success finding this one vendor among all the vendors. Nookie's team gets there first. Too bad they don't know their spices very well. In fact, i almost died when they had trouble with cinnamon and coriander, seemingly two of the more common spices used. Although the last to get to Ben Boubker, Chaz, Nick, and Gary won that Course. Chaz was actualy really helpful in this part of the challenge, claming his West INdian roots make him very familiar with spices. 

Next Course? Find the El Waha Restaurant. Once there, the chefs have to fill all the mint tea cups presented to them using the proper technique, which is apparently making a giant mess. I kid, I kid. Gary reveals that he plays a game with his friends where they do the exact same thing with alcohol and see how high they can go. A high-pouring game of pouring alcohol. Anyone missing Cheven at this point? No? Just me? Anyway, Nookie has an idea to start from the back of the rows of glasses so that the leaking liquid falls into other cups, cutting time. Not sure if it was the method or not, but it works, and the Black Team wins. On to the Takeover, which is to take over the Palais Soleiman restaurant, create one of Morocco's signature dishes, a tagine, and two side dishes. The Black Team has the benefit of the Exceptional Ingredient, which this time around is in the form of local guide, Ahmed. The key to winning this challenge? Good spices. So true. Let's all take a moment to head to our cupboards and throw out our old spices, shall we? Just cause they're dried, doesn't mean they don't go bad. Gail Simmons actually has a really appropriate passage in her book, Talking with My Mouth Full about wanting to throw out the old spices in her mom's cupboard in Canada. I know that was a shameless plug, but I love Gail, and her book is very entertaining, so get it, will ya?

Before the cooking begins, the chefs head to their accommodations, which are the Four Seasons Marrakech. Just beautiful. Only thing that would make this better were if they had a butler. And he was Raza Jaffrey. (Another SATC2 reference for those playing at home. Sorry, guys.) Jenna gets encouragement from her fiance, a fellow chef via a Skype conversation. Avery reveals that she wears her father's ashes around her neck, and that she's doing this for him -- they had planned a trip around the world together. OK, back to the cooking. The chefs are cooking at Palais Soleiman, and things seem to be moving along fairly swimmingly until Avery's beets for her salad side dish go missing. And the shiz hits the fan. She obviously assumes the worst -- that one of her competitors has stolen the beets. Gary rightly assumes that one of the servers took them because they were sitting in the plating area. Sure enough, the servers return the beets. Chaz obviously gets angry because time was taken from his team's prep to find the beets and then Gary continued to talk about it after they were found, so he and Avery get into it a little bit. While I agree with Chaz that an apology from Avery was deserved for assuming the worst, Chaz's reaction was completely out of proportion, and frankly just plain odd. It seems that he finds these little vendettas and sticks with them. First Cheven, now Avery.

After many different tagines and side dishes, the ladies' team prevails. In fact, Liz wins for her fabulous front-of-house service. So the other chefs must decide who goes home. Chaz's team all agrees to send Avery home and Nookie's team all agrees on Chaz, so Curtis says it's up to this week's MVP to decide. Ultimately, Liz sends Chaz home. It'll be interesting to see th dynamics created next week without Chaz there.
Next week, we're in Florence, so get excited! Until then, Have a Nosh. And tell me if you think Liz made the right decision.
P.S. Totally random thought, but did anyone else think the diner who told Liz the dessert was "great" was adorable? Just me? OK.


Food Reigns

Hugh Acheson is happy to see that it was all about the food in the finale.

Finale time. This worldly traveling circus has come down to the Strategist Nookie, the Relentless Avery, and Bubbly Liz. Obviously when looking at the map in a culinary voyage around the world we can’t overlook… Uruguay? In a coastal wedgie between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay has never been on the cusp of culinary greatness, but their food has a fondness for beef, chicken cutlets, blood sausage, honeyed booze, and citrus fruits. This should be interesting, but before it all goes down, we have to go through the season's highs and lows. Though I vowed never to look at the Demon Chef ever again, there he is, dreamily hitting on Avery. Creepiest man on the planet. 

They get on the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento, across the Rio de la Plata. This is a geography lesson to you and me. I went to the handy Google maps. In the sleepy little town of Sacramento the chefs find their challenge. They must purvey at three shops and create a typical Uruguayan dish. They have two hours and a map. There is a produce store, a dry goods shop, and a butcher. No baker or candlestick maker, but you get the idea. 

Avery has some funny things she says; funny like Yogi Berra. She says “conversate”, which is kind of yokel way of sounding all smart (it’s a backformation), and then later in the show she says “time restraint.” It’s constraint. Silly Avery. But she’s a good shopper and a fine chef. 

The cheftestants shop through the sleepy little town that would be an awesome location for a modern western movie, and meet up with their regional experts on the local cuisine, Cat and Curtis. I think something must have fallen through at the last minute because I don’t think that Cat and Curtis know anything about Uruguayan food at all; I certainly didn’t until about 20 minutes ago. Evidently they love arugula down there, cause all three of the chefs make some sort of protein salad thing. And the main drag in town is named after FDR. Facts come in handy. You can use that in a trivia night sometime.They cook in a small kitchen but Liz has not purchased salt. Nookie won’t lend her any. Neither would Avery we later learn. Really? That’s crappy. I don’t roll like that. Liz, you can borrow salt from me anytime, no matter what’s on the line. 

The dishes they make are pretty basic. Nookie has chorizo from the butcher, arugula, and some onion condiment. That’s his dish. He is done way before time expires and the judges pretty much call his simple bluff, and tell him he could have done something with a bit more complexity. At this stage I would recommend pushing the parameters beyond something as simple as a PBJ sandwich. Liz makes a grilled steak with sausage, caramelized onions, and arugula. She actually cooked something and it would be a winner, but the lack of salt is an albatross around her neck. She’s kicking herself. Avery makes up a bunch of new words and cooks chicken with citrus and the ubiquitous arugula. She nails it and wins this thing. 

Now the pressure is on. Avery and Nookie have had a longstanding pact that seems pretty tight, but now she’s put in an interesting position: choose the perceived weaker opponent or follow the code of the dark side. She ditches the Nookie. Cue that Limp Bizkit song (I swore to myself that I would only mention that song in the last blog post.) 

“I can't believe that I could be deceived (but you were) 

By my so-called girl but in reality 

Had a hidden agenda 

She put my tender heart in a blender 

And still I surrendered”

Ah, the immortal words of Fred Durst, more apropos than ever. So that’s out of the way, let me be clear about something vital to our relationship… I hate that band. And off to L.A. we go. Avery and Liz will both be on home turf for this final battle. At least they are less likely to get lost while driving to Wolfgang Puck’s Red 7 restaurant. Two Infinitis and beyond!

So along the way they shop and find some discarded contestants. Avery gets Nick and Jenna. Liz gets Chaz and John. They have three hours to cook and they get surprised by their close family and friends in the kitchen. Liz’s boyfriend is dapper. Small, but dapper. Avery’s kids are cute as can be. Nookie tries to manipulate them for no apparent reason except that’s how he lives. It’s his oxygen. Did he just say that “lepers don’t change their spots”? That sounds like an Avery-ism.

Chefs galore come in to be guest eaters and voters. I know of many of them, but only really know Ben Ford. Ben is awesome. Josiah Citrin is the lauded chef of Melisse and is a badass. Many more chefs looking stylish come forward. Then we have Wolfgang Puck, one of the most iconic figures in food of our era. He’s also got an awesome personality that shines on camera. Good choice, people. 

The cooking goes pretty well and Avery bangs out a Thai salad with shrimp and coconut, then a steak with chimichurri, and then a nice-looking pannacotta thing. The judges seem to be shining to her food, though WP seems to want the salad to have a bit more oomph. Avery’s aunt drops a line from Procol Harum’s Lighter Shade of Pale. I did not see that coming. 

Liz puts up a beef salad with crisp rice, a "braised" chicken, and a puddle of creamy stuff with some fried dough resting in it. Her salad is awesome, but the other two kind of fall flat. 

The votes pour in, and it’s close, but Avery pulls it out and wins a car and the money. Liz is devastated, but she should be very proud. She made it to the final. As for Avery, she was a favorite from the beginning. She had confidence and was smart about things while she cooked great food. The latter is the more important facet for me. So food did reign supreme which was a treat.  The chefs are dizzy and probably need a little down time. I know I do. To the victor the spoils!

Follow me on the Twitter! @hughacheson

I will be blogging Top Chef Masters Season 4, which premieres next Wednesday on Bravo!

Rock on and thanks for reading.


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