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Hugh Acheson reveals what he would have cooked for his Lyonnaise hosts.

And we’re off to France with a focus on the foods of Lyon, kind of the home base of old skool French cookery. It’s the land of chicken that tastes like chicken, chestnuts, tripe, pike quenelles, and cheese. How do they live longer than us? Actually I know the answer to that… I watched Last Tango in Paris. 

So “laissez les bons temps rouler” in the OG sense.

Gary speaks fluent French and he’s not afraid to use it. This should help him and his team.

I would have done a cardoon gratin, confusing the heck out of Curtis and Cat but they really do eat a lot of cardoons in Lyon. It’s one of their things. Funny that the meal really didn’t touch on charcuterie and coq aux vin, even though Spaz, I mean the AIC (Anger Issues Chaz), did make big and little chicken, but we’ll get to that. 

Chaz does have immunity from his last victory, something Keven is not very happy about. For a guy who removed the “I” from his name, he is still pretty selfish. He’s making Nookie look good, and I haven’t even made fun of Nookie’s name yet. That will come in due time. 

Team Black: Chaz, Keven, Avery, Gary, and Nookie

Team Red: Nick, Nicole, Sai, John, Liz, Jenna

Sai is getting a bit frustrated that French cuisine is really adored in France. She feels that her Thai background won’t help much in this challenge. This is true, but why feel the need to say really, really weird stuff like: “I don’t want to come off ASIAN HITLER style… not yet.” I have no words to describe this moment of jaw-on-floor. WTF is she talking about. Jenna is a take-control kind of person. That’s very different from a leader. She and Keven need to go to leadership training seminars together. They bark directives and nobody follows. It’s the charge of the army of onesies. She does have a communications plan, though, when the team is split into two cars: “If we need to talk to each other HONK three times.” This is brilliant and so much better than her not-shown first idea of aluminum cans with string tethered between the “voitures.”

Red Team drives the Infinitis faster than the Black Team and are the first to meet up with the most generalized French cheesemaker ever. Complete with bandanna around his neck. It’s like if I greeted you in Ottawa wearing a Mounties uniform. Don’t think I won’t.

Well Jean Marc does know his cheeses and this is a hard challenge but the cheesy instincts of Jenna will reign supreme. She finds the six sheep’s milk cheeses in a slow methodical fashion, though at one time she disagrees with the most Authentic Frenchman Ever. The nerve of some people. The cheeses do look really tasty. Some look deliciously unpasteurized… don’t get me started. 

Black Team arrives after a devastating Black Team Down situation where Keven, the navigator and driver of the team, led them astray. Keven has not just studied cheese though, he has studied fromage. He is plein de suffisance. To the Babel Fish my people!

Then they herd sheep. Elves, I am speechless. Really?

Best Nookie-ism: ”Keven is about as useful as a fart in a space suit.” This is going to make my seven-year-old very happy as a new saying. Thanks for that, Nookie. Off to the wine pairing which is an odd challenge because wine can be very subjective, but I will play along. Nookie solves Fermat’s Theorum and this makes the bottles fall into perfect order for the matching wines extravaganza. I did not picture him for a math whiz, but then I was like, “Where the hell is MIT? That’s right… in Nookie’s hometown.” Then it all made sense. The movie was meant to be called Good Nookie Hunting.  

So the Black Team wins the exceptional ingredient, which in this case is a meal and an explanation of the Lyonnais dishes that they will be re-creating, most importantly the Quenelles of fish (usually pike). The Master chef is very helpful and this is an important advantage. I have a soft spot for a master Euro chef like this one; we just don’t often find the dedicated chefs willing to live above their restaurants and just focus on the one thing for their entire careers, but that mentality is still very common elsewhere in the world. Here we have chefs coming out of cooking schools who think that they are one call away from their own show and Truck Nutz sponsorship. I digress, cause this type of writing may interfere with my Truck Nutz contract. 

The Red Team, led by the less-than-charismatic Jenna is wandering around town to see what constitutes the flavors of Lyon. Indian food is out, salads and chicken seem to be popular, and quenelles are a necessity. They must try the quenelles so they go and order one to share amongst all six of them. Page 27 of How to Get By in Lyon on $12 a Day. They relish in the flavor and work backwards through the dish to be able to make it. This smart sounding system is bound for failure. The problem is that Jenna speaks only a little French. She ain’t no Gary in the lingual department. Gary’s grasp of the language is really the biggest advantage in the episode, much more important than the Master chef. Sai and Jenna are battling. No one likes anyone, except Nick and John are nice to one another. A menu is decided and dessert becomes a brownie au chocolat. Julia Child is gonna kick someone’s ass in heaven. 

The guest judges show up and they are Jacotte Brazier and Gregoire Cuilleron. They eat with the beautiful blond and Cat. Red Team first: “I think we should present it as a play on a quenelle.” This is code for “we completely bombed at this.” During prep there was chatter that they made pancake batter, basically fishy pancake batter. The process of making a quenelle is this: A panade is made, kind of like a choux base, and then the fish is finely ground and passed through a sieve. Eggs and the panade are added to the fish and mixed and then you quenelle the mixture with two spoons forming them into little footballs and then you poach them gently in highly aromatic stock and serve them with a Nantua sauce or a simple cream-based sauce. It’s not rocket science and Red Team has completely bombed on this course. 

They also have a haddock with gribiche but not enough of it. Expediting is horrific. Half of the people seem to have really enjoyed the fish. Bad omen. 

The salade Lyonnaise rocks, but I would have used more frisee in place of lettuces. That’s just my opinion. It’s funny because I think the salad is a really important Lyon dish, but Sai is about to get raked over the coals for it. Remember that playing nice and explaining your motives is half the success in this show. Sai is combative and not a team builder. She also has pulled a Hitler comment off the “We Do Not Go There” shelf. Brownie. Ms. Brazier says it ain’t Lyon but it ain’t half bad either. They celebrate by drinking from the bottle. À votre santé! Jenna decides this means its time to talk down to everyone and proceeds to let loose with some perfunctory, “Honey, blah blah blah.”

On to Black Team’s service at the Daniel & Denise. At first I thought it was Daniel & Denis — a restaurant name illegal now in North Carolina.

They nail the Quenelle. Rock on Avery, a contestant we have not seen much of. Following that is a salad with balsamic? Foie gras, the official food of the Boston Red Sox comes next, and Nookie has done a good job. 

Somehow the service mistake is made to make this a French buffet. No idea why Gary is doing this. I think he’s confused by constantly calling everyone in sight his “little lambs.” 

Chaz is sitting on the floor. I am not sure if that’s the best spot to have a good service from.  Seems like the customers all loved the quenelle, but the rest of it kind of got lost regionally. 

But Black Team makes it through with Avery winning best dish. Red Team loses and Sai goes home for making the much better of the salads presented. 

In the immortal words of Chuck D:

“Black is back, all in, we're gonna win
Check it out, yeah y'all, here we go again”

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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