Cast Blog: #TCMASTERS

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'Top Chef's' Season 1 winner doesn't hold back in his critiques.

First, the quickfire challenge. I won this in Season One, re-imagining junk food. Michael was the only one who had a real representation of the dish. I don't know what Rick was doing. He was obviously doing something, but he didn't make it to the plate. When you can't get something to the plate that's kind of embarrassing.

I think Michael really had a great happy medium here. He took fish sticks and made meatballs out of them. Those are all fried foods. People have been making things like that for centuries and people still do. All the chefs were saying stuff about it, but I eat fried food and I'm sure they eat french fries all the time. So, what's the problem here? If you're gonna make a fried dish, fry it. They had a nice selection.

What would I have chosen if I was competing now? I didn't really see what was up there, but I was pretty happy with the route I went. I took popcorn and I don't think popcorn is that much of a junk food. I did that and I've served that at Perilla as a canope and people always freak out about buttery microwave popcorn on ceviche. I'm taking the popcorn now and cooking it in duck fat and serving it on my duck dish. It's really good.

So Jeff Lewis and Jenni Pulos from Flipping Out tried the quickfires. Jeff's been in Perilla for dinner with Jenni. They came in and they were pretty cool to hang out with. I've seen the show and he's a wild man. I didn't get any of that from him.

In the elimination challenge they had to create a three course meal. That was a lot of work. It looked like they did a pretty good job, and it looked like Nils had in the bag until he tanked on his dessert. I thought he had it locked down. I've eaten his food before and he's a super talented chef and a nice guy and really passionate.

The issue with his dessert is that that tea is really strong and if you don't use it in moderation it's totally going to overpower the chocolate. I've had the combination before and I've personally enjoyed it, but everything in moderation. The smoked tea will just blow the chocolate away. I've had it where it was successful.

And Michael used basil in dessert. Basil and strawberries is a very common pairing. You get the tartness from the strawberries. It's almost the same philosophy of putting a sweet tomato with basil.

 

Gael seemed to have some problems with the basil dessert.  I would have see how the basil itself was applied to see if she was overreacting. Obviously there was a gelato there. I have to assume that there were pieces of basil in there, maybe a chiffonade. Maybe some micro-basil in there. I couldn't really see it so I'm not 100% sure what she was referring to. If she was just making a comment about it because there was basil in there that would be a little harsh. Then she said something about utensils at a cocktail party. I would have to agree with her. At a cocktail party you make stuff that you can eat with your hands, whether you use a vegetable or you put a little skewer on it. Michael handled that. He didn't even flinch. I love it.

Then there was that fried pineapple with speck. I don't know what he was trying to do. For me, if you're gonna cook prosciutto or speck or those meats, it doesn't make any sense to coat it in a tempura batter. The whole idea is to get it crispy. I'm not even gonna talk about the pineapple. If you want to fry pineapple that's your own decision. If you're going to take prosciutto and deep fry it, it's going to steam and not going to taste good. If you cook something like that that's cured you need to get it crispy. It's not going to get crispy covered in tempura batter. The batter will be crispy, but what's inside wont be.

Well, Michael Chiarello got this one. He's a really good chef, and very legit. I was up in Napa and  I've enjoyed his restaurant so much that I ate there twice. I've been doing an event in San Pellegrino for the past three years and I've been to French Laundry, Bouchon, and I'd rather just go to Bottega. It's really great. He's got a nice set up.

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