The Smilin’ Nine walk in the Top Chef Maestros culinary salon. It’s a Curry Quickfire. Curry comes from the Tamil word “kari,” which means sauce, but from there it spread through the world. Thus this Quickfire could be really anything, unless your Douglas Keane who makes something that is not curry, but is a surefire winner in the poached fish Quickfiire that he was expecting. Great dish yeah, curry no.
So some of you don’t listen to Arcade Fire, the band that Sang references. You should. They, like Bryan Adams, Chef Lynn, Gordon Lightfoot and I, are Canadian. No, we don’t all know each other. No, we don’t live in igloos. No, we don’t speak Canadian.
Somewhere, on a dark and rainy suburban Portland street, Jenn Louis is singing:
“Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling
Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling again”
“The Suburbs,” Arcade Fire
The chefs all grab some curry ingredients and get to work. This is a difficult challenge for most because, except for Sang, this is not their medium. There is beer, though, and they have to pair with that. They talk the talk to each other on what they are cooking, and then they all trying to cook mussels, which have a natural kinship to beer and curry.
Lynn is on to something with Indians in the kitchens of Canuckistan. They are the backbone, along with Sri Lankans and Bengalis.
“Holy Balls on Crutches,” sayeth Neal. This is Middle English for being subtlety nervous.
Keane is selling stoves and coconut water. Go Dawgs. He says at the end that he did “chocolate shrimp,” Sue laughs, not understanding that this is completely not true.
KCRW Jason in the house.
Franklin agrees that his curry would have tasted better cooking for another 45 minutes, and that this is “beside the point." No, Franklin, this is entirely the point. It’s a timed challenge. If you cooked a duck that was raw and needed 45 minutes more, that would be a point of contention as well. Franklin. Are you understanding the point here? It’s a time challenge. And the wrestling with the meal comment was probably about the tangle of long scallions you had roping everything together, and not some inability to pull mussels from a shell.
Were Squeeze stoned out of their minds when they wrote songs?
“But behind the chalet, my holidays complete
And I feel like William Tell, Maid Marian on her tiptoed feet
Pulling mussels from the shell
Pulling mussels from the shell”
“Pulling Mussels from the Shell,” Squeeze
So this is the run down of dishes:
Franklin: Malaysian Mussel Muscle
Jennifer: Herr-issa Moules with Pappadum
Doug: Ain’t no curry in this Sole… cooked in Coco water on a GE Monogram stove.
Lynn: Meatless Monday Curry
Sang: Ain’t nothin’ but a chicken… thigh. He is always downplayin’ his food.
Neal: Ain’t nothing but a chicken… leg… but with coconut.
Bryan: Molecular curry with orange cell.
Sue: Who dat. (not shown)
David: Who knows? (not shown)
Lynn’s looked great, and Curtis is right that most of India is not really into the Chicken Korma so popular in the USA. Sang’s gets a nod too for being a great curry. Bryan has made the best pairing, though Jason thinks genealogy may get in the way of authenticity. Douglas is still trying to win for the dogs, but is striking out with great dishes. Swingin’ for the fences can be dangerous.
Sang wins 5K. Orphans cheer. The orphans cheer quietly. Actually you know what? How about everyone goes and donates some dough to the charity. I am going to donate something to every single one of the charities. Go. It’ll make you feel good. Go to WWO.org.
Sorry my soul was briefly kidnapped by a benevolent global citizen. Please don’t tell anyone.
The Elimination Challenge is to create some canapés for Curtis’ surprise party. I wasn’t invited. That’s OK -- it’s not like I am still sore about that. (Exit to crying in corner… again.) The ruse is that Curtis thinks it’s some publishing party for Oseland’s rag, Saveur magazine. Sang relishes in pulling one over on Curtis. Lindsay appears, and Sue says she’s beautiful. Duh, she’s Curtis’ fiancé. Sue then says that Curtis needs to “marry that shit.” I am confused.
Drew has given the gift of immunity to Douglas. Douglas is happy about this. Graeme, Ted, and Lora round out my least favorites, and they get clumped together as a team, which is really not such a bad punishment, but they only have 15 minutes to shop, which is not a lot of time to peruse the aisles. Douglas picks Sue and Burke as his teammates, and Jennifer, Franklin, and Neal become the last team. Onto shopping and chopping.
Money is no object to David Burke. He takes the whole dry aged piece of meat. The time handicapped team waits anxiously to storm the vitamin aisle. Franklin gets some face time for his charity, Autism Speaks. When you really analyze our industry, you have to admit we give back a lot. Time, money, food, gift certificates… it makes me very proud.
So the focus is on all sorts of stuff, but Korean flavors are popping. My kitchen at home, where I presently write this bloggity boggins, is very scented with fermenting kimchi. I give you recipe. My wife, she doesn’t really get into the smell, but I find it strangely calming.
2 large heads nappa cabbage
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup minced garlic
1/3 cup minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup smoked paprika (pimenton)
1/4 cup chile powder
1 tablespoon chile flake
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup salted shrimp, chopped finely
2 bunches scallions, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Clean the cabbage and then quarter lengthwise, and salt with one tablespoon of the kosher salt. Place in a large bucket and soak for one hour.
Remove cabbage, rinse, and pat dry. Cut cabbage into one-inch pieces, and toss with remaining salt. Let sit for two hours.
Drain brine, and lightly rinse cabbage. Drain again. Combine well with remaining ingredients, toss in a large mixing bowl, and then place in large container with lid and place in cool dark place for three days to ferment and mature.
I use a large glazed terracotta pot with a lid for making kimchi that I bought at a local Asian food store. It rocks.
Back to the TV. Douglas is surfing and turfing. Sang is doing a deconstructed Korea BBQ. Franklin is very excited to be doing way too much. Jennifer is running into dough problems, and Neal becomes her factotum.
SURPRISE. I think at this point I was backstage getting ready for Battle of the Sous Chefs. My ritual is a simple blend of ear candles, ritual dancing, and bubbles. It’s not like I wouldn’t have delayed that if I was invited…. Curtis? Curtis? Are you listening?
Stress is getting to a high level back in the kitchen. Jennifer has plated, thanks to Neal doing all of her work. Neal is very calm about this. Franklin has had four of his cocktails and is seeing elephants. Judges: Gail, Haiku Ruth, Saveur James, and Curtis. Bryan’s yogurt is fighting with the scallop; Sang’s Korean tartare is loved, except by Curtis; Lynn’s crab cake gets good marks. They teamed up on a dessert of sponge cake. Gail says it tastes like land? Or lamb? Or bland? OK, I think it was bland…
Jennifer has a lobster pasta thingy with Thai flavors. It gets deemed clever and pretty good. Neal has the lamb kefte, which is not loved, but Lindsay just doesn’t like lamb. Franklin has made a salmon crudo with a Sex on the Beach Razmatazz sidecar. It makes people cough (with joy?)
Neal should not buy a donut shop. He is hating this donut service. L.A. is great for donuts though. I am rambling…. The donuts have texture and no taste. Skidmark is used as a term for the chocolate. I cringe.
Douglas, Sue, and David are up to bat. As a team they have made the surf and turf, which you would never find in Korea. But it’s good. Sue has made a crab beignet, with a cilantro aioli. Douglas (immunized) has made a broth. A good broth. David has also made dessert of pops. He loves the pops.
Judgment day comes. Tops as a team win are Sue, David, and Doug. 5K for each of their charities. Bottoms are Franklin, Neal, and Jennifer. Jennifer is very honest about the amount of time that Neal lent her. They are honest people this group. Franklin just had a plan that was too ambitious. His salmon gets good marks, but the drink that went with it was just a dish killer. Donuts were just not good. Franklin bows out. Sometimes you just take on too much and it kicks your butt.
Until next week. Follow me on twitter @hughacheson