Having just come back from the Southeast, where pig is a mainstay, I’m primed and ready to talk about this week’s challenge, cooking for Charlie Palmer’s “Pig and Pinot” fundraiser. It’s a big event, and it’s great that Charlie lent it to the show. My ten-week old baby is smiling away at me as I type this … I suspect he’s going to like both pig and Pinot down the road as much as his dad does.
About the pairings aspect of this week’s challenge: Pinot Noir is a very complex grape. It can be very feminine, with sweet, bright red notes like strawberries or cherries, or it can go to barnyard complexity (as Toby was trying to articulate) with cooked fruits and wet hay-like notes … and it runs everything in between. Chocolate notes, leather notes, stewed fruits, tar … all kinds of stuff. Charlie hit on it very quickly in the episode, saying that you can either work with “opposites” or “similars”: so many of the chefs used cherries in their dishes because by doing so they were echoing what they found in the wine. The other way is to go the complete opposite, as when pairing an eggplant-colored dress with an acid-yellow clutch (my wife tells me). Just as opposites really do attract with people, opposite flavors in a wine and a dish can often complement one another very well. So it was fun to see what our cheftestants would discover in their pinots and how that would translate into the choices they made with their food.
I also really liked the challenge because it used all the parts of the animal. You treat the belly very differently than the leg, the loin very differently than the shoulder, so this challenge highlighted the versatility of this animal … if not the chefs.
What do I mean by this? Well, for example, a shoulder has a lot of connective tissue and collagen, so you’d want to braise or confit it, to break down those collagens or connective tissues. When done correctly, this can yield a more flavorful piece of meat than some of the easier ones like loins or chops, which could go for a quick roasting or grilling. In general, the animal takes smoke well. It can go Asian, Italian, Korean, or All-American such as BBQ. These are the reasons that, as I stated above, this was a great challenge for showcasing the abilities of the remaining chefs.
Michael and Bryan upped their own stakes: because they had both worked for Charlie before, they felt they had to perform well to impress him, and thus they put themselves under a great deal of additional pressure. With his root beer braised pork cheek, Michael was clearly going for the various notes in the wine and was introducing them into the dish. Kevin also turned the heat up under himself, feeling that because he had put himself forth to in this competition as “the pig guy,” nothing short of the win would be acceptable. Luckily for them, these three are good competitors; not only do they not buckle under pressure, they actually do perform better.
"Remember that anyone could go at this point … this isn’t a cumulative competition ...."
"At the end of the day, Harold won because here was the moment that Gail, Katie and I were asked to take the overall competition into consideration, starting at day one, and to weigh it against the evening's outcome. And overall, Harold had consistently embodied the qualities of a top chef. Over the weeks of competition, Harold pulled off round after round of arduous, high-stakes (and occasionally ridiculous) tasks, and managed to make friends in the process. He demonstrated creativity and spontaneity, and never lost his cool. At times I wish Harold hadn't played it so safe, but as he matures I think he'll find the confidence to take more risks. Tiffani showed talent and even growth, but Harold was also able to inspire a team, and at the end of the day a successful kitchen is a team. Harold truly is a Top Chef."
For those of us who play judge along at home, tell us Tom, is this a cumulative competition or not?
the most i saw of laurine in last night's episode was about 3 times. the last time the cameras where one her, she was in the kitchen getting the lamb and the chefs were not sure if it was done properly. she just looked at it and then looked away, made a face like DAHHHHH, i don't know and then served it anyway. i do better than that in my own kitchen.
I'm glad you wrote Korean instead of Chinese or Japanese! Yippee! James-Korean is Asian! =) I had the same reaction as you, but I was happy that he mentioned Korea. I'm rooting for KEVIN!!!
Tom - I have a question about the rules of Top Chef. I was watching one of the rerun and saw where that guy Eli had brought his own "pressure cooker". Now, is that allowed? I mean, if you can't look at a recipe book and can't bring in your spices - at what point can you bring in a piece of equipment like a pressure cooker?
I find it very unfair that this guy brings in a piece of equipment that is a piece of junk, breaks and EXPLODES all over. Has an effect on another contestant (can't remember her name but she was decontructing Fish and Chips).
I'd like a ruling on this - I think Eli should be elminated immediately if he broke the rules (I mean - he's whiney brat anyway).
Thanks - Mike
love the show - hate the language. seems these chefs get more foul every season - there are episodes when the bleeper is going so much that no actual words come through. top chef masters was superior in many ways - but especially the fact that the mature and professional chefs could actually have conversations without dropping f-bombs every 3 seconds; made it so much more enjoyable. these folks are being presented in their professional lives - not their private, if i were an investor i would have a hard time backing such immaturity. the producers should consider setting standards for the language.
hey tom, seriously, its getting a little mundane, no surprises. why can't you mix it up and call out the losers first every once in a while, mix it up. we already know they are the winners as do the contestents. would be better to not know for sure who the winners are until they are standing in front of you, not just because they get called out first, please mix it up. it is getting boring in that respect.
I don't understand why the GD word (which takes the Lord's name in vain--a MAJOR sin) is allowed on air numerous times as part of a commercial for Top Chef and the F word is bleeped. This makes no sense to me. I am a huge fan of Top Chef and am very disappointed that the network would choose to use someone saying the GD word as part of a commerical. Very bad decision.
Hey foodies, I would like to point out to Eli who said he would like to take a stab at making Top Chef history by winning both the quickfire and elimination challenges in both rounds that it has been done at least twice before: By Stefan in episode one of Season 5, and by Michael in Season 2. Also, regarding Restaurant Wars, Michael went home in Season 2 because the judges felt he was being "carried" by the other chefs, but Tre (who was one of the top contenders in Season 3) went home because he was the Executive Chef and not everything in his restaurant went well (even though CJ picked the team and only did one salty lobster salad dish,) Brian worked the front of the house and made nothing, Casey did carrot soup and overcooked monkfish, and Tre made 4 dishes: scallops with a corn truffle custard, salmon sashimi with "one too many ingredients," a gorgonzola-crusted filet mignon dish and a not-so-successful bread pudding dish. Even though the pattern is not consistent as far as who goes depending on what role they play, one thing rings true no matter what the challenge: if you spread yourself too thin and do too much, your dishes suffer from it and you will end up getting screwed. The word chef in French means chief. Restaurant Wars -- and all team challenges -- should not just focus on the food but on how well people work together and inspire each other to create culinary excellence.
I agree with your comment that a pork loin is a wonderful cut of meat. But I would love to see it ordered and cooked the way I do, with bone in and a layer of fat on the outside. If you do this I don't see a need to use bacon fat. It seems that in our quest to cook everything in 30 min. or less we lose a great deal of flavor that is natural. Also did anyone seem to think that Robin may have cheated by cooking her sweet pototoes the night before?
I've watched every Top Chef since Day 1 and I don't know if there is any way that you can answer this question- maybe in your next blog posting-(I've was trying to ask this on the "WWH Live" when you were on) Is there any Cheftestant for whatever reason that you feel was booted too early that should have gone on to win it all?
Tom, I think you are right on with Ash. I think he has a lot of ability and talent and just was too afraid to let it go. One thought on that, do you think intimidation was a factor with Ash? Although his comments were very nice to Michael when they were both up there in the previous episode, I think you hit it well asking him if he felt he could win the competition. I am a high school basketball coach and feel that intimidation was a major player here. I think that anytime you go into a competition "not sure" or "questioning" whether you can win or not, you have NO CHANCE!
Hi Tom, I enjoyed this blog. while I'm not a wine drinker because of medical reasons it's really nice to read what goes well with what. I love to cook different pork dishe so this was helpful. While I can't drink the wine , my guests can and i'm sure they'll appreciate my knowing how to pair a wine with a dish. Hope you're enjoying your baby...they really do grow up so fast.
I love the show, and I watch it every season. I got really upset when they are showing previews of this weeks show, when the lady that had cancer says something about her G.D. Desert. Why wasn't that bleeped out. My children see and hear that on tv and it is using the Lords name in vain. You bleep other words that they say out. It really upsets me. Please have some conderation for people who believe in God, and saying that is wrong.
Dear Tom, Missed our flight last week and got to visit CRAFT in Las Vegas. My fiance, 3 yr old boy and I were dressed in a non-craft fashion. Your staff let us in and gave us a outstanding dinning experience we had kobe filet for the first time & my son had chocolate milk in the wine glass. We were treated just like those other people sitting by us wearing nice cloths with no kids. We can not stop thinking about the food******. We are also TOP CHEF Groupies we have seen and taped every episode so we can pause and rewind and try to figure out who is staying or going home (I am usually right)! We can not wait 2 more days for resturant wars. I am a 38yr old culinary student and tv does't get more entertaining then watching the brothers toshey! Thanks.
I've loved this show from season one, and this is my second favorite season (after season one). I LOVE to see talented, creative people doing what they do best, under pressure. And Tom's blogs have always been fascinating and fun to read. Great season, great show, and congrats to Tom and his family on their new baby.
Hi Tom, i love this show so much. i am a huge fan of Housewives of Atlanta and Top Chef has grown into my favorite, lol, i get more excited about your show now. i totally agree that Ash messed up this challenge, but i think that the other 2 chefs in the bottom with him received a more harsher judging on their meals. i wanted Ash to stay!!! Lol, i understand though, and i love the show. Great, great season. take care.
I'm really enjoying Top Chef this season. You've really found some talented contestants.
While I wasn't surprised to see Ash go home, I will miss his personality in the coming weeks. While he was very witty with how he handled criticism, he seemed to really listen to what the judges said and tried to grow.
I hope he does very well in his chosen profession.
Bacon, truffles and caviar are very popular ingredients with the judges. In both Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, I have seen gratuitous use of these ingredients propel contestants to victory.
Bacon is amazing bang for the buck. Kevin (love the dude)used it liberally as an ingredient in his pork leg dish and you mentioned that Ash should have considered using it on his tenderloin. Given that this particular event was to create dishes from a particular cut of pork, how close is it to cheating for someone to add the best cut into their less amiable one? Personally, I would have bacon wrapped the herbed loin and stuffed it with herbed pork sausage; the loin is dull. Doesn't the flavour of bacon and sausage really come from someone else's cooking?
I suggest a few challenges -- maybe they have been done before:
1. No prepared foods -- pork belly is ok but bacon is out; eggs are fine but no mayo allowed
2. Really low budget meals and a low budget pantry. I thought the power outage problem with Mike V's fish was just poor production on the show's part. Even someone standing over that fish would have been hooped if the power had turned off. If you knew where the breaker was, you could perhaps reset it within minutes -- dish ruined still the same.
I would rather they struggled with a more reasonable constraint -- like money. Have them set up a pantry for $50 -- like when someone moves into a new apartment for the first time. Then have them host three dinner parties for eight people at an additional cost of $100 per event. Of course add curveballs like guests with restrictions and unexpected guests. We'd all like to have more money left to spend on the pinot noir.
For those of us with a little more room in the budget, the contestants should be aware that viewers will patronize the restaurants -- not the judges. The real success will come from striking a balance between cooking well and behaving well. Jen and Kevin have already won.
I realize that the judges aren't aware of what happens when the chefs are shopping, but didn't Kevin cheat by using bacon (which is basically pork belly) to make his pate work? I thought his dish should have been disqualified.
Tom I love to watch you when Toby is talking (or any other time)when he was talking about arm pit hair and you put your down,I had to pause the tv for laughing so much. Love the show and Love watching you more!!!!
Man, I have missed most of the season, and this ep was fairly good. I love an episode where I learn a little bit - such as about wine. I know next to nothing as I am a beer drinker, myself. Oh, the complexity of beer!
Anyhow, I was not too impressed by Ash - the description of his dish and such. Many no doubt say so, but I am fairly certain I could have knocked out a better loin than he.
I wish we could get a Top Chef: Amateurs type show with plain ol' home cooks like me. Then I could really feel smarter.
"Carolyn Medford LI: I think Tom is setting us up for a big upset next week. Something tells me one of the Fab Four Jen, Kevin, Bryan or Michael V will be packing their knives and going!"
I thought the same thing but couldn't bring myself to say so out of dread. OK, contradicting my prior post, I'll just go ahead and say it now.
Thank you, Tom, for explaining why Laurine did not shuffle off instead. I was confused by the editing of this episode, which made both Laurine and Robin seem more at danger of the cut than Ash. But, thanks for the clarification. (otherwise I would assume cat food is better than bland-food to you judges :)) Please say Robin is next. She should have never even been a contestant, compared to the caliber of her peers. ~watching for years and years to come!
Being judged dish by dish and not on cumulative quality depends on who you are and if you're needed for drama. Stefan should have been sent home before he was last year(he scored lower than Jeff on the episode where Jeff was sent home), and Marcel seemed to get a free pass or two. I hope the Jen drama in the previews is just a red herring.
Love the blog, thanks for letting us get a little deeper into your head. What I wish you wouldn't do is what you just did in that sentence this week. You are either trying to up the tension, or you are foreshadowing. I wish you wouldn't do either. Upping the tension isn't necessary- people reading your blog are huge fans and are going to watch the show next week regardless. So, if you are foreshadowing, I wish you wouldn't- your comment is totally making me think one of the frontrunners is going home next week, and I'd prefer to go into the whole thing without any preconceived notions.
Of course, I'm totally ridiculous about this kind of thing. I scramble to turn off the TV the instant the previews for next week start, cause I just prefer not knowing. LOL!
I feel like you're foreshadowing Restaurant Wars: The Fall of Jen. Or maybe her dish just wasn't as interesting or didn't have the back-story the others had to make it worth mentioning. Or maybe im reading too much into your wonderful blog. Ah well, it was a great read as always, the episode and your blog make me want to try cooking a pate, right now Kevin is really looking like the Top Chef but the brothers and Jen seem like forces to be reckoned with, even the side players (Eli, Mike I) seem like they might have a chance...
I'm a huge fan of the show, however, the cumulative factor is starting to become an issue for your long term watchers. Even my 10 year old daughter, who has watched the last 3 seasons with me, gets frustrated when a clearly inferior chef somehow manages to eek by week after week. I know you won't rewrite the rules of engagement, but how about a spin off show once a season with chefs who scored well in the quick fires and elimination challenges, but didn't win Top Chef, competing in a cumulative ranked contest?!?!
I, for one, would love to see some of the stronger chefs from each season come back and compete in this type of a forum!
Keep up the great work.....best season ever.
I've been wondering why one of the cheftestents don't take the mature approach with Robin and ask her to be quiet for a while. A mature person could diplomatically tell her that the constant chatter in the present situation is grating on their nerves. No sniping, no hysterics. At least some of the chefs appear to have leading roles at home. Certainly they could handle the situation if they chose.
To everyone who answered my question - thank you. I found the answer using your hints and clues and even posted them yesterday, but I don't see my post. Thanks again. Oh, and to the poster who claims there are more bad chefs this season, I disagree. This season has some of the strongest chefs I've seen, which is making the quess of who the final 3 are more intriguing.
Most of the cheftestants this season are bad. The only good ones are Kevin, Jennifer, and the two brothers.
Georgianne, the easiest place to view QF and Elim wins is on Wikipedia. They have a great summary of all seasons, all episodes and a great on-going chart of the progress. Just type in "Top Chef" in the search.
Also, no matter how fair it is or isn't that the worst dish goes home each week despite past performance, that't the format they have chosen for the show. Period. There are infinite ways the judging COULD be done, but this is it. I think Tom is just reacting to all the posts complaining about who's still here, not what's to come. I hope.
I'm glad I wasn't the only one to notice the lack of anything said about Jen. Since she is my favorite, I look forward to your opinions of how she is doing. On the other hand, I just chalked it up to the fact you probably don't have time to critique each contestant for every episode.
Been enjoying the show since day 1, thank you for consistently delivering entertaining and educational (I like to cook) programming. One thing this weeks leaders (Bryan, Michael, Kevin, Jennifer) showed was they could be top chief as well as top chef. Something that has been stressed over the years and something others like Mike Isabella and Eli have shown they can't be. Best of luck with your family and the show!
What a cute dad you are. I'm sure his palete will be amazing soon enough. I too love the pig but know thing about wines and pairings. And I am just dying to try pork belly. Listen up restaurants in CT. Smart is definitely the word to describe Kevin (MIT GUY). He's so likable too. I was so impressed with Charlie Palmer. Seems like a great guy who showed respect to everybody and everything. Don't know if there's an ego somewhere but it didn't show.
Great insight about this weeks competition Tom. But, I am worried that the producers of Bravo have already decided a final consisting of the brothers and Jen because they feel that would make the best TV.
Kevin at this point seems to be the best contestant but, he is probably considered to bland for the producers and will be eliminated shortly.
I hope I am wrong.
We ate at Kevin's restaurant in Atlanta a few weeks ago. We had the chef's menu with the chef's chosen wine pairings. (Kevin was at the grill, cooking) Some of them were a real revelation- Kevin does have an amazing palate for discerning what would go well with a wine. I knew he'd do well in this challenge- so glad he won!
I love your blog but must chime in with those that have noticed your reticence about mentioning Jen. Do you not like her? Do you not care for her food? You can't deny there is something going on.
first off, this was one of my favorite elimination challenges to date. i loved the drawing knives to get a different part of the pig and then the challenge of pairing them with the pinot was great.
that being said, the judges blew it by not sending home ash the week before instead of ashley. it became obvious that ash is just a stooge who doesn't have the spine to be in this competition. whether he was letting mike v to everything for their dish last week or having mike i's suggestion completely change his dish, he did not deserve to be there. i am certain that ashley would have put forth a better effort than ash did this week.
plus if ash had gone home last week, then i assume robyn would have been gone this week instead. please spare your viewing audience and get rid of this woman!
Chef It was a pleasure and a great experience to be in the crowd for your demonstration at the NYC food and wine festival. I enjoyed the descriptions for the confits. I am already looking forward to next years activities.
Hi Peachie - thanks for the heads up!
Next week's Restaurants War looks interesting indeed. Bryan appears to be Team lead and has to deal with not only his hot-headed brother but also walkie-talkie Robin. I csn't wait!
Chef, you have me very concerned at this point by your last comment about it not being a cumulative competition. It almost sounds like you're hinting that the fab four (brothers Voltaggio, Kevin and Jen) aren't going to be the finalists. I truly hope that this is not true. In past years, the one that comes most to mind is season 3 with Lisa going to the finals, I wish that y'all could see what goes on behind the scenes. It always seems like the ones who constantly praise themselves are not up to par. Mike Isabella constantly is on air talking about how great he is, he's not. At least not from what we see.
That being said I LOVE LOVE LOVE this show and DVR it and watch each episode at least three or four times. I wish they were longer than an hour. There obviously is so much that we don't see. And I have to say that you judges are spot on. Everything you say really makes sense. Well, maybe I have no idea what Toby is saying half the time but he does bring some comic relief.
Thank you Cass for the clue. I did find my answer in Wikipedia. For anyone who may have been curious as well:
Kevin - 3 Elimination wins and 2 Quick Fire wins Bryan - 3 Elimination wins and 0 Quick Fire Jennifer - 1 Elimination win and 2 Quick Fire wins Michael V - 1 Elimination win and 1 Quick Fire win Eli - 1 Elimination win Mike I - 1 Elimination win Robin - 2 Eliination wins (I only remember the one where maybe 2 people clapped)