Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Potato Latkes And Chicken Soup

A comforting holiday recipe from judge Gail Simmons.

Potato Latkes with Gravlax, creme freche and Caviar http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/potato-latkes-with-gravlax-creme-fraiche-and-caviar MAKES ABOUT 4 DOZEN 1 1/2-INCH LATKES Ingredients Large baking potato (1 pound), peeled Small onion (4 ounces), peeled 1/4-cup all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon matzo meal 1 large egg, lightly beaten 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper Vegetable oil, for frying 1/2-cup creme fraiche 6 ounces thinly sliced gravlax, cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips 2 ounces paddlefish roe (see Note)

DIRECTIONS 1. In a food processor or on a box grater, coarsely shred the potato and onion. Transfer to a colander and squeeze dry. Let stand for 2 minutes, then squeeze dry again. Transfer the potato mixture to a large bowl. Add the flour, matzo meal, egg, salt and pepper and stir to combine.

2. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until shimmering. Drop packed teaspoons of the potato mixture into the skillet and flatten them with the back of a spoon. Cook the latkes over moderately high heat until the edges are golden, about 1 1/2 minutes; flip and cook until golden on the bottom, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the skillet as needed.

3. Arrange the latkes on a platter and top each one with creme fraiche, gravlax and roe. Serve warm.

MAKE AHEAD The fried latkes can be kept at room temperature for up to 4 hours. Reheat them on a dark baking sheet in a 375 degree oven for about 5 minutes, or until warmed through and crisp. NOTES Paddlefish is a relative of sturgeon. Its roe is available at specialty food stores. AND Chicken Soup with Rosemary Matzo Balls http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/chicken-soup-with-rosemary-matzo-balls At Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, chef Dan Barber prepares this soup with seasonal chicken (raised in late spring, summer and fall), using wings, backs, necks and feet. His recipe yields almost eight quarts of broth, so there's plenty to freeze. He likes serving the soup with fluffy matzo balls laced with rosemary.

Ingredients STOCK: Pounds chicken wings 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 4 large onions, finely chopped 7 pounds chicken backs, necks and feet 6 carrots finely diced, 2 sliced 1/2 inch thick 2 celery ribs, finely diced 5 bay leaves 2 heads of garlic, halved crosswise 5 large thyme sprigs 2 rosemary sprigs 2 teaspoons black peppercorns Water 1/4-cup sherry vinegar Salt

MATZO BALLS 4 large eggs 1/4-cup reserved chicken fat or unsalted butter 1/4-cup club soda 2 scallions, white and tender green parts only, sliced paper-thin 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary 1/2-teaspoon salt 1/2 cup plus 4 teaspoons matzo meal

SOUP Leeks, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced 2 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 1 1/4 pounds) 2 skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 10 ounces)

Directions

1. MAKE THE STOCK: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the chicken wings in a large roasting pan and roast for about 30 minutes, until golden brown.

2. Meanwhile, in a large stockpot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onions, cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly browned, about 5 minutes longer. Add the chicken backs, necks and feet, the diced carrots, celery, bay leaves, garlic, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns and 8 quarts of water and bring to a light boil, skimming any scum that rises to the surface.

3. Add the roasted chicken wings to the stockpot. Place the roasting pan over 2 burners, add the vinegar and 2 cups of water and simmer over high heat, scraping up any browned bits. Add the liquid to the pot and simmer gently over moderate heat for 2 1/2 hours. Carefully strain the stock into another large pot and discard the solids, including the wings. You should have about 8 quarts. Let the stock cool, then spoon off all of the chicken fat and reserve it for the matzo balls. Season the chicken stock lightly with salt.

4. MEANWHILE, MAKE THE MATZO BALLS: In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the chicken fat, club soda, scallions, rosemary and salt. Whisk in the matzo meal. Refrigerate for 1 hour, until slightly firm.

5. MAKE THE SOUP: Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the sliced carrot and leeks and cook over high heat until tender, about 7 minutes; drain. In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of the stock to a simmer. Add the diced chicken breast and thighs and cook over moderately low heat until just white throughout, about 6 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate; reserve the broth for another use (see Note). 6. Bring a large saucepan of the chicken stock to a simmer. Scoop rounded tablespoons of the matzo mixture into balls (about 2 dozen balls) and add them to the simmering stock. Cover and cook over very low heat until the matzo balls are tender, fluffed and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the matzo balls to a clean pot. Add the chicken, carrots and leeks and 8 cups of the stock and bring to a simmer. Ladle the soup and matzo balls into bowls and serve.

MAKE AHEAD The stock can be refrigerated for 5 days or frozen for 2 months; skim off the fat after it's chilled. The cooked matzo balls can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days

NOTES The stock gets cloudy from cooking the chicken and matzo balls, but it's perfectly delicious. Save it to use as the base for another soup.

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Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

Richard Blais explains why Mei Lin won, and why we'll definitely be hearing from Gregory Gourdet soon.

The finale of Top Chef is the one absolute every season. Make the best meal of your life, in a multi-course tasting format for a room of the "who's who" in the culinary industry.

If you get to the finals, it's the type of thing you can prepare for. Every finalist should have a few four to five course menus floating around their heads, including a dessert, and all complete with options and Plan B's transcribed to their moleskins. And although the knowledge of what's coming is helpful, the format does not play to every chef's strengths.

There aren't too many restaurants committed to such meal services. Which means less chefs experienced with how to "write" and execute them. A progressive meal has to have a certain flow about it. And even the stereotypical versions of the "menu degustation" could force a contestant into cooking a dish that's not in their wheelhouse, for instance a straight forward fish course because "it belongs there."

Tonight, Mei Lin has a slight advantage. She cooks in a restaurant every day that showcases a tasting menu. Her food has been the epitome of a modern tasting menu all season. Many previous times, to a fault. Mei's food is small and precise. Beautiful to look at, and intellectually stimulating to discuss. Cold sometimes, every once in a while a shaved radish plated with tweezers heavy. It's not for everyone. It's not for everyday. But it's the type of food that when done well, can win Top Chef. Win James Beard Award noms. Win Best New Chef honors. Win Michelin stars.

Her future could indeed be bright.

What struck me most about Mei's food tonight however, wasn't technique. Technique and presentation often can get in the way of flavor. But tonight Mei delivered a few courses that were deeply satisfying. Soulful, delicious food that also was presented at a high level and cooked with surgeon's precision. That congee though...combined with a simple dessert that took yogurt and granola to another planet, won her the day. Her other two courses were fine, but suffered from the strains of modernity. Overly plated (the duck) and technically overwrought (the fried octopus).

Gregory on the other hand, it's just not his finest work. You can hear it in his voice as he's explaining his food. He's cooking improv, an ode to Mexico. The problem is, this isn't a jam session at a local cantina. This is a studio session where the chefs should be cooking practiced and refined pieces.

His octopus was a highlight and featured the unusual combination of passion fruit and avocado. It was an explosive start. The following two courses unraveled a bit, with the soup being good, but way too unrefined for the moment and technically problematic (the crispy shrimp heads), and the fish course bordering on dessert with the sugary carrot purée.

The mole was authentic and delicious, the rib cooked perfectly, but the dish felt a little incomplete. I believe Gregory had the better ideas, but just needed to think them through a bit more.

His sadness after the fact, I can attest, is profound. Tearful. Absolute emptiness. Close to the feeling of the sudden loss of a loved one. This may shock some of you, because it is indeed just a game. The mere thought of feeling that way over such silliness is well, silly. But not for us. This isn't the Super Bowl where an athlete loses and they can shake it off. Jump in their Bentley and start thinking about next season. There is no next season. There is no guaranteed pay day for the runner-up. The ten wins you had before don't matter. It just ends. Suddenly. And it's rather sad.

The good thing is, this is certainly, 100%, not the last time you will hear from Gregory. I waxed last week about Doug's professionalism, all of which is very true. But Gregory... Gregory is a special talent. His food (and I can say HIS type of food, because it's unique to him), is a study in refined, exotic comfort. What the man can do with a one-pot meal of braised anything, some chilies, sugar, vinegar, herbs, and spices is beyond impressive. Rarely do I taste food that makes me jealous as a cook. Rarely do I taste food that makes me start thinking about a new restaurant concept. The word inspiring in cooking competitions is sort of like the word "love," when it gets used too much, it loses it luster. Gregory's food however. I love it. It is inspiring.

Congrats to Mei and Gregory! Tom was right, I can't wait to one day say I saw you two way back when, in Mexico, in a little kitchen, before the bright lights, fancy kitchens, and big stages that lay ahead for both of you.

See you next season. I hope!

Richard Blais
@RichardBlais - Twitter and Instagram

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