Must Love Bulldogs

Gail Simmons has got nothin but love for Howie Kleinberg.

As much as he may be a pain in the butt, I must admit that, from the start, I have had a soft spot for Howie. I can't help it!

Maybe it's because I have always been a fan of bulldogs? They happen to be my favorite canines. While they may be grumpy, and not so pretty, there is something about their gruff disposition that I am certain masks a softer, fuzzier side.

Since the first day on set, when we taped the Season One vs. Season Two Episode ("4 Star All Stars"), and he was seated at my table, I knew he would be a controversial, entertaining personality in the kitchen. From my experience on Top Chef, controversy makes for great television. What I especially like about him is his ability to not only speak his mind about anyone and anything (including his own failings), but also how eloquently he is able to do so -- a rare talent these days. In fact, I think if Howie could put down on paper all the fabulous opinions he articulates, he could probably make a pretty decent career as a food writer.

Sadly, he will not be making his career as Top Chef, at least in the foreseeable future. The decision to send him home tonight, from what I could tell when viewing the episode, was almost inevitable. Regardless of his appeal to the judges and his efforts to leave the competition with his pride intact, his hors d'oeuvres were clearly the most unoriginal and uninspired of the lot.

Now, I know what you are going to say -- that if the judges were consistent in their ruling, and if they sent Tre home last week for leadership issues, then Brian should have followed suit. Honestly, you may just have a point. But don't forget that in Tre's case, not only did he lack the leadership required to successfully run his kitchen that night, but he also put out two of his own dishes that were practically inedible; lest we forget his smoked salmon with pesto or his bread pudding. In this case, although Brian was clearly not able to rein in the other chefs and pare down their dish choices, his fellow contestants did feel empowered working under him and the ahi poke dish he created seemed passable, even enjoyed by some of the partygoers on the yacht.

As for the challenge itself, I do give our chefs a few bonus points. Cooking in a yacht galley can be rough on a good day, but having only $350 to feed 60 Floridian fashionistas might make me seasick too. Creating hors d'oeuvres can be a tricky business. They need to be small so as to be eaten in one bite, standing up. They need to have a base or be served in some sort of vessel that a guest can easily hold in one hand, while holding a drink in the other. Of course, every component of each hors d'oeuvre needs to taste fresh, but the sum of its parts must also be well-balanced, as each individual morsel is essentially a complete dish in one tiny mouthful. Dana Cowin, FOOD & WINE's editor in chief, pointed out at Judges' Table that they must also appeal to the eye, as they account for an important element of the look and feel of a party. This all evidently added up to a lot of pressure on the contestants.

Here are a few recipes inspired by the episode that I think will go over a lot better than theirs did. I hope they inspire you to get into the kitchen and plan your next soiree! Heirloom Tomatoes Stuffed with Summer Succotash Savory Spinach and Artichoke Bread Pudding Cabrales Phyllo Rolls with Sherry Dipping Sauce Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp with Orange Marmalade Red Pepper, Garlic & Pecorino Gougères Mini Herb Frittatas with Smoked Salmon Mushroom and Goat Cheese Phyllo Triangles Chicken Liver Crostini with Beet Salsa Beef and Fontina Tostaditos Ginger Marinated Tuna Ribbons with Spicy Avocado and Radish Salad

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