Hung Solo

Sam Talbot dives right into Season 3's Restaurant Wars.


A few things before I get into this episode: A little gratuitous self-promotion. I'm in a contest for Glad SimplyCooking Microwave Steaming Bags. If I'm voted the "steamiest" chef, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation will get $30K. It would be amazing if I could win them this money (just don't tell the JDF that I love Cold Stone ice cream.) Vote here.

What I learned about the reality genre, blogging, and human nature is this: criticism (AKA snarkiness) is easier, funnier, more provocative, and more entertaining than empathy. Just ask New York Magazine. That doesn't mean it's always the right way to go--or the only way to go (more on this later. Bourdain's blog is a perfect example of striking the right balance--can he just be made a judge already?


Chef Daniel Boulud. Wow. I know exactly how these chefs felt walking in and seeing him. When I saw Chef Eric Ripert it was a mix of awe, excitement, adrenaline, competitiveness, and respect. Not only was Daniel Boulud the guest judge, but they got to make a burger for him--the guy who serves a burger consisting of ground sirloin filled with boned short ribs braised in red wine, foie gras, black truffle, and a mirepoix of root vegetable, horseradish mayo, tomato confit, fresh tomato, and frisee lettuce on a homemade bun with toasted parmesan. Yee-haw!

Hung. Finally! Yeah, man. That's what I'm talkin' about! You can cook! I want to eat Hung's burger now! I liked CJ's confidence and his food---congrats, man. But enough about CJ, back to Hung's burger.... Ah ,yes, good ol' Restaurant Wars. I'm glad these chefs were familiar with the challenge. I wasn't. (La La Lame-o.) This challenge is hard to say the least. To get four people competing against each other to agree on a restaurant name, concept, decor, menu and execute it in 24 hours?

Consider these numbers from Time Out New York:

1 year How long a restaurant typically takes to turn a profit. 222 Number of buzzed-about restaurants that opened in 2006. 102 Number of noteworthy restaurants that closed in 2006. And these include restaurants that have experienced people behind them. Restaurants with millions of dollars and years of thought. And yet, they still made mistakes. Besides the scented candles, the mistakes these TC chefs made are being made in restaurants all across the country:

1. The name. Naming a restaurant is harder than naming a child. And with four people, I think they tried to find something they all agreed on so they could move on to what they really needed to spend time on--the food.

That brings me to my next point:

2. The decor. Last year, we had a designer who was supposed to execute our vision. This year, one chef is designated as the "designer". I wished Tom would have said to the producers, "It's called Top Chef, not Top Design." Maybe they should have combined shows and let Top Design contestants work with the chefs to design a restaurant. The chefs should be called to the carpet on their food, not for how well they can shop for wall hangings. And to the criticism of black tablecloths--I'm not quite sure Dale would mind eating off of Billy Idol.

3. Menu choices. I agree with the seasonality complaint. Though if you walk into a restaurant tonight, you'll see the exact same mistake at some pretty well-known places. 4. Teams. CJ picked an MVP squad, not only in talent, but in teamwork. Hung and Howie expressed two totally different ways to win. Hung believes that they're not competing against each other on the team--but they're all working together to win (couldn't agree more). Howie believes it's a war of attrition, and he's going to do what he has to do to do to stay in it. I feel bad for Hung and Dale. The other team seems to have camaraderie, compassion, and a "no chef left behind" mentality.

What I thought was lame about this week:

1. Chef Daniel Boulud or Guest Blogger Andrea Strong--whose comments would you rather hear on the Judges' Table? Before the Internet, you could only get reviews from critics in papers, Zagat, and magazines. Now, everywhere you turn, people can post their opinions. And because the Internet is mostly anonymous, you don't know if the person commenting is the chef, the recently fired sous-chef, Frank Bruni, or someone that orders their steak extra well done with a side of ketchup. But on the Internet, it doesn't matter because all opinions are equal. The World Wide Web is 2007's version of the water cooler. And in the blogging world, snarkiness rules. But let's face it--without bloggers the reality genre might not be as popular. (The point that I'm writing this IN a blog is not lost on me.) So a blogger's opinion on this show certainly has its place. Don't believe me? was just named the food critic for the New York Daily News. So I thought a blogger as a secret guest judge was an interesting twist--I just thought it should have been done earlier in the contest, or on the Web site, but not when you have one of the sickest chefs in the culinary world there to talk about the food.

2. Madonna's brother. A little confused about him. Was he using the cameo as an audition to be a judge next season?


3. Howie's Risotto. He says he's been making it that way for 10 to 12 years. That sounds more like a prison sentence than an endorsement. I didn't taste it, so I can't say for sure, but cream in risotto is like adding cream to a beurre blanc. (To quote Bourdain, "There is no, I repeat, no, cream in a real beurre blanc.... You see any mention of cream in there? put cream in there, it ain't a beurre blanc." Same goes for risotto.

What impressed me tonight:

1. Hung. Both dishes looked great.

2. The chefs learned from our stupid mistake--they didn't just have wine, but both red and white!

3. Casey. Once again she's the coolest under pressure.

4. Malarkey's energy.

5. Letting the chefs do it again instead of sending people home for something that isn't their specialty. Bring it on! Next week should be good. Will there be multiple knife packing?! I wouldn't be surprised.

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