Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Lost In The Supermarket

Anthony Bourdain sheds some light on the supermarket challenge.

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Well, what can I say about last night's episode? I sat down, like everybody else, baited breath, waiting to see who'd do well--and who would have to "pack their knives." I was also waiting to see which Rocco DiSpirito showed up. The breathtakingly-gifted, French-trained chef of three star Union Pacific fame? Or the "thatsa speecy, spicy meatball!" shill-for-hire and ex-reality show personality? I think we all now know the answer to that question. (Though for the first few moments, I thought David Gest had taken his place.)
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It was Joey who paid the terrible price for this unholy exercise in brand expansion/product placement. Little could this chef--of the very fine Cafe des Artistes in New York City--have guessed that he'd ever find himself standing in the aisle of a supermarket, trying to thaw a block of frozen pasta over a hot plate! Or that this--THIS--would be the challenge to knock him out of the competition. Joey? I feel your pain. Console yourself in the knowledge that better, smarter people than you or I have found themselves run over in Rocco's blind rush towards the bright lights. There was no glory to be had last night. There were no winners. Not when everybody, contestants and judges alike, were left wiping Rocco's Frozen Love Juice off their faces at the end.
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OK--CJ and Tre got a nice trip to Italy--where the pasta, presumably, will not be frozen. But no one looked good. Not Howie--who bullheadedly allowed Sara's hectoring and general uselessness to distract from the fact that she was probably right about a few things.

Not Hung. Hung was right about procedure, but has so alienated himself from his colleagues that no one listens to him in principle. For once, I actually shared and sympathized with Hung's look of contempt when he was presented with the challenge. But he did learn something valuable: Being able to cook well--or even being smarter than everybody else--doesn't matter in the kitchen if you can't get the people around you to listen (and hopefully, someday, execute your ideas). Hung also learned how to throw somebody else under the bus last night. A valuable skill and an operation he managed to perform clumsily--but effectively. I still think Hung is the guy to beat, the cook most likely to have a really good showing in the late stretch. If he doesn't trip himself up by over-thinking, overreaching, or by just tweaking out.
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Casey and Dale had a good night, though it has been forcefully pointed out to me of late that actually putting meatballs in with your pasta (as opposed to serving them on the side) is about as Italian as guacamole. No matter. Both are strong contenders. Judging from the Quickfire "bee", Casey has an impressive palate. I'm guessing she's not a smoker. Sadly, The Howie and Joey Show is at an end. The dynamic between those two was video gold. They brought out the best and worst in each other.
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I was truly sorry to see Joey go. His tears at the end spoke of a good heart. He went out looking good--after losing a contest which, frankly, I'd be proud to lose. Joey's the chef of a damn famous restaurant in New York freakin' City.The place every ambitious cook and chef hopes to work--in the big leagues. So he's already a "Top Chef"--and already a winner in my book. This wasn't so much a contest as it was a cautionary tale. For surely, in culinary schools of the future, students, in Media Training 101, shall be shown faded videos of the tragic, Icarus-like trajectory of chef Rocco DiSpirito. And-- as if watching a highway safety film--they shall watch last night's episode of Top Chef where they will learn of the hidden dangers of "this thing of ours", the inevitable collisions between ego and ambition...between business alliances beyond our control...and our own desire to just cook and cook well.

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Gail: I Wasn't Surprised Doug Stayed on Top

Gail dishes on Doug Adams' flawless return to the competition and why Melissa King's dish failed to hit the right artistic note.

Bravotv.com: This week we had the Last Chance Kitchen finale between George and Doug, and Doug ended up returning to the competition.

Gail Simmons: It looked like a really close battle -- Tom was really happy with both of their dishes. I will say if I had to put money on it, I would have guessed it would be between George and Doug at the end. They really are two of our stronger competitors. Obviously George was just coming off of his elimination, and it didn't surprise me that Doug stayed at the top of Last Chance Kitchen since being eliminated. I was thrilled to see him in Mexico with us.

Bravotv.com: Great! So he comes back, he wins and then onto the Quickfire Challenge. Any thoughts on this part of the competition?

GS: I'll just say that I’m a big, big fan of Chef Olvera, and I’m so glad we were able to get him on the show. His main restaurant, Pujol, is in Mexico City, but he has Moxi at the Hotel Matilda in San Miguel, where we were  lucky enough to eat the night that I landed, and a new restaurant here in New York that I am really excited about called Cosme. His food is very much rooted in Mexican ingredients and Mexican cooking, but his food is so modern. He really is one of the most talented chefs in the world at this moment, and I’m glad he judged the prickly pear Quickfire. They filmed it right in the center square of San Miguel; it is an amazingly gorgeous place. It was a really great setting for our first challenge in Mexico.

Bravotv.com: Then we have the Elimination Challenge, which is to create a dish inspired by an artist's piece of work, and Doug won with his brisket.

GS:  This challenge is interesting, because San Miguel is such a mecca for artists; it’s an artist colony that has produced incredible work for years. The city itself is so visually inspiring, as are the artists that work there. Their work is so varied, so vast. What was unique in this challenge was that it forced the chefs to take inspiration from an unusual source and think about their dish in a different way. All of the artists are very different, from a graffiti artist to someone who does more abstract landscapes. It was truly exciting to see what the artists did with the canvases they were given and what they shared with the chefs.

I tasted Doug’s dish first and understood it in an instant; it needed no explanation. But when he did talk about it, I realized it had so much depth not only in flavor, but in its purpose. He had an immediate connection with the artist he was paired with -- they were both from Texas and she reminded him a lot of his mother. There was a deep sense of home and comfort between them, which I think allowed him to cook so purely, so simply. The greatest thing about what he made is that he did not "chef it up" too much, he kept it pure. He modeled the presentation of the dish exactly off of the painting itself with those colors from the Mexican landscape -- the deep reds of the earth, those dark greens and browns -- which made perfect sense. His brisket obviously tasted like Texas, but it definitely had an air of Mexico. It had the tomatillo, the masa, and even the red brisket itself was reminiscent of Mexican flavors, since Mexican cuisine has had such an influence on Texas to begin with. The dish was about his roots on a lot of levels. I devoured all of it, it was so hardy and comforting, but it had an elegance and finesse to it in the plating -- the ingredients he chose to put side by side as opposed to stewing them together -- made it special.

The greatest thing about what he made is that he did not 'chef it up' too much, he kept it pure.

Gail Simmons

Bravotv.com: And then we had Gregory's grilled strip loin with ancho chile, beets, cilantro puree, and valencia orange sauce.

GS: Gregory’s dish was excellent too. He did a perfectly grilled strip loin. He was worried about it before we tasted it, but it came out perfectly. He made three incredible sauces to go with it, which drew a lot of inspiration from his artist's painting. The first was this ancho chile sauce and then this beautiful green cilantro puree. The ancho chiles were reminiscent of the peasant farming, the green cilantro tying into the earth. Then there was the orange sauce, which completely changed the dish. When you first tasted it, the dish was earthy, it was deep and complex, it had the Mexican chiles that really shone through with the beef. Then you got a splash of that orange sauce, and it balanced everything out in a way that surprised us. It was so inspired, you could tell that it echoed the sunshine in the painting. It conveyed the artist’s vision of this peasant toiling in the soil through this glorious sunshine, and that’s exactly how the dish tasted.

It was a really close battle between Gregory and Doug in this challenge; both of them did such a great job. Ultimately we chose Doug, because we thought there was an unmistakable depth to his food and it was completely flawless.

Bravotv.com: Let's move on to Mei, who had the snapper and bass crudo with chicken skin crumble, soy gastrique, and radish pickles.

GS: In true Mei fashion, her dish was completed beautifully and precise. It was very tightly conceptualized -- every drizzle, every piece of fish, every garnish was perfectly placed, and it was a gorgeous plate of food. I loved her relationship with the artist she worked with, Bea. They had a lovely conversation, which was great to see, and the dish clearly reflected Bea’s work. The chicken skin, the fish, the splashes of color were all inspirations from the painting. Every bite of Mei's dish had a little surprise; there was a little spice, a tiny bit of salt, and a beautiful splash of sweetness, which made it so fun and so playful.

My only criticism of Mei’s food comes from a presentation standpoint. Because Bea’s art was so outrageous and so loud and loose and free in a way, we had hoped that Mei’s food would’ve reflected that. We thought it would have allowed her to loosen up her presentation a little bit. Of course, I respect that she stayed true to who she is and how she presents her food. It was a dish that took a lot of technical skill and was really enjoyable when we ate it, we had just hoped to see more playfulness.

Bravotv.com: And then we had Melissa's smoked eggplant ravioli with shrimp, chorizo, and cotija.

GS: Melissa’s dish was absolutely decadent, delicious, delightful. We all agreed that her smoked eggplant ravioli was perfectly made -- it was smoky, very rich, and the pasta was well cooked. That alone was as good as anything else we had eaten that day. Where we thought she fell short, relative to the other dishes, was that there definitely was less cohesion between the artist's work and her dish. Shrimp, chorizo, cotija cheese, and eggplant can go together, but in the way she plated them, they weren’t really talking -- the shrimp was over here, the sauce was somewhere else, then there was the eggplant ravioli. There didn’t seem to be a line that connected them all. And when she described it in relation to the artwork, we really weren’t sure it conveyed that dramatic splash from the graffiti art. We needed more from her. There was such a direct conversation between Doug and his artist, and it really felt like they were working on the same piece of artwork together. Melissa’s dish, although tasty and very pretty, did not have that same depth. I’m not just talking about flavor; it’s really about the inspiration and the connection, not only between the ingredients on the plate, but between the chef and the artist. His work was really beautiful (and watching the show I regret not buying a piece from him at the time). But it can be hard to translate art, because it’s something so personal. In the end between the four of us we decided that on that day it was Melissa’s dish that did not measure up in terms of the inspiration and connection like the other dishes did. So she was eliminated.

Bravotv.com: It seemed like one of the tougher eliminations this season.

GS: Yes, it was. It always is at this stage of the season. But it was a really great challenge too. I think regardless of winning or losing, Melissa really loved the process and that was so great to see. It was an intellectual challenge that was hard to interpret, and I think they all did an incredible job. I’m really going to miss Melissa. I honestly think she is a huge talent, and I know she is going to do well wherever she goes next.
 

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