Snacks On A Plane

Miami chef and restauranteur Barton G. weighs in on Top Chef.

It was another marketing marvel of an episode - an observation made with considerable respect for the creative and business powers-that-be at Top Chef who continue to cleverly and as seamlessly as possible meld sponsors and elimination scenarios. The ersatz mile high competition was an intriguing challenge to watch play out, while serving as an impressive plug for Continental Airlines. For those traveling (or aspiring to) first or BusinessFirst on Continental to, it effectively delivered the message that the airline is trying to be serious about the food it serves front-of-the-plane passengers. Actually, Continental may have gotten more than in bargained for in the guise of "free" R&D for three new dishes. While Casey got the win because of the bold creativity of her veal medallions, the judges - including, maybe especially, the Continental Congress of Chefs honcho - had nary a quibble with what Dale and Hung put on the tray-tables. Indeed their efforts were enthusiastically commented upon except, of course, for Dale's miscount.

In fact, had Dale kept the number 18 firmly entrenched in his mind, not putting one of his passengers the position of wondering "Where's the beef?" would he have emerged the winner? Not impossible. In this instance, playing it safe with a proven-crowd pleaser in that would stand up well to the ruthless onboard finishing ovens, adroitly addressed Tom's mantra for top chefs, working smart. Dale's choices and execution were spot on for the task at hand; he delivered a dish that could go right into Continental repertoire. The same could not necessarily be said of Casey's. Veal is not everyone's cup of protein, which is why it was considered a daring choice. Plus, as the Continental guest judge pointed out, serving certain vegetables, such as cauliflower, that can have unfortunate digestive consequences is something airlines avoid. So, to my mind, the case could be made that Casey, in the context of creating a dish to fulfill all the criteria for a first class airline meal, did not quite make the grade. However, the judges stuck to the best dish rule and Casey got her second win in a row. As she said, she's on a roll. I can't help but wonder if the heretofore lovely if lackluster girl-next-door has been quite the sly minx all along. She hinted as much with regard to her first win, noting she had managed to stay in the middle, managed to stay in the game without making waves. As I pointed out in this blog last week, her declaration it was time to pull out the big guns was intriguing.

One thing is for sure, the woman has an affinity for modes of transportation. First a yacht, now a plane... If there are trains, buses or automobiles involved in any of the future challenges, my money is on her hands down! Seriously, it does look to me like she'll be among the finalists. And I still believe Hung will get there. Although certainly the preview of next week's episode at the French Culinary Institute was intended to lead one to believe he is headed for a fall, the victim of a smirky confidence in his Franco focused training. Then there's Dale - I said after Restaurant Wars he had captured my attention; he retains it.

Indeed we may have gotten another sort of preview last night, a preview of the final three, when Casey, Dale and Hung took their collective top three bow before the judges. At this point Brian has screwed up just too many times. His lobster hash ran a close second to CJ's broccolini in the worst offering department. Just as damning for me was his attitude (again!) toward the people perceived to be first class travelers. Brian seemed to define them as having a penchant for gluttony and extravagance. Hence the big steak, coupled with lobster. "Rich food for rich people" he gleefully pronounced, all too obviously certain he had nailed the assignment. There was an unattractive arrogance at play that he couldn't shake even when his dish bombed. As for Sara, I find her smile so infectious and admire her consistency. However, she may not be up to matching Casey's new flair. And as wrong or unfair as it may be I doubt two women will remain in the competition until the end. While it is changing, restaurant kitchens remain male dominated territory, and whether by design or coincidence, that fact is reflected by Top Chef. Of course, I could be wrong; I'd even like to be in this case!

Finally, I would be remiss in not giving CJ a well-deserved farewell salute. He did better, stayed longer than anyone probably expected of a private chef, including CJ. Moreover, he brought an engaging sense of humor and thoughtful observations about the Top Chef process to the table. No doubt Padma wasn't the only one a bit teary-eyed upon CJ's departure.

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