Casting is now starting for Top Chef Season 4, and let me tell you folks, it ain't as easy as it looks! To all of you aspiring contestants out there, remember: It's not your kitchen. In your own kitchen, things are familiar and you rule the roost. In Top Chef kitchens, the Magical Elves, Top Chef's amazing production team, make the rules, and you have to adapt. Regardless, for those of you who do make the cut, I hope you get digs similar to this season's at the Fountainbleu in Miami!
Last week I got a few questions about the Chaine des Rotisseurs organization. Truthfully I have not been to a Chaine event for some time as I am just too busy running my own restaurant to attend their events, which are usually held on weekends-- always the busiest time for me at Hi-Life Cafe. Yes, I wore one of those dreaded sashes. However, being the eternal optimist, I found the sashes especially handy for hiding wine and mustard stains! The medals on the sashes,or bling as some have suggested, are given at special events or when visiting other chapters. Each chapter has its own designated medal. Next, I got a comment from a fellow Floridian who thought that Hung's dismissive remarks to last week's guest judge were similar to my own defense against the "Dark Arts teachers" at the Judges' Table from last season. I say it is the difference between a harmless egret and a vicious snapping gator! Ha!
Finally, there was a typo on last week's Miami Spice webisode. For my Vera Cruz Snapper, you should use 3 tablespoons of butter, not 3 pounds. My condolences to those of you who tried it that way...and to your hearts.
Joey, it was funny to hear that you didn't want to be the "grey horse"--I guess the role of "dark horse" was already taken! I love the guest chef Maria Frumkin--her dolce tone actually had me swooning. My first thoughts when I heard "frozen piecrust," "90 minutes," and "Lee Anne" at the helm of the pantry were...no problem. Padma actually had a clever comment when she asked CJ if he was trying to "butter up" chef Maria. Shocking!
Tre - I'm glad to see your clean plating styles--I really get a sense of your philosophy. And Hung, it would seem that your dynasty is no more! When I saw you tinkering with the freezer, I thought "Oh no! I'm having ice-cream flashbacks from Season 2!" If you recall, I was the only one to have my ice cream plated and photo-ready within the time limit. But I digress... Joey, your tarts looked simple and delicious. Rather than try to create a five-course meal from one crust, you streamlined and stayed focused, and it paid off. I am glad to see the judges not simply reward quantity, but straightforward quality.
Thirty minutes to shop, three hours to prep a Latin dish, and I am freaking out thinking once again that I was part of the wrong season! That quickly dissipated when Tom walked through those kitchen doors to announce they will only have 1½ hours, and that familiar sinking feeling returned to my gut! Now this is Top Chef stress as I remember it. Howie does seem to have a certain affinity for pork. Hmm. Is it just me, or does it seem that Casey is getting a little cocky?
I know firsthand that it could very well just be the editing, but as Andy Cohen says, they cannot create what did not exist on some level. However, by the time she got to the judging table she seemed appropriately humbled. (And I don't know about you, but those sandwiches Casey has made for herself the last two episodes look better than a lot of what is prepared for the competition.)
It was great to see so many of the stars from Telemundo at the competition, including my faves who I have the opportunity to work with every week on "Cada Dia"--Maria Antonieta Collins, and Jose Diaz-Balart.
I loved Jose's line about Hung needing to spend a little more time in Miami to master Arroz con Pollo! Also on hand were the stars Maria Celeste Arraras from "Al Rojo Vivo," Natallia Streignard of "La Tormenta," Genesis Rodriquez and Kristina Lilley of the ultra hot "Dame Chocolate," and Renato Lopez from "Vivo, Have you Cine?" Tom, Gail, and Padma seemed a bit shocked at all the culinary knowledge these folks possessed, but I wasn't surprised in the least. Cooking and dining are an integral part of the Latin culture. Like all things Latin, they are done with passion and gusto! I thought they were spot on in their critiques without being cruel. Did anyone notice that when Gail was commenting on Lia's polenta being so very un-Latin she looked just like Mo Gaffney's character on "Absolutely Fabulous?" And that "Rebecca of Donnybrook Farm" hairdo and outfit? Well, I will leave that to Bravo's other reality show blogs to decide!
Sara N., you must understand that this group really does understand the difference between guacamole and ceviche. And given the challenge, I don't understand why Lia didn't make some sort of tamale instead of polenta. Oh Lia, the rock at the top is always so shaky. And is anyone else detecting a foot-fetish theme from Padma? First there were the fried toes and now she is talking about Achilles' heels?! Howie, I was really impressed that you have now won two Elimination Challenges with two different pork dishes. You are a rare medium well-done! (Will somebody please give him a towel to wipe all that sweat while he is cooking? Perhaps that is the piquant in his sauce. Hmm.) I was a bit surprised that Sarah M. did not at least get a mention in the top three as her stuffed poblano looked superb, and she finally got to show off a bit of her cheese expertise with that homemade queso fresco. Hers was obviously a favorite of the Telemundo folks as well.
Joey once again demonstrated straightforward flavors will win a crowd over. That dish reminded me very much of my Mom's Camarones Enchilados recipe, which is so aromatic and flavorful. (You can get that recipe on one of my upcoming Miami Spice Webisodes.) I was thinking Joey might actually have that rare back to back Quickfire/Elimination win in the same episode. It was obviously a difficult decision as to who should go, but it seemed the bland polenta did Lia in. She was one of my favorite. But have no fear, she just needs to keep focused and keep her eyes on her craft.
I have no doubt that she has a wonderful future in store, and cannot wait to taste some of her cuisine in the future--either at Jean Georges or her own restaurant that she will no doubt someday run. Anyway, don't forget to watch this weeks Miami Spice webisode here at Bravotv.com You are going to love my delicious baby clam and chorizo recipe. I always appreciate any comments or feedback you might have. Until next week, stay tuned and break an egg!