This show is on fire, sports fans! Another great epi. Herein, I'm gonna take on "molecular gastronomy" -- *hate* that term -- potty-mouthed chefs, and why, indeed, it's rarely a good idea to buy meat at the farmers market.
Let's start with farmers-market meat, which is usually locally produced, free-range, grass-fed, organic, dolphin-safe, all of which is lovely. But it's frozen. That last word is the problem. Kudos to Dale for teaching us this excellent point. It is impossible to adequately inspect frozen meat. You have no way of knowing how fresh or old it is. You can't really look at it or smell it since it's usually Cryovacced (sealed in thick plastic). I once made the same mistake Spike made in this episode; wanting to make lamb kabobs for a dinner party, I bought a bag of frozen, boneless lamb chunks at my farmers market in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. I even told the purveyor my intentions, and she said it sounded like a great idea. It turned out to be, basically, stew meat. And even after a long afternoon of marinating, it was much too chewy to eat. Embarrassing! Thank goodness I had bought some turkey sausage, too.
Richard continues to intrigue me with his imaginative work. Eucalyptus? Nice. I also appreciate his defense of the uber-fashionable, super-sexy, industry-rocking approach to cooking commonly known as "molecular gastronomy." I'd like to chime in, if I may.
MG refers to a style of cooking in which chefs utilize unconventional equipment, some of it plucked from scientific laboratories, to cook food in new, interesting ways. It is also associated with the use of additives that convert liquids into gels or juice-filled spheres, "glue" two pieces of meat together in layers, and otherwise monkey around with texture. (And, by the way, most of these additives are completely natural, derived from seaweed and other organic sources -- no weirder than using gelatin or baking powder, if you ask me). As Richard put it, correctly applied, this kind of avant-garde cooking is not just "whiz-bang gadget gizmo."
As long as a chef has a solid foundation in the classics, there is no reason why he/she shouldn't experiment with new ways to make food exciting and delicious -- and every reason why he/she should. Tonight, you saw Richard hooking up his immersion circulator to cook chicken with the "sous vide" technique, in which the food is Cryovacced and cooked very slowly in a warm bath of water until it reaches exactly the desired temperature. This procedure is great because it's incredibly precise, and because it produces meat that is astonishingly tender, soft, and juicy, perfect every time. You also saw Andrew use a gelling agent to make his "glacier" out of yuzu juice (the latter produced by a Japanese citrus fruit related to the lemon.) Personally, I thought Andrew's glacier looked like a chunk of dirty ice that fell off a car in winter ... but Wylie and company said it was good, so I'm not gonna argue.
And for the record, since I've just taken a couple of swipes at Andrew and Richard, please believe me when I say I like and respect both of these guys a lot. All the cheftestants, actualmente. I just don't agree with all of their decisions, whether culinary or coiffure-related (heh-heh). Also, apologies to the Marmite lovers out there; we can agree to disagree, yes? Bygones?
I love Wylie Dufresne -- helluva guy, helluva chef. Visit his avant-garde culinary temple, wd~50, next time you're on the Lower East Side. Also loved his crack to The Dude from That 70s Show, a.k.a. Mark: "Nice sideburns." Wylie oughtta know. I should say that it's not necessarily a great idea to pander to a guest judge's tastes. It's smart to consider them, given Wylie's well-known interest in the experimental. But it's risky to attempt to impress him with techniques he has spent years perfecting. This time, in Richard's case, it didn't work.
Now, on to the profanity displayed by our harried, young chefs. In their defense, these guys are under extraordinary pressure. They work in an environment where cursing is common. Still, I agree that these two epis have been a little on the overly raunchy side -- not because I'm so sensitive, but because we at TC are guests in a great many American family rooms, watched by a great many youngsters. Given the fan reaction, I'm sure Bravo will address this.
Confidential to Ron, who emailed me about this issue: I don't disagree with you. I have to point out, though, that Bravo rarely consults me for my opinion of their editing. Actually, to be precise, um, never. You can share your feelings with the network here. Thank you for writing.
Fast forward to the Elimination Challenge: It was a real treat for me to see once again the beautiful Cafe Brauer in Lincoln Park Zoo, which, FYI, is the last free zoo in North America, and was run by the late, great Marlin Perkins from 1944 to 1962. This was a fun challenge.
Best moments: Dale, growling, "I'm not a f**king interior designer," when Nikki insisted on buying decorative items for the table. Spike, averring that "Nikki's mushrooms look like turds, and who wants to put a turd in their mouth?" (It is a niche audience, that.) And Wylie and Tom's reaction to Valerie's blini (which, by the way, is pronounced "BLEE-NEE, "not "BUH-LEE-NEE," the latter of which is a Champagne cocktail made with peach nectar).
Said Wylie, "Sounds delicious, actually."
Said Tom, "Sounds."
D'oh! Back to Judges' Table, for the hundredth time, Tom had to school the chefs that it is crucial to taste the food before it is served. For a moment there, Dale was on the ropes.
Stephanie's mistake -- salting her crab salad hours before service -- was another great example of how watching TC makes us all better cooks. As was Valerie's. Salt draws water out of food, making it (in this case) soupy and diluting flavor. Blini are delicate little pancakes that must be cooked immediately before serving, or they will get soggy. If it is not possible to cook them at the last minute, you should not serve blini.
Hats off to Tom for figuring out yet another way to solicit an opinion from one chef on her contestants -- always a difficult thing for us judges to do, but a useful thing for the show: He asked Antonia, based on the dishes served, which chef she would hire: Valerie or Stephanie. She did not shrink from the question, yet her response didn't make her look like she was trying to throw somebody over the bus (as Season 3's Joey might say). She chose Stephanie. Although Valerie understandably objected because Antonia hadn't tasted her dish, I still believe she and the judges were right: the greater crime (which, by the way, is a phrase now banned from the judges' lexicon due to past overuse) was Valerie's, for going with a dish that was a mistake from conception. Stephanie's dish, while unsuccessful, was not a terrible idea. And while she made two mistakes in its preparation, she recovered from one of them (the soggy chips) and found another way to present her work -- as a salad instead of a canape. And, so, she lives to cook another day. Best of luck to you, Valerie, and I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to taste your art.
See y'all next week (for real, this time -- I'm a judge in the coming episode), to see if it's indeed true, as Andrew said, that the Top Chef kitchen is HIS house! This is a great episode, where we ventured out into the beautiful Chicago neighborhood of Ravenswood Manor, a block from the governor's house -- and my friends Dave and Stephanie tried their best to make it into a shot or two ....
Blogging for you even while I'm on vacation (such a loser)! Check out my personal blog, photos, recipes, and other digital delicacies at www.tedallen.net, where you can email me directly with questions, comments -- and, of course, always, naughty haiku. More naughty haiku!