Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Mixing Bowl

Richard Blais walks through his Quickfire Challenge thought process.

So, I’m fresh off a red-eye flight from Las Vegas. The town was abuzz for Sunday's Super Bowl. And I came home to a large cylinder of Quaker oats, ironically. In the next few hours I’ll be on another plane heading down to Tampa for some sort of <em>Top Chef </em>Super Bowl event ( pre game. early. watch what happens now ). All of this obviously appropriate for tonight's episode.

Why a delivery of Quaker Oats this morning?  

I’m developing some recipes and promoting the <em>Top Chef </em>Viewer Quaker Oats Quickfire Challenge. So I’ve had oats on my mind and palate for a few days now. And as I’ve been using the product, stretching the perception of the iconic breakfast staple, it’s totally reminded me of how it felt to be in a Quickfire.

With only a few minutes, even seconds, to formulate a dish, it’s amazing how many ideas can run through your head. For me at least, it was like an old school computer program scrolling down in my mind the combinations of flavors and textures. Weighing the time versus the procedure. Consolidating and focusing on what could be done, very fast, to deliver explosive flavor and a sense of authorship. 

I would be thinking like this, right before Padma said go; this is maybe a minute, maybe: 

“OK, oats, crust -- no, too predictable. Gonna riff on risotto, maybe polenta, oats as mashed potato! Got it. would love to grab a steak then. Sure there is beef in the fridge? Not a lot. I gotta run to the fridge first. I can't run in these clogs, damn. Everyone’s gonna grab veg first. I’m going to the fridge for the protein. If i don’t get the beef, I could use anything as steak, fish, etc. Maybe a sauce using whiskey -- no -- scotch! Yep, that makes sense: oats, scotch, haggis -- makes sense -- salmon steak? Maybe even some maple, maple and oats, sure. I’ll grill the steak; that's quick flavor. What about acid and texture? I’ll fry some of the oats for garnish, maybe coat some of the beef fat trim and fry, tempura parsley, cilantro, needs a fresh herb, dill? Needs vinegar for acid in the sauce. Red wine, maybe sherry, garlic -- wait -- maybe steak and eggs, and oats -- no --  steak and scotch eggs, truffle oats, maple, maple foam, smoked oats, smoked scotch”

TIME STARTS NOW!And although this was by no means an easy challenge. I was uninspired by what seemed to be the option everyone settled on. Crust. Cereal, rice, oats, potato chips. They all work as a somewhat creative topping for protein. It’s very Charlie Trotter's early '90s. And it would have popped in and out of my mind's program instantly. Most of our chefs however settled for what was probably the first thing that popped into their heads. 

Speaking of random things that pop into your head. Andrew D’Ambrosi is back! I love this guy. In small doses. Don’t want to be his bunkmate again anytime soon, but I'm sure that is mutual. And did he serve raw crawfish tails? That’s so almost gross, that it’s cool. It looked great BTW.

And Spike’s back too. This guy is to hip, what I am to dork. Spike's fanbase is young women. Mine ... is not.   

And Nikki Cascone. I thought her dish was actually the most inspired. Tell me how NY doesn’t have regional food, Leah, and then watch someone make a modern take on a chopped liver deli sandwich. On challah bread! Get out. It was pretty damn clever and sooo LES. She should have served a goat's cheese knish. 

Carla, Hosea, and Jamie really do a great job representing their team's region. And here’s an admission: I think I’d most likely want to eat Jamie’s food. I think she and Leah still have the clearest cuisine.  And in the spirit of disclosure, and well, maybe spirit gods, Carla is my fan favorite. She got tickets to the big game, and she might as well have been Kurt Warner headed to Disney World. Wonder if I’ll bump into her Sunday?

I’m also relieved, in a very selfish way. I’m glad to see Stefan on the chopping block. I was only there one time myself. Which people tell me is the standing record. OK, I looked it up on Wikipedia myself, but it’s true. And like many athletes that cling to statistical achievement, I am the 1972 Dolphins. Actually, more like last season's Patriots. Stefan may at the end share the achievement with me. But my name will not be erased. Until perhaps next season. 

Fabio tries to talk his way out of hot water. Or hot cabbage as we are led to believe. 

And Jeff gets cut. I have nothing to back up what I’m about to say, but I have a feeling Jeff is  the type of chef that's really good in his restaurant and just never got to show it on the screen. My season had the likes of Jennifer and Manuel. This season has Jeff. 

To me, it’s always interesting to hear the last words when we haven’t quite accomplished our goal, when we don't win the game. Some of us cry. OK, I cried. Some get mad. Some deny. Some hate. But listening to Jeff talk about how he wants to be remembered as someone who fought to the end and didn’t give up, etc, etc., it reminded me of one of my favorite cookbook quotes from <em>White Heat: </em>At the end of the day, it’s just food ....

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