Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Restaurant Wars?

Stephanie Izard explains why she's jealous of this week's challenge.

I just want to start by saying thank you to all of those who commented after my first blog. I appreciate all of the continued support! (and the date requests of course!) To answer some questions: Things have been great for me. Life did change quite a bit after the show came to an end but all for the better. I am currently working on opening a new restaurant here in Chicago as well as a cookbook and possibly a television show. There are many opportunities available and I am excited to pursue different avenues though I will always have my priority in my restaurant.

OK, well enough about me and on to the second episode. I was a little jealous when the hot dog challenge was announced as I thought for sure we were going to have one last season. We take our dogs pretty seriously here in Chicago as well (might get scowled out if you dare put catsup on it though). The hot dog expert Angelina rolls in with her cart and I got kind of hungry just wanting to try a straight up dog from Queens. Also was curious to see what the chefs would come up with, all to be very different for sure.

It is hard in the beginning with so many chefs to show each and every Quickfire dish but we got Padma and Donatella down quite a few. First up was Jill with her hot dog summer roll. I am guessing Jill was a little nervous about making her own hot dog so she chose to try to be creative by incorporating a ready-made hot dog into a Vietnamese dish. I am sure she would agree that this was not the way to go. Looking around and seeing that every other chef was working on stuffing their own casings would confirm that. Sometimes I think the producers slip in some bad choices for you (kind of like the frozen scallops) and you can not take the easy way out.

Radhika chose to use some of her personal ingredients and show her roots with her dog which I think was a good way to go. She stuck with flavors she was comfortable with and made an original take on an American classic.

Many of the chefs kept things pretty simple but focused on having flavors that just worked. Daniel added some crispy onions and horseradish, Hosea won me over with the roasted peppers and bacon (no one said the dog had to be perfectly shaped), Carla added her own twist with a quick "sauerkraut" that was sure to balance out the richness of the lamb and pork, and Ariane went with a simple chicken and bacon sausage that looked tasty but may have had a bit too much celery seed. I am sure Jamie was not thrilled to see Padma's face (slightly exaggerated??) when she bit into the bone, but in the end the flavor must have been pretty good. I enjoyed how Fabio took a ready-made sausage and reworked it to create his own Italian flare into it. In the end Donatella called out Jill for not making the hot dog herself and ultimately not having a good dish. Stefan was on the bottom for the first time with his world dog. Donatella claimed she would not go anywhere in the world to try it but at least he was having a little fun with the challenge (remember Hung and his trippy cereal and egg breakfast dish?). The new challenge is announced and for a split second I thought Restaurant Wars was being changed around a bit, though I am pretty sure it is one of many viewers' favorite episodes so we can hope to see it a bit down the road. For this restaurant challenge each chef created one dish as part of a cohesive menu. Chaos breaks out for a few minutes as everyone starts screaming about which course they want (it sounded like a lot of dessert yells were going on surprisingly) without anyone taking control of the situation. Finally Jeff steps and and shows some leadership skills while helping divide the group into three courses. Though the chefs are somewhat working in a team, as the budget is all together and the menu should make sense, it is an individual challenge.

Welcome to the fun-filled excitement of running over innocent customers and messing up the displays of the staff of Whole Foods. I think we were once reminded that it was not acceptable to push elderly women out of the way even if we only had a couple of minutes left. Do not think I ever did that but Lisa did claim that in a mad rush I stepped right over her while she was on the floor having slipped on a leek or something. It happens. A few bad choices are seen as we follow the chefs around on their first shopping excursion. First would be Hosea and the crab. I will comment on this as a fellow chef from a restaurant known for seafood who did not make a lot of fish dishes throughout the season. This is not a hit on Whole Foods, as during any given week I am at my local store at least three times (and Stefan was able to find some quality Halibut); however, the availability of fresh seafood may not be what a chef is used to coming from a restaurant setting where one works closely with fish purveyors they trust. There are some high quality canned crabmeats out there, but if you have not worked with the specific product it is hard to know what you are going to get. Antonia learned the same things during Wedding Wars when we had to scrap a dish because the crab we purchased and tasted back at the kitchen was unacceptable.

Then we find Jill shopping in the egg aisle. I have to say I have never seen a Whole Foods that carries ostrich eggs so I can see why she perhaps was intrigued, but might not be in her best interest to grab an egg that she is not even sure how to crack open. There is plenty of fun stuff I am sure to do with a supersized egg (serve it on the Flinstones supersized steak) but not sure use in a quiche is the way to go. I will give her props for trying something new as she was trying to redeem herself and show her creativity after the Quickfire. The chefs make it back to the kitchen and in comes Chef Tom. Of course there is a new twist brought in to make the chefs more nervous than they may already be in yet another new kitchen setting. The guests are going to be bitter, salty chefs who did not get chosen to be one of the 17 this season. Made for some interesting commentary as these guests were of course there to claim their ability to cook better than those that did get onto this season, but at the end of the day the judges opinion of the food, mainly Tom's I would say, is what you have to worry about. The food starts to reach the table of the judges and there are unfortunately more negative comments than positive. Jamie and Fabio are the exceptions for the first course. Jamie plays it smart by making a simple, seasonal, and delicious soup with just enough mint and chili oil to complement the natural sweetness of the corn. Fabio sticks with a simple dish that is prepared well and is made unique with the addition of the "olives." I would agree with Gail that the grilled lemon was a nice addition. I love the flavor of charred citrus.

The other first courses did not go over as well. Melissa did not make something that tasted bad it seemed but just showed a lack of creativity and did not seem to put her all into the dish. One diner commented that it seemed like a 75% effort which seemed about right. I am sure she will slide through in the middle on this one. Leah went with a scallop dish which was found sandy by one guest and was seen as very '80s to Padma with the plating. Hosea's crab seemed to be the worst of the bunch with negative comments about the flavor and texture of the crabmeat.

On to the entrees: There were a couple of successful dishes again. Stefan made a clean and simple Halibut dish that was not overly heavy. Though Jeff seemed to struggle a bit on the line, he created a dish that the judges enjoyed. The chicken with a mustard sauce may have not been the most unique dish, but it was well prepared and it seemed that the Chorizo spoon bread was a hit. On the other side of things, Jill's quiche did not go over very well at all. The use of the ostrich egg was not mentioned as far as creativity goes, and the comments of "glue" and "dog food" were not really what you want to hear at the lunch table. Eugene creates a deconstructed meatloaf sandwich. I am not sure how this tasted since I too was watching from home, but I just do not get the point of the dish. Not a huge fan of taking a childhood comfort food and trying to make it fancy. Alex's dish seemed to fall in the same category as Melissa's as it just lacked some effort it seemed. Finally the desserts. Always a dreaded part of the Top Chef competition. I am assuming by now most chefs are coming in prepared with some desserts up their sleeves, but some of these just did not seem to work. Radhika was lucky to have immunity on this one as the ladies did not seem to get her sweet guacamole with chocolate topped chips. I am kind of curious to try it just to try to understand where she was going with this one. Richard's remake of the PB&J kind of falls under my comment on Eugene's meatloaf though being a huge fan of banana bread I would like to take a bite. Daniel is able to hold his own with a ricotta pound cake (yes my nightmares of my ricotta pound cake have returned). Though Carla is nervous about her crust, Padma loves the dessert and claims it her favorite. I think it would have been great to maybe bake onto the top of the crust some shredded cheddar or make it more a part of the dish in some other way. It is a nice classic combo but it seemed a bit out of place on the plate. The biggest misstep with the desserts was with Ariane's lemon custard. here were many comments made about the dated plating during this challenge but this one was the standout for me. It is purely my personal preference but I do not think food should be served in martini glasses. All I want in there is my dirty martini with some blue cheese olives. In the end I think the overly sweet flavor of the custard was what got her. Padma spits hers into her napkin which (though a bit dramatic) is never a good sign.

I have yet to see the final outcome but I would go with Jamie and her corn soup for the win on this one. I appreciate the simple use of a seasonal product. Who is going home? Hard for me to guess, especially without tasting all of the food myself. Though from watching the show for four seasons, when the friendship (or in this case budding romance) of two chefs is highlighted during the episode, it is usually not looking good for one of them. Let's hope for Hosea's sake this is not the case this week.