High Stakes Indeed

Jamie Lauren finally feels like this season is picking up with the French cuisine challenge.

First, I need to start by addressing some of the comments on my last few blogs. I know that a lot of you think that I am all about scallops, and sadly for the rest of my career I will always be associated with that joke. I must say, it makes me cringe when I hear it, much like it makes me cringe when someone asks me about Stefan and Team Rainbow, but this is my life now and I gotta roll with the punches. For the record, my blog is a matter of my opinion ... just like all of you are entitled to yours. If you don't like what I have to say, then don't read it. That being said, I love getting feedback from fans and will continue to try and address whatever questions you all have. My life has been an amazing ride this past year and I owe a great portion of that to Top Chef. I would definitely not be in the position I am now if it wasn't for the show, but, aside from all the jokes and teasing I have to say that I am lucky to be here because I know that there is a certain flip side to the show, and if a chef performs badly it isn't always great for their career. Think back on past seasons ...d o you remember chefs like Ken, Nimma, Lauren, or Valerie? I think this week Hector and Jesse are right in thinking TC was bad for their careers, because for them it may very well be just that ... or not ... I guess it all just depends on what happens next, and I hope it's not the curse of being eliminated early. I'll take being called Top Scallop/Stefan's Wife/Rainbow coalition anytime over being without a job that I love.

Anyway ... moving on to this week's episode ... all I can say is: FINALLY— An episode that actually had me on the edge of my seat! First of all, let me start by saying that I am classically French trained, and I lived and cooked in France when I graduated from culinary school. This is definitely an episode that I would have loved to be a part of. I think the idea of using snails quickly made up for the potato challenge last week. Snails are not easy to work with and they can be really awful if not cooked or paired properly, and let's just talk about someone being eliminated in QF! Craziness ... damn, talk about raising the stakes. Guess it just took them four episodes to do it. The QF challenges were always hard enough with their time constraints and forced ingredients, but to throw in the possibility of going home over snails ... that's the ultimate suckage. With the way the shots were edited it made it obvious who was in the bottom and who was in the top. I, for one, was a little bummed that we didn't get to see some of the chefs' dishes, but I loved the idea of Kevin's dish. Big Brussels sprout fan here, and their earthiness seems so smart with snails. I totally get why he won ... and Jen pairing snails with yuzu was also super smart. Citrus works great with the little creepy crawlies (they are kinda gross-looking, aren't they?). And then the twist,cook for your lives in the bottom three ... wow. I think I would have had a major anxiety attack. Talk about pressure ... 20 more minutes between staying or going. The thoughts that must have been going through those three ladies' heads. .. and as if someone read my blog last week and willed it to happen, we lost Jesse. Hate to say it, but it was time for her to go. I get how the pressure of being on TC works ... trust me ... once you are in the bottom it is really, REALLY hard to bounce back. There was a time last season when all I wanted to do was go home. I just beat myself up over and over about the undercooked egg, and then the raw scallops. It is a terrible place to be in and it definitely makes you a little vulnerable. I think that's why we lost Jesse. I don't think her head was ever fully in the game, and I also think she was incredibly outmatched by some of the other contestants.

Once the knife pulling started, I knew the elimination was going to be something really cool. I love the idea of the chefs pairing up in teams, and it was definitely obvious who the top four were going to be ... the brothers V. and Mike and Jen. They were smart to pair up together, and maybe a little lucky. As much as I hate to say it Mike Isabella was right when he said that they were the ones to beat. At this point I am starting to think that these four are the ones to beat. And you too, Kevin ... you lucky little guy! Sitting at that table with those luminaries ... I can only imagine how that felt. I am lucky that I have the privilege to call Hubert Keller a friend, and I know how incredible he is. I hope you had a chance to talk with him. He's not only an amazing chef, but also an incredibly sweet, generous, giving person ... and a great DJ! Also, in my opinion Kevin got a really good advantage of being able to taste the other competitors' dishes. That's an important thing that contestants rarely get to do. It's helpful to know what you are up against. Though I would have welcomed hearing his opinion a bit more.

Although the dishes that were created were supposed to be based on very traditional items, I felt the chefs took really good creative liberties with them. I was impressed by the top four, and was totally intrigued by the mustard noodles on the rabbit dish. Again, as I have mentioned in previous blogs, I would have really loved to see more of how the dishes were created, but I guess that's where consulting the posted recipes comes in handy. The trout was beautiful and it doesn't surprise me that it was the winner ... completely thought out-of-the-box, but within the restraints of the competition ... very smart. On the flip side, the other dishes all failed to impress with me. Mattin and Ashley's bacon veloute? Not really sure about that, and I am a bacon fanatic. It just didn't seem to work with poussin, which by nature is a delicate-fleshed young bird with a very mild flavor. It seems like all  the judges could taste in that dish was the bacon. Also, I have to say I really hated the tired clichéd asparagus jutting out from under the clearly overcooked breast. I mean, I could tell that from through the camera, so I can only imagine how it tasted. But then Hector and Ash put out a clearly uninspired dish. It almost seems embarrassing to even have them be in the same group as some of the other chefs (go ahead, someone say it ... they would have fit in well on my season ... it's cool, I'll wait.)

All in all, this was by far my favorite episode of the season so far. I think we are finally starting to see some really great, consistent caliber food and I do hope it continues. I am looking forward to the evolution of the brothers V., and if they are ever going to have it out. They both seem really professional and mellow ... will a fight ensue at some point? I mean, they are brothers, they must have picked on each other as kids. Also, I am wondering, as they whittle down to the cream, who will end up rising? Will one of our front-runner heroes fall to the curses of TC? It's reality TV after all, and anything can happen. I'm just happy to say that I am finally excited for the ride...

PS: For those interested in what I am up to...check out www.absinthe.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@chefjamielauren) if you really wanna know what I am doing (it's mostly drunken rambling, but amusing nonetheless....)

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