"Go Greased Lighning! Go Greased Lightning!" OK, OK -- I know the chefs didn't cook for those T-birds this week, but well, I just couldn't get this song out of my head when I found out this episode was called "Thunderbirds." But I digress (as I usually do.) Welcome back my little fingerling potatoes! (There ya go!) For the Quickfire, Padma introduced one of our Top Chef Masters contestants, Mark Peel, and the challenge: to cook something "out of this world" from potatoes. I thought maybe this Quickfire would be sponsored by NASA or something because wasn't totally understanding why "out of this world" was in quotes, but I'm going to assume the brilliant producers just ran out of synonyms for "delicious." So, the chefs get cookin' and I was actually shocked at how many different ways there are to utilize the potato, and how many varieties of potatoes there are. I kind of felt like I was in Forrest Gump when the chefs riffed off all of the different types of potatoes on the table. I wondered if anyone would attempt to just make fries, but alas, no one did. Anyway, Jennifer Carroll won with her mussels in potato broth. I would've liked to have tried that -- I love mussels, and they're such a cheap and easy dinner to prepare. Just cook a bunch in a giant pot, make a simple garlic/onion/butter sauce and you're done. All of the other dishes seemed pretty OK -- I appreciated Mike Isabella explaining what risotto really is, and I also appreciated the drama between Ashley and Preeti. Remind me to never take Ashley's blanching pot. Yikes! Although, gotta say, Preeti seemed like a bit of a chicken with her head cut off.
As winner of the Quickfire, Jennifer got immunity. Padma announced to the rest of the group that they would have to cook a meal for the Thunderbirds, the Air Force's most elite demonstration team. They would be cooking as one group, and the food would be served buffet-style. Not exactly clear exactly whose idea it was, but since Mike Isabella announced it I'll just assume he had something to do with it, but the whole group decided to split into teams of two and have Jennifer C. serve as head chef. This ended up only hurting MIke Isabella really, but we'll get to that in a bit. The chefs paired off, and I have to say the overall effort was successful. The biggest upset was probably Preeti and Laurine's pasta salad. The minute they said they were both going to create a pasta salad together, I knew they were done. This brought me back to Zoi's doomed pasta salad in Chicago. Note to Top Chefs: You're never going to win making pasta salad. Ever.
Preeti may have gone home, but Mike Isabella almost went home. But, wait, wasn't he on the top? Well, he was until the judges found out that he was responsible for a lackluster Greek salad and Michael V. was the brains behind the braised bacon operation. Mike Isabella was PISSED! All the chefs thought the team thing would factor in judging, but the judges/producers didn't tell them to do that; it wasn't part of the challenge. They knew they'd all be judged individually, and that's what happened. Fortunately for Mike, Preeti and Laurine's pasta salad was worse. The winner? Mike and Mike's braised pork. This just sounded so good, and it seemed that Tom thought it was incredibly imaginative to cook a slab of bacon like pork belly. I thought Eli and Kevin's pulled pork and potato salad could have won also. I think we need to watch out for those two -- they're a very strong pairing. And Kevin's "fat kid" comment cracked me up.
I also want to comment on Jen C.'s Executive Chef skills in the kitchen. Damn! I thought she was pretty amazing, and I would feel confident with her steering my ship any day. Richard Blais brings up in his blog that this was one of the realest glimpses into kitchen life we get to see on Top Chef, and I'm gonna say he's right. Hopefully we'll get to see more of it.
I just really enjoyed watching this episode for some reason, and it seems like there are already chefs emerging as the ones to beat. Hopefully some dork horses (Editor's Note: I mean dark horses, but this error is too good to get rid of!) will come out of the woodwork.
Before I close, I just want to take a moment to respond to your comments. I guess I should have clarified that I know that VOLT isn't in D.C., but well, that's where I'll be staying at the end of September. My friend and I will be making the 45 minute plus drive to Frederick. Also, yes, I should go to Mike Isabella's restaurant. I had just spoken to Chef Voltaggio last Wednesday for our Burning Questions blog, so I guess VOLT was on the brain.
Also, I'm going to make mistakes. I don't always have an excuse. I watch the episode about a week before it airs, and I'm basically senile already. I do appreciate you pointing out my errors, though, and I always try to fix them. They're not deliberate, I'm just a jerk.
Next week's episode features Joel Robuchon. It's pretty damn amazing. Watch a preview, will ya:
Until next week ...