Hello my little juiceboxes! Thanks for all the comments on my first entry for this season. I was particularly interested in those that expressed concern that this season might get too political. I might not be in a position to say this, but Top Chef is all about the food, and only the food. So, I think partisan conflict will only arise when discussing who's more liberal or conservative with his/her seasoning!
Thanks also to those that have shared their latest eating experiences and friended me on Foursquare. Since my last entry, I had the good fortune to attend Saveur magazine's 1st Annual Summer BBQ at The Frying Pan here in Manhattan. Editor in Chief and Top Chef Masters judge James Oseland was kind enough to invite me, and it was pretty spectacular, even despite the torrential downpour towards the end. Some of the country's best chefs including Tom Colicchio, Jonathan Waxman, Wylie Dufresne, and Tony Montuano cooked up BBQ fare. Everything was obviously sensational, but the highlight for me were Jonathan Waxman's grilled scallions. I have no idea what he cooked them with, but they were awesome. Also, there was a Ben & Jerry's rep there, and you must go buy some Peanut Brittle ice cream now; it's ridiculous! The BBQ was the first time I'd actually met James Oseland — can you believe that? We e-mail back and forth almost daily during Masters, but we've never met! This actually happens with a lot of our talent, which makes my job kind of bizarre. I have to say, though, that James is an absolute doll. I also had the pleasure to meet legend Gael Greene, and of course, her outfit/hat combo was as sassy as ever! Hopefully you will all have the good fortune to eat as well this summer as I did at the event. On to this week's Quickfire!
In perhaps one of the oddest challenges we've ever had, we tasked the chefs with teaming up in pairs to create sandwiches. At first many of them balked at the seemingly easy challenge of creating a tasty "sammy" in 30 minutes. Not so fast! They then learned they had to share some odd one-armed apron contraption with another chef. Things. Just. Got. Interesting. This challenge kind of reminded me of the one-handed egg challenge during our holiday all-star special a few years ago (the one Stephen Asprinio won with his perfect omelette.) Ed and Kenny lucked out that Ed was left-handed. It was particularly amusing how nervous Alex was that Timothy would cut him. Tracey seemed pretty happy to be attached to Angelo and kind of didn't wnt to let go. In the end, the latter team won with a fish sandwich. Angelo does own a sandwich shop, so seems fitting that he would win. He was probably pretty relieved for his business too!
This week's Elimination Challenge provoked a lot of sensory memory for me. School lunches and the cafeterias in which they were eaten had so many different smells for me ... many of them unpleasant. School lunch for me was a mixed bag. Sometimes, it could be amazing, like when I started bringing a thermos filled with Campbell's Double Noodle soup in middle school. Other times, it was fairly gross, like when I bought it. The men and women that worked in my middle school's cafeteria could be a surly bunch, but they were familiar. They worked hard and we knew it. It wasn't their fault the food left much to be desired. And because the main dishes were not the best, I snacked a lot because it was packaged. Note: Cool Ranch Doritos (changed to "Cooler Ranch" for a brief stint during my middle school days.) Whomever invented the Cool Ranch Dorito is a genius. And I mean that with all sincerity. As is the person who invented Hi-C Ecto Cooler (an elementary school staple.)As it is Healthy Week here at NBC Universal (check out our Healthy Week goodies here), the chefs not only had to create a school lunch that fit into their $2.68/student budget, but was also nutritious. Nutritious and delicious. First, we'll start with the top two teams. Kelly wowed with her pork tacos. Although I thought tacos were a good idea, I thought the pickled onion was an odd choice. I would never have eaten that when I was in middle school. It seemed that the kids liked it though. These kids seemed to be very open to new flavors — something I wasn't very open to until much later in life. The judges were impressed with the rest of the team's offerings too, especially Tiffany's sweet potato and sherbet, somehow working a veggie (a tuber, really) into a dessert. Although the team, and ultimately Kelly, won, their victory was a bit marred because of a bit of conflict between Kelly and the rest of hte team, most vocally Arnold. It seemed Arnold thought Kelly was taking credit for the team's work. What was interesting is that Tom seemed to be in favor of the chefs taking individual credit. I honestly don't know what to think — did you agree with Kelly or Arnold?
Alex, Andra, Tim, and Kevin were also on top providing what I considered to be the most obviously kid-friendly meal with their mac 'n' cheese, BBQ chicken, cole slaw, and fruit skewers. The yogurt as whipped cream was simple and genius, and the substitution of yogurt for mayo in the slaw was a smart move too. The only thing I can say is I hope none of the kids were lactose intolerant or this meal would have put them in a world of pain!
Now, for the bottom: although I can't decide if Angelo purposely sabotaged his team, it seemed he — at the very least — didn't try his hardest His celery with peanut butter mousse was a safe and odd choice, and I swear I saw a "gold" leaf in the presentation, but then again, I'm losing my mind. Did anyone else notice that?! I love love love peanut butter, but this didn't look too exciting to me. The main complaint about the complete dish, however, was that there was no vegetable, and this was blamed on Ed and Kenny for not speaking up. Can I just take this moment to say that Ed is really growing on me? When I met him he was kinda quiet but he says the funniest s--- in his in-show interviews. He just seems like such a New Yorker to me — and I honestly don't totally know what I mean by that, but New Yorkers, let me know if you agree! Finally, we have Amanda, Tamesha, Stephen, and Jacqueline's mess of a dish. The most horrific elements were the sherry-braised chicken courtesy of Amanda and Jacqueline's losing banana pudding. Say what you will about "serving" children alcohol, sherry just didn't make sense. It's something Frasier and Niles drink, it's not something you would or really should see in school lunches. Besides its total impractiality, it's pricey, and used up a lot of the team's budget. Apparently though this wasn't as big an offense as Jacqueline's banana pudding. I kind of love banana pudding, and although it's known for its cupcakes, Magnolia Bakery's banana pudding blows the cupcakes out of the water. The only thing is it has a TON of sugar in it. Seriously, you can literally feel the sugar in your body. Jacqueline valiently tried to create a fresh banana pudding that was healthy, but it was starchy, so she added sugar to break it up. And then she added some more. 2 pounds worth in fact, which is, gross. I have no idea what she could have done to save this dish, and apparently the judges didn't know either becuase she went home. Jacqueline is a sweetheart so this was a shame, but the competition is definitely heating up!
What did you think? Aee you ready to claim memership to either Team Angelo or Team Kenny? Would you create a recipe for children with sherry? Did you tear up like I did when that adorable student said, "Imagine if we had this every day for lunch. That would be cool."