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Playing It Safe

Sam Talbot introduces the 3 C's of good Top Chef cooking.

By Sam Talbot

Sorry I missed last week. I was in Aspen for the classic, and it was a great time. We raised some money for Juvenile Diabetes, and I met some great people, but I also had a little mix-up with my blog. Also wanted to say that if I can, I'll answer any questions that might come my way, so send 'em. Alright... let's talk about the quickfire challenge:

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Hung: Blatantly leaving food on the kitchen floor? Really? Where did you learn that? Per Se? Aureole? Guy Savoy? Tre: Did they give him his own soundtrack? I'm digging it. Hung (again): Did he say, "MY monkey could do that" ?! Does Hung actually have a monkey? If he does, Bravo, please give us some "Hung and his monkey" footage.

CJ: I like what I saw in your dish. But even more, I really like how you approached it. (I'll call it the 3 C's) You took a minute and concentrated, you conceived the dish, then you created it. And it's reflected on the plate. While I'm on the topic of what I liked, I also like how the other contestants interact with you. Early on, you seem to be the glue of the group. Dale: That dish has Ilan written all over it. Time to move on to the Elimination...

"Nasty"??? What's nasty about stuffed cabbage and tater tots? That's good stuff! Really though, I think this would be a fun challenge (The difference between watching and competing is that when you're competing, "a fun challenge" is an oxymoron). A lot of young cooks pride themselves in taking their favorite childhood classics and having fun with them, so this should be interesting. There's a lot of ways to interpret this challenge, so I'm expecting a wide array of dishes. In the back of their minds, they must be wondering how the Elks Club opinions will factor in to the judges' final decision. Two very different groups to please. Howie just mentioned not caring if he makes friends. I gained a lot of professional value from this experience, but even more than that, I gained a lot of friends. And not just the judges, the contestants, and people from season 1 but the people you guys at home never see are the producers, the PA's, the camera crew, the gaffers... the list goes on and on. There's a big family behind the scenes that you get to know in a short amount of time and they're all really good people.

Okay, back to the cooking: CJ: Again, I'm worried. You're taking the "healthier" and "lower" fat part of the challenge very seriously. I commend you. That's actually the hard part of the challenge. And there's honor in what you're trying to do. But no one else is watching exactly what people are putting in their dishes. So you might end up suffering from this. And about the oven drama: Sara acted the way any trained chef would. In a restaurant setting, where burners and ovens are shared, you would never, not even for a minute, think that your oven would be turned down by another chef. It just simply wouldn't and shouldn't happen. End of story. I'm a little baffled that boxed potatoes and rotisserie chicken is okay and in an Elimination Challenge!? The chefs in Season One strategically made the decision to use boxed cake mix during a wedding, and were chastised by the judges for it. I'm not saying the dish didn't taste great, but I at least expected the judges to question going there in the first place, especially so early in the competition when the chefs are trying to define themselves.

Micah: Everyone has their day when they're just not feelin' it. Hung said she shouldn't miss her daughter (or something like that). But we all have different things going on in our lives. You guys at home might not know this, but from the minute you step off the plane, you have no interaction with the outside world until you're back home. They take your cell phone, your credit cards, your money—you're not allowed to make or take any calls whatsoever unless it's an emergency... and they don't really tell you this beforehand, so it comes as a shock. You did some interesting things early on, and it's too bad you didn't stay long enough for us to see some more. Hope your daughter loved watching your wins. I know I did. As for everyone else: an okay-ish week. I think  everyone played it a little safe. I'm looking forward to it being kicked up a notch (and I know it will).

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