Category: Top Chef

Top Chef Finale Part 2

For only the second time in ten seasons, we’ll have a lady Top Chef. Brooke and Kristen are battling it out in front of a live audience of 300, including the previous nine winners and the judges: Emeril, Gail, Hugh, Tom, and Padma. They’ve each chosen three sous chefs from among their previous competition: Brooke’s chosen Kuniko, CJ, and Stefan; Kristen picked Sheldon, Josh, and Lizzie.

Kristen’s not used to plating for 300 people. CJ is burning Brooke’s pig ears.

First course:

Kristen – Chicken liver mousse with frisee, mustard, prune, hazelnuts and pumpernickel. They love it.

Brooke – Crispy pig ear and chicory salad, six-minute egg, apricot jam and candied kumquats. I think this is the dish she got featured in Zagat’s. And why do they have to call it an “X-minute” egg? Why can’t they just say “soft-boiled”? The juges love it, too.

To my surprise, Padma announces that it’s time to anounce the winner of Round One, and that the first chef to win three rounds will be Top Chef. Yikes, I wasn’t paying any attention to the actual comments because I thought they’d be summing all the dishes up at the end! And I’d thought the previous winners were also judging. I’m confused, but I’m thinking they’ll give it to Kristen because they did call Brooke out on the burnt pig ears. This makes the two of them having the same ingredients for Rounds Two and Four even more interesting.

Hugh votes for Kristen. Gail votes for Kristen. Padma says if she gets one more vote she wins the round. And Emeril votes for Kristen! Thanks for nothing, CJ.

During the making of the second course, we revisit Brooke’s journey to the finale. Gail checks in with her family and friends, who are seated at a table fairly close to the front. Her son is passed out in daddy’s arms.

Second course:

Brooke – Seared scallop with salt cod puree, crispy speck (juniper flavored ham), black currant and mustard seed vinaigrette. I think Kristen was right when she said that’s got an awful lot going on for the protein, but it does fit in with Brooke’s stated intention of delivering big, bold flavors. The judges like it.

Kristen – Citrus and lavender cured scallop with bitter orange, Meyer lemon, and apple. The judges love it. Gail votes for Brooke. Emeril votes for Brooke. Tom votes for Kristen. Padma votes for Kristen, so Hugh has the deciding vote. He votes for Brooke. I have a feeling this will happen all over again and the dessert will be the determining dish. That’ll be interesting, since Brooke’s was definitely better last time.

They have 34 minutes to prep Round Three, so they run back to their kitchens. Now we get to revisit Kristen’s journey, and Gail checks in with her friends and family.

Third course:

Brooke – Vadouban fried chicken with sumac yogurt tahini and pickled kohlrabi fattoush. She explains she’s trying to redeem herself from the fried chicken debacle. That doesn’t usually go well, and the judges give mixed reviews.

Kristen – Celery roote puree with bone marrow, mushrooms, bitter greens and radishes. Again with the mixed reviews.

Emeril votes for Kristen. Tom votes for Kristen. Padma votes for Kristen. I’m not surprised. When CJ finds out, he assures Brooke they’ll win Round Four. Of course you will. It’s Round Five you have to win.

The nine previous winners give the finalists advice. OMG, Michael Voltaggio has a nose ring in his right nostril and it is so gross! Maybe if he does go on Arrow, Ollie can off him for failing Top Chef viewers? Then we have a bit of a history lesson for those of us who haven’t followed the show since Day 1. I don’t mind admitting that TWOP is the reason I started watching this show and a couple others.

Fourth course:

Brooke – Braised pork cheek and red snapper with collard green slaw and sorrel puree. The judges love it.

Kristen – Red snapper with leeks, little gem lettuce, tarragon, uni and shellfish nage. Nage appears to be the same thing as a court boullion. I think the judges only like it, but I expect Brooke to win this round so the dessert round will decide. Gail votes for Kristen, and I suddenly notice there’s only three minutes left of the video. Wow. Either it’s going to cut off, or Kristen’s going to take it now. Emeril votes for Kristen. TOM VOTES FOR KRISTEN!!!! I’m not loving his soul patch, but right now, I’m loving him.

Way to go, Kristen Kish. As an adoptee myself, I sincerely hope you find the answers you are looking for in Korea. Congratulations.

Nina Lisa


The morning after Lizzie is eliminated, Sheldon, Brooke, and Josh get a note telling them to head to Eaglecrest. Josh correctly surmises it’s a mountain. It’s also a ski resort on Douglas Island, just across the Gastineau Channel from Juneau. When they arrive, they spot a helicoptor, and again, Brooke starts to freak, because this is two of her phobias — clausto and something I don’t catch — combined. Eventually, the two men persuade her to open her eyes and look at the view, and (unsurprisingly to any true Alaskan) she immediately forgets her fears. I’m sure it helps that they’re headed over the 1,500 square mile Juneau Icefield (the real reason you can’t drive to the capital) to the Norris Glacier, which I mistakenly presumed was the Mendenhall Glacier.

That’s because, while Juneau is my hometown, I haven’t been back in a while, and so had not yet heard of the Alaskan Helimush Dog Camp, where some mushers are preparing for the Iditarod. That’s probably a lot better conditions to prep under than just putting wheels on the dogsleds – actual snow and ice and cold temperatures.

For the last Quickfire of the competition, Tom and Padma tell them they have to use the mushers’ stores and cooking facilities to try to give them some gourmet food. There’s no electricity, so they have to use what are probably propane-fueled campstoves with smaller burners than they’re used to. Brooke can’t figure out why her pan keeps getting cold so fast. Because you’re cooking in a tent on top of a glacier? Yes, Tom and Padma are the only ones wearing heavy jackets, but that’s because all those musher types are used to it.  Anyway, Josh goes with his standard fall back of breakfast featuring bacon, while the other two go for Alaskans’ other favorite fish, halibut.

Josh – Cornmeal cake with Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. That would be good if it’s the real smoked salmon – closer to lox in flavor — than what Sheldon was going for last week. It’s not what he was originally planning in terms of texture, and unfortunately, his eggs don’t scramble together, but Tom says it’s not bad, and the mushers all like the corn cake.

Brooke – Pan-roasted halibut, panzanella salad with red currant and beet vinaigrette. She wins.

Sheldon – Pan-roasted halibut with tomato sauce, sesame bok choy and pickled radish. Tom thinks it’s salty. Foreshadowing?

Padma says she has a surprise for them and heads back to the chopper. She drives them back to the B&B, where Emeril and Roy Choi are making them lunch. Brooke claims Roy started the food truck revolution and I guess he knows her from here in L.A. Makes sense; it’s the type of career that’d be small world type thing. The food they’ve made represents the moment they realized they wanted to be chefs. It turns out that when Roy was in a really dark place in his life, he happened to be watching Emeril’s show and it was like he came out of the TV and slapped him. Emeril is surprised and touched by this revelation.

Padma tells the three semi-finalists this will be their Elimination Challenge, and Brooke starts to freak. I thought she said there were four, meaning she’d had four different moments, but Kim over on TWOP says she said she was four, and I trust her. But it’s not like I haven’t seen this challenge on this show before. I mean, it may not have been this particular iteration; I think I’ve seen it on Top Chef Masters, but wouldn’t you at least give it some thought before reaching this point? Then again, the dish that inspired me to learn to cook wasn’t even from a recipe, but a mix, I was a lot older than four, and I don’t remember a whole lot from when I *was* four. Except I think that’s the year my mother told me about Santa. That was my first lesson about asking questions you don’t really want to know the answer to, and since I know the question you’re all asking me is “when are you going to get back to the recap?” the answer is “In the next paragraph.”

They’ll be making these dishes for Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell and his wife, Sandy. Unlike his predecessor, Sean knows that the reason there’s a Governor’s Mansion in the state capital is because the governor is supposed to actually reside there, at least while the State Congress is in session. They’ve got 2.5 hours to prep and cook, and since Brooke says she still has no idea what she’s making once they get to the kitchen, Josh tells her he’s going to keep asking her. I thought it was a way to keep her focused and motivated, and thus rather sweet, but now I don’t know. At least he’s able to keep his mind off his wife, who called earlier to say she was finally on the way to the hospital.

That night, Josh is awakened by his wife calling him, crying in the middle of her labor. It’s really sad to hear her, and Josh is obviously distressed he can’t be there for her. But I guess her doctors and his producers are optomistic about “any time now”, and he goes downstairs and gets some water so he can wait in front of the laptop and, eventually, Skype with her and meet his daughter. I guess they gave his wife some serious drugs, because she says it wasn’t that bad and they can do it again, and Josh smartly replies that they can wait a while.

Another day in Juneau! Congratulations are given, and they hie to the Governor’s Mansion, where they have 1.5 hours to prep and finalize their dishes. In the meantime, Governor Parnell answers his own door to greet Wolfgang and the others.

Sheldon goes first. Tom had come back into the kitchen to reiterate about not cooking the fish too soon; as a result, Sheldon winds up missing the fact that he over-reduced his sauce and now it’s very salty until he’s plating it, and it’s too late to fix it. He serves pan-roasted rockfish, spot prawns, baby vegetables, and dashi. Otherwise, the fish would’ve been perfect, but the salt overpowered it.

Brooke – Braised chicken, grilled quail with carrot barley and pickled vegetables. Roy says it’s Brooke on a plate. The quail was a tad overcooked, but it was layered and flavorful.

Josh – Foie gras three ways: Torchon, pan-seared, and profiterole. It takes four days to make a torchon, not four hours, and it didn’t set or get cooked through. He serves it with corn bread, which worked, but there was no variety in texture.

Brooke wins, and Josh is gone. Brooke and Sheldon toast to going home in a good way.

LCK – I was spoiled by TWOP letting me know Kristen returned for the finale, which is good because LCK didn’t acually reveal it. I was not expecing Lizzie to beat out CJ for the Save a Chef vote, though.


Finale Part One

Wow, it’s been six months since the last episode. That explains Josh’s comment on LCK; they brought them to LA so the winner could rejoin the finale immediately.

We visit Sheldon in Hawaii, where he has lots of support from family and friends, and then Brooke in Santa Barbara. Roy Choi and her former mentor Sang Yoon pay her a visit to encourage her.

They head to Craft, one of Tom’s restaurants, where he brings Kristen out of the kitchen right after she wins LCK. Neither one of the finalists is surprised.

Tom announces that the restaurant opens in three hours and they’re his cooks. Each one has to prepare an appetizer, entree, and dessert. He’ll expedite. Hugh and Emeril are also there for advice. While Sheldon and Kristen have menu ideas right away, Brooke is floundering again. Tom, Hugh, and Emeril talk to Kristen, Brooke, and Sheldon about their menus. Brooke’s panicking, and Sheldon and Kristen are not comfortable with their desserts.  Martin Yan and John Besh join Padma, Hugh, and Emeril to judge. Tom will taste each dish in the kitchen.


Sheldon – Sashimi spot prawns, court bouillon (a wine and vegetable stock for poaching fish and other seafood. I just bookmarked a recipe), radish and Asian herbs. The judges like it.

Kristen – Chestnut veloute, duck rillette, and brussels sprouts. The sprouts are raw, which gives it a touch of bitterness, but the judges want more with the rillette.

Brooke – Crispy veal sweetbread salad with kumquat, beets, and mustard. Martin thinks the beets stand out, and not in a good way. Hugh wanted her to clean the sweetbreads more and not slice them so thin (sic).

Entree Course

Kristen – Seared ahi tuna with veal mustard jus and meyer lemon puree. Padma doesn’t like the puree and John says he got a strong hit of salt. As a joke, he blames the expediter.

Brooke – Braised short ribs, parmesan sauce, nettle puree and squash dumplings. The judges love it.

Sheldon – Roasted quail, pine nut puree, garam masala and tangerine. He tried stepping out of his comfort zone, but the judges “want the old Sheldon back”.


Brooke – Brown butter cake, whipped goat cheese and blackberry sauce. The judges love it but it’s later pointed out that it’s not a restaurant quality dish.

Kristen – Curry chocolate with cashews. It gets mixed reviews at the table, but later Tom gives her some serious trouble for it, and I can’t really blame him. She left it until the last half hour, then just kinda threw it into a bowl. I *think* it was supposed to be a mousse.

Sheldon – White chocolate mousse with apple and fennel. Good concept with the flavors, but for the most part the judges find the huge chunk of raw fennel overpowering.

Kim made a very good point in her recap. Why don’t these chefs learn at least one restaurant quality dish? It’s always the downfall on this show.

I don’t recall if I mentioned this on a previous recap for this show or Project Runway, but I keep track of the positive and negative comments that the judges make on these shows, and am usually fairly good at sussing out who stays and who goes. I’m afraid Kristen might be in trouble, but I’m hoping it’s Sheldon. And it is. Whew.

Y’all enjoy the rest of the finale tonight; remember I won’t get to see it until Friday at the earliest, so please don’t post any spoilers!

Nina Lisa

The chefs arrive in my hometown of Juneau, the capitol of Alaska. They’re met by Padma and Sean Brock for the Quickfire. They have to highlight Alaskan King Crab. Sean says he flew 13 hours to get there. That sounds about right if he came from Charleston.

Lizzie is making a king crab frittata. That sounds good. Brooke’s making crab toast, and is using Dungeness crab in a compound butter, unless she eats it all first. Josh is going to make a king crab succotash, since Sean is from the South and succotash is a Southern thing, then he says he’s going to put bacon in it. I think the bacon will overpower the crab.

Sheldon’s pushing his creativity by using the Dungeness innards to make a miso soup. Ohh-kay. He says he’s serving it with pine-smoked asparagus tips. That’s interesting, since he’s using fresh branches. Without touching, I can’t tell for sure, but I’m fairly confident they might actually be spruce. He sniffs them, but the best way to tell the difference is in how the needles are attached to the branches and whether or not they “give” a little when you run your hand along them. Not a lot of people know that; in fact, I only know it because I was shown the difference one summer on a nature walk at the Mendenhall Glacier. This will be important later.

Lizzie presents her crab frittata with cherry tomatoes, garlic oil, and fried capers. Padma asks her if she soaked the capers and Lizzie says she drained them. That means they’re going to be rather briny.  Sheldon’s next. His dish appears on the chyron as King crab, Dungeness crab “miso”, pine-smoked asparagus and charred corn.  Brooke has King crab, sweet corn and leek salad on toast with Dungeness crab butter.  Josh butter poached his King crab legs with paprika and is serving it with succotash and bacon.

Sean tells Lizzie he liked the idea but it was a little over-cooked and there were too many capers. Josh’s attempt to succotash up to Sean failed, since Sean is a “succotash snob”. He thought the bacon was unnecessary and agrees with me that it covered up the crab.  Sheldon’s dish was simple, interesting, and highlighted the crab.  Sean tells Brooke he didn’t want to like her dish because it was so easy, but it was delicious. Of the two of them, Sheldon wins.

For the elimination challenge, they have to use salmon and sourdough to feed some locals, which Padma equates to feeding succotash to a Southerner. She’s not wrong. She tells them they’ll be getting their salmon at the dock the next day and their sourdough starter is waiting at the B&B where they’ll be staying, the Jorgenson house. (As opposed to the Jorgensen house, which is in Portland.) I guess they’ll be baking bread tonight! Tomorrow, they’ll be cooking for 200 Juneauites at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake.

As they check out the B&B, Sheldon hides in a closet, which has been curtained off, and manages to almost literally scare the pants off Brooke. They save the kitchen for last, since they know they have to get right to work. They find their starter. It’s about 31 years old, which is fairly young for sourdough starter, as Josh explains. They taste it and agree that it’s sour.

Sheldon’s putting green tea and chives in his. That’s an odd combination. I can tell he’s using a Magic Bullet cup to chop the chives. I love those things! Josh is making two batches, one traditional and one with black olives.  It looks like he’s using kalamata olives. I hope so, because otherwise I don’t think it’d be a good combination, but the brine of the kalamatas should work well against the tang of the sourdough. He says he’s going to put the traditional bread in his soup and use the other as croutons. Salmon soup? I don’t know about that.

Lizzie’s planning on making individually hand-rolled rolls stuffed with salmon. That does’t sound good. If it was true smoked salmon in a spread, maybe, but I don’t think they’ll have time to smoke it the way most Alaskans consider salmon smoked. Throughout their conversations, I’ve been trying to figure out who’s baked and/or made sourdough bread before, and who hasn’t. I’m really not sure. It turns out they’re just proofing the dough tonight and will bake it the next day. Good idea.

The next morning, Josh gets to talk to his wife because she’s due to have the baby at any moment; in fact, he later tells Tom she’s actually two or three days past due.  They go down to the docks to meet the boat bringing them their catch, which is about as fresh as you can get it without going out on the boat yourself. They’re dressed head to toe in rain gear because, as usual, it’s raining in Juneau. The Pacific Horizon has brought them four of the five varieties of Pacific salmon: chum, coho, king, and sockeye. This is further confirmation for me that it’s past August, as pinks are usually all spawned out by then. In case you’re wondering about silvers, chinooks, and humpies, well, those are actually coho, kings, and pink. Chum are also referred to as dog salmon. Combine that with the fact that chum is commonly what fish guts, etc. used for bait is called, and maybe you’ll understand why the locals were surprised that Sheldon actually served it to them.  Besides the chum, which he plans to smoke and serve with a pea soup, he has sockeye, aka red, salmon. He’s planning on using the same method he used on the asparagus tips yesterday.

The chefs get to cleaning and filleting. They get to talk about their experience doing this and we find out some more about Lizzie’s dad. Once they get out to the salmon bake (and it’s a ways out of town, up in the mountains), they have three hours to prep and cook. Josh wants to get more of the sourdough flavor in his soup. I think he’s putting starter in it.  Sheldon says the base of his pea soup will be a seafood broth, and that he’s never made pea soup before. Brooke’s making a poached sockeye salmon with seafood sauce, a mustard seed caviar and grilled dill sourdough. That’s a good combination; dill is a good seasoning for salmon and will also blend well with the sourdough. Lizzie’s making a citrus and beet glaze for her grilled sockeye, which she’ll serve on the rolls with a poppy seed butter.

They’re all thrilled to be working with such fresh fish. Josh explains to Tom that his soup is roasted garlic and sourdough with steamed salmon and a ragout of beans and clams. Tom asks about his wife, and it sounds like she’s actually finally started labor. When he gets to Sheldon and Sheldon tells him what he’s making, Tom has to laugh because it’s exactly what he was craving the day before.  Lizzie describes her dish and Tom likes that she’s doing rolls. He’s concerned that Brooke’s planning on poaching her salmon to order. The only way I know to poach fish takes over half-an-hour, so I don’t know if that’s going to work well or not, but she’s too far along to change. All of a sudden, Sheldon’s running around like a madman trying to grill/smoke his salmon and bake his bread, and then time’s up.

The smell of all that fish drew a mother black bear and three cubs to the area, and we see some shots of them in the trees nearby. I hope all the noise scared them off again. They’ll walk right up to the food otherwise.

Hugh and Emeril join Sean, Gail, Tom, and Padma. Brooke’s up first. They like her dish. Sheldon’s 2nd. Padma doesn’t like his bread, and Gail’s salmon was raw on the inside and charred on the outside. The locals ding him for using chum, which Padma tells him at judges table they usually feed to their dogs.

During the interstitial, Emeril tells how his head chef rescued the “mother” sourdough starter from their restaurant just before Katrina hit and kept it with him and fed during the evacuation and the three months it took them to reopen. That’s dedication to your job.

The judges like that Josh was being creative, but Tom’s not sure the soup goes with the salmon. He has a problem with putting strong flavors together with mild ones, and then being surprised when the mild ones get overpowered, doesn’t he? The judges like the crust Lizzie got on her sliders, but don’t understand why she used a glaze on her salmon after it was cooked instead of a marinade before. They go talk to the locals to get some opinions. One guy actually says he doesn’t understand why the locals don’t cook with chum; he thinks it’s just fine. Cheechako.

Judges’ table.  They ask Lizzie if she tasted her slider, and she says she tasted the components. They explain why she should’ve tasted it all together; there wasn’t enough seasoning on the salmon for the amount of bread. I’m not sure what she could’ve done to improve it at that point, though. Padma tells Sheldon the aforementioned chum thing, but adds that they liked his, although the judges found it bitter. To my mind, that confirms he was using spruce, but really, any resinous wood is going to make raw meat bitter; it gives off way too much creosote and soot. It’s just that I know from living there that the closest evergreen to you is more likely to be a spruce than a pine. Spruce are the ones that look like the traditional Christmas tree; pines are more sparse, and from most of the camera shots I saw lots and lots of Sitka Spruce.

Gail likes Brooke’s broth and Sean loved her bread.  Emeril loved Josh’s soup, and Hugh liked the salmon, but they agree with Tom that the soup overpowered the salmon.  Brooke wins! I think Lizzie’s in trouble; it looks like it’s between her and Sheldon. Aaand, it’s Lizzie. Next week (OK, this past Wednesday as I type this), they’re going for a dogsled ride and cooking on top of the Mendenhall Glacier. I’m looking forward to that; it has seriously receded since I worked there.  Then they’re cooking for Governor Parnell.

Last Chance Kitchen. Lizzie’s not surprised to be facing Kristen. Tom says there’ll be one more LCK after this. Today, they can only cook using a campfire. Kristen says she’s only done that with s’mores. And hot dogs, she adds after a pause. They don’t even have any equipment, just grates over the fires. Lizzie grabs the salmon and is making fish stew. Kristen grabs the cod, leaving the bright orange Irish Lord by it’s fugly lonesome. Don’t blame them. That’s what the bait type chum is made from.

Kristen’s making an Asian-themed soup to show she can do more cuisines. She’s happy to discover the grate over the cookfire swivels so that you can somewhat control the amount of heat you’re working with. Of course, it starts to rain.  Lizzie’s using fennel and leek with hers, Kristen’s using fennel, corn, chilis, and coconut milk. When Tom tastes them, he has some more of Lizzie’s and Kristen and I are both worried. I’m mostly worried because I put off watching this for so long that I think the voting period to save her if needed might be over. Luckily, it appears the producers want her back as much as I do, so she wins.

Nina Lisa

Does Brooke get seasick, or something?

Wow, Stefan was a cutie when he was younger and had hair.

Ah, Brooke has a boat phobia. Ugh, those are not easy to overcome.

It’s Curtis Stone! Yay! I’ve noticed he doesn’t appear to be the chef on The Biggest Loser any more. The Quickfire is highlighting iceberg lettuce in one bite? Ouch. That’s not going to be easy. Really? You can caramelize it? Ohhhkay. Not something I’m planning on trying soon.

Trust Brooke to go down the Top Scallop route. Lizzie’s having oven problems. From their dish descriptions, Sheldon and Stefan should do well.  Wow, Stefan has to be almost literally on top of everyone, doesn’t he? What’s up with that?

No, Josh, I’m not surprised, and a wet salad sounds disgusting. But I think Sheldon’s idea is a winner. Lizzie’s planning on using the lettuce as a carrier is a bad idea. I know this isn’t Iron Chef America, but the idea is still to make the ingredient the star of the dish. I’m pretty sure that’s the idea in all the chef shows, actually.

So, Stefan’s dish appears to have gone over well. Braised iceberg lettuce, pastrami, fingerling potato and blue cheese sauce. They tell him he did a good job keeping the texture of the lettuce when he cooked it.

Sheldon’s got a lot going on in his. Vietnamese lettuce wrap with pork, shrimp, and pickled iceberg hearts. They said it was creative with complex flavor and good texture. I bet he wins.

I don’t think they liked Lizzie’s iceberg salad with crispy bacon, shallots, and anchovy vinaigrette. It also seemed a little big for what is technically supposed to be an amuse bouche. Hmm. I think Josh’s play on a wedge salad might’ve been a good idea. Iceberg roll with apple cider vinaigrette, bacon jam, and blue cheese. Yeah, they said Lizzie’s was too big. And Josh played it safe, yeah, that makes sense. Elevating a classic dish also makes sense.

Brooke made an iceberg wrap with bacon, scallop, caramelized onion and crispy quinoa.  It seems to go over well, but again, it’s more like two bites than one.  At least the scallop was cooked well and the bacon went well with it, and the quinoa provided crunch and texture, but it was hard to eat. And Sheldon wins!

As they continue their cruise, I’m enjoying the glimpses of the Inside Passage. This was shot some time in late September, I’m guessing, from the amount of termination dust on the mountains.  I mean, I knew it wasn’t Thanksgiving way back when that episode aired, but fresh oysters aren’t supposed to be eaten during the summer, either, so I wasn’t sure when they began. I’m pretty sure that the competition is every day for them, but I don’t think it’s been that long since that episode.  It might be October, though.

So, Sheldon and Lizzie get manicures while the rest drink. Which results in the standard behavior: Stefan overshares and Josh is an ass. If you can’t handle it, don’t dish it out. Then they go to lunch at the restaurant their Elimination Challenge will be in. Aha, Stefan has OCD. That explains a lot.  They’ll be doing dinner service: a twist on surf and turf. Interesting. You know scallops will be in there somewhere. Sheldon’s advantage is first pick of proteins, and then only he can use them. Nice! He seems to be having trouble making up his mind, but finally picks beef tenderloin and lobster.  That’s rather standard.

Stefan picks pork belly and eel.  Josh also picks pork belly, along with scallops, and bacon. Lizzie asks Josh for half the scallops and goes with suckling pig. Brooke, for reasons totally beyond me, picks frog legs and mussels. Frog legs make me think water, not land. But I guess they’re supposed to taste like chicken, so maybe that counts.

Ah, and they have to deal with some funky looking serving dishes.

Josh is making scallops into pasta for carbonara? Sure. And has no clue how to do it. Well, I guess that’s original, for an Okie boy. From the preview clips, it’s not going to go well.  Stefan’s going for ravioli with eel and beer-braised pork belly.  Brooke’s dish is deboned frog legs, because even though they’re smaller than pork belly, she doesn’t have time to braise them, and I don’t think she hears the insincerity in Josh’s voice when he tells her he thinks it’s a good idea. I mean, really, chefs have been yelled at for deboning chicken wings — they’re too small! And frog legs are smaller still. Sigh. You know, one thing I want to add here, they’re all taking risks.  Except maybe for Sheldon, who’s worried he’s not thinking outside the box enough.

As shown in the “coming up”s, Josh’s scallop gel pasta didn’t set well enough, so he’s back to breakfast and scrambling them instead.  The guest judges include the head chef, the hotel director and the cruise director of the cruise line. As various TWOP recappers have said, they’re not paying me for advertising, so why should I say who they are?  Tom and Padma are joined by Curtis and Hugh Acheson.

Brooke’s up first.  Her dish appears on the screen as mussels and frog legs with celery root and fennel puree, papadums, and shallot chutney. Fennel’s about as ubiquitous as Tom Colicchio, and a quick Google search tells me papadum is a round, cracker like flatbread served in Indian restaurants. Funny, I thought that was naan.  The judges like it; she added beet juice to the frog legs and evidently made them earthier. I think she got points off for the papadum being greasy, but that’s pretty minor overall.

Stefan’s next. He’s serving braised pork belly with beer sauce, parsnip and eel ravioli. That does not sound good. The judges comment on the greasy sauce right away, and the crunch on the pork belly appears to have caused Tom to lose a tooth. Not a good idea at this stage of the game. Curtis likes it, and I presume the cruise director with the British accent does, too, since it appears to be a cultural thing. Too bad it’s lost on all the other judges.

Josh’s scrambled scallops are up next, and he admits his problems to the judges. I think if it were me, I’d pretend I’d planned to serve it the way it came out all along. He added braised pork belly and bacon.  I wonder if the judges are tired of breakfast yet? I guess not, it looks like it’s a hit, and he gets commended for the save on the scallops and for thinking outside the box.

Sheldon’s having flashbacks to the roller derby with his tempura. Uh oh. That could cost him the challenge.  He’s presenting a Korean BBQ filet mignon, tempura lobster, sesame cabbabe, kimchi, and teriyaki sauce. The cabbage sounds good; sesame seeds and oil are good with Brussels sprouts, and those are in the same family. Yeah, he also made some kind of sauce that wasn’t what he described, and the tempura’s both soggy and cold. Unless Lizzie really screws up, and she’s having equipment problems again.  She may be presenting not quite done cabbage rolls.  And since they’re stuffed with suckling pig, that could be a problem.  She serves the scallops with a mustard sour cream. Since I don’t like mustard, that doesn’t sound very good to me, but I bet the judges are going to love it.  Hmm. Looks like I’m wrong, they say the scallops are overwhelmed.  But is it enough to save Sheldon? Is there still going to be a battle on Last Chance Kitchen? I don’t remember when they brought them back last year.

Drawing conclusions from what the guest judges are discussing, it doesn’t sound like Sheldon’s going to be safe.  The dishes were too much traditional surf and turf, and had too much wrong with them. I don’t think he thought outside the box at all. And I think Josh is heading for another win; the other three seem to have had both good and bad comments directed to them.  Well! Did not see Brooke winning. Cool. And she gets a real cruise as a prize. Heh. Hope she gets over her phobia soon.  Looks like Stefan’s crunchy pork belly was worse than Lizzie’s underdone cabbage rolls (I guess she must’ve cooked the pork before stuffing them.), but when I was keeping track of good vs. bad comments pre judges’ table, there weren’t any positive comments made about Sheldon’s dish, so I think he’s done. Yes! It’s Stefan! Not that I want him to go, either, I wish it were Josh, but better him than Sheldon. I want to see Sheldon go head-to-head with Kristen in the finale. I wonder when they’ll bring the LCK winner back, and what effect (if any) all of this tweeting will have?

And next week, looks like they’ll be in my hometown of Juneau, Alaska.

Yeah, even without the sign, the shot of the Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska’s real drive-in glacier would’ve clued me in. Nor did I need the sign shown in the previews for next week to know that the LCK is being held at the site of the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. Which is much better than the one at Thane Orehouse, IMO.

Stefan guesses that Kristen is the LCK champ, and if not her, Bart.  Well, if it hadn’t been her, it would’ve been CJ. But it’s Kristen. And Tom notes that Stefan’s been in the bottom four out of twelve times, so they get to cook with offal.  (Tom pronounces it oh-fall, BTW. I’ve always heard it pronounced to rhyme with awful.)

Kristen grabs the chicken liver on her way to her station while Stefan’s busy gathering pans and things.  Mr Germany has a plan for a dish that actually uses all of these ingredients: tripe, tongue, and beef liver.  I think there’s something else in there, too.  Much is made out of Stefan and Kristen’s supposed showmance, because really, how else are you going to kill ten minutes of Internet video time?  The peanut gallery has been left Stateside, so it’s up to Tom to find out what each chef is making.

Kristen makes chicken livers with garlic and mustard caramel, pickled fruit and herb salad. Tom says it’s balanced well.

Stefan went to southern Germany and made Beuscherl of innards with cream sauce, bread galette, liver and parsley salad. When I see this list, I panic a bit because it seems like since he used more of the ingredients, it might make a better dish if he was able to produce the flavors he wanted in 30 minutes. Tom calls it interesting.

Of course, I actually forgot this is preplanned, and Tom goes with the dish that had more balance, which was Kristen’s. And then he says he’ll see her next week, so she’s got at least one more battle to go. I wonder if it’ll also take place there, or if it’ll be at their next stop, wherever that is?

I’m very much looking forward to a vicarious home visit!

Nina Lisa

The theme of this episode appears to be Keep It Simple, Stupid. Josh overthinks it in the Quickfire, and is called out. So he follows the KISS dictum for the Elimination Challenge, and wins. Too bad he just wins a bottle of wine a day for a year and not immunity. Well, not really. I hope he’s next.

It starts out with Brooke berating herself for not telling the judges the truth about what went down with Kristen and Josie, and Josie herself crying crocodile tears and claiming she feels guilty about stabbing Kristen in the back and not taking the culpability for her dish last time. Lizzie looks like she’d be just as happy if Josie used that knife to commit hara-kari.

And that’s how I’m going to segue into the Quickfire, where the guest judge, sushi master Katsuya Uechi, first makes mention of the theme, and in so many words. Sushi is fish and rice.  The winner will get $5,000. Josh has no clue, and grabs his standby bacon.  In fact, he just starts throwing all sorts of stuff together, because he’s making breakfast. He knows how to do breakfast, not sushi, he explains. Katsuya says the bacon is too greasy.

I was hoping Josie would be shot down, since he said her dish needed punch, but if she is, we don’t see it before Padma calls for the best dishes. Then again, Lizzie was the other loser, and they only name two top dishes, so maybe that’s what they’re doing now that they’re down to six chefs. I thought Sheldon would be in the top, what with his lemon charcoal, which Katsuya evidently noticed, but no go.

Those top two are Brooke, who evidently eats sushi with her husband three times a week, and whose entry Katsuya praises as “clean”. The other, and the winner, is Stefan, which surprised me since he opted to leave one of the two required ingredients, rice, completely out. But he prepared it two ways, so I guess that helped. This is the first time he’s won anything, so he’s pretty happy.

For the details of the Elimination Challenge, Padma introduces us to David Chang, who I guess is this famous-in-the-chef-world noodle guy, and Tom Coliccio. Tom says that they’ve rented a house while they’re staying in Seattle, and that he’s invited a bunch of people over for dinner that night, and the cheftestants are making it. And he wants fried chicken.

So the cheftestants get to cook for the ubiquitous judges, David, two guys I’ve never heard of who own a couple of restaurants, one of which is called Son of a Gun and is here in L.A., and formidable judges Emeril LaGasse, Wolfgang Puck, and Michelle Bernstein, whom I’ve only heard of since I started watching Top Chef.  When Josie hears that Michelle’s one of the judges, she gets all pissy, saying that Michelle was the guest judge when she was eliminated on her previous season. Foreshadowing!

The cheftestants are all given whole chickens to butcher, and 30 minutes to do so, as well as gather other ingredients to take up to Tom’s house.  Josh says his father made the best Southern fried chicken ever, and teases Brooke for going healthy with skinless, boneless chicken breasts. How she describes it sounds pretty good to me, though, especially since she plans to bring the skin taste back in by deep frying some and crumbling it over the chicken.

Then Josie claims she’s got the best Southern fried chicken recipe, and Josh calls her out on it since she’s from South Florida and he’s from Oklahoma. I hate to tell him this, but Floridians will cut you if you try to tell them they’re not Southern. Don’t even go there, boy.

I’m not sure what Lizzie’s making, but she’s serving it with a side dish that sounds horrible to me, but which Tom raves over.

Sheldon’s bringing in his Filipino roots and making chicken two ways.

Stefan, for some reason I simply cannot fathom, is making Chicken cordon bleu. That is not fried chicken. He claims that’s how they do it in Europe.

Toyota Highlander product placement travel to Tom’s rented house.

So, service time. First up are Lizzie, Sheldon, and Josie. Sheldon has oil issues, and burns some of his chicken, which he has to toss, which means he winds up not serving enough of one of the ways for everyone to have a piece. Tom evidently hogs all of the wings anyway, since the judges are all, in Emeril’s words “fried chicken fools”.

Josie also has oil issues, and time management issues (quel surprise), and winds up plopping her chicken straight from the fryer onto a banana leaf (?), where a greasy pool forms.

Everyone’s pretty happy with Lizzie’s dish, mainly because, although she also went Brooke’s route and served chicken breasts, she kept it pretty simple, which Wolfgang also points out in so many words is the best way to do it.

The next half to present are Josh, who smoked his chicken before frying it, and dredged it in the traditional brown paper bag before smoking it. He also injected it with brine when prepping it earlier, since there wouldn’t be time to brine it the usual way. I’d never heard of brining chicken before. I’ve heard of brining turkey, and I have a friend who used to inject her turkey with Chambord, but putting the two together? I don’t know. Of course, this all works for him, because as I already mentioned, he wins.

Brooke has oil issues too, having run out and therefore not being able to deep fry her chicken skin, so she has to leave that off entirely. For some reason, she chooses to fry everything a second time, which winds up overcooking it, of course, since she didn’t leave the bones in. And when Wolfgang pulls apart the breast, he makes a snide comment about the name of the show not being The Apprentice. Ouch. I’m afraid she’s made a worse dish than Josie, and might be going home instead. Padma brings up that she didn’t even hire the two owners of Son of a Gun and Animal as line cooks several years ago. But they hate her chicken so much, one of the guys says he’s glad he didn’t take the job.

The judges are having none of Stefan’s chicken cordon bleu, and Padma asks if anyone’s even eaten any of that dish recently. The same guy who’s glad he didn’t used to work for Brooke says he did a couple days ago, on a plane.  David, Wolfgang, and Emeril all join Padma and Tom at the judges’ table.

The top three are Josh, Lizzie, and Sheldon, which really isn’t a surprise. During the bottom three review, Brooke is aware she didn’t really get her idea on the plate. She’s been up and down all season. Too bad she’s usually up during the Quickfires and down during the Eliminations. Stefan is an ass, per usual, and when he snottily informs them that chicken cordon bleu is how they do fried chicken in Europe, Wolfgang points out that he grew up in Austria and one of their most famous dishes is fried chicken. After they leave, Padma is all indignant over his out and out lying to them, which I’m not sure he did. I’m beginning to agree with my new friend Jessica’s hatred of her.

Josie is her usual defensive, not taking responsibility for anything, bitchy self. When they call her out on the greasy chicken, she claims she “ran out of” time. Tom nearly comes unglued. He points out that she has a serious issue with time management, which is something that a chef should have down as a basic skill. When Emeril continues to harp on the greasy chicken (and while he’s no more a Southern cook than Justin Wilson was, the boy does know the cuisine), she claims that all the other cheftestants liked it, which prompts Tom to say, “I guess David, Wolf, Emeril, Johnny, Vinny, Michelle, Padma, me, we have no idea what we’re talking about.” Well, maybe Padma.

At any rate, as disappointed as they are in Brooke’s dish, Josie is no longer going to skate by, and so she’ll be facing Kristen in Last Chance Kitchen.

Kristen’s not too super surprised to see her there, nor is Josie all that surprised to see that Kristen’s the current champion. During their trip to Pike Place Market/Toyota Hybrid product placement, they agree to be civil for the moment.  Tom sent them to Pike Place to get salmon, so we get the obligatory show of them catching the fish as it’s thrown to them. Josie almost drops hers. Foreshadowing!

Once they get back, Tom explains that they have the standard LCK 30 minutes to prepare ten consistently alike dishes, one for him and one for each of the eliminated peanut gallery, who this episode appear to have taken over Tom’s job of asking the chefs what they’re making. When Josie snarks, “Salmon.” it’s obvious none of the fallen chefs like her, either.

Kristen attempts to pickle pineapple and raisins to serve with her dish, but the raisins don’t plump, and in her interview she says it’s a “bad, bad mistake”, which makes me die a little on the inside.

Josie has, as usual, let time almost run out, so with less than a minute to go, discovers that she’s dropped one of her ten pieces on the floor. She quickly cuts another piece, and throws it into the pan on the stove. With the peanut gallery loudly counting down the final seconds, she manages to flip it, and get it on the plate about the time they yell, “One!” Tom calls her dishes consistent, but all consistently over-cooked. How do you overcook a three by one inch piece of salmon in twenty seconds? Not that I really care, since that means she’s going home. Or at least not returning to the Top Chef kitchen. This season.

At one point during LCK, she interviews that time management is her “Achilles heel”, which makes me furrow my brow, because I’m pretty sure she called it her “Achilles tendon” during the Top Chef segment, but I’m not going to try to find that moment to recheck, because I’m tired and I haven’t even gotten to watch TVD yet.


Nina Lisa


C’est la guerre

Full disclosure: I was hard put to find a version of Wednesday night’s Top Chef I didn’t have to pay for. Even though I know better, I decided to go to Unfortunately, I clicked on the bookmark that goes straight to Last Chance Kitchen, with the picture of the three chefs awaiting Twitter votes right at the top.  So I spoiled myself and knew going in Kristen was out. I was mega pissed about that and  wasted several hours and risked several viruses in a search for an episode I could get more than five minutes into to find out whatthehell happened. Now I know, and I’m still kinda pissed, but since Tom also felt she went home too early, he picked her as the winner for LCK, so I’m fairly sure she’ll be the one to return. There shouldn’t be any more than another two chefs to battle, IIRC.

As the episode developed, I got more and more pissed at Josie. I agree with Brooke that Kristen needed to place the blame where it belonged, and there was even a shot of her saying “Bite my tongue. Bite my tongue.” while Josie was happily throwing her under the bus. At the same time, I can see why a team leader would take final responsibility for a product that went out from their team. Especially since, quite frankly, as team leader Kristen needed to tell Josie to quit fucking around and roast her bones for the bouillabaisse already.  If Josie had done that the day before, there would’ve been time to both add the gelatin and then to test the sauce, and then the fact that Kristen didn’t want a lot of sauce on the plate would’ve been more squarely on her shoulders.

Also, if I’m being completely honest, judging from both the bouillabaisse and the boeuf bourguignonne, Kristen was plating the way she plates at her tasting restaurant. I’ve been to a restaurant with a similar concept, and the portion sizes are completely different than they should be for a “normal” restaurant, because the idea is not to have a meal from one dish but from several smaller dishes put together. Even though she was serving five courses, each course needed to be closer to full-sized than I think they were. Although, TBH, I’m trying to remember the portion sizes from Sheldon’s restaurant and I’m not sure they were any bigger.

Which brings me to Sheldon’s win. WTF??????????!!!!!!!!!????????????????????????????? Nowhere in the editing of the show did they make it sound like his restaurant should win. Emeril was not the only one who pointed out that Stefan being an ass and giving poor service far outweighed Josie’s f-up of the bouillabaisse. The only reason I can think of is that he had two courses that were incredibly spot on, one that was in keeping with the theme, delicious, and well-executed (and I kept hoping they’d compare it to Micah’s), and one that was delicious and well-executed but not quite in keeping with the theme, whereas Kristen had one bad dish and four that were good but the concept/theme was poorly brought out. Knowing it had to happen still didn’t make it any more believable for me.

I wonder exactly when the interviews on these types of shows take place. On some shows, you can tell by the clothes people are wearing that something was said earlier than aired, so to speak, but in this show they appear to have done them all after the season is over, because CJ has been wearing the same outfit for his LCK interviews that he did in his TC interviews. And obviously Kristen had had time to calm down and spout all that bit about a team leader taking responsibility, when at the time it happened she admitted she’d taken too much.

Finally, I’m ever so glad Gail was the voice of reason about Josie’s skating. I hope they’ll be keeping a sharper eye on her from now on, because she needs to leave. Even before Josh or Stefan, she needs to be the next to go.

As for LCK, I went into it knowing the producers were keeping CJ around, and dreading his eventual win. As it progressed, Kristen’s decision to redo the dish that got her there made me cringe, because it hadn’t worked yet this season. And Tom pointing out that she never did well during Quickfires just convinced me more.  When Tom started his spiel about the dish of the chef he was going to save, I nodded and said CJ, because that’s kinda what it seemed he was describing. Then again, he’s fooled me before with that description. And here’s something else I noticed but kinda dismissed because I was convinced the producers weren’t going to waver from bringing him back: Tom is exceptional at keeping a poker face when he tastes food in front of the chefs. But for the first time that I can remember, as he left Kristen’s table, he said, “Excellent.” Yes, I know I have a short memory. But I’m so happy for her win, since she’s my pick to win the whole thing, that I’m fanwanking as hard as I can.

If you missed LCK, there were a couple of funny moments: Tom left the peanut gallery to go talk to Kristen, but she had to dash off to the pantry, so he headed over to CJ, who also had to run off. Poor Tom barely made it back to his seat before they were both back and he could ask about what they were making. And the immortal quote of the episode, when Kristen was firing up the smoke gun, “Oh, I get it! It’s just like lighting a bong!” Loved Bart’s reaction to that, too, BTW. And I’ll admit I gave John a couple points for immediately instructing Kristen in a quick but detailed manner how to use it.

That’s all for now.


C’est la guerre

Restaurant wars, except it’s Top Chef, so there has to be a twist, right? Right. I’m excited to see Kristen’s concept next week, although now I have to research exactly what a French bistro is, for my own purposes.

And hurrah, Micah is gone! Yet another time I crossed my fingers for a CJ win in LCK, although I’m fairly sure that the producers have already decided who’s going to be coming back for the finale. Doesn’t stop me from tweeting for Kuniko, tho.  Speaking of Kuniko, and some of the other former cheftestants, it was nice to see Steven request Carla for his sous chef because he respects her skills.  As for the other bottom chefs, I’m only glad Josie and Lizzie are still around so Kristen has more people to help her. I’m not impressed with Josie’s time management skills, and I couldn’t believe Lizzie mouthed off to the judges like that. I’d now be happy if either of those two went home next.

Brooke’s beginning to grow on me; I really liked her Quickfire dish concept, and it’s nice that Wolfgang Puck liked it, too. He was a Jeopardy answer the other night, and I knew he’d be in the category, and I still missed it.

I will say this about Lizzie’s restaurant concept: I thought it was interesting. I love Italian food and have learned to make quite a few dishes; but most of them are the “traditional” ones. I’d be interested in sampling and learning about the ones that have a Balkan influence.

In a real pickle

Ding dong the John is dead! (Since I can’t remember the other Wizard of Oz reference I was going to use.) And it was the first time I was rooting for CJ in the Last Chance Kitchen, too.  John totally got his comeuppance with the garage sale pans. But I still voted for Kuniko.

I really thought Sheldon was going to win the Quickfire, with the whole knife-sharpening every day montage. Instead, Micah got it. Blech. Either he or Josie can go next, AFAIC. But I’m very happy John and his stupid glasses on the forehead are off my TV screen. Or my laptop screen, to be technically correct.

I’d like to believe that if he had been an ass and kept the pickle jar, they’d’ve kicked him off the show anyway. They were told from the beginning that there was a tenth moment to recreate, and the fact that they called five people in instead of the top 3 should also have been a clue that things were going to be switched up a bit. Come on, it’s Top Chef! There’s always going to be a twist. But then, I guess that’d be giving him credit for having any brains, which he obviously doesn’t.

At least Josh finally cooked a decent piece of pork, eh? Oh, and I totally called an English pea puree moment!

I have to admit, the more I see Kristen, the more I’m rooting for her. (Stefan is also beginning to grow on me.) I’m really looking forward to “her contribution” to the Healthy Choice TC inspired line-up.

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