Cheese all around. First the literal cheese, then the inspirational cross-promotion.
First, the Quickfire:
Your assignment is: Cheese. As in, make a dish with. Just as Traci interviews there’s no way it could be that easy, Curtis adds, in 12 minutes. Which isn’t that bad, really, it just takes some quick thinking. I suppose putting cheese with compatible fruits, veggies and breads on a plate wouldn’t be good enough. Suvir drools over the beautiful cheeses available (I’ll get back to this later), which include cheeses from various animals and countries and in varying degrees of smelliness. The judge is Norbert Wabnig, who the locals think is very famous as the owner of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. As always, the contestants watch via tv from another room as the judging proceeds. Their snarking is really one of my favorite parts of TCM. They might consider doing this on regular TC.
Traci chooses Colombier, a French goat cheese, and makes a cheese carpaccio: she smashes a slice with a bowl, puts it on arugula, adds some prosciutto, melts it and puts croutons on it. She thinks it might be a little pedestrian, but it looks good. Norbert says it isn’t a cheese you find in most places, and it comes through in the dish: “you let the cheese talk.” I guess that’s the Top Chef Masters way of putting cheese with appropriately selected vegetation on a plate. She wins. See?
Naomi works with Chaumes, a stinky (i.e., washed-rind) soft French cheese. She makes cheese toast and a skirt steak, apples, onions, and balsamic vinaigrette. “If he’s French,” she says of the judge, “he won’t mind the steak is rare.” I’m not sure what that means (a lot of people like rare steak) but it sounds like a slam on the French. Not that Norbert Wabnig really sounds like a French name or anything; I guess she meant if his cheese sensibilities are French. He likes her dish very much, rare or no, finding the meat a good choice with the cheese. She’s the runner up.
Celina uses manchego cheese with crispy carrot, fig and raisins, and sherry. Norbert finds the sherry and manchego, coming from the same region, work together well; Curtis thinks the carrots go well, too.
Suvir makes pakora (an Indian veg fritter coated with chickpea batter) two ways, one with mozzarella and one with another kind of cheese. He thinks it’s very Calvin Klein rather than someone else whose name I don’t catch. Norbert says “I’m not crazy about the presentation.” Suvir, safe in his little room, agrees.
Hugh makes crisp camellia goat cheese with a fried quail egg, pepper salad and hazelnut vinaigrette. Norbert thinks it’s a stunning dish but doesn’t like the egg. “Have you had an omelet?” Hugh asks the television.
Alex serves a rocchetta and prosciutto quesadilla with pickled asparagus and a fried quail egg. Norbert agrees the cheese should work in any recipe, and it has intense flavor but there isn’t enough cheese. He’s a picky guy.
Mary Sue makes an empanada with cotija cheese and a tomatillo salsa. She makes her own tortillas, too. In twelve minutes. Blows everyone away. Norbert likes her choice of cheese but doesn’t really say much else.
George has grana padano, another stinky cheese (what is it with chefs and stinky cheese? I once ordered Stilton on my cheeseburger by mistake and I thought a sewer line had burst in the building. That is NOT good eats, I don’t care what you say) and makes an onion gratin with grilled bread and asparagus. Norbert says the onions are too strong. “It’s an onion gratin” snarks George from the viewing room.
Floyd makes elota, a Mexican corn on the cob dusted with cotija cheese and cayenne. Norbert doesn’t take the cayenne well. “You’re from Mexico, you should know about Mexican food!” says Floyd in the viewing room. Later, during in-person evaluations, he does defend his dish as being traditional Mexican food (and Suvir does as well, in his blog). Doesn’t matter, he’s still in the bottom. He sulks a little in interview about Traci’s winning dish: “I’m not saying it wasn’t a good dish, but she basically put cheese on a plate.” Yeah, same idea I had!
The chefs must make slimmed-down versions of Biggest Loser contestants’ favorite dishes, such as deep dish pizza and french toast. In teams of three, they have to make a breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a brownie (which isn’t really mentioned or shown again), that comes in at under 1500 calories. The contestants are there to discuss the dishes, and trainers from the show are on hand to monitor calories.
I want to go on a rant here, but I’ll keep it down to a dull roar. First, there is no substitute for deep dish pizza, a Chinese banquet, a meatball sub, if those are the things you want. You can have “healthy” versions but that is not the same thing, and you can’t convince me otherwise. As a fat person, I promise you we know when something isn’t the way we want it. So don’t wave pita with a tomato on it and call it a pizza. Fat people have to learn to see the glory in a really great salad, not pretend something is a bacon cheeseburger. Second, why do these people, who are not exactly trying to lose that last stubborn 10 pounds, on 1500 calorie diets? Third, I’m really sick of everyone talking about how proud they are to do this. No, they’re not. They’re horrified (and some admit it) because they can’t use butter and oil and sugar and all the other cool stuff they use.
Anyway, they end up in teams:
Blue team: Naomi (French toast, egg and sausage), Floyd (meatball parmesan sub), and George (deep dish pizza supreme).
Red Team: Celina (bacon and egg bagel), Traci (Chinese buffet), Hugh (roast beef with mashed potato)
Green Team: Mary Sue (corned beef hash and eggs), Suvir (bacon cheeseburger and fries), Alex (fried chicken with creamed corn, mashed potato, and cornbread).
They consult with the contestants and do some planning. Naomi asks her contestant what it is he likes about French toast, which seems to me to be a very good approach: is it the crunch, sweetness, what? Turns out, it’s nostalgia, which is very cool, though it’s hard to put someone else’s nostalgia on a plate. Floyd talks to his contestant about the spiciness of the meatball sub, and relates that his son put on a lot of weight in his teens and had to diet for a while. Alex talks about having survived cancer; he lost a lot of weight (though that probably isn’t the best way to do it). Suvir tries to convince his contestant she’ll love his veggie burger. She’s dubious. He promises her it won’t look like cat food. Spoiler: he’s right, it looks worse than cat food. But that’s coming up. She’s a student who likes to study in pubs, so she loves pub food. I don’t think she’s getting much studying done in a pub. Studying in a pub? Who does she think she’s kidding? She’s there for the bacon cheeseburgers and beer. Traci talks about kelp noodles, and Hugh wisely tells her not to call them that to her client; call them “special noodles.” See, this is why fat people go berserk. You tell them they’re getting special noodles, and give them kelp.
In the store, George peruses cheeses and gets low fat mozzarella and ricotta. Poor Norbert would cry. Mary Sue says counting calories is very foreign to her as a chef. Celina compares bagels and finds Ezekiel bagels. I haven’t seen the bagels, just the bread. I don’t even see them on their website, though there are English muffins. You gotta love a bread from a recipe in the bible: Ezekiel 4:9., “Take also unto thee Wheat, and Barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and Spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make bread of it.” Of course there’s also a site that claims it contains human dung, but I won’t go there. Suvir calls out, “If I were chickpeas where would I be?” Naomi gets stevia to make syrup, but she’s never worked with it before, uh oh. Hugh says “I’m still hitting all the things he wants, it’s just like someone took a shrink gun to it” which is known as portion control. After all, there are only two ways to reduce calories in a dish: substitution, and portion control.
And we’re off: the judges are James Oseland, Danyelle Freeman, and Alan Sytsma. I wonder where Ruth Reichl went? The Biggest Loser contestants are there to give their opinion of their dish remakes. They serve grouped by meal, so instead of going by teams, all the Breakfast people serve first, followed by Lunch, then Dinner. The Brownie is kind of ignored, though each team had to make one and include it in their calorie total.
Naomi serves her remake of French toast. She uses spelt bread, egg whites, and berries. She thinks the stevia gives the syrup she makes a bitter aftertaste but she can’t do anything about it now; no one mentions it at tasting. In fact, the syrup is praised as a great idea to cut calories. Alan says something odd, “I even like the berries on top of it.” Even? The berries sound like the best part.
Celica provides an Ezekiel bagel breakfast sandwich. Someone says it’s good; Curtis thinks it’s dry. James says it makes him want a lot of fat and salt.
Mary Sue makes corned beef substitute of turkey vegetable hash and root veg with a slow-poached egg. The contestant likes the hash, but the judges don’t.
Alex makes oven-fried chicken coated with panko, cornbread, sweet potato puree, and creamed corn. He realizes too late he forgot the applesauce in cornbread, which was to substitute for the shortening and keep the bread moist. Oopsie. The contestant loves the fried chicken, would make it for her family. Alan doesn’t like it at all. James doesn’t like the corn muffin, it’s a hockey puck.
Floyd serves a buffalo meatball (which is pretty smart) on farro with spinach, cheese, tomato sauce, and asparagus. Danyelle says the meatball is perfectly cooked.
Traci reinvented the Chinese buffet: beef and broccoli, cabbage salad, rice, wonton soup. Now, see, this is where I have a problem. The Chinese buffet they showed had bbq pork strips and egg rolls and some other stuff. That’s a whole different thing. That’s a pu-pu platter. If I was geared up for a pu-pu platter, the remade one isn’t going to work at all. I’m gonna be pissed. James says it’s a pleasing mouthful. The contestant eats all of it (I’m not surprised, he’s probably starving and would eat a plate of Soylent Green with milk if you put it in front of him). Alan says it isn’t something he’d order but it might satisfy some of the cravings. No, it won’t. I promise, it won’t.
George sends out whole wheat pizza with tomato coulis, smoked mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar. Alan thinks it’s satisfying the way pizza is supposed to be. Curtis likes the cheese, the smoked mozz adds a lot of flavor and just a little is needed.
Suvir made his veg burger with cauliflower, legumes, and beans on pita, and an asian slaw. He interviews at the TCM blog and it’s very interesting, and very long, but worth reading, because this is the central moment of the night. The blog interview describes the slaw: peanut slaw with no mayo, tomato chutney, and yogurt sauce. He bought 70/30 ground beef and bacon at the urging of the trainer (yikes!), who said the contestant wanted meat flavor, but decided not to use them. He makes a statement about red meat, pretty much blaming meat for obesity in America. I think Cheetos and Pepsi have a lot more to do with it, myself, not to mention pizza and Twinkies. And cheese, Suvir, all that cheese you were so enamored with, full of saturated fat. Alas, Hugh is standing next to him while he’s ranting and is about to serve roast beef. Hugh is not happy. Hugh says “I would never do that” and Suvir says “You do plenty” which is a little nasty to me. He apparently meant by serving meat and saying it’s low calorie he’s contributing to the obesity problems, like it caused his father’s liver failure. Wait, what? Ok, I’ve had it with Suvir. I was kind of with him, but now he’s morphed into a smug arrogant ass who knows all the answers. I think he has strong feelings about meat, particularly beef, that are cultural and/or religious, and that’s fine, there are ecological and economic issues as well as ethical ones, but don’t start attributing false medical claims to it. Curtis notes that when you substitute cabbage for fries, it better be damn good. No one thinks it tastes like a burger. The contestant tries to be positive but isn’t very convincing. She wanted meat and she got a potato-ey veggie burger.
Hugh talks about flank stake being very lean, not as sinister as Suvir has implied. He also made fingerlings and asparagus salad and a salsa verde. The contestant likes it. The contestant who had the burger has some, too, finally gets her meat, which tells you how satisfying the veg burger was. Alan likes both the steak and the tiny potatoes.
The Blue team, Naomi, George, and Floyd, are called. They’re the best team. Floyd is the winner. The Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund gets the donation.
Suvir, Mary Sue, Alex are the bottom ranked chefs.
Suvir starts in again: “I have to take the difficult road, something she may not enjoy, but there is a statement to be made.” James asked what the decision was (which is strange, since Suvir just told him, but of course this was edited) and Suvir says “you have to make someone have a new dialog.” Yes, dear, she’s already working with a team of people, she doesn’t need your dictates. Alan says, “You came across as you were cooking for yourself, not the diner.” Curtis disagrees with the idea that meat is the cause of obesity in America, adds there are many causes. Suvir doesn’t hear anything, because he knows best. Yeah, go ahead and lecture, Suvir, you make money from lamb chops in your restaurant. And by the way – all that cheese you were so excited about in the Quickfire? That’s got a good slug of saturated fat in it, too. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to use meat: I support that, in fact. I think it’s fine. It’s his superior attitude that bugs me. And the fact that his veggie burger was bad and he doesn’t seem to get that.
Curtis asks Mary Sue how she cooked the egg; she did the slow-poach that’s so popular. Alan says it results in even cooking, but you don’t get that runny yolk that runs over everything like a sauce. She felt the contestant wasn’t ready for a loose egg (which is probably a good point). Danyelle says it did mimic corned beef, but she would’ve liked a finer dice to make it cohere.
Danyelle tells Alex she hated the cornbread, it was leaden. He agrees. Alan asks why he sent it out at all; he felt he had to. James didn’t like texture of chicken, it was not moist, and it was boring tasting, Alex though yogurt would’ve kept it moist. Nope.
They send the contestants out and talk about them. The creamed corn had a baby food consistency and was overly sweet. Alan points out the contestant loved it. Curtis says Suvir went another way. Alan is sympathetic with his goal, that he wants people to eat better. Danyelle says it was a lecture on the plate. James groans over “that pita, cold, tough, unamazing.” Curtis asks them to consider Mary Sue couldn’t make something as simple as corned beef and poached eggs, why should she stay? Alan says she’s trying to be good, not great. Danyelle agrees, she’s playing it safe. James says, of Alex, he was aware he was eating low cal food. Alan tells Mary Sue she didn’t rise to level of a Top Chef Masters dish
Suvir is out.
But still he can’t stop, “If I had done what Hugh did, I would have failed myself.”
Hugh interviews: “I think there are a lot of ways to change the way people eat; Suvir thinks his way is the only way.” His way seems to be making awful veggie burgers.
Suvir’s last words: “I leave with my convictions, having made a little difference.” Yes, you’ve convinced people that veggie burgers suck. Good job.