Hello, I am Zin, and tonight we will get Chopped! Scott Conant, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Marc Murphy (but not Ted Allen, where is Ted?) show up to judge the contestants who perform in a Dessert-Only version of Chopped. They compete within their teams, and one from each team will be up for elimination! They have 30 minutes and they have to finish NINE plates, that is a lot, usually it is four! Then they will do a live talk which includes a culinary tip!
Team Alton (Justin, Judson, Martie, Emily) goes first – they have chocolate kisses, pancetta, graham crackers, and kumquats. That is not bad, really. They are lucky they did not get tofu or zucchini or potato chips, these were all things on the real Chopped! Alton coaches them to think of the kumquats as acidity and the pancetta as salt, and “you can make anything with a graham cracker.” That is the way to view a Chopped basket, with the things as functional.
Justin says it is the inverse of Christmas: the basket of joy is a basket of terror. That is a pretty good line, the inverse thing! He says he is going to do a riff on lunch lady no-bake cookies. I am not sure if that is a real thing or if he is embellishing something he is making up! He shocks the judges by first melting the kisses in their wrappers…. Then he puts them through a sieve but does it not still impart a metallic taste? And what if little pieces get through? Not to mention the paper, I do not think this is a good idea. He ends up with a small amount of chocolate which he mixes with chocolate chips and puts in the microwave but he burns the first batch! He throws it away and melts more, and I think that means he serves only chocochips and no Kisses! But the judges do not say anything. He burns his pancetta! He has to pick out the few pieces that are not burned. Then at the very end he is flapping a towel at his plates, to fan the excess powdered sugar off, he says. Between the burned stuff and the smoke and the blowing sugar, I think he has made a terrible mess! The judges are worried but they love his cookie! It is basically congealed melted chocolate chips with pancetta and graham crackers mixed in, yes? I think the judges are giving him a pass on this! His live talk is great, though, he really is a clever storyteller, something like: “Here’s how this happens, I open the box, someone is telling me I can’t do something. I don’t like that. I’m a culinary Ombudsman.” I have to admire someone who knows the word “Ombudsman” and can use/pronounce it correctly. And then about going to Hershey Park when he was in high school and the cafeteria cookie and “then I rush back to New York” and “with my whirlwind blow the extra sugar from my plates.” I do not think that constitutes a tip. The judges love him. I still do not believe his cookie was that good, but he was fun to watch. I wonder if the whitewash of his food means he is one of the Chosen (because I still believe with all my heart that they know the 2 or 3 they want from the beginning).
Judson is not happy about Chopped or about Dessert, since it brings up fat memories. Alex asks what he is making and he says chocolate infused cornmeal cake; she says she loves that he does not want to reveal what he is making. But he just did! He is making a chocolate infused cornmeal cake, was she not paying attention? Or did they edit this to the point where it does not make sense because viewers will not notice? He knows his corncake is not quite done, but he has no choice now. He talks about his grandfather and bourbon being his favorite thing (surprise grampa!) and the judges love his talk (I did not hear a tip) but his corncake is not cooked.
Martie has been making comments about her age all episode. It is strange, she will not say how old she is but keeps pointing out she is the oldest and is 20 years older than some other contestants. In her intro she said at one point she was “over 30″ then “over 40″. I am thinking she is really over 50, because several other contestants, Malcolm, Edward, Josh, and Michele, are over 40, and they are not blathering about it all the time! I also think she is hoping to discourage them from sending her home by getting the pity vote and maybe hoping for some “young guilt.” Not that either Bob or Susie (or the coaches) are young! Scott asks what she is doing, and she tells him about indoor smores (I have to admit, smores was what I thought when I saw the basket) but she stops working! They keep telling her to cook and talk, but she stops and stops, and Alton says, “Ms Duncan, if you can’t cook and talk at the same time, shut up and cook.” The judges all look at him. He shrugs and says “Sorry.” I am sure they edited that to look better than it was (this whole episode has a highly edited feel to it) but it was funny. And I have to say if someone cannot cook and talk at the same time they probably are not going to be the next Food Network Star! Her talk goes over and she does not get to her tip. The judges say her dish is too simple, and she did not transform the ingredients. Alton makes her promise never to “evoke” (I think he meant “invoke”) her age again, he is sick of it! So am I! Thank you Alton! But I think she will be the one from Team Alton who is Chopped.
Emily makes a chocolate cupcake with all the basket ingredients, plus some chili, for a Chocolate Fried Pancetta Delight. It sounds good, actually, salt and chili go well with chocolate! She talks about her grandfather cleaning out the refrigerator. She manages a tip, about the salt and chili (I am not sure which one she means, or both) with chocolate –hey, I knew that! I am so proud of myself! They love her, they love her cupcake, Scott got the perfect bite with all the flavors.
Alton is proud of his team. Giada is proud of Alton for being nice to them.
And it is time for Team Giada! They get Reese’s Pieces, popcorn (unpopped), coconut, and grape soda. Everyone seems to think this is awful, but it all makes sense to me. Ok, the grape soda is gross, but it has texture and flavor and it is a natural for a sauce if you add booze.
Martita thinks it is a torture basket. I think Martita has never seen the real Chopped. She makes bunuelos (I have never heard that word before but I see they are Mexican fritters) with fruit which seems like a good approach, since she can put almost everything into the dough. The judges tell her she forgot her tip! But only Emily has had a tip so far, unless they edited them out! They like the fritters but they think she is nervous and tentative, and Giada will work on her confidence.
Ippy never wanted to be on Chopped, and here he is. He uses the grape soda to make tempura batter (I do not understand, does it not turn purple? Or at least pink or some awful grey?) and makes coconut mango tempura. He is behind on plating so just throws things into martini glasses! He feels bad being so sloppy but at least he plates (I suspect some of them did not plate and that was just not included; there are tricksters at work here, do not believe otherwise!) He talks about Hawaii and all the people who came there and did not speak the language so they used the universal language of food, which is exactly the sort of talk Susie just loves! They like his food and his talk. His tip was about using soda water to make tempura batter fluffy.
Linkie is feeling pressure because she is the Dessert Queen. Well, yeah, that is what happens when you call yourself the Dessert Queen, you are expected to know how to make dessert, and so far she has not done very well at it. She makes PJ kissed mousse. Is PJ supposed to be PB&J? Her talk is about her husband loving the peanut butter candies, and her tip is to pour chocolate down the side of the bowl into the eggs so it will cool before it hits them. Scott says it the most seamless tip they have heard so far (I do not think so! I think she stopped talking, and said, “Here is a tip,” and that is not seamless, but maybe I just do not like her for some reason). They love her mousse and say it shows expertise. At last, after three tries the Dessert Queen has made a good dessert!
Josh makes aebleskiver, a Danish style donut (“pancake ball” is probably closer) which is pretty interesting for a rock & roll sushi chef. He puts the PB into the batter and makes a curried sugar and caramel and roasted coconut for topping. He does something with candied ginger to be like an Asian inspired nougat, I am not sure what goes into what here. He is deep frying popcorn which no one understands (I think he does not know how to make popcorn). He talks about the donut but never gets to his tip. Marc is afraid he will break a tooth on the unpopped popcorn kernels. Scott does not taste the PB. Bob thinks he tried to cover too much in his one-minute talk and they are not getting the interesting side of him (and yes, I am sure there is an interesting side to someone who makes Danish food consistently) because they are distracted by tangents like Robert DiNiro jokes. Oh, no, that was last week, but the same thing this week, he is talking and he can not stop! I think he will be nominated for Worst Dessert from this team.
Yvan makes PB bread pudding and coconut caramel popcorn and a grape soda syrup. He decides to focus on one thing and make it shine, and that is the popcorn. He serves the syrup in a glass and Susie tries to drink it which is pretty silly since he calls it syrup, but if you serve something in a glass someone is going to drink it to make the point that you should only serve drinkable things in glasses! His popcorn goes over big, but his energy is too low. I do not remember his talk at all and I did not write anything down so I assume he did not give a tip.
And now Team Bobby is up, with chocolate (it seems the chocolate company is the sponsor tonight), a whole fresh pineapple, pasta sheets, and black lava salt. Ok, I did some research on the salt because I never heard of it, and at best it is salt from Hawaiian waters that is sun-dried and mixed with coconut shell charcoal! No wonder it tastes like sulfur like Scott says! At worst it is any old sea salt mixed with any old activated charcoal! It is supposed to be used for finishing, not cooking. All this fuss over salt.
Malcolm starts with the pineapple and makes salt and sugar fried pasta and chipotle chocolate sauce over flambe pineapple with cognac. He pronounces “chipotle” correctly so I approve of him! I am amazed at how many real chefs can not say that word! His talk is halting, and his tip might be that flambe is good but it is not very clear. They love his food, but not his talk. Scott asks if he enjoys doing this (never a good sign), and Malcolm falls all over himself to assure him he does!
Eric says food is his secret weapon. Well, sure, if you want to think of it that way! He makes a free form napoleon of fried pasta sheets and mascarpone cheese with hand crafted caramel and chocolate sauces. His tip is to use coconut milk and coconut cream to make caramel to give it a coconut flavor. The food is beautiful and tastes great and they do not complain about his talk, and Bob loved watching him work. Eric has gone three for three dishes so far.
Nikki does not like or make dessert. Bad start, Nikki! That attitude is what sent whosie home last week! She makes bread pudding with pasta, she says to give it different textures, but I suspect it is because bread pudding is the only dessert she knows how to make. Her tip is to use stale bread for bread pudding (duh, that is how bread pudding was invented) or to stale fresh bread in the oven before making it. Nobody likes the dish, it is not cooked, and she sounds scripted. Yes, she does. Bob says she sounds like an infomercial which is true. I think she is going to be doing the Producer Challenge.
Michele thinks Giada is watching her. She is really freaked by Giada! How strange! I like Michele but she is sounding a little crazy! She makes a free form napoleon with chocolate sauce, and her tip is to not completely melt it but let it finish melting with carry-over head. They love her dessert, but her presentation was restrained and self-conscious; she blames Giada! No, she says only Giada makes her nervous. This is very strange! Michele, you are a leading contender, do not blow it over Giada!
In the break Giada tells Yvan his culinary POV should not be “small plates” but “family style” since he is so close to his family. And there it is, Yvan will not be the next Food Network Star. He does not understand “family style” but apparently there is no market for a “small plates” show but there is for “family style” so now he either has to get enthusiastic about something he does not know or he will be out! This is when this show makes me angry! They knew what his c-POV was coming in, tell him you do not like it and find something else, but do not force him into something he does not know! They better not tell him to cook Venezuelan food!
They tell Team Alton they did the best, and Justin was perfect. I am still dubious about those cookies, and I still did not hear a tip! But he was the most entertaining presentation. I suspect they see him as the next Alton Brown.
Still, someone from that team gets nominated to lose, and it is Martie. Her smores were too simple and her presentation was not very good. Josh is the one from Team Giada for his scattered talk and his ambitious but not-good dish, “it did not succeed but you tried.” And from Bobby, we have Nikki, who Susie does not know enough about even at this point to even help her. Hey, I picked the Loser Slate!
The Producer challenge is a question from the website: what can you make without an outdoor grill? Hey, Alton Brown taught me to make ribs in the oven and I still use his technique! But it takes an overnight marinade and three hours so I guess they will do something else. The idea is to use grill pans, which segues the whole FN lineup into Grill Week (which starts at 10:30), how tidy is that! It is like Palm Sunday where the service starts with triumphant joy and ends with somber reflection. Except not so religious.
Josh makes frikadeller, which are Danish meatballs, sort of like flat elongated Swedish meatballs. When I think grill, I do not think meatballs, but that is me! Then he adds sunomono, Japanese pickles. You know, I bet there are not a lot of people sitting out in TV land who have been saying, “What we really need is more Danish-Japanese fusion cooking shows!” But I found this dish to be the most interesting, since it is all new to me! It does not quite make sense, pickles and meatballs, but I do not have to eat it! His presentation is again pretty rough. Susie tells him he does a good job of describing the obvious but gave no information on what was in the meatball. Giada finally saw his point of view: combining his Danish heritage with his passion for Asian food (and then she cried… no, not on camera, but you know she did, while counting on the fingers of one hand the potential market for this point of view – and I would be one!).
Martie makes tequila lime tuna, and Alton is telling her exactly how to cook it, to get the air out of the marinade bag, to coat it completely, to use two grill pans to speed things up. If Martie needs cooking lessons, should she have a Food Network show? When she does her on-camera thing the microphone cord gets caught in the grill pan and she makes a joke of it, she does it very well actually: Susie says she makes an accident adorable; I would not go that far. But there was little food information (because Alton talked her through it). Bob likes her camera presence. Nobody likes the dish. Ooopsie, Alton!
Nikki makes hangar steak and grabs the Liquid Smoke. Every time I use Liquid Smoke, I taste nothing but bitterness. Even if I use a single drop in a pound of hamburger with ketchup and other flavors, it is just too much! But maybe it is me, I am like that with rosemary too. She puts a packet of wood chips in the pot with her vegetables. Her talk starts out with “Are you ready for some Girl on Grill action?” which is the line that made Bobby fall in love with her, but Bob is not amused. Still, he says she went from forgettable to contender. I do not see it really. They like her food, and Bobby says it feels like an outdoor dish. She is declared Safe!
So it is between Martie and Josh. Who do you think has a shot: the next Paula Deen, or the Danish-Asian fusion king? No surprise, Josh is out, and that is fair because he has not made anything really good so far, and his camera presence has been uniformly nervous and halting. He vows to continue his mission of fusing Asian and European food! Good luck with that!
I have to confess I am enjoying the new format! But I am still angry about the whole forced culinary-point-of-view issue. So far they focused Justin into “Culinary Rebel with a Cause” which is really just a rephrasing of his shtick, but now they have Yvan having to adapt to a whole new style, and they have shot down Nikki and her Girl on Grill, though that may just be another rewording thing, she can still specialize in grilling if her show does not sound like a porn description. I thought it was cute myself! But I am the one who wants to see more Danish cooking! I still remember Madison and his Danish Christmas potatoes!
Next week: Ted Allen finally shows up – they were saving him for Fashion Week!