Hello, I am Zin! We are down to five chefs – Geoffrey Zakarian, Anne Burrell, Alex Guarnaschelli, Elizabeth Falkner, and Michael Chiarello. I still think they have already chosen Anne to win, but I would like to see Elizabeth I think! I did not like her years ago, but she has grown on me! She was very comforting with the Red Hots Are for My Mommy guy, and she is pretty gutsy.
The chefs meet in an auction hall at Chelsea Pier where The Food Network is housed. Alton gives a lecture about risks, and as it turns out, Risk is the theme of the Challenge! The bidding thing is a bit convoluted to explain, but it made sense to see it, so I will just say they bid time (I can cook that lobster in 45 minutes) and the lowest time bid wins; the last person will have no one to bid against, so will be punished by getting a time automatically five minutes less than the shortest time bid! And they do not know what the ingredients are! So going last is to be avoided!
The first ingredient is… wagyu beef! Zakarian wins with 30 minutes. Alex says fancy pants beef is perfect for him, which seems a little bitchy to say about a fellow Chopped judge!
Canned sardines… Anne bids 50 minutes and wins, she wants the time, does not care about the ingredient. It is interesting, this is a lousy ingredient but it does not require much time, but since no one really wants it, she gets a lot of time with it to make other things!
Maine lobster goes to Chiarello at 25 minutes. Alex wanted it, but she let it go because the time was too low. I do not know if Alex understands what “risk” means!
Tuna Jerky – tuna jerky? That is really awful! But it is the next-to-last ingredient so Alex and Elizabeth bid against each other, and Falkner wins it at 25 minutes. Alex does not like the ingredient at all so she lets it go.
Alex is stuck with leg of lamb and 20 minutes! That is what happens when you let two ingredients go! Maybe she did the biggest risk of all, betting the last ingredient would be good and she could pull it off in a short time! It is impossible to cook leg of lamb in that time of course so she will have to cut it up or serve it in some kind of raw thing. Eww, raw lamb! I seem to recall someone somewhere serving lamb carpaccio, and it was a success, but I do not think I would like it at all!
Oh, and Anne won the last challenge so she gets an advantage, but Alton will not tell her yet what it is! She is not happy about that!
Since Anne has the most time, she gets to grab her ingredients first, which is another advantage! She is thinking sardine bread pudding out of walnut raisin bread, made with a sweet custard. And because she has the time, she knows she has to do more than that so she also makes fried sardine spines, which sounds awful but is probably the sort of thing chefs love. And she makes sardine fillets with fried beet chips.
Zakarian is waiting to start, and he has his face against the tile wall! It looks like the picture of desperation! Or a prison movie, except he has his clothes on! Finally his thirty minutes start. He knows if he cooks the wagyu beef too high and too hot, it will melt the fat out and leave only dry beef (that is interesting; I remember from Top Chef a while ago that it is necessary to cook it because otherwise the fat is overwhelming). He makes wagyu salad nicoise style with olives and fennel. He makes rillettes, which makes good use of the fat.
Falkner starts her twenty-five minutes. She must be a Ninja Chef to handle tuna jerky in this short time! She will take risks, and what is riskier than a souffle! She makes a tuna jerky souffle with tuna jerky dashi cream sauce. The subtle Japanese flavors bring out the umami in the tuna jerky. I think it sounds horrible. This is why I am not a chef.
Chiarello also starts his twenty-five minutes. He plans to butter poach his lobster, which is pretty low-risk so he will do risotto! Oh, no! Risotto is one of the curses of competitive cooking! He figures if he makes a 45 minute dish in 25 minutes that counts as risky. So he makes butter poached lobster with saffron fennel tomalley risotto, and a peeled tomato salad. I think peeling the tomatoes is the riskiest thing there! Have you ever tried to peel tomatoes? There is a trick, you blanch them and shock them and the skins wrinkle up and pull off fairly easily, but still, in 25 minutes, it is not the easiest thing to do.
Alex is scared when she starts her twenty minutes. She thinks about lamb tartar, but decides to go with sausage, carrot puree with star anise, and a salad of bitter greens. She and Falkner fight over the meat grinder. Wait, Falkner is not doing meat… oh, she is using the mixer, and Alex will use the meat grinder attachment. They only have one mixer in Top Chef kitchen? That seems stupid. But anything to rachet up the drama.
When they are done cooking, Alton reveals the advantage Anne gets – she will be a judge! She gets to taste all the dishes, and she can choose one to be in the bottom, so whoever she picks will have to do the Secret Ingredient Showdown no matter what the judges say! She has complaints about everyone – the steak Zakarian made should be cooked more (he disagrees), the risotto Chiarello made is not creamy enough (he questions that) though she admits risotto is risky, the lamb sausage does not carry the flavors because it is dry (Alex is perplexed since she put lots of fat into the sausage) but to manipulate the lamb instead of doing a tartar is risky; and the tuna jerky souffle does not taste of tuna jerky (Falkner wonders if Anne has been eating too many sardines to taste anything, which is a good point), but the risk she took was huge, for ingredient, time, and preparation. Anne writes down her choice, and Alton puts it in a sealed envelope to be revealed later.
Zakarian is confident about his wagyu beef salad nicoise style with rillette and eggless hollandaise. Michael Symon thinks it is fantastic. Judy says he took all the right risks, it is light and refreshing somehow, maybe due to the olives and capers. Simon says it is exceptional.
Anne presents her sardine trio of bread pudding, fried spines, and Portuguese fillets with beet chips. Judy thinks it is cute to serve the bread pudding in the sardine can; Simon loves the fried spines but does not like the bread pudding texture, and the pickles are much too sharp. Michael Symon says the extra time became the biggest challenge for her as she had to do something with it. The way he says it, and the criticism she got, makes me think she should have taken her extra time and stood quietly with her hands folded. Maybe she could have sung a song. Or made pasta. Whenever Italian cooks are in doubt, they make pasta.
Chiarello serves his lobster, risotto and compote of tomato. Judy really enjoyed it, the tomatoes brightened the whole plate. Simon though the lobster, the ingredient he was given, was not risky at all, but the risotto was. Michael Symon says risotto is always a risk and it was well-balanced, he enjoyed it.
Alex brings her 20 minute lamb sausage with carrot star anise puree and bitter greens. Michael Symon says there is a lot of risk. He loves the salad but not the carrott puree, it overpowered the lamb. Judy wanted more fat in the sausage. Simon liked the sausage and thought it was moist though there was some gristle, but the seasoning was bland.
Falkner has her 25 minute Tuna Jerky souffle with jerky dashi cream sauce. Simon says to do an ingredient she has never cooked before, and to do a souffle, is very risky, incredibly risky, and he enjoyed it. Michael Symon says that the description sounds like disaster, but it has a nice salty flavor. Judy agrees the cream sauce sounds gross but tastes great.
I think Anne and Alex are in bottom two. Except Anne got to pick one person, so we will see what happens!
The judges unanimously pick Falkner as the winner, since her dish was the definition of risk. Anne says there is nothing risky about her doing a souffle since she is a pastry chef, she has done souffle and ice cream, which is she going to cook some real food? Wow, catty catty, Anne! But…if Anne put her name in the envelope, she has to do the Showdown anyway. Alton peeks, he plays it to the hilt, but Falkner is safe!
Chiarello is pronounced safe by the judges since he took considerable risk; he is not the name in the envelope, so he is safe.
Zakarian and his beef salad was the winner until Falkner came out with her souffle. However – he is the one Anne chose! So he is going to the Showdown! She says she picked him because he had the least risk, which is her understanding of the assignment, but he thinks she wanted to have him eliminated since he is one of the strongest chefs there. Everyone always thinks that. About themselves, of course, not about anyone else.
So it is down to Alex and Anne, and both had risk but one had the worst dish: Alex is safe, and Anne must do the Showdown, against Zakarian, who she chose. Karma, she says!
Secret Ingredient Showdown:
Anne and Zakarian do the Secret Ingredient Showdown: the ingredient is: product placement ponzu and panko! I just bought some ponzu to play with but I have not used it yet! Ponzu is soy sauce with citrus, usually lime. That sounds good, yes? But… there is a twist – they must make dessert! They have 30 minutes.
Zakarian says the dessert angle is tougher than the ingredients. Well, sure, though neither of them are Asian cooks, those are pretty routine ingredients unless you have to make dessert out of them. He knows souffles, because when he worked at Le Cirque, the dessert chef burned himself one night and Zakarian had to step in and make souffles all night long. Wait! He did a souffle on Chopped All Stars! And he did not say that! What a sneaky little weasel! It is the only dessert he can make! Which of course is better than not having a dessert at all. In fact, if you are going to go into a competition with only one dessert, souffle is a pretty impressive one to have. He also makes a ponzu dipping sauce. Chiarello worries if it is smart to do a souffle since a souffle just won.
Anne thinks about it: ponzu is salty, so how about salted caramel? And panko, it is for frying, so how about fried zucchini involtini (involtini is anything rolled up, in this case zucchini) stuffed with riccota, panko, and dried cherries, with a fresh cherry garnish. That sounds pretty inventive! And I like hearing her thought process. And ice cream, ponzu ginger kumquat ice cream. Elizabeth freaks when she pours hot custard into the ice cream machine, because it can separate that way and turn into scrambled eggs, but it is fine. Anne adds some details like sprinkling panko over the top and plating carefully.
Zakarian presents his souffle to the judges as a sweet and sour ponzu blackberry souffle with white gazpacho dipping sauce with panko. Simon asks how he feels about being put in the Showdown, and Zakarian says it is strategy to eliminate the stronger chefs. Judy thinks the dessert is clever and well thought through, she would have liked the sauce pourable onto the souffle. Michael Symon says his technique is so good and the dish is so delicious it makes him mad, it is refreshing. Simon hates the powder sugar dusting. What?!?! I think Simon is a jerk! What makes this especially ironic is that there is a commercial airing now, during this episode, of Alex and Bobby Flay unmolding a cake and sifting powdered sugar over it! And Alex holds her hand in the stream of sugar which seems kind of stupid to me, but they are smiling and trying to exude happiness and playing in the kitchen. It is a ridiculous promo, but Simon should not knock something that is a staple of Food Network advertising!
Anne serves her involtini. Judy asks about the cherries and Anne explains it is meant to imitate a cannolli, which frequently has dried fruits inside. Judy likes the ice cream. Michael Symon says it teeters between savory and sweet, is well executed. Simon thinks the caramel sauce is sensational, and he likes the involtino. Simon asks if she would have chosen Zakarian if she knew it would be her in the bottom, and she says no, but searing a steak is not a big risk. Oooh, she is going after them all tonight, she must be worried!
Given that Simon never ever gets his way, I think it will be Anne who is out. That will really surprise me, though! They keep pimping her cookbook! And now they are going to say she is not good enough! But Zakarian should not have been there at all, they loved his dish!
Then there is more Japanese product placement, with a fan iron chef thing. It is very annoying. I will never buy that brand of Japanese ingredient! Ever! Take that, Iron Chef! That is what you get for being obnoxious!
The judges discuss. Michael Symon says Zakarian is all about technique and finesse whereas Anne is edgy and in your face. Alton asks Judy if she did not like the cherries, but she says now that she understands the cannolli connection it is ok with her. Simon did not like the dusted sugar again, it is like a 70s dinner party. He is an ass. Michael Simon says Zakarian had nuance of flavor; Judy says he was more unexpected. Michael Symon says both dishes were Iron Chef worthy (so people will think it is still ok to buy her cookbook!).
Anne is out; Zakarian is safe. I agree, but I am still surprised! Karma, as she says. Alex says she pulled out her sword and then fell on it. Alex is really bitchy tonight too! And I think she has her metaphors a little off.
Next week, they go fishing at Montauk, just like they did on Top Chef All Stars! What a surprise! They are really giving up any pretense of originality this season.