Top Chef Season 4 Episode 6: Thai One On

TCM - Giving New Meaning To The Term  "Food Porn"

TCM – Giving New Meaning To The Term “Food Porn”

And this week, I suppose I’m glad I didn’t meet Dita Von Teese, because judging from the episode, there is not a grown man alive who can hold it together around her. Chris made the same face he made flying in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, Takashi dutifully mentioned his wife before asking for Dita’s number… even Art, who is married to a man named Jesus, was losing it when Dita tasted his homage to boobs. Who knows what dumbness may have fallen from my mouth? Just the other day, someone tweeted at me: “enjoy your comments on TC Masters. Nice to see erudition is not going out of vogue with the younger crowd!” So thanks, producers, for, er, protecting my brand. – Francis Lam, Bravo-TCM blog

Which is why they got Dita Von Teese to be the designated star for the QF.

Quickfire
They don’t get to meet her right off the bat, though; well, there’s a reason it’s called strip-tease. All the chefs see is a satin-draped table laden with aphrodisiac ingredients: oysters, eggs, figs, champagne, chocolate.…The challenge is: make a sexy dish for Dita.

I’ve said before I don’t understand the concept of the “sexy dish” but it usually involves runny egg yolks or oysters. I’m a bit concerned: is there something wrong with me that neither of those do much for me?

Takashi takes the direct route with Chilled Oyster and Sea Urchin with Yuzu-Truffle Vinaigrette, “three of my favorite things,” says Dita. “That’s a good start,” notes Takashi from the W(h)ine Room. The plating (above) is Georgia-O’Keeffe pornographic. Takashi, you devil. She finds it perfect: cold, fresh, slippery, sexy, and adventurous: “It felt good sliding down my throat.” I think they’re only doing above-the-waist shots of the guys for this segment. Takashi has the good grace to give brief thought to his wife. He wins $5,000 more for American Red Cross Disaster Relief. The people of Plaquemines Parish appreciate that.

Kerry has a more subtle, conceptual approach, involving a slow reveal with his Seared Tuna with Uni, Soy and Aromatics. I love this line of his recipe: “Uni, as needed.” As needed? As needed for what? Dita is borderline sexually excited about uni. Ah, that’s what. She appreciates the lightness, since she doesn’t want to eat too much heaviness before, ahem. He’s second-favorite. “All you have to do is satisfy your diner,” he says. Yep.

Chris thinks fois gras oozes sex, so he goes with Foie Gras and Figs in Rose, Fig and Champagne Sauce. It gets a mention as delicious but no more.

Patricia goes for simple, creamy and seductive with Chawanmushi, Caviar, Tempura Asparagus and Love Apple Salad. Dita finds three different things in it exciting; Curtis loves the apple (which, unless the recipe has changed, is actually yellow cherry tomato). There’s jalapeno in that salad; Dita compares it to a soft caress followed by a quick smack. “Bend over, Baby,” calls Patricia from the Whine Room. Everyone’s frisky today.

Lorena loves sexy food, creamy and sweet, leaves you wanting more, so she makes a Taco Bell salad called Tuna Telitas with Avocado and Arugula. I’ve never heard of telitas; I’m also unable to find a reference outside of Lorena’s New Latin cookbook which calls them “[t]hicker than a tortilla but thinner than an arepa.” Everyone else seems to know what they are. Dita loves cilantro so finds it delicious and light but not in the least sexy; in fact, she’s worried about cilantro stuck in her teeth. Lorena calls her a liar. But she’s still one of the least favorite.

Art dreamed of chocolate the night before (Hugh blogs, “Art had a dream about chocolate and thinks this a breakthrough to understanding his psyche”) so he makes chocolate soup with meringue (“footballs, like big breasts…I like big meringue. Maybe I do like girls”), better known as Floating Island or Ile Flottante Chocolate Vanilla Sauce with Strawberries and Brittle Bits. Dita loves the rich texture; she wants to dive in naked. Curtis breaks. It’s really quite cute, and Bravo has it, along with much of the segment, on video. But they both think it’s too chocolate-intense. Dita isn’t much of a chocoholic. “How was I supposed to know,” Art mutters. He’s a least favorite. She didn’t even appreciate his breasts.

I have to give Dita Von Teese a lot of credit. I’m not sure if she wrote her own copy, but she did a creditable job of relating the food to her, um, area of expertise. Something about her bearing is very classy. It was impressive to watch her deal with a bunch of men turning into 12-year-olds, and keep her dignity without shooting them down.

Elimination Challenge

Curtis takes them all to Lotus of Siam, which is known for two things: its location in a seedy strip mall on the wrong side of town, and the best Thai food in America. Chef Saipin Chutima (even Art acknowledges that though he’s famous as Oprah’s chef, Saipin might have more names to drop than he does) feeds them well; it’s an instructive lunch because their task is to open a Thai-inspired restaurant as a group. Each must do one dish, plus front of house.

They travel in two cars: the Happy Car, with Chris, Patricia, and Takashi, all of whom are confident about both their Thai experience (Patricia even lived in Thailand for two years to study the cuisine) and their line-cook skills; and the Sad Car: Art, Lorena, and Kerry. Kerry doesn’t seem that sad, but he’s always pretty quiet so it’s hard to tell. Art gripes about the lack of a Southern challenge, and Lorena doesn’t know Thai but figures she can adapt similar Latin ingredients. The Happy Car dishes about the Sad Car: Patricia is worried Art and Lorena aren’t used to line cooking.

There’s some fun – Art tosses a duck across the room to Patricia and it falls short, prompting her to call it “a girl’s throw;” he counters that he was better at cheerleading. You know, if Art wasn’t such a self-important blowhard, he’d be very enjoyable) – and some tension – Patricia and Lorena get into over burner use and kitchen messiness, which has been previewed all week but if you really like you can watch the Bravo video which leaves out Lorena’s charming declaration that she put Patricia in her place. I think they both looked bad. Patricia’s had a couple of bad episodes; maybe she’s reaching panic mode. It seems to me she had some valid complaints but came across as condescending and just plain bitchy.

The Happy Car somehow managed to get Art and Lorena assigned to front-of-house duty. That’s not a bad idea, actually; they’re the most talkative of the bunch. But I suspect it was more to get them out of the kitchen away from the people who consider themselves the “real” cooks. I don’t like the cool-kid exclusionary feel of it. But I can’t disagree, really. Kerry expedites at first, then trades off with Chris, leaving Patricia to wish Chris had expedited all along.

I enjoyed this; Thai – Southeast Asian in general – isn’t a cuisine I know anything about, so I learned a lot.

Service

Saipin and her daughter (who acts as translator) join Curtis at the critic’s table: James Oselund, Francis Lam, and Alan Sytsma. Overall, the meal is received as having some high points, but lacking in authentic Thai flavors. Saipin in particular seems disappointed to not encounter anything Thai.

Lorena serves Pisco Chicken Soup with Galangal, Cilantro and Lime; she gets carried away with the cilantro and pretty much dumps a whole clump on top. I’ve heard of galangal before but had to look it up; it’s a rhizome along the lines of ginger. I have no clue what the “pisco” refers to; apparently it’s a Peruvian wine but I don’t see it as an ingredient, so maybe it’s a thematic or geographical reference? No idea. Lorena seems to have her own vocabulary list. Alan dislikes weeding through the garnish. Saipin says it’s good.

Chris decides to do a cold dish so brings in Sirloin Steak Larb Tartare. I love learning new words like larb. And looking at Chris’s recipe, I discovered crispy fried beef tendon. The only time I’ve ever heard of beef tendon before is in Sandra Lee’s reason for dropping out of her two-week cooking class, but apparently it’s quite popular in Southeast Asian cuisines. Chris holds back on the chilis a little so the meat flavor will come through. Saipin says the larb is ok but it’s not really Thai. Francis likes it a lot; it’s restrained but smart, and it’s beautiful.

Art doesn’t do Thai so he goes with the fried chicken he knows and calls it Cashew-Crusted Chicken , Crispy Rice Salad with Lemongrass-Lime Vinaigrette. Francis doesn’t sense Art threw himself into the Thai inspiration. Alan is grateful he at least used lemongrass.

Takashi makes up for the lack of Thai in Art’s dish with his Yellow Curry with Shrimp and Crispy Noodles. Saipin proclaims the flavors are spot-on.

Kerry ponders that eternal question we’ve all asked ourselves in the middle of the night: if you put taro root in a blender, will it turn to glue? Isn’t that the stuff that tastes like paste to begin with? He’s late getting his plates ready for the judges (Chris tries to hurry him, but he will serve no plate before his time) and this comes back to bite Patricia in the ass, which we’ll get to. It pays off for him, though, as his Braised Pork Belly with Chinese Mustard Greens and Taro Root Puree is a big hit; Saipin thinks it’s closest to Thai flavors. Francis praises the lovely greens; Curtis overhears a diner saying it was a great Thai twist on meat and potatoes.

Patricia overcooks her duck while waiting for Kerry, so she starts over, at which point she’s the one being rushed; unlike Kerry, she sends out her Seared Duck Breast with Green Pineapple and Massaman Curry (another new word for me; it translates to “Muslim curry” as it evolved from Indian cuisine by way of Muslim spice merchants) undercooked but on time. James goes so far as to send it back as “frighteningly raw.” She responds to this by telling Lorena to get out of her way (and presumably cooking the duck more). Alan finds the duck chewy and rubbery; Saipin wants more punch to the herbs. Curtis says “If you didn’t tell me it was Massaman curry I would’ve liked it.” Ouch.

But after all that drama, everyone kisses and makes up and they’re all friends again.

Critic’s Table

All six are invited. Curtis asks how it went in the kitchen, and hears the Patricia/Kerry drama; Kerry feels bad. James says they didn’t taste Thailand but a lot of the dishes were good.

Chris and Kerry are the top two; Chris takes it earning another $10,000 – total $26,000 – for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. James blogs that he would’ve given it to Kerry, but was overruled. I’m puzzled by this; Saipin credited Kerry with the most authentic Thai flavor, everyone liked it a lot… what am I missing? Kerry is the “who?” of TCM. He rarely gets a talking head, and he never wins. I’m not sure what that means. Keeping a low profile?

Lorena, Patricia and Art get the bad news. Somehow they just ignored Takashi, another one Saipin credited with nailing Thai flavor.

Art tried to keep it simple but made it boring instead. James liked the “Southern jazz hands” (what?) but the crust wasn’t chopped finely enough. “I didn’t want it to be a chicken finger,” says Art. Really, Art, is that the only way to distinguish between your cuisine and elementary cafeteria offerings? Francis calls it “the softer side of Thai.”

Lorena gets scolded for her use of garnish again; Francis calls it a flame thrower, and Curtis points out you need to cut the chilis or they don’t infuse. So those things in the picture that I thought were carrots are Thai chilis? James doesn’t get why she poached the chicken separately, losing a lot of flavor. Alan thought the broth was nice, but the garnish was amateur.

Patricia had the obvious problem of raw duck. James also wanted the sauce more intensely spiced; it felt French, not Thai. Alan liked the smokiness of the grilled eggplant but why did she send out the duck? She’s reluctant to explain so passes to Kerry, who tells the tale (oh, that’s why all six are there – I wonder if this was the second Critic’s Table they filmed, to avoid having anyone talk about a colleague behind his back). She’s an adult about it at this point, taking responsibility. I suspect she knows she isn’t going home over it so she can afford to be adult. I smell retake. Then again, I’m paranoid like that. Curtis says she was an inch off best dish but the duck made it worst dish. I don’t hear it that way at all; they also complained about underspicing. Back in the kitchen, waiting for the verdict, she tells Kerry to stop acting like a sad little dog, it wasn’t his fault.

And – I’m surprised again – Art gets cut. This is the second week I thought Patricia was out for sure. Not just because her dish was bad – though serving raw duck is about as bad as it gets – but because of her attitude. Right now I feel a little less kindly disposed towards her, but I think I’ll get over it. She just brought an uncalled-for level of snidery to her dealings with Lorena. I kept thinking of Beverly in the Dinner Party episode of TC-Texas; I was undecided then, but the snidery was a lot lower in the kitchen (interviews aside).

Anyway, Art. Wow, Art’s farewell upstaged by all these chicks, how about that. Lorena is sad. He’ll miss everyone but he’s glad he made $10,000 for Common Threads.

Next week: Sugar Ray Leonard as guest requires some boxing theatrics.

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2 responses to “Top Chef Season 4 Episode 6: Thai One On

  1. Pingback: Top Chef Masters Season 4 Episode 8: Foodie Flash Mob | A Just Recompense

  2. Pingback: Top Chef Seattle: Episode 14 – Kings of Alaska | A Just Recompense

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