Top Chef Seattle: Episode 3, Tom vs. Emeril: Turkeypocalypse

The World in Dumplings

The World in Dumplings

I once helped out with a Thanksgiving dinner where the bird turned out pink inside. Scary pink. I told the host-cook, “You can’t serve that,” but she waved me away. “It’s ok, it’s organic,” she said with the logic of the righteous. “We’ll just eat the outside.” And there was the stuffing I’d contributed, a beautiful combination of veggies, dried fruits, spices, herbs, and artisan breads, all marinated in campylobacter juice. We put the stuffing back in the oven while we finished preparations, but I wasn’t convinced. Was I being over-cautious? Was the host being reckless? What to do? Should I warn the guests? Did I have to eat that potentially contaminated stuffing? Fortunately, someone else noticed the pinkness of the bird and asked some pointed questions, so I wasn’t alone with the secret. I forced myself to eat the stuffing; it would’ve been cowardly (and awkward to explain) otherwise. The good news: no one got sick. But it’s an awful feeling, to cut into an undercooked turkey. It makes everything on the table seem contaminated.

We’ll get to pink turkeys. But first…

Quickfire:

Dumplings!

What’s cuter than a dumpling? Pretty much anything, actually, but they’re still irresistible. And there’s a dumpling – at least one – for every country. It might even be a rule: you can’t be a country unless you have a dumpling.

Dana Cowin joins Padma to deliver the challenge: pick a country off the board, and, in one hour, make a dumpling authentic to the cuisine. Product-placement tablets are helpfully provided to allow five minutes of research, since even the best chef might be unfamiliar with, say, fufu. Or buutz. And authenticity counts.

(I’ve included general recipes for reference, as well as those by the chefs, when available)

Josie knows dumplings: they need to be cooked delicately to maintain structure and texture. “You put love in envelopes. Or purses. Then you eat it.” She may know dumplings, but methinks she needs a little work on metaphors. She makes Korean Mandu with pork, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, scallions and ginger. Dana: “Is kim chee traditionally part of this?” “Sure,” says Josie, the Global Soul Chef, “Any time you go to any Korean restaurant, it’s one pickly, fermented, fishy type of town.” Yes, and any time I go to a Chinese restaurant, I get a fortune cookie, but that doesn’t mean they have anything to do with China. So does her dish contain kim chee too? I can’t tell. I hate to be a party pooper – you know I do – and I like Josie, but has the global chef (and Yankees exec sous, btw) ever travelled anywhere besides the Hamptons? Bravo refers to her as a “world traveler” but offers no specifics, and I can’t find any other information. Dana loves her complete-dish dumpling – it’s authentic, and she wants to eat more – and Josie wins; she gets immunity. I guess it pays to hang out in Korean restaurants.

Stefan also knows dumplings. Well, of course he does, he looks like one. No, wait, that’s a thumb he looks like. Anyway, he grew up in Germany for pete’s sake, and he manages to snag klopse off the board, so no excuses. “It’s a peasant dish,” he assures Dana, as if she doesn’t know. She likes the ground lamb filling, mashed potatoes, and caper sauce; it invites her into Grandma’s house: “This would be really good for a day at the harvest.” Stefan’s relieved; he couldn’t screw this one up and go back home. Top three.

Micah, bless his heart, is a little late getting to the board, so he ends up with Kazakhstan. “I didn’t know Kazakhstan was real.” Yes, it is, it’s where the nuclear weapons are. Or, maybe, were. Not to mention some biological and chemical shit that would keep you up nights if you knew about it. But it’s ok, even Sam Seaborn got it confused with Kyrgyzstan. Which is also real, but without the WMD. What does this have to do with dumplings? Nothing, but I just love any excuse to revisit The West Wing. In addition to WMD, Kazakhstan has some awesome dumplings called manti, and Micah does his best to approximate these (leaving out the horsemeat) by using lamb, dates, curry, and cinnamon. Dana’s impressed: “You went really bold.” Top three. Yes, Micah, there is a Kazakhstan.

Carla isn’t doing so well. She’s got a bandage the size of a volleyball on her hand, which gets in the way of using the product-placement tablet. And she’s got to make these West African fufu. So she makes Italian fufu instead. Dana is not pleased: “These dumplings came to Africa by way of Italy.” Carla understands, and, to give her credit, is appropriately chagrined. But when all you have is a hammer… Bottom Three.

Brooke has no flour. How can you have no flour? What, is this a new torture method, only provide enough flour for 16 chefs and let them play duck-duck-goose? Josie is sympathetic but hasn’t got any flour to spare. So Brooke’s Indonesian siomay are unwrapped filling. Tasty – Dana likes the flavors of the chicken, shrimp, peanut sauce, and daikon – but not a dumpling. Literally, a nudie dumpling; if only she was doing Italian, she could’ve called it gnudi. Bottom three.

Kuniko knows takoyaki (octopus dumplings), though she doesn’t make them at home; she goes to the takoyaki shop and buys them. Of course; where else would you get takoyaki but the takoyaki shop? She’s got the octopus cooked and chopped, but nothing gets to the plate. She’s embarrassed. Brooke is surprised: she’d expected more from the chef at Comme Ça. CJ feels bad for her. Is this more of the already-professed lack of focus? Bottom three.

Sheldon knows every dumpling on the board. Oh, wait, no, that was a joke. Hawaii isn’t big on dumplings, it seems, but he manages to get one he knows, Chinese jiaozi, with pork and shiitake mushroom filling. Dana’s excited to meet him, since he’s a Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef. He does a good job. But not better than at least three other chefs.

John approves of the challenge, to the great relief of the TC culinary production staff, I’m sure; it’s technique-driven, and a good judge of the talent of a chef. That he’s right doesn’t make it any less annoying. But I agree: it’s a good challenge, combining several basic skills (dough, sauce, flavor combinations) with flexibility to produce something that might be out of one’s comfort zone and probably isn’t something any of them cook every day. John calls out a warning when he notices someone’s dumplings are burning, which is a nice thing to do. He’s a walking contradiction, isn’t he. Interesting. He’s got Swedish Kroppkakor, which, incredibly enough, I happen to know something about. My aunt, who came here from Sweden as a child, used to make them (along with vetebrod) for my family. I confess: as a child, I hated kroppkakor, though I might feel differently today. She pronounced it “KREP-Korker,” not “krep-KA-ka” as Padma and Dana do. Dana hasn’t seen it with a béchamel before. If John doesn’t stop wearing those glasses on his eyebrows, I’m going to develop a nervous twitch.

Lizzie makes Szilvas Gomboc , a Hungarian potato dumpling stuffed with plum and cinnamon. It must sound better than it tastes.

CJ loves pierogi, and uses veal, pork, and gooseberry puree. Dana compliments him on a pretty plate.

Bart makes a Norwegian hairball. Which is what happens when you make a Norwegian potetball, a perfectly innocent potato dumpling stuffed with lamb, and cover it with fried spaghetti for some reason known only to Belgian beer knights. Dana: “what about the crazy fried hair?” He wanted to add texture. Next time, try carrots.

Kristen‘s Nepalese momo, stuffed with pork and chicken liver spiced with ginger and cumin, pass without comment.

Some chefs got left on the cutting room floor (though, oddly, three of them are the only recipes posted so far), but international dumplings deserve mention, even Chrissy’s Indian samoas, the papas rellenas from Mexico via Danyele, and Eliza’s Mongolian buutz. Tyler made something, too – there’s a picture to prove it – but the details are a state secret, possibly to avoid an international incident.

Elimination Challenge

Well surprise surpise, here it Nov. 21 and it’s a Thanksgiving challenge, filmed last July. Two teams will each prepare a Thanksgiving meal for FareStart, a Seattle non-profit that trains the homeless and disadvantaged to work in culinary fields.

Now the twist: Emeril and Tom will “guide” the teams, setting the tone: Creole vs Italian Thanksgiving. Dana and Thierry Rautureau round out the table. I’m happy about this, since it’s kind of boring to watch the constant stream of Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Feasts pouring out of Food Network this time of year.

Gray Team – A Creole Thanksgiving:

Josie makes Triple-Spiced turkey with cayenne. There’s nothing like hearing Emeril tell her to “stuff that ass with butter” to make your day. “I have immunity,” says Josie. So I can screw up the protein, which will rack up a loss for the team, and get someone else truly talented out of my way, she thinks. “Oh, so you can push the envelope,” says naïve Emeril, who gets paid the same whether his team wins or loses. Yeah, I’m sure that’s what she meant. Actually, I’m pretty sure that is what she meant (I don’t see her as having anywhere near the required level of deviousness to pull off such psychopathic sabotage), or it was a sincere offer to do whatever was riskiest, which usually means dessert. But it doesn’t work out that way, and the blogosphere is pissed. Poor Josie. She started out as the “who were you again” of the returning chefs, and now it turns out one of the global soul chef things she can’t do is roast a turkey. She’s not seeing color on the bird, and she’s intimidated by the glistening, majestic Red Team (or at least their turkey), so she takes the temperature down for a low-and-slow approach, which, well, I’m not a global soul chef, but that makes no sense to me. Wouldn’t you turn the oven up? Maybe she had already turned the oven down, and then turned it up at the end, because it looks like it’s got plenty of color when it comes out. In fact, it looks burned, and she’s now worried it’s overcooked and dry. I don’t know if there’s a shortage of meat thermometers in addition to the shortage of flour, but for whatever reason, it’s pink when they cut into it at the table. “Practically raw,” says Dana. But well-seasoned, as if anyone cares.

Tyler is excited to learn how Emeril makes gumbo; he gets a lesson on roux. We find out Tyler’s had some struggles with alcohol and is seven months sober. I’m guessing he doesn’t have a sponsor, because no sponsor on earth would ok anyone with seven months going on a high-pressure reality show famous for showing chefs guzzling from whatever bottle happens to be handy. His Andouille and Shrimp gumbo is, shall we say, a disappointment. Emeril finds it a little bitter. Thierry thinks it lacks flavor; Emeril wonders what happened to the Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.

Kuniko is so busy helping John prep (and helping Tyler do something with… tongs?) she doesn’t work on her own dish and brings out a raw, underseasoned potato pavé (a sort of compressed scalloped potato dish). “Go back to the kitchen and actually cook it,” says Thierry. “Simple.” You’d think. Emeril wonders how she could serve without tasting. Tom wonders how she got a knife through it without realizing it was uncooked.

Sheldon makes greens – kale and chard – with ham hocks. Tom loves the flavor, but the greens need to be cooked more; as Dana says, “They’re not falling apart yet.” Padma appreciates the texture, though. I thought he made collards, which I’ve never had; I know something about chard, and I’m with Padma on this one. However, the objective was to make a Creole dish.

Danyele‘s version of Emeril’s Mom’s stuffing with chorizo and cayenne is great; Emeril approves.

John asks Emeril if it’s ok to put bacon in the cornbread; sure, says Emeril, “and jalapeno isn’t a bad idea either.” The resulting stuffing is a hit.

Kristen makes Assiette of Root Vegetables (don’t panic, “assiette” just means “plate”), Parsnip Truffle Puree & Crème Fraiche. Emeril thinks it’s a great idea, but underseasoned; Tom doesn’t think it needs the crème fraiche.

Brooke offers super-tender sweet potato biscuits. Dana loves the crunch of seeds; smart dish. I want one. Or seven.

John goes for a deconstructed pumpkin pie, aka spiced pumpkin and goat cheese Ricotta Torte. It’s a little grainy – even John notices it – but Thierry loves it anyway.

Chrissy asks Emeril if she can say “bam” when she puts vanilla in her batter (though if it’s bread pudding, isn’t it a custard?). They might have to pay Food Network for that clip. Her white chocolate pecan bread pudding goes over well.

Red Team – Ringraziamento

CJ somehow takes the lead on this team, maybe because he’s making the turkey. Or maybe because he’s the tallest. He’s pretty full of himself and his leadership until Carla tells him to leave her alone so she can make her soup. I was all ready for him to be in the bottom line-up weaseling out of it with, “There was no team leader,” but this was his episode to be the Hero. His butter-basted braised turkey (Tom insists there’s about three pounds of butter under the skin, which seems impossible to me) with “Tom’s Stuffing” (foie gras, sausage, fennel, and kale) is a big hit. When he explains it’s a recipe Tom’s family has passed down for generations, Thierry laughs: If there’s foie in it, it isn’t passed down from generations. Good point. Tom grins.

Carla is worried because Tom wants her to make 30 meatballs. I don’t understand; why should that worry her? She makes meatballs every night. Then she gets into it with CJ (“I know how to do soup”), and then with Stefan: “Girls are ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ and guys are ‘chef.'” As annoying as she is, she’s got a good point (and I’m kind of annoyed that she’s got me agreeing with her). I hate being called “honey” by anyone I’m not on soul-kissing terms with. When anyone at work, male or female, used to call me “honey,” I’d call them “darlin’,” on the theory they were channeling some old Southern gentleman unable to change his ways. Stefan’s freaked out by Carla because her husband’s a Mafioso and he doesn’t want to get stabbed. ” That’s why I left Europe. European women! ” So many stereotypes, so little time. Her carrot soup with turkey meatballs is a huge hit. Great meatballs, yummy creamy soup. Good thing she was on Tom’s team, or they could’ve been eating Italian gumbo.

Lizzie manages to impress everyone with mashed potatoes. How? Well, Dana wonders if she’s going for Joel Robuchon’s version, which is half butter and half potato. It better be a great dish, since you can only eat two forkfuls before your heart explodes. But she doesn’t go quite that far: two pounds potatoes, one pound butter. Plus a little cream. Damn, now I want some mashed potatoes. It’s been a while.

Micah likes having freedom to express himself within a plan. Dana isn’t too happy about how he expressed his Brussels sprouts with bacon, cranberries, and shallots; they’re underseasoned and a little greasy. Thierry loves them, though.

Bart somehow gets away with making a salad of Fennel, Gorgonzola, Orange & Pumpkin Seeds. Salad? How many Top Chefs have run into trouble over salad? Carlos went home in S2 – in the Thanksgiving episode, in fact – because all he did was a salad. Dana finds it a great palate cleanser, but Padma thinks it could use more refinement.

Joshua makes a sweet potato ravioli that Emeril thinks is the weak link on the plate; they’re a little tough. Tom complains about the thickness of the double layers of pasta around the edges.

Eliza (who? Oh, right, the paler version of Brooke) sends out a Chocolate Tart with White Chocolate & Mint Syrup. It’s too much chocolate. Emeril, Thierry, I’m sorry, there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.

Stefan manages to get his Panna Cotta with Orange Cardamom Crisp & Candied Pecans done in spite of his fear of European women with Mafia husbands (not to mention crowded kitchen quarters), but it’s more of the dessert letdown. Thierry doesn’t like the jam. Padma thinks the cardamom is too strong (and if Padma thinks your cardamom is too strong, you’ve got a problem), but that’s Tom’s favorite part.

Judges’ Table:

Tom and Emeril abstain from the Team decision, since they were involved, but it’s not even close: Red Team wins in a unanimous decision that surprises no one. You just don’t undercook a turkey and win the Thanksgiving challenge. CJ, Carla, and Lizzie are up for the individual win.

CJ gets a pat on the head from Tom for his leadership. His turkey was perfect, moist, well-seasoned.

Carla apparently created some confusion without even realizing it. Tom was expecting cabbage soup, and it looks like right up until Lizzie explains “I think she must’ve said ‘carrot,’ not ‘cabbage,’ he was looking for the cabbage. Whatever it was, everyone loved it.

Lizzie gets a lot of props for mashed potatoes. But looking at the scorecard, nothing else was universally well-received, so I guess it was by default.

Carla wins. CJ glowers. Ok, now that she’s won something, can you send her home please?

Gray Team loses. Tyler, Sheldon, and Kuniko are up for the loss, and Josie gets called out because her sin was that egregious.

Tyler has to face Emeril about his anemic gumbo. “It was perfect when I left yesterday; what happened?” Seems he added more roux but didn’t add more Worcestershire or Tabasco, which left it weak.

Kuniko is really proud that she learned about Louisiana, then tries the “I didn’t have enough time” card, but that doesn’t fly when you have five hours to make scalloped potatoes. Josie jumps in to defend her, saying she was helping everyone out. Padma sorrowfully says they can only judge on the potatoes they got, and they were plain and undercooked.

Sheldon gets a lesson in Southern cuisine from Dana: the greens should be melted. “But they’d be mush!” he says. Yes, exactly. I don’t know much about greens myself, aside from spinach; I just learned about massaged kale a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Episode 1 (and this video is worth watching if only for all the people trying to get money out of the poor woman – oh, I get it, that’s why the site is called “Cookus interruptus”). But the table agrees they needed to be cooked longer.

Josie really gets smacked down by Tom: “Your team lost because the turkey was undercooked. You’re the reason this team’s here.” Ouch. Up until the moment they tell her the turkey was undercooked, she was sure it was overcooked. I feel kind of bad for her. But I feel worse for Kuniko.

Kuniko is out, to no one’s surprise. Dishwater gumbo isn’t good; raw, unseasoned potatoes are terrible. Again, I’m very disappointed to see someone I like go home, but I don’t think this is the kind of atmosphere where she was going to flourish. Her parting words: “If I didn’t help anybody else and just took care of myself that’s worse than me going home.”

Back in the Stew Room after the goodbyes, John starts in on Kuniko’s failings (“She should be able to do potatoes in her sleep”), which is pretty nervy, considering he’s been her best buddy through both episodes and benefited from her help. He gets flack from CJ, among others: “Why do you have to say something like that right now? Everything turns into a lecture with you.” Can’t we all just get along? Of course not. Egos at work: This is Top Chef.

Next week: Will Josie and Carla get that side of beef off the hook before the season is over? And something that looks like Restaurant Wars – already?

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