Top Chef Seattle: Episode 4 – 50s Food Flashback

The mystery is over. We now know who Stefan will be bird-dogging all season: Kristen. And she seems just fine with it, since the position comes with foot massages. I have to say, I’m disappointed in her taste. There’s a difference of opinion about whether her feet smell. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Oh, and News flash: CJ and Josh hate John. We’re treated to an extended replay of the Stew Room Squabble just to make sure we remember, complete with new footage that includes barbs like “Oklahoma” and “balls.” Stefan’s thrilled: “John pushes buttons so hard, I love it, it’s like Real Housewives.”

Enough of this crap, can we get cooking, please?

Quickfire:

Naomi Pomeroy is waiting in the kitchen with Padma. I like her; I wish she’d been in the finals on TCM3. We’re treated to the clip that made her famous: yelling at her father during a Quickfire. It’s not all that, actually, but it doesn’t take much to get famous on TCM. Josh is glad to see her: she does “land-roaming animals,” which is right up his alley.

And land-roaming animals it is (vegetarians, you may want to avert your eyes): two hanging sides of beef await them. They have one hour to butcher and cook something. Now I see why they made sure we remembered the animosity amongst the contestants: nothing says Emmy like giving men who hate each other knives and saws and yelling, “Your time begins… NOW!” But the only blood drawn is Eliza’s, and that from a routine minor chopping mishap. The editors had some fun with this one: they show everyone cooking merrily away while Carla and Josie seem to struggle forever to lift one of the sides off the meathook.

And, oh my, look what happens! CJ, John, and Josh are the Top Three! Wow, what Drama, amongst these arch-enemies! Raise your hand if you think this is crap…? I do, I do!

CJ decides to do a tartar with raw juniper and kohlrabi. Now, I’ve never butchered anything bigger than a chicken, but isn’t that kind of avoiding the whole butchering issue? He claims he knows what he’s doing, and runs off with a giant hunk of cow, so maybe I’m off here, but can’t you just chop up pretty much any of the meat and call it tartar? Naomi likes it, though, and gives him props for perfect knife cuts, so maybe it’s more complicated than I realize.

Josh grinds the shoulder (again, avoiding delicate butchering, and even avoiding knife work) to make a meatball with creamy polenta and pickled shallots. Does anyone else automatically hear Grayson saying, “Like a meatball?” any time anyone makes a meatball now? It seems like kind of an odd choice, seeing as he’s a meat guy, but maybe pigs really are that different from cows. In any case, Naomi likes the acidity and how the flavors come together.

John sings the praises of the sweet unctuousness of oxtail; he braises it, then braises it some more, adds some potato gnocchi, braised veggies, a sauce, and some artichoke chips. That sounds like a lot of stuff to me. Naomi’s impressed with the tenderness. John wins.

John wins, and CJ and Josh throw up a little in their mouths.

Then we have the Bottom Three:

Tyler starts out in a bad place because he was in the bottom on Faux Thanksgiving; he’s got to prove himself, and chooses Hispanic Crudo with Charred Tomato Sauce & Cilantro Radish Slaw as the way to do that; it’s not typical steak-house fare, and he hopes they notice. They notice, all right. Now, I live in Maine, I don’t get out much, but is “Hispanic” the right word to use there? And he grills it – chars it, in fact, and the recipe calls for medium – so can it still be called a crudo? I’m so confused, linguistically. Naomi is also confused, culinarily: it’s underseasoned and falls short. John drops his head. “I can’t do anything right.” I don’t know if he’s putting the dejection on a little for the interview camera, but dang, he’s got Charlie Brown down pat.

Eliza doesn’t seem sure if she’s dealing with flank or skirt steak, but ends up with soy-and-lime marinated grilled flank steak with cherry-cognac reduction, asparagus, and a potato cake. Naomi wonders if the others are jealous because she got the flank steak; I never knew it was that great a catch. Padma calls the asparagus and cherry combo “interesting” which could go either way, but in this case, it went bad: the combination didn’t work, so she earns her bottom slot even though her steak was well-cooked.

Lizzie does battle with the pressure cooker: Pressure cooker: 1, Lizzie: 0. She makes braised foreshank with turnips and dill. The foreshank was tough; it needed more time, but Naomi gives her props for taking a chance.

Then we have everyone else:

Micah goes for oxtail, too; he knows John’s working with it, but “he’s stuck in his ways” so no problem, Micah has this one in the bag. Famous last words. The oxtail isn’t as tender as he’d like, so he chops it up, and serves oxtail polenta with Truffled Romanesco Cauliflower. I confess, I’d never heard of romanesco cauliflower (I thought it was a recipe, like Swedish meatballs). Naomi likes it, and compliments him on a great job butchering. Too bad there was already an oxtail dish (not to mention a Drama Trio) in the top.

Stefan makes Braised Top Round Ravioli with Marjoram & Aged Parmesan; he’s really proud of the marjoram in the pasta. Naomi likes the flavors.

Sheldon has never done a whole side of beef before, but he grabs a hacksaw and gets to work. He ends up with round steak and makes kalbi with Tomato Cardamom Broth & Fennel Salad. Isn’t kalbi made with short ribs? Naomi likes the flavors, but prefers it closer to medium.

Brooke digs out a hanger steak, which is one of those things, like flat iron steak, they didn’t have back when I was learning to cook; I’m not that interested in cuts of meat, so I haven’t been inclined to experiment. She makes Grilled Hanger Steak with Smoked Onion Figs & Cauliflower Puree. Naomi loves hanger steak, calls it the hardest cut to cook and slice correctly; it’s a little rare for her. Brooke decides she’s being supercritical because it’s her favorite cut. Whatever gets you through the night.

Carla presents a Sirloin Medallion Wrapped in Bacon with Asiago Risotto and Marsala Sauce. Sounds Vegas. Naomi likes the flavor and the sauce.

Kristen, running on her freshly massaged feet (how does anyone tolerate having someone touch their feet? Doesn’t it tickle?) grabs the first piece she finds so she could get cooking, and ends up with Top Sirloin Tartare with Mustard Sabayon & Carpaccio Salad. No comment.

Danyele‘s Grilled Flank Steak with Chickpea Frites and Parsley Chimichurri gets no comment.

Chrissy does Grilled Hanger Steak with Brown Butter, Parsley & Radish Salad but gets no mention.

And then we Bart, who didn’t even get camera time for his Kidneys with Kidney Fat Roasted Vegetables & Cherry Vinegar Dressing, Beer Pickled Turnips and Black Garlic, though we heard someone mention kidneys as the butchering started. Come on, they guy cooked kidneys, isn’t that worth a mention?

Elimination Challenge:

Welcome back to the 50s – a time when no one knew what cholesterol was, when “dinner” meant shrimp cocktail and roast beef, when desserts were sweet and no one apologized for them, a time before people used words like “arugula” or “balsamic vinegar” in polite company. A time when Peter Canlis opened the restaurant that invented “Northwest Cuisine.” On only $50,000, which was a lot of money in the 50s, but not enough for him to have a house, too, so he lived over the restaurant. The chefs will be reviving the original menu for the current Canlis crew, Peter’s grandsons. Finally, a prize: $10,000. And, oh, it’s a double elimination. Hugh and Emeril join Naomi at the table with the Canlis boys; Gail is still MIA this season. Gail? GAIL?!?

For Starters:

Lizzie makes marinated herring. Naomi loves it, Padma finds it full of flavor, and Tom thinks it’s nicely marinated. Emeril loves, of all things, the saltines she serves with it. Tom says they should’ve been still wrapped in little plastic sleeves to be totally 50s, but admires the audacity. Top Four.

Tyler serves a lettuce plume. It’s actually crab leg cocktail but the romaine leaf standing straight up in the sundae dish is priceless. And really 50s. I can hear Gordon Ramsey screaming at someone serving that, it’s so 50s. Apparently it tastes good, too; Padma likes it, and Tom appreciates the chopped lettuce on the bottom. Hugh finds it straightforward, a beautiful rendition of crab. Top Four – oh, good, that’ll cheer up Charlie Brown.

I kept calling Josh “Oklahoma” in my notes this episode, because of the opening scuffle, but I need to stop that before it becomes a habit. He isn’t helping matters when he complains they don’t have the French onion soup he’s assigned in Oklahoma; he’s more used to calf fries, aka testicles. I knew that, actually, since I just learned about lamb fries on Chopped this week. John offers to help with the soup, but Josh blows him off. That might’ve been a mistake: the soup is salty – almost inedibly so (though Tom walks that back a little in his blog) – and cold, and the Canlises call it “not guest friendly” since it requires a spoon, a fork, and a knife to cut the hard crouton on top. And Naomi misses the cheese. Bottom Four. It’s gotta burn.

Chrissy takes the Special Salad, which should be easy, but it’s also a very particular dish that’s been served for 62 years so she’s got to get it right. And she doesn’t. It’s overdressed, the croutons are soggy, Tom isn’t happy she used the outer leaves of the romaine, Hugh’s offended by “naked” tomatoes (?), and Padma wants more mint. Chrissy is bummed to be in the Bottom Four for a salad, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

Brooke makes Seafood Salad a la Louis; the Canlises think it’s right out of a Time-Life cookbook (I used to have some of those), Tom thinks the seafood is cooked well, but Naomi thinks the green beans are undercooked.

John knows about the 50s, like he knows about everything else in the universe. His father was a foodie and used to take him to the Rainbow Room and Luchow’s, which was pretty high-end sutff back then; but if he’s really 54, he would’ve been born in 1958, so he’s blowing smoke about something. He makes Steamed Clams Bordelaise which goes over well, Rainbow Room or no. But not well enough, it seems. Either that, or they’re just tired of him winning everything. However obnoxious, seems like he can cook. Since he has immunity, he also expedites. CJ and Josh aren’t thrilled with his expedition, but no one else seems to mind. He does one thing that endears him to me, even if only for a split second: He yells “Who has tape so I can set up an expediting line? Anyone? Beuller?”

Mains:

Stefan thinks of the dirty martini when he thinks 50s food, because he likes it dirty. He probably thinks he’s cute, doesn’t he? He gets that most beloved of dishes, Calf’s liver which was called calves liver in the 50s (and probably still is by the casually agrammatical). He’d prefer to pan-sear it, but it’s supposed to be grilled, so he grills it. And they love it: Tom thinks it’s nicely cooked, and Emeril gives him props for leaving something alone and respecting the product. Top Four.

Kristin is mad – that’s the word she uses, mad – because she’s got two side dishes, and simple ones at that: fried onions to accompany Stefan’s liver (wow, that sounds weird), and mushrooms, a simple dish only requiring four ingredients. She knows if she’s only got four ingredients to work with, everything had better be perfect, so she heads for simplicity. Good move: everyone loves them. And her onion rings are perfect. Top Four.

Carla is kind of uncertain about the squab; it isn’t something she makes everyday. They come back too rare – “apparently people like that bird a little more cooked” – but the ones the judges eat are overcooked and underseasoned; Tom doesn’t like how she didn’t debone the rib cage. Padma likes the red wine sauce, but it isn’t enough; she’s in the Bottom Four.

CJ decides to sous vide his lamb after grilling for his kebabs and pilaf, and everyone watching at home groans. The meat isn’t seasoned, there’s no marinade flavor, and it’s mealy; Tom can tell it’s been sous vide’d. Even the pilaf fails: underseasoned, soggy, mostly orzo. Bottom Four.

Sheldon manages to snare the Mahi Mahi for his own; I’m surprised this was around in the 50s. I know Polynesian was hot after the war and after Hawaii became a state, but it always seemed limited to pineapple and pork. One of the Canlis boys tells an interesting story about the mahi mahi: it’d never been seen before (aha, see?), and it was “imported” by packing it in ice in the flight attendant’s suitcase. Oh, the good old days when the airlines cared about customer service. Naomi likes it, a Canlis loves it, but Tom got bloodline. Oops.

Micah makes some mediocre veggies: the carrots are very underdone, the turnips are overdone. But Naomi gives it props for looking right.

Josie signs up for baked potato. This isn’t just your average russet, it’s The Potato that Ate the Eggplant that Ate Chicago, it’s “like a planet,” look out, it’s loose, we’re all gonna DIEEEEEeeeee… nah, they’re big potatoes, ok? Yeah, those aren’t typically served as baked potatoes, but we’re not talking genetic mutations. I think everyone was waiting for her to serve them medium. They’re ok, but not hot enough (?), and Padma wants more oil on the skin to make them crispy.

Bart makes an ok New York steak, though Naomi doesn’t like that he sliced it with the grain instead of across.

Desserts:

Eliza serves a Fresh Frozen Hawaiian Pineapple Parfait and some melted sherbet. Tom likes the parfait: the fruit is ok, the crunch is ok, what more do you want from a parfait. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s better than some desserts have gone in the past.

Danyele makes a lot of sundaes at work, which strikes me as bizarre. But she’s all set to go with the Vanilla Ice Cream Royal Hawaiian Supreme, scary as that sounds. They love the ice cream. One of the Canlises loves the hit of salt from the peanut brittle with the vanilla ice cream. Padma appreciates how the desserts smacked of the 50s. A Canlis nods: “50s, and sugar.” That’s what desserts were then.

Judges’ Table

Top Four Lizzie, Kristin, Tyler, and Stefan, wait to hear… and Kristen wins. Stefan is happy for her. I hope he’s not screwing with her head.

Bottom Four: Carla, Chrissy, CJ, Josh. Two will be out. Josh is shocked his soup was cold, and bad-mouths John for his expediting (“He was a monkey… he thought he had a plan but it failed.” Wait… a monkey? What does a monkey have to do with this? Is this Hung’s monkey?) Tom rakes Carla over the coals for not checking on the grilling of her quail. Chrissy did her interpretation of the salad, and that wasn’t how they saw it. CJ shocks them with tales of sous vide.

Carla and Chrissy are out. The kitchen’s gonna be a lot quieter without Carla. She seems surprisingly disappointed. I’m a little sorry for Chrissy, but come on, messing up a salad is pretty indefensible.

We could quibble about Carla having a good sauce while everything on CJ’s plate was a mess, and Tom called Josh’s soup “borderline inedible” due to saltiness, but I’m not inclined to do so. She seemed over her head from the start once she moved away from meatballs. And she was annoying as all getout.

Next week:

Gail returns. Everyone goes equipment shopping for one of those absurd “make stuff under conditions no one would ever make stuff” challenges. Bart wears an amazing shirt; Kristin goes Unabomber. A team elimination. Sigh. I knew it couldn’t last: catering plus drama. Oh well, we had four pretty good episodes before they went all craptastic on us.

Last Chance Kitchen:

Finally, it’s back. Jeffrey, Kuniko, Chrissy, and Carla line up in the kitchen. I’d like to see Kuniko take it, but I could live with Jeffrey. Kuniko is happy: she can do this. I think she’s right; it’s a better venue for her than the main competition, with less distraction. Carla can’t think; she’s confused. Fine.

They have 30 minutes to cook the same ingredient, though not necessarily the same dish, that got them eliminated. I’m assuming Tom will take into account that some people have harder ingredients than others. Like salad vs. quail. Hell, I can make a pretty good salad.

Kuniko finds herself facing down a potato. “This is the revenge of my potato.” She’s so cute. “I feel two butterflies in the stomach.” I wonder if she practices these things or if they come naturally to her. She makes an Asian style chowder. “Pavé time killed me, if I do it I’m stupid,” she tells Tom. She’s right. “I don’t need to convince Tom I can make a potato pavé, I need to convince him I know how to cook a potato.” Good decision. Tom asks if she’s happy with it; she is. He moves on without comment. But turns out, it was pretty good chowder; she wins.

Jeffrey has the dreaded halibut he overcooked in E1. He adds morels and peas, sautéed with cream. Tom says it’s definitely better than the one that got him kicked off.

Chrissy makes the same salad she screwed up, only, hopefully, without the overdressing. She had some problems with wilting before, so she takes care with temperatures to make sure that isn’t an issue. Tom thinks it’s much better; she wouldn’t have been eliminated with this salad. It’s got great acid punch, and the mint and marjoram are there this time. “Yes, you can make a salad.” Which is a backhanded compliment if I’ve ever heard one.

Carla has to bone and cook a squab in 30 minutes, which seems a little unfair. I’m not sure what she’s doing, but it looks messy. “It takes me 12 minutes to debone that bitch.” “People should not have to cook anything in half an hour.” I can sympathize; I think word limits should be outlawed, myself. She’s the only one talking in the kitchen, and it’s driving Chrissy nuts. But she’s screwed up the squab twice in a row. The breast is nice, but the legs are raw, and it’s not seasoned. Carla’s disappointed, but hey,”Everybody knows I’m not too good on quickfire, but I have a good reputation, it’s not because I suck.” Maybe. “Give me time, give me the kitchen, and I will serve you the best squab you’ve ever had in your life.” No thanks.

There’s also a “Save a Chef” deal where viewers can vote for another chef to move on in addition to the LCK winner; at least, I think that’s what it is, I’m not exactly sure. I’m not sure it makes sense to have people who haven’t tasted anything vote on which chef deserves another chance, but that’s just me. It involves Twitter or text and as much as I’d like to see Jeffrey continue, I’d rather not. But check it out if you’re inclined.

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