Top Chef Seattle: Episode 15 – Glacial Gourmand

As Dawn Breaks over Juneau:

Padma leaves the three remaining chefs a hand-written patchouli-scented note, with the warning, “Dress Warm.” And a zillion Grammar Nazis scream, “-ly! –ly!” Yes, I am one of them.

TC panoceanThey’re going to a glacier, which really looks like a mountain if you aren’t paying attention. A helicopter is required. And guess what – Brooke is afraid of helicopters, too. It’s all her fears combined: close spaces, lack of control. No water, though. Unless… but we won’t think about that. She’s in tears. “Can you wait five minutes until my Xanax kicks in?” she asks the pilot. Apparently it kicked in pretty good: she starts out hanging on to Josh’s arm and squeezing her eyes tightly shut, but by the time they arrive, she’s having a great time. And that, folks, is what modern chemistry can do for ya.

Speaking of modern chemistry, there’s Sheldon: “We’re landing on a glacier. There’s dogs everywhere. I’d die for some good reefer.” Given the chain of non-sequiturs, I think he’s already had some.

Continuing the theme of weird transportation (the Elves wanted to go with Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but it was already taken, so we got “Cruise Ships, Helicopters, and Dogsleds” instead. And if that doesn’t have quite the same ring, well, that’s television; it isn’t like they had the $30 mil budget of the movie), they travel by dogsled to an Iditarod training camp. Brooke isn’t afraid of dogsleds. Either that, or the Xanax is still in effect.

Quickfire:

Padma and Tom are waiting at the Iditarod camp with the challenge: cook anything you want, using whatever you find in the camp. Which happens to have a nice little kitchen outfitted with, I’m guessing, propane.

Brooke picks halibut as her protein, then sees Sheldon’s doing halibut too so she has to find a way to separate herself. Beets and currant jelly, that’s the ticket, for a panzanella salad with beet-and-currant vinaigrette. She’s a little worried because the pan seems to cool down quickly when she puts the fish in, but that’s a little Drama Red Herring. Seems there’s some arugula in there, because Tom loves it along with the crunch of the bread; Brooke wins. She deserves it after all they’ve put her through.

Josh is doing, guess what, breakfast. Corn cake, egg, smoked salmon, Canadian bacon, arugula, cheddar. He wanted to do the eggs over-easy but runs out of time so just scrambles them; he’s worried his textures are all “mush” but he gets to make a pun out of it so it’s all good. Padma: “It looks like a form of breakfast.” What it looks like is an Egg McMuffin. Tom doesn’t like the scrambled eggs; they weren’t mixed enough so the yolk and eggs were separate. That sounds like the next wd~50 craze to me. But it fails the QF.

Sheldon makes pan-roasted halibut with tomato sauce, sesame-fried bok choy, and pickled radish. Tom loves the perfectly-cooked fish but the sauce is salty and one-note.

Intermezzo:

Back in Juneau, Padma has another surprise: She can drive! And she proves it by driving the chefs to their next destination. Sheldon: “Padma gets chauffeured around all the time, I hope she can drive.” What, did they lock him in a room and not let him out until he came up with some good one-liners for his talking heads? Or is he still under the influence?

The surprise is Emeril and Roy Choi, who’s to blame for the plague of gourmet food trucks on our city streets, the 2010 version of Let’s Put On a Play in the Barn. He knows Brooke. I guess it’s a good sign that the judges know the contestants more and more; it shows the level of contestant has gone up. But it still seems a bit unfair, especially this late in the game. Then again, she’s up against a guy who makes fourteen breakfasts but has a baby on ep 15 on the day before Valentine’s Day during Sweeps Month… and a guy who rose from dishwasher to winning the award for Best New Chef given by the magazine Gail edits… so why not. It’s all about the food, right?

Emeril and Roy have made dinner for the chefs. Roy transfers all the spirits of his ancestors surrounding the whole existence into the rice as he washes it; I’m thinking they don’t teach that technique in culinary school. Roy came to chefdom later than most, at 25; he was a skull daddy, which, well, I’m not sure what that means, it seems to be a video game, is it also something more sinister? [Addendum: Thanks, MinxEats, for setting me straight in your recap: he said he was a “scumbag” not a “skulldaddy.” Now that makes sense.] He saw Emeril on TV, making short ribs braised in red wine, and it changed his life: “I wiped the snot from my eyes and researched culinary schools.” First of all… how did snot get in your eyes? Second, “researching culinary schools” doesn’t sound like something done by someone who’s hit a really nasty bottom. Last season Paul Qui told us he was dealing weed living with dog poop before he decided to move to Austin and be a cook. At least dealing weed is actually illegal. Asian chefs really have high standards, even for squalorous pasts. Emeril realized he wanted to be a chef while washing pots and pans in a Portuguese bakery.

Which brings us to…

Elimination Challenge:

No, they don’t have to reproduce the dishes Emeril and Roy just made, though I bet that was on everyone’s mind. What they must do is make a dish that represents the moment they first realized they wanted to be chefs. They’ll cook for the Governor and First Lady of Alaska at the Governor’s Mansion. Wolfie and Gail will join Emeril and Roy at the dining table. With Tom, of course, who’s seeing eagles everywhere. Padma’s wearing a beautiful off-the-shoulder blue dress at said dinner, and if you’re curious about how many people it takes to dress a Padma, Bravo has the video for you. Hint: double-stick tape isn’t illegal on TC. And Padma’s never sounded as intelligent and focused as when she’s discussing just how off-the-shoulder her off-the-shoulder should be.

And if you’ve been waiting with bated breath to find out about Joshua’s baby… his wife gives birth on air. No, of course she doesn’t, but she does Skype and share pictures of the newborn Georgia Valentine, which is a stripper name if I’ve ever heard one. I think they should’ve named her Breakfast.

Brooke has a hard time with this, because she knew she wanted to be a chef in the womb. She watched Julia Child instead of cartoons (hey, who didn’t), and her mom cooked a lot of chicken, so she’s got some idea about mom’s chicken and the more cheffy quail but isn’t quite sure how it’s going to work together. She decides she struggled because she had to pull it out of a deeper place – hey, stop, only one birth per episode, please. Whatever place she pulled it out of, her Braised Chicken and Grilled Quail with Carrot Barley and Pickled Veg is eaten with gusto. Silent gusto. “When the food’s good, everyone’s quiet,” says Tom. Um, not necessarily, sometimes it’s just shock, but this time it’s a good sign. Roy says it looks simple until you take it apart and see the layers of temperatures and textures; Brooke was a prodigy, and this is her style. See, that’s why it isn’t quite fair, especially at this late stage of the game, to have someone who knows what her style is and not that of the other chefs. It’s a little too much like advocacy, which, as much as I like Brooke (and she’s right up there for the win; we better get a female TC this season), it makes me uncomfortable. Wolfie thinks the quail breast is overcooked, and Roy beats him with a Skull Daddy to shut him up. No, that didn’t happen either.

Josh decides his defining moment was the first time he tasted foie gras, which is a strange thing for a guy who’s all about bacon and country food and breakfast. Maybe he’ll make fois gras breakfast with bacon. I think he just saw the foie gras and figured he’d do something upscale this time, and made up a story to go with it. Then there’s something that seems more authentic: he was trying to make weight for his wrestling team, riding a stationary bike in a sauna, reading Gourmet Magazine, which makes every bulimic in the country laugh with recognition. He can’t decide on a foie gras preparation, or maybe he thinks he’ll get bonus points for serving three times as much, so he ends up with Foie Gras Three Ways: Torchon, Pan-Seared, and Profiterole; with Cornbread Puree. For those who are a little confused by those terms, no worries, that’s what I’m here for: a torchon is similar to a terrine, or a kind of liver pudding. It takes three days to make. But Josh makes it in one, just because. Alas, it doesn’t set, so he puts it in the freezer to get it to solidify a little. And a profiterole is a cream puff. This one just happens to be stuffed with foie gras. He tells the table about his internship at Alma, where he learned about torchon. Tom, of course, has been there, and is looking forward to comparing versions (or something like that, I didn’t quite catch the dialogue), which gives Josh a little uh-oh. And the torchon is the problem; besides not being set, Gail found it veiny, and it wasn’t cooked through. And the Governor wants something he can chew on. Oh, my.

Sheldon grew up with food, unlike the rest of us who were fed intravenously. He’s playing with a beautiful pink-and-blue snapper, and Tom warns him to keep in mind that so many times, fish is plated too soon and ends up overcooked. This becomes Sheldon’s earworm: “don’t cook the fish too soon, don’t cook the fish too soon.” It cooks fine, but his dashi reduces too much and is salty, and now there’s no time to fix it. Oopsie. Tom uses his blog to absolve himself of any responsibility; he said “Don’t cook the fish too early,” not “over-reduce the broth.” He adds baby veg, spot prawns, but the damage is in the sauce: the fish is perfectly cooked, the prawns are great, but the broth is just oversalted.

Judges’ Table:

They stay in the mansion, for the most elegant JT ever.

Brooke is so obviously the winner they don’t even try to wring any suspense out if it.

Josh gets scolded for thinking it’s possible to make torchon in a day. Tom: “This has nothing to do with how good you are, it can’t be done.” They mourn over Sheldon‘s oversalty sauce. Wolfie: “How can you cook fish so perfectly then screw up the broth?”

But in the end, it comes down to this: Josh’s wife had her baby, they got their TV moment, and Sheldon still has his F&W award, so Josh is out. I’m not arguing; it could’ve gone either way. It’s been Brooke all the way.

“Watch out for this menehune,” says Sheldon. We’ll do that. I love you, man, I do, but come on, since RW, this menehune has been making one major mistake after another.

Next Week:

Part 1 of the Finale, which I finally think I understand: Brooke and Sheldon will go against the winner of the combined LCK/Fan Favorite matchup, which better be Kristen. Because here’s my dream of the final-finale: Kristen gets stuck with Josie as sous chef, and tells her to go sit down under a tree far, far away.

Last Chance Kitchen:

Spoiler: you won’t find out who won. That isn’t my editorial decision; it’s how Bravo wants it.

It’s a three-way at Craft LA: Kristen, Josh (who’s wearing his FT 33 Pastry Chef jacket, so this is filmed at some point after the regular season), and the winner of the most recent Fan Favorite poll, Lizzie. Turns out she’s more popular than CJ. The assignment is to make a great plate of food in 30 minutes using anything in the kitchen.

Josh takes venison, figuring it’s different. He tells Tom he’s doing venison with a coriander, brown sugar, and black pepper cure, kale, and shaved raw carrots. Tom asks, logically, why he’s doing a cure with only 30 minutes; hey, come on, he just went home for trying to compress a process that couldn’t be compressed. Turns out it’s really a rub, but he calls it a quick-cure. He wishes he’d cooked it a little more, but once it’s cut you can’t put it back in the oven (many Chopped chefs have learned that the hard way) so he’a little worried, but “sometimes a mistake is also a victory.” And sometimes it’s just a mistake.

Kristen sees semolina, so goes for orecchiette with brown butter, pomegranate, apple, citrus beurre blanc, and fresh figs. Tom’s dubious about making pasta in 30 minute, but Kristen’s completely confident about time. Tom notices she seemed to be editing as she went along, and she was: she added the pomegranates at the last minute because she wanted something crunchy but didn’t want to use bread.

Lizzie likes the looks of the black cod, so cooks it in paper with vinegar and pepper, which mellow each other out in the cooking process to create a lovely sauce. Tom notices she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

Tom gives a little parable: often at a restaurant, you see a special dish. One dish that stood out as not special in this trio was Josh’s venison; it was too rare. Bye, Josh. Hey, you have your baby and your new job, go make some Candied Bacon Sticky Buns, which I have to say sound terrific.

Which leaves us with Lizzie and Kristen. Tom was dubious about the pasta, but they both pulled it off. The orecchiette had that perfect hint of chewiness, and it was inventive but not over the top. Lizzie’s fish was cooked perfectly and the cabbage was beautiful.

And the winner is…

I really hate Bravo sometimes.

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