Top Chef Masters
First Date Dinner
I didn’t do recaps of the first season, but I thought I’d try it out for this season since Amy likes the pictures of food. I’m behind, like usual, but here goes!
This time, at the end of each episode, two chefs would be moving onto the championship round instead of just one. The chef masters for this round:
- Ana Sortun
- Govind Armstong
- Jerry Traunfeld
- Jimmy Bradley
- Susan Feniger
- Tony Mantuano
Here is a quick run down on the two challenges:
- Quickfire Challenge: Create a dish using ingredients from a gas station
- Elimination Challenge: Cook a romantic duo dish for a first date.
The chefs pulled colored aprons out of pots and teamed up. They were told they were doing something with Chinatown so they all hopped into their cars to head over there. They were told they were going to a place in Chinatown that had all sorts of different ingredients. The cars stopped at a gas station. They were told they would be creating a dish only using ingredients they found at the gas station. They had 15 minutes to shop and only $20 to spend. They would be preparing their dishes for a group that would know a lot about eating at gas stations, the rock band, The Bravery. After their shopping, they had 45 minutes to cook back at the kitchen.
After they finished their creations, they gathered around a television and got to watch the reactions from the band trying the food live.
After the first bite, one guy said it had a lot of flavor. Another one wondered if all the fruit nuts came from one snack pack. Susan said it did. One said it was a little too sweet. Another said he was a dessert person so he loved it. Susan made the comment that she didn’t like that “inexperienced” people were commenting on her food and she couldn’t defend herself. Um, aren’t your customers “inexperienced” food eaters too?
One guy was excited since he loves Slim Jims. Another guy thought that mac & cheese is always so bland so he was impressed with how much flavor they were able to get out of it. A third guy said the sauce was his least favorite part since it tasted like the sauce out of a can at a gas station. Govind didn’t like them criticizing him when he had just made stuff from the gas station.
One said it was very original and he never tasted anything like it before. Another one said that he kept having to remind himself that it was gas station food since it tasted like something that came from a nice restaurant. A third one said he couldn’t eat too much of it. The fourth guy said he liked the texture, but he found it a little bland. Jerry thought he said that since he was used to eating high salt and high fat foods in the convenience store.
After tasting, the band rated each dish. Ana & Jerry were given three stars. Govind & Jimmy were given three and a half stars. Tony & Susan were given four stars. Tony & Susan won money to give to their charities for winning the quickfire challenge.
The teams remained together for the next challenge. Govind wasn’t too thrilled with that saying that the team member could make or break the team. That’s what happens on Top Chef though. Both team member would move onto the champion round. They would be making a masterful and romantic duo dish for 30 couples on a first date.
Ana & Jerry were excited to work together since they had a similar sensibility about food. They were both making duck with different edible flowers. Susan and Tony were talking about how their styles were completely different. He was going to make a creamy, pasta dish and she was going to make a spicy shrimp one. Susan was worried about her shrimp. She didn’t want to overcook it, but once she put the hot sauce over it, it would continue the cooking process. Govind and Jimmy decided to do a duo of lamb. Govind was doing a hot dish while Jimmy was doing a cold one. Jimmy was worried that the diners might be turned off with a cold dish while Govind didn’t think that Jimmy was putting a lot of work into his dish. It was essentially a salad. Jimmy thought less is more in food. Jimmy thought their duo was the most harmonious while Govind thought that Jimmy waited until the last second to plate his salad. None of the other chefs seemed to be talking smack about their partners except for Govind.
When everything was ready, one chef went out to the judges while the other ones continued to plate. Govind went out and was introduced to James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur Magazine, in a scary, bright red cardigan. He was also introduced to always-wearing-a-hat, Gael Green, New York City restaurant critic and Jay Rayner, restaurant critic of The Observer.
With the carpaccio, Gael said it did not have the “lamby” taste. The host, Kelly, liked it. Jay really liked the dressing. He thought it was well balanced. After trying to lamb chop, James said that the slightly cooked lamb chop compared to the rare one was chewier. Jay and Gael did like that the lamb chop could be good on a date where they could pick up the bone and feed it to each other. James thought the duo played off each other very well.
Jerry came out and told the judges that they used flowers as a theme. Jerry made the lavender duck breast and Ana made the duck leg. Kelly said Jerry’s duck was gorgeous. James thought the duck breast was done really well. Gael loved the combination of the cabbage and yellow beets. James loved Jerry’s sauce, saying it was tart, vibrant and delicious. He said it was romantic food. James said Ana’ s duck was ugly to look at. Gael said it was impossible to eat in a polite and gracious way. Kelly said it did taste good. Jay laughed, saying that was funny because that’s what he looks for in food. James said as far as how the dishes worked together, he felt that the girl wore her pajamas on the first date and the guy got all dressed up. He said that it didn’t quite match.
Gael said she loved the pasta. James said there were almost too many layers in the pasta. Jay agreed, saying it wasn’t the lightest of pastas, but he wouldn’t kick it out of bed. Kelly said she would invite it back. Gael said the arugula really cut the richness of the dish. Jay said it seemed everyone enjoyed eating it, but James said he was a little on the fence with it. James loved the heat in the broth of the shrimp dish. Gael said she would have loved to have the shrimp not as cooked. Jay said the combination of the all the ingredients was clicking. As far as how the dishes worked together, Jay said they were both intense experiences and that’s what people want from a date.
Jay asked Govind & Jimmy what the two elements of their dishes had to say to each other. Jimmy said the cold lamb with the salad and the roasted lamb with the smokey flavor was an “opposites attract” kind of dish. James said when he saw the carpaccio listed on the menu, he was turned off, but he was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted. Gael told Govind that she liked the idea of people picking up the lamb chop and just eating it off the bone. They both agreed it was sexy.
Jay commented that Susan & Tony didn’t use much in terms of protein in their dishes. Tony said that travel is romance so they took the diners to Malaysia and finished up with a trip to Italy. Gael said they loved the pasta. She asked what the cheese was, which was something I hadn’t heard before. James asked if he thought Tony didn’t think it was too strong, but Tony said that it was one of the youngest and freshest ones he had tasted in a long time. Jay asked Susan about the scallops being a little on the overdone side. She talked about the hot sauce over it caused it to continue cooking after she plated it. Jay did say that he wanted to pick up the broth and drink it from the bowl after he was done with the meal.
Ana & Jerry were asked if their dishes tied together. Jerry said there were similar flavor components, such as ginger and cinnamon is both. Jay told Ana that her soup was a rich, flavorful bowl. Gael asked if she had thought how she wanted people to eat it. Did she want people to cut it in the bowl? Ana said she should have cut it for people. Jay said one of the difficulties with duck breast is caramelizing the skin. He said he did a knockout, brilliant job of it.
Everyone was sent out while the critics discussed things. Jay said he thought it was a really tough challenge with cooking for people who were meeting for the first time and trying to hit it off. Kelly asked what they thought of Susan and Tony’s duo. James said he thought it was very good, but thought the cheese in the pasta might be a bit “palate-challenging.” Gael said the truffles added an earthy sensuality to a fabulous dish. As for Susan’s dish, James said she based it off of black-pepper crab, which is one of his favorite dishes, but this was a bit more watery than he was used to. He did say the “flavors were gorgeous.” Gael loved the dish. Jay agreed that he thought the shrimp was a bit overcooked. James said she knew that the shrimp had been overcooked. Jay said he thought it was a perfect first date dish. He said moving from the pasta to the seafood was a “great narrative on the plate.”
For Govind and Jimmy”s dish, James said it was a revelation to him since he was living in horror of tasting the lamb carpaccio, but it was “buttery delicious.” He thought the salad was a gem. Jay did like Govind’s notion of picking up the lamb chops and eating it with their hands, but he found the chops a “bit blah.” James said he did love his cauliflower couscous. It was his favorite part of his plate.
Jay said that Ana’s duck dish was a bold and flavorful bowl. Gael said it was a “homey, little, wonderful bowl of food,” but she should have cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Jay did not see that as a fatal flaw in the dish. Jay then said that Jerry’s duck breast was one of the best pieces of duck breast he had eaten in a long time. James agreed saying it was “deliciously caramelized.” Jay said he couldn’t taste the lavender, but he didn’t see that as bad, since he didn’t think he would like it. James said that Ana’s dish would have been perfect eating it in front of the fire on a rainy afternoon, but in combination with Jerry’s dish it just seemed too casual for a first date dish.
The chefs were called back in. Kelly told them that each chef on the winning team would win $10,000 for their charity and move onto the champion’s round. Each critic would give up to five stars and the diners’ scorecards would total up to an additional five stars.
For Jerry and Ana, James said that Ana’s braised duck was intriguing, but Jerry’s grilled duck was a knockout. He gave them three and a half stars. Gael gave them four stars and Jay gave them three and a half stars. The diners gave them four stars so they had a total of 15 stars. For Govind and Jimmy, Gael said that for the audacity of Jimmy”s lamb carpaccio and the simplicity of the pick-up chop she gave them three and a half stars. Jay and James gave them three stars each. The diners gave them three stars for a total of 12 1/2 stars. Kelly told them that wasn’t enough to beat Jerry and Ana so they were sent back to the kitchen to pack their knives. Jay told Susan and Tony that they were one cracking team. They were both saucy and spicy. He gave them four stars. Gael gave them four and a half stars. James gave them four stars. The diners gave them four stars so they had a total of 16 1/2 stars. They were moving onto the next round.
- What did you think of Ana making the comment that The Bravery had “inexperienced palates” so they couldn’t properly rate her food she made from the convenience store?
- Govind kept ragging on Jimmy’s dish for the elimination challenge, but did it seem to anyone else that his dish was the reason they didn’t rate higher?
- What is up with that bright red cardigan?