Top Chef Episode 6: Ted Allen likes chi-chi food, boo

This is a slightly shorter review than usual because I am buried in work. However, that doesn't mean this wasn't a very good episode. As a matter of fact, for me it was the best episode of the series so far. We finally got to see the contestants create food that really looked exciting and delicious and top-quality-restaurant-ish, as a collective. And, my girl Lee Anne won the elimination challenge, finally!

In the Quick challenge the contestants had to make an appetizer with ingredients that cost less than $3. A very good test of their culinary skills, I thought. It brought about my one disappointement about this show: Ted Allen, the food expert of the Queer Eye gang, selected Stephen's chi-chi presentation of itty bitty bits of food and painted on sauce and stuff over what I thought were 3 better looking plates, for the quick challenge. As The Tom points out in his BravoTV blog, Stephen is doing nothing new here - he's merely imitating chefs who have blazed the trail of food-as-art presentations. As much as I like beautiful plates of food, these food-pictures turn me off..they are too precious. Not that Stephen doesn't have talent, but at this stage in his career he lacks true originality and understanding of good food. Though that really makes him perfect for Las Vegas. (I have never been impressed by the expensive restaurants in Vegas, but that's for another time.)

I really liked the look of Harold's dish; the combination of crispy bacon with the bitterness of the treviso (which is a kind of radicchio) really sounded good. And Lee Anne's Deep Fried Oysters with Lemon Garlic Cream looked yummy too (there is a recipe on the BravoTV site.) I was a bit less enthusiastic about Tiffani's Oysters Three Ways was a bit too Stephen-ish for me.

The main challenge, where they had to work together to produce a seven-course dinner for Ted Allen's book launch party, was what made this show so good though. Having the contestants work on a whole dinner, each handling one course, was interesting enough. But then the producers threw in a great twist - instead of cooking the course they had planned and shopped for, they had to draw straws - er, rather, knives - to pick another course to actually cook. None of them were happy about this but the one who really went off the deep end was Miguel, who mistakenly put salt instead of sugar in the beet sorbet he was making (based on Lee Anne's recipe). He sort of rescued the course in the end, but it's clear that laid-back, fun-loving Miguel is retreating further and frantic, slightly desperate Miguel is coming to the fore. I guess that being a hotel banquet chef is not the best for advancing your career as a top chef, so winning this competition would probably mean more for him than almost anyone else.

In the end though, it was Andrea who was eliminated, for the second time. She deserved to go because she really didn't want to win anyway. Everyone else left in the competition clearly wants it badly. So off she's gone into the happy land of food that induce Bowel Movements. The winner was Lee Anne, who did an excellent job with Tiffani's duck and fig-stuffed gnocchi dish. Tiffani and Stephen were the other top three. I would love to see a Lee Anne vs. Tiffani all-girl final. (If Top Chef follows the pattern of Project Runway, chances are there will be 3 finalists. In which case, I want to see Tiffani, Lee Anne and Harold in there.)

Ingredient notes:

  • I didn't know what sea bean was, until I looked it up: it's also known as glasswort or marsh samphire. They aren't really beans - the long green parts are the stems. It's an interesting vegetable - it's quite salty since it grows near the sea, slightly squeaky in texture, and you need to season it carefully. I think the best way to cook it is to just blanch it, then either serve plain or sautéed in a little unsalted butter. It's also interesting blanched and then chilled in a salad.
  • I'm not familiar with the cheese that Lee Anne chose for her cheese course, fourme d'Ambert. But they have a web site (French) and I'm sure they got a ton of free advertising because of Miguel's inability to remember the name!

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I was disappointed that Ted picked Stephen's dish as well. It almost made me think less of Ted because he seemed to be going for style over substance - but I wasn't there to taste it, so maybe Stephen's dish really tasted good. (And is it just me or with your eyes closed don't Ted Allen and Tim Gunn from Project Runway sound separated at birth?)

In an interview on the Bravo website

Ted insists that he chose Stephen's appetizer on the basis of taste and (in his perception) originality. He acknowledges that it has proven to be an unpopular choice, and he's characteristically humorous about that.