Top Chef Season 2, Episode 5: Offal and bits

(This is an abbreviated recap/review of episode 5, since I'm up to my eyebrows in work at the moment with not much time to spare for blog-related stuff, reading as well as writing.)

One thing about Top Chef: if they suddenly feature someone they've been practically ignoring up to that point, like Josie in this episode, you can be sure that that person is going to get kicked off.

Quickfire challenge: Offal!

Ah, offal. The stuff that is left over when the meat is taken out of the animal. A lot of people avoid offal entirely, but you know - if you're going to eat meat, why not eat the whole animal? People who eat steak and hamburger without a thought but 'ewww' certain other parts of the animal without (in most cases) not even trying them are sort of hypocritical in my mind. As for myself...I have tried everything at least once. Some offal I love like sweetbreads and liver cooked properly, while some I don't. Tripe is something I can do without for example..that texture just throws me off. And I have a hard time with chicken feet. They just creep me out. But they would have been the one ingredient that cooked quickly - and well they taste like chicken! But no one used them (unless they were used in soup - chicken feet make great soup).

What made the Quickfire challenge tough was that they only had 2 hours, and a lot of offal needs a long, slow cooking, parboiling or soaking, or careful preparation. For instance, tongue has to be blanched then peeled. Brains have to be carefully peeled and all the blood vessels have to get off, which is quite tedious. Things like tripe and oxtail need to be cooked for quite a long time. And on and on.

On the other hand, sweetbreads are fairly pleasant to handle and quite delicious to eat. They are actually more texture than taste, so they are usually pre-flavored, deep-fried, and so on. They have a sort of gelatinous-fatty-soft texture which is quite nice. They cook quite quickly once they are par-boiled, peeled, and so on. All three of the top dishes used sweetbreads, not coincidentally.

Kidneys in any mammal are the organs by which urine is processed so if they are not soaked for some time they smell like urine. So when the guest judge said that Elia's kidneys tasted too much like kidney she was saying they were like shit, literally.

I really thought that Cliff did the most impressive job by managing to cook oxtail well in 2 hours - my mom's oxtail soup requires a day-long simmer in the oven. Nevertheless Sam's sweetbread beignets (meaning deep-fried in a batter I guess) looked quite promising.

(I noticed that Mrs. Rushdie wasn't shown sampling the dishes in the Quickfire like she normally does. Did she chicken out on the offerings of offal?)

Main challenge: make a course

Well I was really glad that the judges made a big fuss about this plate of little itty bits of unrelated food thing. I have a feeling that this trend of having bits of food on a plate came from Japanese influences, like the classic Japanese bento box (not the kind you bring to lunch, but the kind served at a proper meal). It's all well and good if the bits relate to each other or harmonize with each other, but often it just seems like an excuse to not make up your mind about what you're going to serve up.

I've been pretty hard on Michael so far, so it was quite refreshing to see him on the winning team, though I suspect Ilan really pulled him through that one. And Ilan is not showing the potential sneakiness that he exhibited in episode 1. He's showing himself to be a really nice guy. So which Ilan is the real one, I wonder.

The losing team of Josie and Marisa really deserved to go, the both of them. A wee spoon of pinky-white liquid that looked like Pepto-Bismol, and two wee mounds of cut up fruit and veg, make a course? I don't think so.

(Chef Tom looked quite pissed about having to hang around the kitchen to check up on them. I wonder if that led to his quite pissed-off posture at the judging.)

The top contenders are already quite apparent - Ilan, Cliff, and Sam. All of them young, male New York chefs, like Season 1 winner Harold. Boring, maybe?

Next week we'll see Anthony Bourdain giving it to them. Should be fun.

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Good recap! I love chicken feet! I have to get it everytime I have dim sum. I think the aversion to them is cultural and visual; they look too much like a body part for some. They really don't taste much different than say chicken wings.

I thought Josie and Marisa were crazy to do an intermezzo. Getting the 5th course is like winning the lottery. They could have just picked a nice piece of meat, and not screwed it up, and they would have been safe. When they said what they were making, I was 99% sure that they were going get booted.

And I'm really surprised that the teams didn't at least get together and ask what each of them was making. Forget about teamwork, it's just self-preservation. If everyone else is doing a trio of whatever, you'll look silly doing it yet again. Kind of like last season when everyone did lamb.