Top Chef Episode 11: Cooking in Vegas

The challenges for the penultimate episode were to make dishes for particular types of customers that are typically Las Vegas: high rollers, poker players and circus performers. Unlike previous challenges, the contestants had a kitchen stuffed full of all kinds of luscious looking ingredients. It was rather funny when Harold complained that it was "a little too abundant".

One thing that bugged me was how the Bravo TV people got the names of two ingredients wrong in the captions. The first was kampachi, a kind of wild yellowtail (as opposed to hamachi yellowtail, which is usually farmgrown). Tiffani pronounced it correctly, but the TV caption said it was Campeche. As far as Google can tell me Campeche is a region in Mexico. The other ingredient was also used by Tiffani - kurobuta or "black pig", a kind of pig grown in Japan that is supposed to taste special. The BravoTV people (and, it must be said, Tom Collichio: Tiffani herself seemed to get it right) thought this was pronounced Karabuto. You would think they could take the time to get these details right with all of us nitpickers out here. (And please, no crap about Japanese names being hard.)

campeche.jpg What's wrong with this picture?

karabuto.jpg A new kind of pork...?

The first part of the challenge was to provide two seafood courses as room service for "high rollers". The high rollers turned out to be the three last eliminated contestants, Lee Anne, Stephen and Miguel. They were sort of expecting those extragant ingredients like caviar, but instead got some pretty restrained and, it must be said, rather boring seafood dishes. I did not understand Tiffani's sashimi dish, all piled up on one side of the plate - plain raw fish slices with a bit of orange? The only dish that looked even mildly interesting was Harold's mussel soup. I was rather pleasantly surprised at how on point Stephen's comments were, by the way. I wonder if he has a career as a critic...

The second part of the challenge was to make snacks for poker players. Being a closet poker fan, it was fun to see the "bad boy of poker" Phil Hellmouth make a cameo appearance. Harold surprised by showing an ability to cook "junk" food in the form of chicken wings and fried onion rings, which Ms. Tiffani turned up her nose at. Harold did still manage to get in a moan about not being able to show his abilities "with this type of food". But Dave came up with the best overall presentation of snicky-snacky foods including chocolate covered strawberries. Tiffani didn't too well with the snack foods - even the potato chips were too "sophisticated" for the poker players. Aged Gouda is very strong, and doesn't sound like a good match with what looked like over-fried chips.

The final challenge was to cook high-protein, high-carb, low-fat food for athletes, a.k.a. acrobats from Cirque du Soleil. For some odd reason the chefs used the expensive and fatty kobe beef in this round instead of in the dishes for the high rollers; Tiffani even pulled out caviar and paired it with crab meat and ...blueberries and blood orange. Did the spirit of Stephen somehow get into her? Tiffani blurbed something about looking for "good fats"...last time I checked there was nothing good about beef fat. But anyway, overall they seemed to do fairly well in this round...except that Dave forgot to prepare three dishes and only had two. I must say that the dishes prepared for this round looked the most appetizing to me, especially Dave's and Harold's.

In the end, Dave's mistake cost him dearly. Was it unfair of the judges to kick off Dave, despite the fact that it seemed that Tiffani got the lowest overall critiques for her food? It seems that the judges weighed Dave's mistake more than Tiffani's low food scores. Fair or not, the two finalists are quiet, workmanlike Harold and the controversial and often cantankerous Tiffani. The teasers of the last episode show that they are going to call back some eliminated contestants to be the assistants. I suppose at this point Harold is the overwhelming favorite to win it all.

A couple of ingredient and other notes:

  • It's always seemed ironic to me that Japan, a nation not known for being big meat eaters, has come up with two kinds of meat that are deemed among the best in the world: Kobe (or, as it's more often called in Japan, Matsuzaka) beef and kurobuta (black pig) pork. Matsuzaka beef is too expensive for most people to eat regularly, but kurobuta pork is very popular in Japan.
  • I guess it would be sort of prejudiced for me to say that all those expensive ingredients are wasted on Vegas poker players and high rollers... They do say a lot about what Las Vegas food is about though...ostentatiousness.

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I really agree about Stephen. He could be a really great critic, probably much better than a chef. As for Bravo's mistakes, there's been a number of them, including "fois gras" from a recent episode. Especially weird because it's not exactly an unusual ingredient.

It is interesting to note here that Tiffany did not win this challenge; Dave lost this challenge.

There is not even a subtle difference here.

For my money, Tiffany should not have been in the final three, it should have been Lee Ann instead. I think Lee Ann and Harold have demonstrated all the way through the show that they are the only ones qualified to be in the showdown, and the only ones demonstrating the kind of qualities that would win in leading a great kitchen. (Although I do not doubt that Tiffany has leadership qualities; I do however think that being in a kitchen Tiffany runs would be a little like joining the Hitler Youth Group, only not as humourous.)

And if I hear Tiffany say one more time how she is so passionately commited to her food, I will ram my fingers down my throat and expell the contents of my stomach onto the tv screen.

Dave, well, who wouldn't love Dave? He's a great little classic underdog. But he couldn't cut it. Sad to lose him, he was a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stiff and esoteric environs, after Miquel was finally booted to the curb. (In fact, without Dave, the last three episodes would have been a bit sphincter-like.)

As for Ms. Uptown Girl...well, she's great to look at, but it is hard to escape the fact that there are many times on camera where she appears to be waiting to be beamed up, for lack of anything else to do. She has little to no stage prescence, in fact, were she not so pretty, I do think there would be a reason to include her in any panning or establishing shots at all. (She reminds me of a beautiful bolt of wallpaper covering a room at Motel 6---sure it's beautiful, but you're still at Motel 6; the mattress is lumpy, you can smell your own car exhaust seeping in from under the door, and you can hear the white trash couple next door arguing about American Idol.) Even Bravo could do better than this for a host, or why even bother. (Although I hasten to say this for fear that they would add that nauseating Kathy D-List as the that would actually be painful, as if her commercials are not cruel punishment as it is.) The two judges would do well on their own, since they usually have a guest judge anyways, and the girl from food and wine is plenty easy on the eyes, if you just need a pretty girl sitting there, not to mention actually knowing her stuff pretty well.

Harold is bound to win, both judges appear to favor him, in so much as they do not care for Tiffany in the least. (Will this be a case of Harold not winning in as much as Tiffany will lose? An interesting aside) All Harold has to do is stay focussed. Tiffany is falling apart, little by little, so it should pretty much be a cakewalk for Harold. We shall see.

I was so upset after this episode, I am tempted to not even watch the last one! I heard tons of complaints about Tiffani's food and the Cirque du Soleil people actually wrinkled their noses and said "Eww!" Give me a break. Although I know you said it a few shows back, this was the first episode for me where it seemed obvious that the judges' choices were based on show ratings and keeping the person that everyone hates than being based on the food.

I can't imagine what would have to happen for Harold not to win. In my eyes he has been the obvious winner for quite awhile. (although I don't know if it was a good idea for him to already quit his job and start planning to open his own restaurant. I'd be afraid of jinxing myself!!)

It's pretty surprising how many people are upset about the various outcomes of Top Chef. Either this means they have a big success on their hands...or they got it horribly wrong. At least it has been renewed for another season, so I guess we shall see!

Can you remember how Dave prepared his Kobe beef and the sauce? It isn't on the Bravo site.


I was very happy to see that Harold won, but upset that Dave did not have a third dish. Tiffani did not need to be in the finals, So I was happy Harold kicked some butt.

Very good reading. Peace until next time.