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Top Chef 10

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It's not often that Top Chef provides advance information on its Quickfires and Elimination Challenges. Tonight will be a Quickfire focused on the local million dollar export - King Crab. Keeping to Alaska's culinary roots for the Elimination Challenge, the chefs must impress the judges as well as the locals with their take on salmon and sourdough.

Additional information is that Top Chef 11 has just received the greenlight from BRAVO and is casting.

I expect that the last pre-finale round (in Alaska) will result in narrowing the field to Brooke and Sheldon, with Josh out. I am not sure how  BRAVO will handle the other bracket, but most logical is to have Kristen in Los Angeles cookoff against fan favorite CJ. That's a difficult one to call, but I expect Kristen to make it into the finale. I predict Kristen will ultimately prevail over Brooke.

What are your predictions/expectations for TC10?

TC10, Ep. 15

The chefs were sent by helicopter to the North Glacier to a Junior Iditarod Training Center. There they had 30 minutes to produce the best dish they can inside a cramped space with very limited heating capability available and Using Ingredients Found Only in the Camp. The dishes that emerged were:

Brooke - Pan-Roasted Halibut, Panzanella Salad with Red Currant & Beet Vinaigrette
Josh – Cornmeal Cake with Canadian Bacon, Scrambled Eggs & Smoked Salmon
Sheldon – Pan-Roasted Halibut with Tomato Sauce, Sesame Bok Choy & Pickled Radish
The winner of this competition was Brooke.

The Elimination Challenge was to create and cook a special meal that Represents the Defining Culinary Moment in Your Life with 2.5 hours prep/cook and then 1.5 hours final cooking at the Governor’s Mansion for the Governor of Alaska Barnett back in Juneau, his wife and 6 Top Chef judges (Tom, Padma, Gail, Emeril, Wolfgang, Hugh). Note how they all wanted to be part of it. The dishes prepared and served were:

Brooke - Braised Chicken, Grilled Quail with Carrot Barley & Pickled Vegetables
Josh – Foie Gras Three Ways: Torchon, Pan-Seared & Profiterole
Sheldon – Pan-Roasted Rockfish, Spot Prawns, Baby Vegetables & Dashi

The judges found only minor fault with Brooke’s dish and she won the Elimination Challenge. Sheldon had overreduced with broth, which made it really salty. Josh had a conceptual error in trying to do a foie gras torchons (literally means “wrapped in a towel” cooking method) in less than 1day, which multiple judges stated was not possible. The other 2 components of Josh’s dish were fine, but that one was a disaster. The judges elected to eliminateJosh.  It was ironic that just before the final cooking, his wife had given birth to a baby girl. 

Last Chance Kitchen Ep. 12 Kristen vs. Lizzie (Fan Favorite) vs. Josh

First, the voting of the Fan Favorite was announced, with (to me) surprising results of Lizzie getting 61% vs. CJ. That meant CJ was out. The challenge was to “make Tom a great plate of food.” Here were the dishes:
Josh – Venison w/ Coriander, Brown Sugar, Black Pepper Cure, Kale, and Shaved Carrot
Kristen – Semolina Orecchiette with Brown Butter, Pomegranate, Apple, and Fresh Herbs Lizzie - Black Cod in Black Pepper Vinegar, Savoy Cabbage, and Spaetzle

Josh was told that his did not measure up and that he was out. When it came time to announce who would be joining Brooke and Sheldon in the finale, the answer was To Be Continued. I think that’s a pretty rotten approach but I recall that this was done in the prior season.

TC10, Finale part 1

It was crunch time for the chefs who survived the cut in Juneau. Brooke has had 6 months to return to her husband, child and the 2 restaurants they own. Sheldon has had the same 6 months to return to Lahaina, Maui and cook as sous chef. The necessity for that delay was that the Fan Favorite voting did not take place until the Alaska episode was shown live in February 2013. Only then could the final Last Chance Kitchen be decided. The ending of the final Last Chance Kitchen was left vague because the producers did not know who won until early February. It was Kristen, who was to compete against Brooke and Sheldon. I will add that this puts the Alaska cruise into the first week in August, which is a good time to go to Alaska since the autumnal equinox is only 6 to 7 weeks off at that point.

The core judges were Tom, Emeril, Padma and Hugh. They were joined in Los Angeles by Guest Judges Martin Yan and John Besh. The locale was Craft-LA, Tom Colicchio’s restaurant. He invited that restaurant’s core clientele to be diners. The Elimination Challenge was simple in concept, cook at Craft a 3 course meal that impresses the judges. The finalists planned their menus (except Brooke who put off a decision on entrée), gathered their ingredients and had 3 hours to cook. However, execution was expected to be virtually perfect. Tom would be expediting from the kitchen.

Those menus were:
Sheldon 1 – Sashimi Spot Prawns, Court Bouillon, Radish & Asian Herbs
Sheldon 2 – Roasted Quail, Pine Nut Puree, Garam Masala & Tangerine
Sheldon 3 - White Chocolate Mousse with Apple & Fennel

Kristen 1 – Chestnut Veloute, Duck Rillette & Brussels Sprouts
Kristen 2 – Seared Ahi Tuna with Veal Mustard Jus & Meyer Lemon Puree
Kristen 3 - Curry Chocolate with Cashews

Brooke 1 - Crispy Veal Sweetbread Salad with Kumquat, Beets & Mustard
Brooke 2 - Braised Short Ribs, Parmesan Sauce, Nettle Puree & Squash Dumplings
Brooke 3 - Brown Butter Cake, Whipped Goat Cheese & Blackberry Sauce

Commentary on each of the finalists’ menus and dishes was:
Sheldon – fell flat; abandoned “what brung him to the dance”, his unique signature style of Filippino and Hawaiian dishes; bland broth, unseasoned prawns; bland quail; fennel a problem
Kristen – fell on her sword; chestnut veloute very good; tuna mediocre; her chocolate dessert was mediocre
Brooke – less focus than typical; slicing and cleaning sweetbreads to order a big problem; short ribs excellent; dessert very good

So it was pretty clear from the comments that it would be Sheldon going home and that was the case. Part 2 of the finals will be Kristen vs. Brooke, which I find entirely appropriate.


TC10, Finale, part 2

It has come down to Kristen versus Brooke, a matchup which anyone having watched this season would consider fair and about even. Each finalist would cook the best five dishes in their culinary lives in front of a studio audience that includes their friends, families, all previous nine "Top Chef" winners and the TC10 chefs not acting as sous chefs. For the first time in Top Chef history it was the battle of female chefs to determine who will be crowned Top Chef. The judges were Hugh Acheson, Emeril Lagasse, Gail Simmons, head judge Tom Colicchio and host Padma Lakshmi.

It was decision time for the Top Chef 10 title and who gets the $125,000 prize from Healthy Choice. A live audience of 300 is in Los Angeles watching the cooking, with  150 of them fed the same dishes. The traditional picking of sous chefs preceded this, with the following results:
Brooke – Stefan, CJ and Kuniko
Kristen – Sheldon, Josh, Lizzie
Notice that Kristen went solely with the last 3 non-final final round finishers
for her picks, while Brooke reached back for Kuniko (bypassing Josie for obvious reasons) and 2 of the chefs beaten by Kristen in Last Chance Kitchen. Each round appeared to get 34 minutes of cooking time, with a certainty that intense planning by the finalists preceded that for menus and ingredients, which were all at the ready. First chef to get the majority of votes for 3 courses would win Top Chef 10.

Here are the menus (with scallops required for course 2 and red snapper for course 4):
Brooke 1 – Crispy Pig Ear & Chicory Salad, Six-Minute Egg, Apricot Jam & Candied Kumquats
Kristen 1 – Chicken Liver Mousse with Frisee, Mustard, Prune, Hazelnuts & Pumpernickel

Brooke 2 – Seared Scallop with Salt Cod Puree, Speck, Black Currant & Mustard Seed Vinaigrette w/ Romanesco sauce
Kristen 2 – Citrus & Lavender Cured Scallop with Bitter Orange, Meyer Lemon & Apple

Brooke 3 – Vadouvan Fried Chicken with Sumac Yogurt-Tahini & Pickled Kohlrabi Fattoush
Kristen 3 – Celery Root Puree with Bone Marrow, Mushrooms, Bitter Greens & Radishes

Brooke 4 – Braised Pork Cheek & Red Snapper with Collard Green Slaw & Sorrel Puree, Pomegranate
Kristen 4 - Red Snapper with Leeks, Little Gem Lettuce, Tarragon, Uni & Shellfish Nage

In course 1, Brooke’s pig ears were fried too much and that cost her the round versus Kristen’s flawless concept and execution.

In course 2, Brooke had flawless concept and execution, but so did Kristen. That course went to Brooke.

In course 3, Brooke’s fried chicken was a major mistake and her sides were uninspired. Kristen’s excellent bone marrow easily won the day.

In course 4, Brooke had slightly dry pork cheeks which threw off her perfect red snapper while Kristen continued her record of perfect dishes.

The cumulative impact was Kristen 3 courses to Brooke 1 course, with the Top Chef 10 win going to Kristen.

I would like to chastise BRAVO (yes you, Andy Cohen) for its placement of commercials.
For regular Top Chef episodes the 7 minute commercial (with a tiny 15 second piece of fluff in between) comes around 40 minutes into the one hour episode. Last night it did too. That left with the judges’ verdict for the 4th course left to be revealed exactly 3 minutes for that. It was completely obvious that Kristen had won, because there was not time for a 5th course. I liked the format of course by course judging results. However, the 7 minute commercial has to come much later in order to left viewers in true suspense about the outcome.


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