Top Chef

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Asked by Padma what he believes is "the most important foundation for a chef," Daniel replies "without a good technique, I don't think you can accomplish great cooking." Hard to disagree with that. Technique provides the basis for this week's Quickfire -- each cheftestant must prepare a vegetable plate, with ingredients from the pantry and from an array of overfilled baskets scattered around the kitchen, that showcases at least three techniques "that you think will impress Daniel."

Finally -- a challenge that allows the chefs to strike out on their own with guidelines less stringent than those of the past few weeks. Not only do they have a wide range of ingredients from which to select, they have to decide what techniques to use, and even what qualifies as a "technique" in the first place. Lisa looks like she just smelled poo as she expresses nervousness about the challenge due to not being into "the classic training methods." Instead, she likes "to do things however I feel is the best for that moment," which comes off as a bit of a cop-out, especially since I don't think we've seen enough of her food to know if she can back her philosophy with talent. Cut to close-up of poo-smell face.

Daniel reveals that both Richard and Ryan have previously worked in his restaurants, but assures the assembled contingent that this fact will have no impact on his judging decisions. Ryan elaborates, saying he "spent a very short time at Daniel. It wasn't my style." No surprise there -- Ryan doesn't strike me as a technique freak, and so far, his style doesn't seem very stylish.

As the thirty minutes begin, Nikki also expresses concern that she's not adept at classical techniques, before announcing that she will blanch, grill, and make a quenelle. That doesn't seem overly impressive, but at least she's not making macaroni and cheese. Amidst lots of close-ups of slicing, dicing, and julienning, Manuel expresses confidence in his knife skills, intimidation by Daniel, and his decision to make a vinaigrette, supreme of lemon (which is apparently a fancy term for peeling and deseeding fruit) -- and that's only two techniques, but who's counting?

Richard explains that technique stretches far beyond knife skills, but they seem to be his focus, with what looks like a simple plate of well-shaped vegetables. Zoi, echoing the "I'm not classically trained" refrain that's punctuated this challenge so far, zeros in on radishes, asparagus, and assorted endive, which she combines into a salad with a poached egg. Lisa starts to rotate a cucumber as she removes the skin with a knife to make a thin wrapper, before looking to her left, seeing Dale doing the same thing and "whizzing through them like soft butter," and abandoning the idea. Segue to Dale, who is now doing what looks like the same thing to an avocado.

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Top Chef

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