Top Chef
First Impressions

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Tastes Like Chicken

First Food Flurry of the new season. Howie Kleinberg, thirty-one and executive chef of The Food Gang -- Bravo's site wants to call it "The Food Gong" -- tells us his reaction to the Quickfire: "And right then, I wasn't expecting it -- we didn't have our knives, the girls were in high-heeled shoes…it didn't seem like the time or the place that they were going to do it." Welcome to Top Chef, Howie, where time and place don't have much meaning. Think of it as Star Trek without all the latex. Casey Thompson, the executive boob chef at Shinsei, knows what an amuse bouche is, "An amuse bouche means it's the start of your meal. It's the thing that sets your meal off, it sets the tone of the meal." Brian Malarkey, the thirty-four-year-old executive chef at Oceanaire in San Diego, lists all the foods they had on hand to work with -- salami, cheese, devilled eggs, fruits, shrimp, oysters, etc. -- "Pretty much everything under the rainbow was represented on that table." One of my grandfather's favorite expressions was, "That's a bunch of malarkey!" Between him and Hung, the name jokes will run thick and long. And I'm sure they haven't heard ANY of them before.

Padma calls time, and thank GOD we don't have to go over every single dish. To save time, we are shown only the notable offerings, good or bad. Starting with Howie, the judges sample a cappicola-wrapped poached shrimp with heirloom tomatoes and Champagne-basil vinaigrette. Okay, so here's my first question: how did he poach the shrimp? Maybe he went all MacGyver and used candles to heat a glass of Champagne to a bare tremble and dropped the shrimp in. Or, the shrimp, being cocktail shrimp, was already poached instead of steamed and somehow he knew that. But I like the MacGyver idea because I like Howie.

Micah introduces the judges to her "Tuscan Sushi Revisited," featuring Italian ham wrapped around dried figs, fig jam, and Gorgonzola, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I'm curious if she found balsamic vinegar on its own somewhere or if it had already been combined with oil and turned into a vinaigrette. Technically speaking, Gorgonzola does not come from Tuscany, it comes from Lombardy or Piedmont. And did you know that Japan is trying to certify sushi, so that you can't call stuff sushi unless it conforms to their traditional standards? That they would frown mightily on something being called "sushi" when it contains none of the authentic Japanese ingredients. I think the Russians are trying to do the same thing with vodka.

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Top Chef

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