Top Chef

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Beat This Meat

When time is up, the chops are packed and carted back to the Top Chef kitchen, where "legendary" (per Richard) Chicago chef Rick Tramonto (decked out in the colors of a 1970s conversation pit) joins Padma (in blue again). Who decided that adding music to a Web site is a good idea? Because it isn't. After telling the assembled gang, in a pouty monotone appropriate for the eulogy of a loved one, that this is the last Chicago-based competition, Padma elaborates on the second leg of an unusually leggy Quickfire. Well, first she elaborates on Rick Tramonto -- in addition the being legendary, he is also well known and beloved, a James Beard award-winner, a cookbook author, and the owner/chef of Tru and Tramonto's Steak and Seafood. Soft-spoken Rick, known (again per Richard) for "new American food", will evaluate the fruits (actually, the beef) of their labors, as they now have thirty minutes to prepare the perfect steak. A "tomahawk chop", to be exact, which clearly gets its name from its looks.

While this may sound like a cinch, says Padma, "cooking the perfect steak takes a lot of skill", and can be judged by sight by a seasoned chef like Rick, who adds that the challenge is about "butchery and temperature". Rick, like most chefs, it seems, prefers his steak medium rare. Somehow, this convinces Richard that "the challenge has nothing to do with taste or flavor, it happens to do with the doneness of the meat and the butchery of the whole rack". That must be an overstatement, right? If a steak is cooked perfectly but tastes like shit, I imagine Rick would take issue. The amount of seasoning that suddenly meets the chops seems to confirm this. Lisa opines that cooking a medium rare steak should be second nature for any chef (she prefers touch to thermometers, as does this home cook) but that the pressure of the competition can lead one to second guess oneself and do dumb stuff.

Lisa, proving that pigs can fly (or at least say nice things), compliments Spike on his butchery, as Master Evangelos details his thoughts on steak-making. Although he feels this sort of chop really needs 35 minutes, he'll make it work -- the secret to medium rare, you see, is cooking it evenly on both sides (which he'll do with a hot grill, with sprigs of rosemary tucked underneath the meat) until it's "pink all the way through", and then placing it in the oven, which (though it pains me to say this) is just the way I like it done. Richard, realizing that half an hour prevents him from indulging his love of sous vide, goes a traditional route, which involves a large pan and basting.

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Top Chef

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