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Top Chef Episode 12: “Block Party”

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Let’s just get this out here now – I hated this episode.  Last week’s was easily the best of the season and regular watchers of the show said it was one of the best all-time.  A lot of that had to do with the chefs being given the freedom to let their creativity shine.  Additionally, they only had to cook enough for the judges instead of a huge crowd.  This all resulted in wildly imaginative, focused dishes.  So how do they top that?  They don’t – they went the exact opposite way in this week’s Elimination Challenge.

I wasn’t even going to mention the Sarah Grueneberg drinking game again, but… BAM!  2 minutes into the episode she freaks out when Charlize Theron comes into the kitchen to thank them.

Drink!

Quickfire Challenge – Prepare a set of given ingredients and cook them quickly.

The contestants were split into three teams of two and were given 30 minutes for this challenge.  They had to do basic prepwork on three ingredients prior to cooking – clean two pounds of shrimp, shuck a basket of corn, and make a pound of fettucine.  The judges (Tom, Padma, Emeril, and Cat Cora) had to approve the prepwork before they were able to start cooking in whatever time was left. So if a team took twenty minutes to prep, they only had ten to cook.  No immunity was given, but the winning team got to pocket $10k.

  •  Penishead & Sarah – Fettuccine with corn milk, shrimp, tarragon & parsley.  They were the first ones done with the prepwork, which is to be expected because Sarah makes pasta for a living and Penishead’s a fucking soulless robot.  So they had a lot of time to come up with a good dish.
  • Kundun & Sonny Chiba – DISQUALIFIED!  Kundun forgot to add the shrimp. Sonny was pretty good about it, but without immunity there wasn’t much at stake besides the money.
  • Grayson & Ugly Chris – Fettuccine, toasted corn, poached shrimp, chili, bacon & Rosemary.  They took the longest to prep their food, but they were able to get everything done.

Winners – Grayson & Ugly Chris.  He finally gets his first win of the entire competition. Damn, Sarah’s pissed.

Elimination Challenge – Cook against their teammates.

In this challenge, each chef had to cook against their Quickfire teammates.  They were originally paired off with the person next to them but I have a feeling the pairings weren’t random but were done so they would be equally matched.  I mean, putting Kundun or Sonny Chiba head-to-head with Grayson would’ve been a culinary bloodbath.  Each team would choose a main and a side and each teammate had to make their version of it.  The crowd gets to vote on which chef won each head-to-head battle and the judges chose the winner and loser from there.  The winner pocketed $15K.

Why I hated this episode – Part 1.   The setting was a block party/food drive hosted by Healthy Choice to benefit a San Antonio food bank. There were 200 people in attendance and each chef had to make enough for the whole crowd in 2.5 hours.  The whole event is a nice gesture, but the contestants are back to making food in mass quantities.  Look, any asshole can make enough food for an army.  There’s no talent there.  The problem is that there’s no way that quality and self-expression doesn’t suffer.

Each pair had to agree on what they were going to make and here’s what they chose:

  • Grayson and Chris – Chicken salad sandwich and watermelon salad.
  • Penishead and Sarah – Meatballs and veggie salad
  • Kundun & Sonny – Asian barbecue with pickled vegetables

See what I mean?  Whatever you think about Ugly Chris as a chef, you have to admit there’s a lot of imagination going on in his head.  And this challenge has him making some whitetrash chicken salad.  What’s next – Frito Pie? (Although, he’d probably make that pretty cool.)

Why I hated this episode – Part 2.  Because Healthy Choice is sponsoring this event, the contestants had to make healthier versions of their dish, defined as lower in fat content. There are actually two reasons why I hated this twist.

First, I’m not sold on depriving oneself of fat or carbs or any other macronutrient as being “healthy”.  Certain amounts of fat, carbs, and cholesterol are absolutely necessary for survival.  If your diet plan is to completely cut something out, your plan is probably doomed.  It’s perfectly cool to eat carbs – just eat about 75% less of it.  Fat ass.

The second reason I hated this “healthy” twist is that there’s an inevitable sacrifice of flavor.  There are ways of compensating for it by using seasonings and other tricks and I suppose there are opportunities for creativity there.   But this is still getting away from the chefs doing what they want to do and what they do best.  There’s a reason why we are drawn to professional sports or the Olympics – these are athletes at the top of their game and we want to see them give optimal performances.  Having the chefs make something “healthy” is like having 100 meter sprinters compete in Birkenstocks.

Here’s what they made:

  • Kundun – Turkey Kalbi lettuce wrap, eggplant, with white peach kimchi.  He took many steps to make it healthy – no sugar, lower sodium, lower fat.
  • Sonny – Bao dough, traditional open faced kalbi, kimchi chipotle puree, pickled cucumber carrots fennel & daikon
  • Grayson – Chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat with arugula, pickled red onion, feta watermelon salad with pumpkin seeds
  • Ugly Chris – Chicken salad sandwich with tofu “mayo”, red lettuce, watermelon fruit salad with pineapple ice
  • Sarah – Calabrese style turkey meatball and vegetable salad (fennel, baby squash, squash blossoms, arugula).  Stop the presses! Sarah made something Italian!
  • Penishead – Mediterranean meatball, lemon yogurt, black-eyed peas & quinoa greek salad

Judges’ Table

Top 3 – Grayson, Kundun & Penishead – attendees voted them winners of head to head battles.

  • Kundun’s spice combo and white peaches were winners.
  • Grayson – made to order helped,  although Tom thought the choice of chicken salad was boring and that she needed something more exciting.  At which Grayson astutely asks, “Like a meatball?” Didn’t seem like Tom disagreed.
  • Penishead – Yogurt and spices jumped out.

Winner – Paul.  His dish was healthiest and executed perfectly.  If he doesn’t win the overall competition, at least he’s raking in a ton of dough.

Bottom 3 – Sonny Chiba, Ugly Chris, Sarah

  • Sonny’s “healthier”version – He gets called out on his BS about bread being better than rice. During the shopping scene at Whole Foods, he saw Paul with the turkey and you could tell he knew he was about to get owned.
  • Chris – The bread and chicken salad both dried out in the heat.  Also, his pineapple watermelon side was icy.
  • Sarah – apricot flavor was weak, inconsistency in salad

Booted – Ugly Chris.  As was the case in several challeges this season, this was conceptually strong, but the reality was a little weak.

Random Thoughts

  • I’m sure there’s a “Bitch Edit” going on to make it look like Penishead’s bossy and Sarah’s catty and whiny.  But I wonder if there’s a “sweatheart edit” that intentionally makes dastardly people appear nice on screen?  Nah, probably not.
  • With all the eating she’s done, Padma must’ve gained a ton of weight.  She doesn’t even have any pants that fit any more:

  • The pairings lined up exactly as I would tier the competitors.  I think Kundun and Sonny Chiba are the best of the bunch in creativity, variety, and execution.  I like Chris and Grayson a lot for their personalities, but cooking-wise they aren’t as good as the others.  Sarah and Penishead are right in the middle and are exactly alike in one way – I really dislike both of them.
  • Ugly Chris really didn’t want to make chicken salad and I’m sure his lack of enthusiasm for it hurt him.
  • I’ve lost track of how many challenges Kundun has won.  If he doesn’t win the whole show, he’s probably earned enough money to soften the blow.  It’s clear that he’s the best chef of the bunch, but who knows what might happen in terms of mistakes.  Not having seen any previous seasons, has it ever happened that someone beats the competition week in and week out, but DOESN’T win the whole enchilada?
  • I liked how Ugly Chris was always very respectful to the judges.  Any time he talked to them, it was always “yes, Chef”, “no, Chef,” etc.  Yet it was even better, after the judges table, see him go back to the kitchen and drop all kinds of f-bombs.
  • Best exchange of the evening:

Sonny (right after Chris’ outburst– “Every time you make like you’re going home, someone else goes home…”

Chris pats Sonny on leg in essence saying “nice to know you”.

  • Penishead wears a hat to the Judges Table.  Would that be called a condom?

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About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

7 comments on “Top Chef Episode 12: “Block Party”

  1. M
    January 27, 2012

    Speaking as an avid fan of the show, having seen all but the first two seasons (didn’t know about it back then), yes, there have been a few times that the person who dominated the season didn’t win the finale. In season 4 Richard Blais (who later came back to win the All-Star season) was the clear favorite, but struggled in the finale and lost to Stephanie Izard, who had been very good, but not as good, all season. In season 7 Angelo Sosa was the most often in the winners circle, but he was upset in the finale (where he missed time due to illness) by Kevin Sbraga, who had come on strong as the season went on. So Paul is definitely the odds on favorite now, but he’s no lock for the win.

  2. thefoodandwinehedonist
    January 27, 2012

    Awesome, thanks for the info and for stopping by… btw went to Izard’s Girl and the Goat in Chicago. Absolutely amazing place. I think Ed’s the biggest challenger in terms of vision and ability , but Paul doesn’t mess up on execution. Hope I didn’t just jinx him.

    • M
      January 30, 2012

      Nice, I’ve actually been looking to go to Chicago and hit a few Top Chef folks restaurants (Izard’s, Rick Bayless’ Frontera), so I’m glad to hear the Goat is good!

      I agree about Ed being the biggest competition, too.

      • thefoodandwinehedonist
        January 30, 2012

        I’ve been to Topolobampo (Rick’s higher end place) and it was fantastic. Next to Frontera is Xoco, his take on Mexican St food. I wanted to go there once, but was pressed for time and there was a line. All reports indicate it’s well worth the wait. ACtually, I did have a sandwich at Frontera in O’Hare airport and the Pepito was one of the best sandwiches I’ve EVER had. I’m originally from Chicago and have posted reviews on some Chicago places. Check out the category called “The Chi” for those. Please report back after you go!

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This entry was posted on January 27, 2012 by in Television and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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