The Food and Wine Hedonist

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Top Chef California Episode 11: Hammer Time

There are seven contestants left, so now it’s finally starting to get interesting.   All of the ones that really had no business being there – hello goodbye, Giselle – have been weeded out.   And the remaining cheftestants have won something in previous episodes or at least have shown dishes that were pretty damn good, perhaps just not good enough.

It’s really a toss-up on who’s going to win this, but here are my rankings based on what we’ve seen thus far –

1 – Marjorie: she’s the one who can’t do wrong. Even when she’s off, the judges seem to just brush it aside.    Spoiler Alert – like this week.

2 – Amar: Although he focuses on chicken too much, he produces solid food. Almost zero mistakes.

3 – Carl: Few mistakes with the occasional really good dish.

4 – Jeremy: Some excellent moments, but maybe an over-reliance on raw fish?

5 – Kwame: Very high highs and very low lows.

6 – Isaac: Well executed food, but maybe not as high-concept as needed to take it all.

7 – Karen: Some winners here and there, but nothing mindblowing.


Right now, I’m thinking it’s going to be the top four that will be in the final.   Maybe a slight chance that Kwame sneaks in if someone messes up.


Quickfire Challenge

This was awesome.   The crew headed up to Oakland and were greeted by the one and only MC Hammer.   They were challenged with creating a rapper name for themselves and create a dish that best illustrates that.   This is a welcomed twist to the “tell us your personal story through a dish” which  are always the best challenges because they are given a lot of leeway with style, technique, and ingredients.   Winner got immunity.

Marjorie (Miss Punch-a-lot) – Fried chicken sandwich with honey sriracha and marinated watermelon radish salad

AMar (Santana Lovah) – Soy-glazed sea bass with dashi broth, enoki mushrooms, & shishito pepper

Carl (Dr Funky Fresh) – Beef Tartare lettuce wrap

Jeremy (Spicy J-Rock 305) – Spicy broth with Dungeness crab, grilled summer squash, halibut cheek

Kwame (Bay-Lish) – Seafood broth with grilled lobster & Dungeness crab

Isaac (Toups Legit) – Scallops with BBQ sauce & grits

Karen (Pink Dragon) – hot & sour soup with pork meatballs, shiitake, & morels


Favorites: Isaac, Karen, Carl

Least Favorites: Marjorie, Amar, Kwame

Winner:  Isaac.  Maybe it was because he had the best rap name, but not sure scallops & grits would do it for me as a winning dish.  Although I do love it.


Elimination Challenge

The chefs had to create a dish based on a a type of cuisine from specific era for a number of well-known chefs.   They had a couple hours to research the history of the place and what kind of food was eaten at that time.

Marjorie (ancient Indus Valley in India) – lamb kebab with heart jus, curried split peas, paratha

Amar (Paris Belle époque) – roasted squab, seared foie gras, sweetbreads, tourne vegetables & truffle sauce

Carl (ancient Greece) – marinated mackerel & calamari with olives & grapes

Jeremy (San Fran gold rush) – sourdough halibut with shellfish chowder

Kwame (Han Dynasty) – Coriander-crusted duck with black sesame duck jus, eggplant, & lapsang souchong cream

Isaac (Viking Age) – cumin & mustard-seared venison with caramelized onion Grautr & pickled beets

Karen (Empire of Japan) – soba noodles in mushroom dashi broth with Wagyu beef & pickled mushrooms


Favorites: Amar, Carl, Kwame

Winner: Amar

Least Favorites: Jeremy, Marjorie, Karen

Gone: Karen. Her dish got generally good comments for flavor, but was too “Chinese” in its use of spices and ingredients.


Random Thoughts

– I swear, I wrote the intro having Karen at the bottom BEFORE I saw the show.  She’s a good chef, but I didn’t think she would win.

– Karen’s losing brings up the classic Top Chef dilemma of good food versus embracing the challenge. I don’t think the show has ever clearly defined which is more important. This time the challenge wins.

– Marjorie’s dish had a lot wrong with it – the bread was overcooked and greasy, the meat not seared, poor seasoning. But she’s built-up too much credibility with the judges to get let loose now.

– Amar’s choosing that theme was pretty gutsy.  Many, many chefs still cook it today so he everything had to be perfect.  I would eat that dish every day, no problem.

– The Elimination Challenge HAD to be inspired by the restaurant Next. That’s the restaurant in Chicago started by Grant Achatz that completely changes a few times a year to a different theme based on time and place.   The current theme is “The Alps” but in the past they’ve had “Paris 1906”, “el Bulli Opening Menu”, and “Kaiseke”.

– I’d love to go to Next, but it’s near IMPOSSIBLE to get in. They don’t have reservations and not even the Pope can call to get a table. You have to buy tickets like a concert or show.

– Bravo is still playing up Kwame’s star-struck infatuation with Padma.   He’s only mentioned it once or twice, but his facial expression and awkward pauses whenever she talks to him are priceless.

Kwame Lust


Though some (not me) may argue it’s a tad racist?

– Over at Last Chance Kitchen, Karen and Jason had to prepare a Teppenyaki Table dish – those crazy Japanese steakhouse meals where they put on a show while they cook.  Like Benihana.  No surprise that Jason won – it was clearly a better concept and Karen messed up hers.  The BIGGER surprise is that Jason does a DRAG SHOWS under the name “Sissy Chablis.”  Wow.




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.

6 comments on “Top Chef California Episode 11: Hammer Time

  1. anotherfoodieblogger
    February 22, 2016

    Yay, I finally got to watch an episode! I finally figured out the password of our TV provider’s account to be able to watch it online. (We can’t watch it when it airs as it is at the same time as another show we watch.) I guess I’m just in time for all the good chefs left. 🙂

  2. tammystastings
    February 22, 2016

    FYI – Next isn’t hard to get into anymore. There are tables available every night in March right now, and they haven’t even posted tables for most of April yet.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      February 22, 2016

      Interesting… Is it still the equivalent of a car payment on a luxury car?

      • Tammy's Tastings
        April 11, 2016

        Current menu is between $95 and $125 per person for the regular (non-kitchen table) menu (depending on booking time), plus tax and service, and optional drink pairings. I haven’t bought a luxury car recently, so I don’t know how that compares, but I don’t think it’s ridiculously expensive.

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2016 by in Television and tagged , , , , , .
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