¡Hola! From the description of tonight’s challenge, it seems it is all about Latin food and I can’t wait. Some of the best food I had in my four years of college was from sharing care packages a couple of my friends from Puerto Rico would get from their mothers. The black beans and rice, the arroz con pollo, the empanadas…damn, I’m hungry now. I could really go for some budin de pan; maybe I can convince my mother that’s the dessert I need to make for her birthday this weekend. Before I slip into full Homer Simpson drooling mode, let’s get this recap started.
Shut your pie hole.
On the morning after Camille’s departure, Lia is a bit upset. She misses Camille, saying that she is a really great person and was starting to come out of her shell. Too bad we never saw it. Joey, meanwhile, is worried about being stuck on the bottom of a bad rut and recognizes he needs to get his head out of his ass. Wonders, as they say, never cease. Hung, never humble, is confident that as long as he keeps working with fineness, style, grace, and elegance he will do well. Sheesh, that’s a lot of adjectives.
With those little introductory reflections over, and the foreshadowing gnomes sent back in their hidey-hole, the chefs arrive at the Top Chef kitchen where Padma introduces them to Maria Frumkin, a pastry chef, owner of a bakery, and restaurateur. Padma says that this round of the competition is all about timing; she then holds up what she calls a big time saver used by all, the frozen pie crust. It is pre-pressed in a pan and looks overwhelmingly thick. Dale, on the other hand, feels vindicated that the Quick Fire involves pastry after his dessert choice in the last Elimination Challenge. The Quick Fire challenge is to make something fabulous with the frozen pie crust; they have 90 minutes and can use whatever is in the pantry. With 90 minutes to cook, I wonder why they need frozen pie crusts, other than to make the challenge more difficult.
Even though they have three times the normal time allotment for a Quick Fire, everyone gets to work at a fast pace. Hung is going for a dessert using chocolate, bananas, and peanuts in a pie. He gets it made, but it does not set up quickly or correctly and he has to dress up his plate with some sliced strawberries to disguise the flaccid slice of pie.
Dale is doing something sweet and savory—one dish with strawberries, and the other with salmon. He is convinced his dish is the best. Sara M. busts out the rabbit while Sara N. worries about her lack of pastry expertise. Maybe she forgot that the pastry part was already made. Joey confesses he has some pastry experience but didn’t want to share that fact with the group last time because he was worried about sabotage; the guy must sleep with one eye open, he’s so paranoid. Howie knows his limitations and goes with a tart, noting that tarts are “cook’s desserts” not “pastry chef’s desserts”. Tre works on an apple tart, even going to the effort of making little cut out shapes out of the pastry dough to decorate the tart.
Time is called and Padma and Maria sample the offerings. Hung’s banana rum and chocolate pie with spicy peanuts is practically melting on the plate, causing Padma to comment negatively. Howie made a peach tart tatin with black pepper and balsamic sabayon; Maria found the balsamic taste too strong. Joey made a trio of tarts: berry cream with balsamic vinegar; roasted mango puree with rum; and warm apple compote. Joey is convinced the trio is positively orgasmic and I really want a piece of that mango one.
Going for a more savory take on pastry, CJ made a pair of dishes: a duck lollipop encrusted with pistachios and pie crust and a duck tart with cabbage, tomato and arugula puree. Maria found it difficult to put the two tastes together. Tre’s pretty fennel and apple tart tatin was well received by Padma and Maria. Apparently bursting with too much energy, Brian made a four course meal with tarts: a vegetarian tart with arugula pesto; a seafood tart with celeriac puree; a chorizo tart with pepper jack cheese; an a fruit tart with Grand Marnier. Padma asks him why he felt compelled to do four courses, and he says that with the increased competition, he really needs to put out the best each time. Perhaps he needs to lay off the caffeine.
Sara M.’s braised Swiss chard and rabbit stew, prosciutto wrapped rabbit, and goat cheese, feta and fig tart won Maria’s praise for a good combination of flavors. Conversely, Maria was not crazy about Lia’s pork tenderloin with artichoke and chorizo tart. Finally, Dale has made food for a picnic; there’s the spinach and salmon en croute, which cause Maria to make a face of disgust upon tasting, and a strawberry, pear and saffron tart. We don’t see Casey’s or Sara N.’s dishes, but we probably didn’t miss anything.
After sampling all of the dishes, Maria announces her three least favorites: Lia, for having poorly matched pears and artichokes; Dale, for using too much saffron (someone page Ilan, please!); and Hung, for not having a properly set mousse pie. Her favorites were Tre’s simple and elegant apple tart, Sara M.’s exceptional cheese tart, and Joey’s trio of fruit tarts. Maria chooses Joey as the winner and he gets the great prize of immunity from elimination.
Livin’ la vida loca
Padma presents the Elimination Challenge: the chefs will cook lunch for the cast and crew of the telenovela Dame Chocolate. They will have to make Latin food, and are warned that the cast and crew is on a tight, constantly adjusted, schedule. Hey, it could be worse—they could have to cook Roman food (as in when Latin was spoken) for the cast of Rome; there’s no way to dress up door mice to be tasty. The chefs will have 30 minutes to shop, three hours to cook in the Top Chef kitchen and pack up their food to transport it to the set. They are each given $125 to shop with to fee about 20 people.
Off to the grocery store they go. Hung is excited by the challenge and plans to call on his experience of living in Puerto Rico for three years. Lia says she likes Latin food but she really doesn’t make it. She is fond of grilled fish from Latin restaurants, so she plans on smoking some rainbow trout. Joey and Howie have finally realized that they are long lost brothers, and have forged a friendship after the last challenge. Joey notes Howie is planning another pork dish and worries that Howie will be called on the pork repetition. But Joey is also distracted by the thought of hot Latin women being around.
Casey says that, being from Texas, she knows a great deal about food from south of the border and loves mole sauces and plans on making one with coffee. Get ready to take a drink, because Sara N. is busting out the tired ceviche but adding avocados to make it kind of a guacamole/ceviche combination. She also plans on making her own tortillas, but buys pre-made ones as a back up, just in case.
Back in the apartment, Brian wonders about someone making a dessert, given the name of the show. Casey and Lia are bonding well, even to the extent of Casey commenting that they are now life-long friends. An overt declaration like that never bodes well, does it? Sara N. comments that the three hour time frame is more than enough time to make food, so timing won’t be an issue. As ever, Hung is overly confident, even commenting he knows some Spanish. Brian isn’t so confident, given he comes from the Pacific Northwest and that is not a hot-bed of Latin cuisine.
The chefs head out to the kitchen to cook. Sara M. comments that everyone is being more civilized, since they have so much time. Howie thinks three hours is just enough time to finish his dish. This cues Tom to arrive in the kitchen and announce that lunch service has been moved up and they now only have an hour and a half to prepare their meals. Contrived much? Casey, Dale, and Howie are aghast at the time change. Tre doesn’t worry so much because the guy is totally Zen about everything.
The chefs start flying around the kitchen at break-neck speeds. Casey worries about the safety of the kitchen, with all the knives and hot pans going at once. At about half-way through, Tom comes back in to check on how things are going. He first talks to Howie, who is braising his pork shoulder, even with the time crunch. Lia thinks she still has time to pull everything off. Casey was going to do a grilled tomato and onion stuffed chicken, but has nixed grilling the tomatoes. Sara N. tells Tom about her ceviche and has decided to drop making her own tortillas. Tom observes Hung’s mad knife action, and worries that he almost stabbed Casey with the knife. He notes Howie is the most affected by the time crunch and thinks he should have changed to roasting the pork shoulder.
Time runs down, and Hung only has to cook the rice for his chicken dish, saying that if he can’t cook rice, he should go home. Casey does have issues with her rice—it boils over and becomes mushy. Time runs out, and it is time to go to the Dame Chocolate set.
The chefs set up their serving stations in a buffet style on the posh set of the telenova. Lia is concerned about this style of service because the food has to be kept warm, and hence, it keeps cooking. She decides to serve her dish cold. The cast and judges get called in to lunch service and this is what they get to sample:
Sara N. made a shrimp and scallop avocado ceviche with charred corn and pickled radish.
Casey presents a bacon wrapped chicken with rice and molasses coffee glaze.
CJ serves skirt steak, black beans a jicama slaw.
Hung made the classic arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) with a ton of condiments, including avocado.
Tre serves seared jumbo prawns with jalapeno cilantro dumplings and lobster ceviche. Going through the serving line, Gail likes the dumpling idea. With Gail present, we know Ted is absent. *sob*
Howie turns in braised pork shoulder with yucca and sour orange mojo. Maria Frumkin is back and asks how the braising went with the time limit. He says he kept his plan of braising and just cut the pieces of pork smaller.
Joey serves a bean stew with lobster, shrimp, chicken and chorizo. Howie loves Joey’s dish and couldn’t stop eating it.
Lia presents a smoked rainbow trout with polenta cake. One of the cast comments that polenta isn’t such a Latin thing, but Lia says it was an alternative to the tortilla.
Dale made grilled poblano and braised chicken and a tortilla with fire-roasted corn and jalapeño topping.
Sara M. presents chiles rellenos with roasted vegetables and cheese sauce. The cast members really like it, and it does look tasty.
At the tasting table, everyone really likes Howie’s dish, noting it tastes like the real thing. No one liked Hung’s arroz con pollo, saying the rice is dry. Joey’s is well-liked, but one actress notes it would have been better if served with a tostada or tortilla. Sara N.’s avocado ceviche is really just guacamole with a tiny bit of seafood, and thus fails as a ceviche. Casey’s dish is not well received, especially with the strong coffee sauce. Lia’s dish falls flat—it’s soggy and not seasoned. Tom wonders if it is bland because it is next to a lot of spicy dishes, but Padma thinks it is the worst.
Like the end of a buddy movie.
Lunch service is wrapped up. Joey is confident he won but Casey knows that her dish is not a contender. The judges convene at the Table o’ Judgin’ and pretty rapidly sort out who was the best and who was not. Maria joins the judging panel, along with Padma, Tom and Gail Padma thought the lunch was one of the best yet, and Maria noted the enthusiasm the chefs had for the Latin ingredients. Tom really liked Joey’s bean stew. Padma thought Lia’s polenta cake did not work at all because it was mushy and bland. Gail and Tom have issues with Casey’s dry chicken and awful rice. Howie’s is also a favorite, Gail saying loved the mojo and it was fantastic.
Padma retrieves Howie and Joey from the waiting area; when they arrive before the judges, she tells them they are the top two. She asks them about their dishes and Joey explains that he has two Spanish guys working in his kitchen and he lets them make a meal now and then. He says he took element from what he’s seen them make, though he never made Latin food before. When asked about the time crunch, he says it wasn’t an issue for him at all. At this point, Howie chuckles and admits that the time change did give him some concerns, and although Gail points out he always has timing issues, he is reassured that his flavors were spot-on. He says the only thing he would have done differently had he more time was let the pork rest more before slicing it. Joey and Howie tasted each other’s dishes and were both complimentary of the other’s dish. Maria announces the winner of the challenge to be Howie and gives him a bottle of excellent Argentinean wine. Howie’s thrilled at winning two elimination challenges.
Padma asks Joey and Howie to send back some folks. They arrive in the waiting area, and before calling back the bottom folks, Howie gives the bottle of wine to Joey because he thought Joey had the best dish. They then plan to share the bottle. Awwwww…how sweet. At least we’re spared the hot tub scene of their enjoyment of the libation.
Starches of doom.
Our dynamic duo then directs Lia, Sara N., Casey and Hung to the Judges’ Table. Padma tells them that their dishes were the least successful and wonders if they know where they went wrong. Hung can’t see a problem with his dish and offers that perhaps he was too classical in his choice of entrée. Gail counters that they were indeed looking for classical, implying that they did not get it. Tom says Hung’s rice was dry and under-seasoned, to which Hung responds that he thought a criticism might be that it was over-seasoned and it certainly wasn’t bad enough for people to spit out. Tom and Padma stop him there and say that no one’s dish was that bad—they are all good chefs, but just didn’t succeed on this challenge. Tom then cautions Hung to be careful with his knives in the kitchen, again pointing out he almost got Casey with the knife.
Turning to Casey, Tom asks her about the rice. She explains that the rice boiled over; she’s also not surprised that she is in the bottom because of the rice. She defends her coffee sauce, and thought the tastes all went together. Tom didn’t think the dish was Latin at all. Lia says she was going for Latin flavors in a creative way. She is not entirely surprised that she’s is in the bottom but doesn’t think it is so bad as to merit her going home. Sara N. acknowledges that she did not make a ceviche, saying it was more a guacamole dish. She didn’t intend for the seafood to be that prominent, explaining that is why there wasn’t a strong seafood presence in the dish.
The chefs are dismissed while the judges talk things over. They comment on Hung’s arrogance and belief that his rice and chicken were fine. Gail goes further and says that Hung is so full of himself, it really makes her want to knock him down a few pegs. As for Sara N.’s guaco-che, they note that it really wasn’t an entrée but a dip for chips and certainly not a winning dish. The judges really don’t like Lia’s mushy and bland polenta, noting that there was no balance of flavor. Padma calls it inedible, but Tom won’t go that far. He thinks Casey’s dish was the worst and can’t get past the poorly cooked rice and dry chicken. Padma notes the coffee sauce tasted like cough syrup.
The decision is tough, because no one is a stand-out terrible chef, but they arrive at their conclusion and call the four back in. Tom again emphasizes that the challenge was all about timing. He says that Sara’s dish wasn’t really ceviche, Hung missed the mark on a classic dish, Casey had dry chicken and mushy rice, and Lia’s dish was exceedingly bland which had nothing to do with the time crunch. Padma then tells Lia to pack her knives and go.
Lia departs, with the tears coming from Casey. Lia is sad to go, but also embarrassed to be eliminated so early and frustrated with herself. She is going to keep on cooking, however, as it is what she loves to do.
Next week we get another team challenge. Let’s hope Hung can keep a firm grip on the knives!