Top Chef New York: Haute Dogs

20 Nov

I said before that no chefs really stood out to me after the Top Chef premiere last week.  Well folks, it’s the same story this week, even with Tom Colicchio declaring during the episode that he was thoroughly disappointed.

The quickfire challenge this week involved the classic New York City street food, the hot dog.  Dishes ranged from mildly interesting (Radhika’s kabob style dog made with lamb, pork, and ground chuck with caramelized onions and a cucumber tomato jam and Fabio’s andouille sausage Mediterranean hot dog) to outright gross-sounding (Jill’s store bought hot dog sliced and rolled into a spring roll wrapper, I’m starting to question her general taste and judgement).  Cocky Stefan goes for a “world dog” complete with French bread, Italian sausage, and Vermont cheddar served with a German beer that crashes and burns.  I admit, it was fun to hear him confess that he was “boiling up” inside.  Radhika wins the challenge and thus immunity for the elimination challenge.  Even though her hot dog looked slightly tempting, the competition was just so bad and uninspiring for this challenge.  I think I saw one contestant putting sliced sausage into a food processor (to later re-case it?)

The elimination challenge was for the cheftestants to serve up New American cuisine in Tom Colicchio’s flagship Craft restaurant to Top Chef rejects (chefs who tried out for the show but didn’t make it).  Ouch, tough audience!  Again, most of the dishes disappoint.  Fabio pulls a win with a beef carpaccio appetizer that utilizes some newfangled cooking technique to make olive puree into spheres that are solid on the outside but liquid on the inside.  The olives seem cool, but it’s also a popular dish that he makes all the time at his restaurant in California, so in my opinion, he still hasn’t proven himself.  The other top finishers are Jamie with her cold corn soup with mint and chili oil (this sounds awesome but it also seems like something she’s made many times before) and Carla for an apple pastry with a perfect flakey crust.  In the loser’s corner are Hosea for making a cold crab salad that was underseasoned (I cringed when I saw him buying the canned crab meat when fresh wasn’t available. how many times have we seen chefs make this mistake on Top Chef before?), Ariane for her lemon meringue martini that seems like upscale cafeteria food, and Jill’s bland ostrich egg quiche that sends her home.  I found it odd that Jill said in her good-bye clip that she was sad to leave before she made a dish she was 100% behind.  She could’ve easily done a dish that really respresented her style since New American is a fairly flexible category.  But instead, she thought simply using an exotic ingredient (ostrich egg) would be enough to get her to the next round.  Wrong-o.

An European chef knows New American cuisine the best?  Maybe.  Here are some thoughts on non-top finishers whose dishes I thought showed potential:

Jeff’s chicken with chorizo corn bread: I don’t know if I would’ve gone with chicken as the protein but chorizo and cornbread together definitely sounds promising.

Eugene’s deconstructed meatloaf sandwich: Meatloaf definitely feels homey and American, but I’m really tired of chefs deconstructing everything, particularly dishes that taste better as a whole and not as the sum of its parts.  I think he had a good initial idea, but went for a trend that didn’t work.

Stefan’s halibut with tortellini and microgreens: Yes he is really cocky, but this dish looked (and according to the diners, tasted) nearly perfect.

Richard’s banana bread with peanut butter and grape gelato: Described by Donatella Arpaia as “an afterschool snack,” the judges didn’t go into whether they actually enjoyed the dish.  I like the playfulness of this concept, it’s New American without being deconstructed, foamed, or submersed in liquid nitrogen.

And others who didn’t fare as well…

Alex’s grilled pork chop and vegetables: If you’re cooking a simple dish, then it needs to be technically perfect.  There was nothing exciting or new about this grilled pork chop and veggie dish that one could easily cook at home.  On top of that, diners said it just tasted bad.  Ouch!

I’m sticking with my original top 5 after this week’s episode (Stefan, Richard, Jeff, Eugene, and Leah), although you could easily talk me into swapping Leah for Jamie at this point.  Bottom 3?  Ariane (please, this recipe book queen is out of her league), Alex (screwing up a simple pork chop?), and Melissa (not showing anything impressive thus far).

Your thoughts?

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