Archive for the ‘Watching Food’ Category

Top Chef Week 3: Flank Steaks At Mt. Vernon

Top Chef excitement and intrigue continues into week 3! Whose cuisine will reign supreme? Will Kenny finally settle the score with Angelo?  Is Amanda just all talk or does she actually have something to offer? Who exactly is this Alex guy anyway?

Regular readers will be quick to point out that we missed Week 2. So, here is a short and sweet recap: The Quickfire is “bipartisan sandwich” – chefs have to wear a silly apron that joins them at the hip, and then make a sandwich together, scurrying around the kitchen in unison while using only one hand.  Angelo and Tracey win for their flounder sandwich, Angelo continues his reign of terror. Then, the elimination challenge involves cooking a school lunch within a budget of approximately $2.68 per child – which obviously puts shopping at Whole Foods entirely out of the question (they shop at “Restaurant Depo”). One chef astutely observes that they are being forced to compromise their food to fit within the budget….and that this must be the same problem that school lunch programs have.  Ummm…..YOU THINK?  Anyway, the dishes of note include Amanda’s “chicken thighs with sherry” – yes, she insists on serving sherry to school children, and not only that, but she blows her team’s whole budget on the sherry. Finally, she cooks gross chicken that no one likes.  Anyway, Jacqueline (who cooked grainy chicken liver mousse in Week 1), makes a banana pudding to which she ends up adding two pounds of sugar (!!) because the bananas are starchy. Jacqueline is obviously not cut out for this, her dish tastes gross and is totally unhealthy, so she is kicked off.  Amanda dodges a bullet, she really should have been the one to go.

So, on to Week 3! First they meet the pastry chef from Jean Georges, and Padma shills for some new upcoming show called “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” which sounds dull and is obviously another attempt to wring as much money as possible from the Top Chef franchise before everyone gets sick and tired of it.  The Quickfire challenge is “pie,” which is actually great because many of these chefs are thoroughly incapable of making a pie.  At judging time, Amanda makes the excuse that she is not a pastry chef, but Jean Georges guy tells her that’s a cop out, since his grandmother isn’t a pastry chef and she can make a pie. Pwned!!  In the end, Kenny finally wins a challenge, for his Bananas Foster Pie, which admittedly looks pretty good.

So, on to the elimination challenge, which is relatively straightforward – the contestants must cook a “summer picnic” for the Capitol Hill interns, to be served at Mt. Vernon.  Only in D.C.!!  Alex tells us in a cutaway interview that he is looking forward to the challenge because he has “never taken advantage of an intern.”  We’ll have to keep an eye on him. Then its off to Whole Foods, where Amanda’s motto is  “heaven help any women, children or old people in my way” as she tears around the store grabbing things off shelves.  At this point she needs to put up or shut up, IMHO, this sort of faux swagger makes her look like The Biggest Loser.

So the chefs start their dishes, most of which seem to be grilled flank steak.  Angelo is sure that his Vietnamese beef will land him in the top, and it turns out he is right.  Tracey tries to make sausage, but runs out of time and settles for sausage sliders, which does not bode well for her.  Alex makes pork butt, but Amanda actually takes his food out of the oven while it is cooking because she claims her name was on the oven.  Well, in the words of Chuck D,  there’s a five letter word to describe her character.

Meanwhile, Alex describes his pork butt dish enthusiastically, stating that “I could eat the ass out of this pig all day.”  He is turning out to be pretty entertaining, but his skills seem limited and he will probably be gone in a week or two.  Apart from that, everyone else seemingly grills flank steak or maybe some ribs, with the exception of an ill-advised bacon-wrapped chilean sea bass  (I mean, what picnic is complete without one?).

So, in the top four are Arnold, Angelo, Amanda and Ed.  Angelo seems pretty smug about his Vietnamese beef, but it is Arnold who wins this one for his lamb meatball.  I sort of suspect that this will be Arnold’s solitary Elimination victory, so I hope he savored it…but I could be wrong.  Amanda claims that she doesn’t care about winning, just being in the top 4 is enough, which sounds like some BS  to me.  However, in fairness to Amanda, the other chefs raved about her ribs so she seems to gave put a little substance behind her bad attitude, at least for now.  Also, the  judges/producers seem to like her, since they saved her ass last week after the sherry chicken debacle.

Ultimately Tracey is kicked off for her sliders, after the judges discuss how a ten-year old could have made her dish.  She says she had a bad day, and it cost her.  She is partly right, although she is kind of out of her league in general – however, she was also pretty entertaining so it is too bad to see her go.

Finally, something that has been bothering me: what the hell is “Food & Wine” magazine? Does anyone actually read this magazine? Not only do we have to hear about it every episode, but we have to put up with Gail Simmons –
“editor of Food & Wine magazine,” who is kind of obnoxious and adds absolutely nothing to the show.  I guess it’s part of Top Chef’s cross-promotional agreement with Food & Wine that she has to appear on the show, there’s no other good explanation.  I mean, bring back Eric Ripert!  At least he knows what he is talking about, and he obviously makes the contestants very nervous when they half-ass their seafood or french dishes.

Well, until next week….when TWO contestants are getting kicked off, apparently. In the meantime, if you read and enjoy “Food & Wine” magazine, feel free to let me know in the comments.


Top Chef Season 7: “Eliminated By Mousse”

June 18, 2010 2 comments

Top Chef Season 7 kicked off on Wednesday night – as you may have heard, it takes place in our nation’s capitol which, according to enthusiastic “cheftestants,” is a great restaurant town, full of chefs, etc.  Well, there’s a few – if you are lucky you might come across Jose Andres whipping up a giant paella on a street corner.

But D.C. does have its own charms, such as cherry blossoms, lovingly photographed in cutaways on the show.  For those who are unfamiliar with D.C., the cherry blossoms are one of D.C.’s main selling points, although they actually exist for about 2 days in April, during which the time the National Mall (and all other areas containing a concentration of cherry trees) is a complete madhouse.

The show spent a few minutes introducing us to this season’s contestants, nearly all of which seem to be executive chefs of some restaurant or another, and most of which seem to have been voted “best new chef” in some region, or else have received some sort of James Beard Related award/nomination.  Now, honestly, how many freakin’ awards do these James Beard people give out, anyway?  It turns out they give out dozens of awards, including many regional awards, so you can do the math and figure out there are a hell of a lot of James Beard nominees running around out there.  Anyway, there is a lot of name dropping here too, everyone brags that they worked for Bouloud, or Ducasse, or whoever. 

Notably, we meet Angelo, from Connecticut, who brags about his Michelin Star and is obviously being set up by the producers to be this year’s big arrogant villain/douchebag (although honestly, this doesn’t seem to require much set-up).  We also meet Kenny, who gets props from his co-contestants and tells us that on a scale of 1 to 10, his confidence is 10.  Also, we meet John, a freaky cat with thick glasses and some nappy white-man dreadlocks who tells us he feels like “a stranger in strange land.”

On to business – Tom and Padma arrive briskly and the Quickfire begins: This is a “basic skills”-type Quickfire – first, peel potatoes, then, break down chickens, finally, brunoise onions – all at breakneck speed.  Kenny dominates each of these challenges, finishing well before any other contestants on each one, and his competitors seem sort of in awe at how much they suck comparatively. This Quickfire actually works quite well as an exercise in humiliation – we’ve just seen all these executive chefs and James Beard nominees bragging about their resumes and now it turns out most of them can’t even chop and onion or peel a potato – at least, not as fast as they’d like.

The beauty of it is this: You may have worked for Daniel Bouloud or been awarded Most Promising Chef In The Greater Utica Area – but in Week 1 of Top Chef, you’re just another reality TV contestant trying to avoid the door hitting your ass on the way out.

Anyway, the Top 4 now have to cook a dish using the chopped/peeled ingredients…and oh yeah! There’s a giant table of other ingredients they can use too!  Honestly, it would be far more interesting if they were just limited to potatoes, chicken and onions, but it wouldn’t sell cookbooks or look good on the Bravo website, so we get the usual stuff.  Out of the four, the final showdown comes down to Angelo and Kenny, but Angelo wins, despite Kenny’s clear domination of the knife skills portion of the challenge.  A rivalry is clearly being set up here, Angelo crows about the number of challenges he will win, Kenny says he views Angelo as an “obstacle” and not a threat.

On to the Elimination Challenge: here, the contestants will divide into groups and cook a dish that evokes the region they are from, and will compete against others in their group.  The top 4 in the previous challenge get to pick their group members, so there is a nice awkward moment where they all start to pick the contestants they figure will suck the most.  Then off to Whole Foods and we get to hear about the crazy concoctions everyone is coming up with.

At this point, Top Chef becomes an exercise in “guess the failure” – they will focus in a few dishes that have problems and end up in the bottom, and also will throw in a red herring that seems like it is bad but ends up being good.  Tonight we have two obvious contenders – First John tells us how in Michigan, “the maple runs through the trees,” and therefore he is going to make a maple mousse napoleon.  Now, even without further information, this is a disaster in progress – first, dessert is always a bad idea unless part of a larger meal.  Second, a napoleon is pretty old school, not exactly cutting edge cuisine.  Finally, “maple mousse” sounds questionable, and there is always difficult pastry to work with.  So this is clearly going to be a problem.

Jacqueline tells us she will be evoking the Hudson Valley region with a chicken liver mousse.  Now, this is a dish that will never win a challenge, but if done properly could at least keep you in the middle and out of trouble.  However, she bungles it horribly – first, inexplicably deciding to make a non-fat mousse (“just some egg whites”), and secondly, declining to strain her mousse mixture to make it smooth.  Really, how long would this take, 30 seconds? To her credit she made cute little apple cups, but it hardly matters when they are full of a stringy, coarse mousse that has no richness to it at all.

Now, I am rooting for Jacqueline because she is a caterer and one of the few contestants who is not constantly bragging about her resume – and I think it would be fantastic for a caterer to rise to the top and beat the pants off all these “pedigreed” chefs.  However, she has to do better than this.  She was the obvious candidate to be dragged before the judges for elimination.  However, John was called too, as his maple mousse was found to be soggy and lack any maple taste.  A sort of red herring thrown out there was a “deconstructed borscht” – long time viewers know that “deconstructed” dishes almost never work, Tom Collicchio always bitches about them whenever they get served.  This one, however, ended up working okay.

Through the course of the Judge’s grilling, Jacqueline claims that she had made her mousse “hundreds of times,” although she forgot the recipe this time and that’s why the fat didn’t get included.  However, it is also revealed that John had committed one of the cardinal sins of Top Chef – he had bought the puff pastry that he used in his Napoleon, which means essentially all he did was make a bad mousse and sprinkle some nuts over it.  On top of that, the puff pastry is soggy.  Well, that is enough to get him kicked off, and Jacqueline lives to fight another day.

Again, Kenny and Angelo make it to the final four, and again Angelo wins for his “arctic char sashimi with bacon foam” and some other crap.  “heh heh heh – I win” he cackles in his post-interview.  Right now he is by far the favorite in this competition, but hopefully some other contenders will emerge, because frankly it is boring to have the same chefs in the top 3 week after week, like whats-his-name Voltaggio last year (although in all fairness, he did not win the final competition – but he almost did).

Shame On You For Looking At Food Porn – Part 2

June 4, 2010 2 comments

Happy Friday! What could be a better way to kick off the weekend than with a disapproving yet titillating look at some food porn?  Our previous post on the topic documented a number of sexy advertisements for food.  However,  as one might expect, food porn is everywhere and there is far more than could ever fit in a single post.  So, to start things off, on my right, Paris enjoys a mammoth Carl’s Jr. Burger – although it looks suspiciously as if she is just resting her face on it, rather than taking a giant bite. Not so sexy, Paris.  She obviously needs to take a page from Padma Lakshmi’s book when to comes to sexy burger consumption.

So, here we see the trend continue – the convergence of food and sex in advertising.  The question remains – where does it all lead?  What are the long term consequences of intertwining sex and food (particularly fast food) in this manner?  The next time I sit and survey the IHOP menu, will I find myself aroused at the the mere mention of “Rooty Tooty Fresh N’ Fruity”?

So let’s get into it: First up, this is not an ad, but it is certainly food porn.  And not only is it food porn, it is BACON porn.  For those friends of the author who post incessantly about bacon on Facebook, this is for you.

Girls, eat those salads because “bac-ini” season will be here before you know it……

Next up, Auntie Anne’s “Dog Du Jour.”  A different approach here……

This ad is from the fast food burger chain Steer’s, which I am not very familiar with – however, I applaude them for boiling their commercial down to the bare essence of food porn, with no unnecessary attempts at narrative, commentary or structure.

In this Burger King spot,  a young man finds out that a greasy chicken sandwich can be quite a turn-on when bestowed with unsubtle phallic symbolism.

I’m not sure where this comes from, but for those who thought that the “bac-ini” was the last word in food porn, this shows just how sexy vegetables can be (may be NSFW if your employer objects to vegetables being rubbed in a suggestive manner).

And finally, last but certainly not least, we arrive at “Two Girls One Sub,” brought to you by the depraved minds at Quiznos.  This one delivers pretty much exactly what the title promises.  Just as a note, Quiznos is also responsible for the “Toasty Torpedo” commercials featured in our previous food porn extravaganza – who the heck is in charge over there?

We Love You Sandra Lee!

Even though you did not make’s “Ten Sexiest Chefs” (losing out to the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Alice Waters), we here at Allegations of Deliciousness still love you and your brash innovative style.  If it makes you feel any better, Nigella was robbed too.  And we’re sure you’ll make a delightful First Lady of New York State, once Cuomo trounces Lazio.

On honor of Sandra Lee’s imminent ascension to the halls of power in New York state, please enjoy this video compilation of Sandra strutting her stuff in front of the television cameras, including some of her “greatest hits.”

Sandra Lee: Deconstructionist. Revolutionary.

April 29, 2010 6 comments

One of Food Network’s most brash and audacious talents is Sandra Lee, who works almost exclusively in the medium of processed foods, and who has single-handedly turned traditional notions of food preparation on their head.  On her Food Network show “Semi-Homemade Cooking With Sandra Lee,” she regularly shatters the conventions of ingredient selection, radically re-alters traditional notions of cooking technique and develops groundbreaking approaches to building flavor, refinement of texture and presentation of her dishes.

Consider, if you will, her “Halibut Tacos With Peach Salsa”:

* 1 pound halibut
* 1 packet (1-ounce) hot taco seasoning mix
* 2 cups mild chunky salsa
* 1 cup frozen peach slices, thawed and chopped
* 1 teaspoon ground allspice
* 8 supersized yellow corn tortillas, warmed
* 1 package (8-ounce) coleslaw mix

1) Set up the grill for direct cooking over medium heat and oil the grates.
2) Place halibut on a plate and rub with taco seasoning. Cover with plastic wrap and cure in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3) Place the halibut on the grill and cover. Cook for 4 minutes per side, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Remove from the grill and let stand 10 minutes.
4) Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine salsa, peaches, and allspice.
5) Cut the halibut into bite-size pieces. Place halibut pieces in warmed tortillas and top with salsa and coleslaw mix. Serve warm.

Diners encountering this dish for the first time must have been shocked and disoriented, in the same manner as the Parisian audience who attended the premier of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in 1913.  While “Rite Of Spring” introduced intense polyrhythms and dissonance to contemporary music, here Sandra shatters convention by curing Halibut in taco seasoning mix, teasing our palate with the traditional flavor of the Americanized taco, and then pulling the rug out from under us with aggressively sweet peaches, a devastating shot of allspice and the sudden crunch of raw coleslaw.  But it is her choice of halibut that adds an air of playfulness and mystery to her work.  Why halibut? Why not turbot, or haddock, or tilapia, or mahi-mahi?   There is no way to know why Sandra chose to work in halibut specifically, and exclusively – however, some have theorized that because halibut has been a staple food of native americans going back for centuries, Sandra is slyly referencing the taco’s origins in the corn-based diet of native and meso-americans.

But it was not until Sandra’s “Provence Style Chicken Breasts” that the culinary world – and particularly French culinary tradition, were entirely turned on their head.  Such a bold statement reverberated through the cooking world, announcing the arrival of a new era where traditional flavors were simply no longer sufficient modes of expression for the culinary artist.

* 4 boneless skinless chicken breast fillets
* 3 tablespoons light olive oil
* 2 tablespoons lemonade concentrate
* 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
* 2 tablespoons herbs de Provence
* 1 tablespoon citrus herb seasoning


1) INDOOR: Prepare chicken as directed. Preheat broiler. Place chicken breast fillets on foil lined baking sheet or broiler pan. Broil 6 to 8 inches from heat source for 2 to 4 minutes per side. Do not over cook.

2) Rinse and pat dry breast fillets. Pound to 1/2-inch thick; set aside.

3) In a small bowl mix together remaining ingredients. Pour marinade mixture into large zip-top bag and add chicken.                                                                                                                                                                                            4) Squeeze out air and place in refrigerator 1 to 2 hours.
5) Set up grill for direct grilling over medium heat. Oil grate when ready to start cooking. Remove chicken from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
6) Place chicken on hot oiled grill and cook 2 to 3 minutes per side or until done.

Here, Sandra’s call for infusion of flavor into the chicken by marinating it in lemonade concentrate completely shattered all preconceptions of the nature of “provencal” flavor.  You might ask “why not just lemon juice?,” but that would be entirely missing the point.

Sandra continues to challenge and confound the world of traditional cooking.  We will occasionally be checking in with her as she boldly charts a new path in the development of American cuisine.