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Kafka Zola

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  1. I've been reading your Houston reviews with great enjoyment and smirked with great glee at your assessment of RDG. I loathed Café Anne, but somehow, RDG irritates me even more. And, thanks to you, Haven is now at the top of my list of new places to try. I was dying to see if you'd try Catalan and what you thought of it, so I was very excited to see this last post. What I love about Catalan is the wine list and its range (both in terms of type, variety and prices), as well as a sommelier who *really* knows his stuff, makes astute and very personally tailored suggestions, and who doesn't immediately push you towards the more expensive stuff. And if you *do* want something more expensive, he has the knowledge to discuss and debate lesser known varietals with you. (I'm a huge, huge fan of the Pinotage grape from South Africa, particularly from the Stellenbosch region.) I think only Backstreet Café's sommelier and the wine list made me feel so comfortable. What I don't like about Catalan is the food. I've been there about 5 times (the last 3 times not of my choosing) and each time, it's all been so mediocre, over-hyped and, yes, small for what you're getting. I have no problems with small, or even tiny, plates.... if the food is spectacular; sometimes, just one perfect biteful is better than a moderate plate of things. But Catalan... eh. For the price -- at least, the price to get enough food to satiate you *and* that you think is actually tasty-- the food is just not worth it, in my opinion. Like you, I was unimpressed by the Foie Gras bonbons and, like you, it was one of the few times that I didn't like something that included even a minute amount of foie gras. (But I'd be curious to know why -- exactly -- it did nothing for *you*?) Similarly, the pork belly was nothing to write home about. I actually prefer the pork belly dish at Feast, where the chefs (or one of them) studied and worked under Fergus Henderson. Out of curiosity, what cheeses did you order tonight that did not impress you? I've tried everything that you had tonight and wasn't impressed with any of it. I thought the Bruschetta was beyond boring. Actually, most of their food I thought was beyond boring. (Except one dish with bone marrow that was, I think, a special and which was quite tasty. And, to be fair, my first time there, I ordered one of the "large" dishes which was okay. I can't recall what it was -- which says something, in and of itself -- but I did think it was a lot better than the small dishes which most people associate with Catalan.) But, overall, I've had dishes at a tiny hole-in-the-wall Shanghai dumpling place in Chinatown that had more flavour, "wow" factor, and pizazz than all the dishes at Catalan combined. I know you were asking only for fine dining places originally, but if you still have a few days in Houston and are willing to try some places with WAY better food than RDG or Catalan, there are a few, small, ethnic cuisine places which might appeal to you. The aforementioned Shanghai dumpling place is Fu Fu's Café (esp. the 2nd one which is in the same strip mall). They have a Napa Cabbage dumpling dish that is to die for, along with another mushroom dish, and the famous soup dumplings (imagine the sort of thing that Anthony Bourdain put a straw into, but just a wee bit smaller. I've had soup dumplings in Shanghai, and these are almost as good. Certainly better than those I've had in NYC.) There is also a phenomenally tasty, small, low-scale Ethiopian restaurant (Blue Nile) that I'd recommend too and which has been around Houston for ages. It has the most delicious tartare (among other dishes), in one of it's giant meze-like platters. But that tartare.... damn! It's the only tartare I've ever had that made me moan, the way my favorite place back in Monte-Carlo would do. It's not the only good thing on the menu though: their various lentil preparations are addictive, and they are the only people who can prepare collard greens in a way that makes me want to lick the plate. (Just stay away from the overly-sweet, utterly tasteless, seemingly non-alcoholic Ethiopian "wine".) Lastly, and more upscale than those two famous, strip-mall ethnic local secrets, there is a relatively new-ish Spanish/Portugese wine and tapas boutique bar in the Greenway Plaza area -- Oporto Café -- that has some wonderfully delicious tapas, appetizers, cheese-and-meats selection and an absolutely delicious Paella special (on Tuesday nights only, I think?). It's quite an interesting, Euro-like place, and fun for a quick stop. (Especially if you're a fan of Tallegio cheese, which I don't find on the menu of huge number of restaurants here in Houston.) It also has a moderately large selection of interesting wines by the glass, in addition to ports, cocktails, etc. Just out of curiosity, have you ever tried "Feast" and, if so, what did you think of it?
  2. I feel the same way. It was totally warranted but I'm still saddened. I knew the minute I saw the raw center on Gail's plate (or even the prior shot of the raw pork) that Carla was going home. OT, I don't think Hosea will ever do anything that will convince me he deserved the title of "Top Chef." Nothing. Ever. And that plate of lamb curry looked like throw-up to me. Just a big huge regurgitation on the plate and one of the most unappetizing plates I've seen in a long while on Top Chef. Not to mention, it seemed like a combination of ingredients and/or flavours that really didn't seem to go well together. Lamb, goat cheese, mint, red chili broth, olives, rosemary.... Too much. Maybe someone like Mike Voltaggio or Blais could pull off such a list and combination of ingredients but not Hosea (in my opinion). Carla's under-cooked rice really saved him.
  3. Dakki, I never thought you were linking to a News Corp site; the repeated linked returns to WaPo were too clear, but with the broken links, I did start to wonder if I was just becoming confused or if there was something on a Murdoch paper which I was missing. Thanks for a link to the proper article. It was -- simultaneously-- a bit of a let down, and yet, also totally damn hilarious. (Jamie Oliver references??! Ha.) It would be interesting to see if the original article (which would presumably have less 'flavor' in terms of journalistic expression) also pointed to specific Persian dishes under supposed threat. Because, if you take the referenced Khoresht-e Gheimeh (split pea and lamb stew), I've always thought it was damn similar to various Moroccan and Lebanese dishes. It can hardly be under-attack and threatened by the West when there are numerous variations a few thousand miles to the West! But yeah, I stick to my original point that this will not change the mind of those already fed up with the regime, and will have absolutely NO impact on those who are on the fence. Persians (and Iranians) ADORE their food, but those who are not progressive won't alter their perspective based on some mere food decree. I also doubt it will really change things drastically for those who ARE progressive. Those who want Western food, will have Western food... regardless of what the Mullahs says. What a lot of outsiders don't realise is that there is a HUGELY vibrant, underground, Westernised culture in Iran that revels in all Western things. I would hear tales of how -- during the worst of the Iraq-Iran war in the '80s, during the height of the bombings in Tehran-- women would go to parties totally wrapped up in "Chadoors" but throw them off once through the door, showing tight, expensive clothing underneath and then, drink French champagne, eat black-market foie gras and nibble on Teuscher chocolates smuggled in by friends. That was in the mid '80s and a war that involved chemical and biological warfare by Iraq! I think I'm rambling off-topic now, so let me just say thank you for the link.
  4. Does Dakki's original link go to a News Corp. site? Because every time I click on it, I get an error page on the Washington Post site. (Last I heard, WaPo was not a Murdoch paper, so....????) I've tried manual searches on the WaPo site, listing main key words, but nothing turned up. Honestly, I don't particularly care about the politics right now; I am just curious to read the original article. Can someone point me in the right direction? Should I be looking on Fox News?
  5. Just saw this last night as it came out on Netflix DVD this last Tuesday. Fascinating!! I have to agree with Nickloman that many of the pieces didn't look that great -- objectively speaking -- but given the time constraints and the stress, they were pretty impressive nonetheless. I absolutely cringed and shuddered when that sugar piece shattered. (No, seriously, I actually and physically shuddered. The filmmakers had done enough of a good job by then that you really, REALLY felt the significance of that!) That said, it wasn't *as* hugely exciting and riveting as I'd expected from all the reviews. I think the editing could have been tighter, and they could have shown more of the actual competition or deliberation, instead of the chap's children or home life back in Chicago. Perhaps it's all my fault and I expected something much more taut, tense and tight, prior to the last 15 minutes. Still, it's definitely worth renting -- if only to see just *what* these expert patissiers put themselves through and the art they create. I just wish there were an analagous sort of documentary for The Bocuse D'Or.
  6. Lot of great movies listed here but my all-time favorite was Louis de Funes' 1970s film about an irascible, egomaniacal restaurant critic who is the head of a Michelin-like group. The name of the film is "L'Aile Ou la Cuisse" (don't know what the US/American name is) and it changed me and my life when I saw it at 5 years of age. From that time onwards, I knew my passion for was food and I wanted nothing more than to be a restaurant critic (which I never became, but still... that film was HUGE for many kids of my generation). So, if you guys haven't seen it and can find a Version 1 (US-version) copy, then SEE it!!! Also, in terms of hugely unknown, rarely mentioned but fantastic food movies: "Who Killed the Great Chefs of Europe." God, I love that film. So, so fun! Mostly Martha, Stanley Tucci's film, Babette's Feast, and several others are super, but for some reason, nothing will ever come close to Louis de Funes' film for me.
  7. I can't seem to pull up the post linked in the original post, but honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the underlying story were true. (Even if it was in a News Corps. publication as another poster said.) I'm Persian by birth, though my family had to leave the country when I was very young for political reasons; I have no problem believing that the Mullahs would ban foreign recipes. The crackdown on ALL things smacking of Western influences and of things that are not purely nationalistically, centuries-old Iranian -- and obviously, in line with the current orthodoxy -- has manifested itself in a thousand tiny, almost seemingly silly, miniscule aspects of life. Another reason why I think this ban might be true and which may not be obviously apparent at first glance to those who are Westerners: those who have the knowledge to teach foreign recipes in Iran are -- often -- those who are hugely Westernised. My parents, grandparents, uncles and family friends all had private or personal chefs who used to work at Michelin-star foreign restaurants or various consulates; more importantly, were all trained in Paris and London. Yes, they could cook Persian food (but rarely did); the issue though is that those who have culinary training in foreign cuisines are more than likely to be *so* Westernised as to be dangerous to the current regime. I so wish I could pull up the original article cited (I'll try to do a manual search on the site after I post this) but to try to answer the original question, I think the situation in Iran doesn't lend itself to general statements about normal food cultures. First, in my opinion, there are Persians and there are Iranians. Then, amongst those who are "Iranians" -- let alone Iranians back actually IN Iran -- there are those who live in the urban areas and those who are essentially -- by all socio-economic, educational and historical standards -- essentially peasants. (Yes, I said "peasants." And yes, that is what they are by all sociological standards.) Amongst the young, urban population though, I think Dakki would be right in saying that *THEORETICALLY* such a prohibition would trigger a backlash. But not much, and if it did occur, I think it would just be a mental backlash. Basically, those who care about the West are already revolutionized and against the regime. Side note: [i've had friends who chose to go back -- for whatever insane reason -- after years studying at US Ivy League schools and being the best of the best as doctors, lawyers, Wall Street people, etc. They're not unique amongst the revolting youth of the urban streets today in Iran. And one doesn't need a Western education to be ultra-westernised in Iran today.] So, IMO, people like that don't need a ban on foreign recipes to think the regime is too authoritarian to bear. But yes, I'm sure it adds to their frustration and pisses them off that they can't have sushi or other foreign cuisines. In my experience, Persians (and even many Iranians) can be amongst the most culinarily open-minded of people. And the Persians (and Iranians) of my generation long for sushi, indian food, thai curries and Ethiopian food, almost as much as the French or European food that they are so familiar with.
  8. I understand, and agree, with a lot of what you've said. I'm probably one of the few people who actually remembers nostalgically the vending machine/7-11 store challenge. And I really enjoyed the TC/Masters' Dormroom challenge (although that may be more because I adore Hubert Keller, not to mention that I think he's a total Silver Fox.). I totally agree that a chef should be able to dig up something amazing from nothing, even under less than inspiring conditions. According to "Heat," Mario Batali did something similar early in his career in front of Andy Nusser one night while drunk and stoned using just some candy and a frying pan. And that sort of stuff is amazing. Once in a while.... BUT... my issue with Top Chef this season is that a lot of the stuff seems all about gimmicks (and yes, endless product placement) and less about actual cooking. The bottom line is this: there is a fine line between a show that is supposed to celebrate the best of cooking and a REALITY TV show that is just trying to squeeze money out of advertisers or endorsers while pretending to focus on cooking. Top Chef: All Stars needs to figure out if it wants the credibility or the money. I think we all know how they chose, if only because it's the nature of the beast. I think that's why the whole "Chefs have to shine while limited" schtick is just going to seem disingenuous very soon. It's the same problem regarding how so many of the challenges are group-challenges. This shouldn't be so like American Idol. Especially at the All-Star's level. This is supposed to be about letting a person's INDIVIDUAL talent and gastronomic creativity shine, not about Isaac Mizrahi judging your food on the basis of looks JUST BECAUSE it's Fashion Week (and Padma is launching a line of (seemingly) Yeti-bib inspired jewellery). The gimmicks are wearing thin, and, honestly, I think the show has suffered a little from the loss of Whatshername (from Season 1) who devised many of the challenges but who recently left the show. There are better tests of a chef's abilities than the Isaac Mizrahi challenge. Or endless group challenges, trying to fish for your food, doing group dim sum, etc. At some point, the attempt to make things relevant for an attention-span-limited, reality TV audience, to meet marketing or advertising quotas, and the need to make the show be actually relevant and true to the cooking field are all going to come into huge conflict. I hate the annoyingly common expression, "Jumped the Shark," but this season of Top Chef has now started to come close to it in my opinion. They've gone from schilling for Rocco DiSpritos frozen pasta in past seasons to a season where very little of it is about actual individual cooking. Yet, there are interesting options out there for someone not intent on promoting Target, Target's swill Isaac Mizrahi, or group cooking for toddlers at the museum under yet ANOTHER weird, boot camp cooking situation. This is not the Marines and Paris Island! There are ways of focusing on the palate and the chefs that can be interesting to the (food-oriented) viewer and which doesn't involve silly gimmicks. For example, why not do (one of my standby favorites): a blind-folded taste test? It doesn't have to be just basic, blind taste-testing of common produce or ingredients (although Top Chef used to do some sort of heightened version of that back in the day). It could involve sauces, dishes and weirdly funky ingredients. It could be something similar to what Gordon Ramsey once did on Hell's Kitchen (or maybe it was more than once; I just watched one season before I decided it was beyond vile and would give me a heart attack) and what he did was this: make the contestants taste a dish with a gazillion ingredients, try to guess them, and then recreate or better the dish. It's a test of the palate, as well as of how quickly one can think on one's feet when faced with an unknown flavour profile and how well one can execute all that, let alone better it -- all in a short while. That's a much better test of a chef, IMO, than trying to be a baker for the Cookie Monster. After all, as Top Chef: Just Desserts just told us, ad infinitum, as if we didn't already know, bakers and chefs are totally different beasts. And this is the ALL-STARS! So why bring in baking a cookie for something like the Cookie Monster if this wasn't more about the schtick than the food.
  9. A friend was complaining to me just this afternoon about the ridiculousness of the challenges this season. I tried to counter his point about the US Open challenge with Le Bernadin fish challenge (while we BOTH assiduously tried to pretend the Isaac Mizrahi challenge had never happened). But after tonight, I give up; this is just bad. As for Angelo, I'm sorry to see him leave but I also recognise the irony in why he left. The man often accused of sabotaging others (unfairly, in my opinion because I never saw any intent or malice) or accused of accidentally screwing up their dishes got tossed out tonight because he trusted someone else's hand in his dish. But, ultimately, it's his dish at the end of the day and his responsibility. I knew he was a goner when they used the kiss of death, aka the "inedible" adjective. I think he really was exhausted. (And that's the only explanation I can give for his Steve Urkel outfit, which so distracted me at times I could barely focus on the contestants' souping cooking).
  10. When do you think Mike Isabella was so gracious with regard to Marcel? Are you referring to his comments at Judges' Table or, subsequently, in the bar as shown at the beginning of the next episode? Personally, and speaking only for myself, "gracious" is not a word I would associate with Mike. IMO, *TRE* was very diplomatic and gracious regarding Marcel after his departure. Back to the last episode, I have to say, I think it was one of the funniest Top Chef episodes I've ever seen. I laughed my head off almost nonstop, from Dale's comments about Angelo's prettiness (followed by his tight, anger-management cackle and smirk- a segment I replayed a few times to ever increasing laughter), to Carla's bouyant and infectious joy throughout the hour. She really is a delight to watch, as well as a refreshing change from some of the chefs' surliness or cockiness.
  11. You've hit on something that I thought was a significant issue as well: Mike Isabella knew his pasta was bad and admitted it. Tre, in contrast, didn't seem to realise his "garnishes" were huge and, even worse, not really appropriate for risotto. The combination of that ignorance and the texture of the risotto seemed to be the kiss of death. If he'd done a mea culpa as Mike did, I think he would have stayed. Top Chef often seems to reward those who are forthright about flaws in their dishes over those who seem clueless in the judges' eyes. On a separate note, I find contradictions in Tom C's reasoning regarding Antonia and Tre. In his blog, he essentially praises Antonia for following the old Italian-American tradition of adapting dishes for life in America (where, initially, truly authentic Italian ingredients weren't available). He seemed to focus on that even more than on the taste of her food. Yet, it seems to me as though Tre was slammed for not being true to supposedly "real" risotto as Tom thinks it's done in Italy. But couldn't Tre's risotto be seen as an example of the philosophy of adaptability and change that Tom C. claims is such a part of Italian-American cuisine? *Especially* as there doesn't seem to be uniform consensus on the texture? I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised though, as I've often found contradictions in the judges' reasoning but I so wanted Mike Isabella to go. I think he's an obnoxiously cocky, smug lout who was a real jerk on his season. Going back to the food, what do you guys think about Antonia's mussels not being Italian, as Fabio claims? I think he's is mistaken. I've had mussels in a marinara sauce in Southern Italy; Anthony Bourdain says it's common in Sicily (though whether he's talking about mussel dishes in general or Antonia's specific version, I have no idea); and Eric Ripert says Antonia's dish wasn't French. Given how big regional differences in Italian food can be, it doesn't seem fair for either Tom C. or Fabio to claim there is one set Italian way of doing things.
  12. If anyone is interested, Marcel has an interview in which he claims that Dale totally bragged about "cheating" during the Dim Sum challenge (which is why he, Marcel, claims he was so angered in that terrace scene). He also says that he's done far less foams this season than other contestants, namely Blais and Angelo. He says they've EACH done 3 foams a piece, while he's done 2. The article: "Top Chef: Cheaters, trash talkers and Thomas Keller" Some of the things he says about the team dynamic, I can believe in small part, although I think the main cause of problems is that Marcel can't help but shoot himself in the foot. That said, I'm dubious about the Thomas Keller story. Even assuming it's halfway accurate, all it really says is that Thomas Keller liked the actual type of peaches NOT the actual desert itself! More interesting is his claim that he'd made this exact same dessert previously on the Season Two finale of Top Chef and that they'd "RAVED" (his emphasis) about it. I can't recall the precise dishes served all the way back then or what the judges said. Can anyone? Is he accurate or just fudging the truth a little? If he's right about his dessert and about Dale's cheating, then I can understand his actions or behavior a lot more than I did previously. As for "Dale's cheating," if true, it sounds like Dale really played the game. I know there is an American expression for it which I can't recall now, but it seemed Dale sussed the game (??) and really played it for all that it's worth. No wonder he said he "robbed the bank."
  13. Very interesting episode. The editing and the "Dinners choose" option threw me off for a while, particularly when they had hugely positive comments from the judges immediately followed by negative diner's reviews, and vice-versa. By the end, I was starting to think the choice of Marcel was just too obvious to be possible. Random thoughts: -- Gosh, Angelo really *loves* doing crudo dishes. Snark aside, I saw his hand in the tumeric aspect of the pork chop that he did with Mike Isabella. And this is the 2nd or 3rd very Middle Eastern spice-oriented dish he's done in this season alone. For someone who is so associated with Asian flavours, he resorts to Middle Eastern spice combinations quite a bit. To me, it shows that he's more diverse than he's given credit for, and not the Asian one-note pony that he is often perceived to be. -- Marcel and the foam..... I wonder if there is such a thing as Foam Tourettes, because Marcel clearly can't help himself and it's always such a catastrophe. -- For all of Angelo's presentation on various T/C episodes as a sticky-fingers with a possibly manipulative agenda, he seemed the sanest person and the one with the only real leadership in that kitchen. He is an easy person to make fun of (and I've been guilty of that myself), but he should get some respect today for how he was trying to turn things around or get people on track towards the end. He was a real professional, unlike a few of the others.
  14. Eh... I don't understand the vitriol. I've seen a few episodes (shoot me, I'm an insomniac and her show airs very late here) and I was mildly amused. During her segments at least. I grant you that the cheeseball, stereotypical "Guido" side bits are juvenile and moronic, but I think the show -- as a whole -- is a cleverly tongue-in-cheek segment that actually has some decent cooking tips for the novice cook, while being cleverly wrapped up in a bow for those people who aren't in Paula Deen or Rachael Ray's demographic. I'm in my 40s and far from being a novice cook, but if I had to watch a cooking show on any of the FN branches, then I'd watch her show any day over that revolting, revulsive, repellent Rachael Ray. Same thing for Paula Deen and her endless Southern-shctick involving lots of butter. In fact, I'd rather go to the dentist than watch either of them. At least, that Nadia woman has a sense of humour and is completely mocking herself while preparing a few dishes that are slightly beyond the shoddy meals that revolting Rachael Ray person does. (And let's not start even on Sandra Lee!) Call me crazy, but to me, it's slightly like a Jon Stewart version of a cooking show. To be honest though, I generally stay away from cooking shows on the FN and its entities like the plague. I may just watch Bitchin' Kitchen in a bout of insomnia, but I'd take her satirical self-mockery and sufficiently basic, simple dishes any day over that annoying one-note hack and smugly self-satisfied, Bobby Flay. My God, is there no END to the amount of shows he now has on the FN/Cooking Channel? Is there no bloody escape from him??!?!
  15. I'll be honest, I first thought it was going to be Jamie and Marcel packing their knives and leaving. When they mentioned Tiffani's name, I was damn outraged and was pretty sure Jaime would be saved -- yet again -- because I didn't expect (for whatever weird reason) that the two being kicked off would be from the same team. Also, to be honest, I really started to think that Jaime was the John Gotti of Top Chef. I'll spare you the incredibly excited, almost embrassing outpourings of joy that I shrieked out when Jamie was actually told "to pack your knives and go." Or how thrilled I was for Carla, the perpetually underestimated dark horse. I adore her, but, that said, I really want Richard Blais to win. You have NO idea how relieved I was that he wasn't eliminated. Totally random thoughts: -- Marcel was damn lucky. Also, he needs to stop channel GaNgStA rappers so much. Marcel, you're a white boy and far from the projects. --So... "angry Dale" has had Anger Management courses. Huh. I'm not sure they totally worked. Although.... if he managed to stay calm in the face of Marcel's "Vanilla Ice" rendition, maybe he should get some sort of award from his sponsor. -- If Angelo has some sort of weird Russian mail order bride, should he be trying to hit on customers? Also: is it possible for Angelo to get weirder? Ever time I think "Not," lo' and behold... he does. -- I was strangely and unexpectedly moved by Tiffani's goodbye speech regarding how she's changed. And I truly wish her a huge amount of success.
  16. Regarding Jamie: After the stitches incident, I read that she tweeted that she was getting the "asshole edit" (her words, not mine), and I was willing to give her some benefit of the doubt. Or, at least, I wanted to try to do so. After all, it's reality television and one sees just a tiny portion of the filming. But it became harder as the show progressed, esp. after she was shown LITERALLY hiding behind a table in the Tennis challenge, rather than be called up to serve her food. Again, she explained it away. In other tweets, she's said (I'm pretty sure it's with regard to the Tennis challenge and the chickpeas, given the date of the tweets): --"actually, ppl are hating on me, but its fine. I DID cook. My dish didn't get served. It's a game. Thats how we chose to play..." --"trust me. It felt shitty to me to not serve that dish. It was a great dish....but its the way the cards were dealt that day..." -- "I know!! It's not my fault...its just the way my "story" is being played out...its not like I didnt cook! " --"not watching. But I imagine I am...not surprised. I think I did something to piss off the producers...oh well." But, as things have progressed, I find it impossible to justify things on malicious editing elves. I certainly don't buy her excuses or Tweet explanations about the chickpeas, no matter what she says. And, at this point in -- almost 4 episodes showing totally lackadaisical effort, interest and effort -- there's no way she can blame this on the distorting editing. To me, it really seems that she hates being there and sees no value in it at all. Her attitude is truly beyond abysmal, even apart from the controversial issues as her stitches or the tennis challenge. Just in the last episode she was giving some snotty, disdainful remark during the Dim Sum challenge about service and servicing the customers. All this makes me wonder why she bothered to sign up in the first place? She just recently moved to become the head chef of a new LA place and if I remember her interview correctly, the owners told her that she was hired because of "her name" (which she reads as her Top Chef performance and resumé). But Harold Dieterle also obviously hated being involved in the past shows and, once he was no longer contractually required to show up or could afford not to, stayed as far the hell away as he could. (Have you ever seen a more miserable face than Harold's on the Intra-seasonal, reunion dinner hosted by Fabio about 18 months ago??!?) And Kevin S. turned down the All-Stars, even though he's a much stronger chef (IMO) than Jamie Scallops. So, why the hell did she go on when she is clearly so disinterested, aloof and contemptuous? Anyway, Jamie may think she is getting the unfair villain edit but the producers can only work (or tamper) with what they have. And she seems to have given them plenty at this point. So if she's getting hired because of her performance and image from the prior Top Chef season, what will the image she's unfortunately cultivated in the All-Stars season do to her career? Like another poster up above, I caught the shot of her with her back totally turned for a while to Tom Colicchio as he was doing his Quick Fire Challenge, and it's hard not to pick up on her disdainful Laissez-Faire attitude throughout the competition as a whole. I may have been open to buying the magic, malicious, editing Elves once, possibly even twice if I had a lot of wine <snort>, but at this point, I think she's destroying her professional reputation all on her own. EDITED TO ADD: If anyone is interested, I found the articles I referenced up above. Here is a link to an interview with her where she discusses the psychiatric test required for Top Chef contestants, among other things: LA Weekly Article The article where she talks about Top Chef, LA vs SF in terms of the food, and says how her Top Chef credentials influenced her hiring for her brand new, recently opened place in LA: Jamie Interview re Top Chef/ La vs SF., etc
  17. Random comments on tonight's episode: 1- Perhaps it's just me but I think this season is far, FAR more exciting than the prior one. The last two episodes, I was really rivetted. The challenges also seem better thought out and with more of an actual purpose than last year. It doesn't hurt that they haven't resorted to soap opera dramatics of setting up a clear villain -- as they did last year with Chef Mehta. Sure, some of the chefs trash-talk or have an ego, but chefs -- GOOD chefs -- are rarely wallflowers with a self-esteem problem. And unlike our friend, GFWEB, I don't think self-promoting makes one FOS, albeit a likeable, cool FOS chef. 2- a) I'm not surprised Chef Caswell went home. He started off cooking the refined food that he was trained in by Jean-Georges, and, as a result, impressed the judges. But as the time crunches and challenges increased in complexity, he resorted to his safety zone of cooking the food he does all the time now and is known for. It's understandable and was even perhaps a practical choice given the time considerations. BUT... this is the thing, they gave him a hint two weeks ago that his current, regular style of cooking was not sufficiently refined or sophisticated, and so it was inevitable he wouldn't make it to the end. b) Again, it's understandable -- he has to be true to who he is as a chef, and he happens to like Gulf Coast cooking. But, speaking for myself only and as someone brought up with a totally different sort of culinary background, I found his "regular cooking" to be absolutely.... ghastly. There, I said it. Sorry, but I would have prefered to stay home and have a sandwich over his food at REEF. (And it wasn't just once; I was dragged their unwillingly for a business dinner a second time and to say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement.) However, in all fairness to Chef Caswell, it's all my fault. I was hoping for the more sophisticated, French or Asian influenced food that would come from being mentored by the legendary Jean-Georges (whose food I've had elsewhere) and Chef Caswell merely cooks a "good old boy's" heightened (barely) Southern, Gulf Coast food. If he's stuck with what he gave TNIC judges at the beginning, I really think he would have been in the finals, but then he wouldn't be himself. So, Good On Him, and may he continue to be the ultra-cool chef that he seems to be. 3) (Damn, I'm long-winded, aren't I? I'm SO sorry! But I have no one else who shares my food passion, so you all bear the brunt of it!) Third, I think Canora is going to win. It will probably be between Chef Canora and Chef Tsai, but with Batali essentially leaving Iron Chef, Canora fits the cuisine vacuum the same way Garces did for Latin food. Plus, Canora already has a Batali-like pony tail. Heh. Jokes aside, I ate at Craft when Canora was sous-chef and essentially putting everything out; maybe he wasn't there that night, but the food wasn't anything remarkable. Excellently prepared, work-man-like good food that was very tasty, yes! No doubt! But ultimately, nothing particularly remarkabble. It's not what I associate with a title like Iron Chef. Then again, it wasn't his menu and his ideas, but I'll be honest, I think perhaps Chef Morimoto is perhaps the most brilliant of the lot in many ways. I haven't eaten at his restaurant yet, but I plan to remedy that in a few weeks time if I can. BTW, totally OT, note to all future chefs serving Judge Simon: do NOT use pineapple in any shape, size or form, prior to the dessert course. Use LOTS of alcohol, even if it knocks out your fellow judges or diners. And it's okay if your food verges all across the beige-white spectrum, so long as it replicates some stodgy British dish dating back to the 1600s. God Save the Queen....
  18. You may have seen it already, but I loved and was fascinated by the tree in "Becoming a Chef" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (p. 90-91). It is entitled "A French Culinary Family Tree -- and Selected American Branches." It starts with Ferdinand Point, and then devolves into Paul Bocus, Hubert Keller, Alain Chapel, the Troisgros brothers, Georges Blanc, Michel Guérard, Gaston Lenotre, Jacques Maximin, Joel Robuchon and Roger Vergé. Each of those chefs then has their subsequent protegés listed. It's quite something, although hardly as detailed as I would have liked. The authors set it up as a quasi sort of chart more than an actual tree, but it's still fascinating. I'd go so far as to say that it was THE most intriguing part of the book for me. I realise that's considered a bit of heresy because people are always going on about "Becoming a Chef" but.. eh <shrug>. In any event, I think your project is a wonderful idea and I'd love to see the results. After years of following and obsessing about food, it was only recently that I realised that my childhood haunts in France were the kitchens (or, more often, the sous-chef kitchens) of some chefs who are superstars today. Given the dates in question, I've convinced myself that Daniel Boulud, Hubert Keller, Jean-Georges and Roger Vergé were actually cooking for me when I went to their restaurants. (Hey, a girl can always dream, can't she? ) Anyway, check into the Dornenburg book to see if it adds any details to your project. And make sure you post the results when you're done.
  19. When I started this thread, I asked about Ming Tsai's obviousness as a contender to the crown (so to speak) and how it could be interpreted. It's been interesting to see how many think that he's a total lock for the win. Maybe I'm just a massive skeptic and cynic when it comes to these sorts of shows but I meant it when I asked, "Is Ming Tsai so obvious a contender that he just *has* to be out towards the end (given the implicit rules of arbitrary, shock-driven reality television that looks for false drama)?" As the phrasing of that question indicates, I think it's almost too obvious for Chef Tsai to win, thereby ensuring that he's kept in solely for the drama (possibly up to the very end) but not for the actual win. These shows are all about the false construct and the misleading editing. I think the final three will be Chef Tsai, Chef Canora (filling in for the Batali/Italian food vacuum) and Chef Caswell, with possibly Chef Canora or Chef Caswell winning. It would be too good to be true for Ming Tsai to win, not only because it's too obvious but also because they have their Asian food niche already filled by Morimoto. (It doesn't help my pessimism that the person I root for never (ever) ends up winning. LOL.)
  20. I did the same thing, before I finally gave up and started the thread myself! I've repeatedly heard it whispered in Houston food/chef circles that Chef Caswell ("the guy from Houston") goes very far in the process. The gist of the statements seemed to be that he went very far but (in my impression) not so far as to win. Of course, given the $750,000 or $1,000,000 penalty clause for leaks, who knows how accurate ANY of that is! I'm willing to chalk it up to wishful thinking on behalf of Houstonites desperate for some proper (and perhaps, justified) attention on the foodie scene. RE. Last Sunday's show: I realise 90 minutes is not a lot of time to cook 4 dishes (esp. without sous-chefs like on the actual Iron Chef) but I was surprised that none of the judges commented on Chef Canora's totally raw "Salad." A tiny sliced crudité compilation with a modicum of anchovy/Bagna Cauda sauce requires very little effort. Again, I realise the time, but chefs have been soundly critiqued on Top Chef and other shows for producing food that involves minimal-to-no cooking with comparable cooking times. At least Chef Forgione's (I think it was his) Wolfgang Puck Chinois Chinese Salad involved something more than shaving or mandolining some slivers of raw vegetables together! BTW, GFWEB, I'm curious, why do you think that Chef Tsai is "a FOS in a likeable way." Love to know more. So, what do you guys think of the judges -- particularly Simon Majumdar taking over from Jeffrey Steingarten-- thus far? And what did you think of Chef Garces as a judge?
  21. I think the Voltaggio brothers would have a fair shot, but I truly can't see the others managing within the one hour time frame. Not with any really decent chance or good, ultra-high end output. I say that with great admiration, respect and liking for all the people you mentioned. That said, in my opinion, the Voltaggio brothers could run rings around Bobby Flay. I admit, I'm biased. I despise Bobby Flay with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I hope he takes his boringly repetitive, two-trick pony act of a red and green pepper sauce to Las Vegas. And stays there!
  22. Duvelus, your comments go to the very heart of the contradiction posed by The Iron Chef brand on a network with the image of the Food Network, and I couldn't agree with you more on what we'd both (or all) love to see on such a show. Like you, I'd love to see Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller, Hubert Keller and the like as an Iron Chef. (God, I'd positively keel over with joy if that were ever to happen.) With all due respect, I still don't agree with you on the issue of time constraints. Sure, the shows are taped back to back on a few days, but there is far more involved than just a few days every season. From my understanding of the structure, for each episode, the chef is given a list of *potential* mystery items and they have to prepare a set menu for each possibility. That takes weeks of prep and timing. Can you imagine if someone like Thomas Keller lost an Iron Chef challenge because he couldn't plate in time? For a perfectionist like Thomas Keller (or any of the chefs at his level), can you imagine the humiliation that a loss would entail, let alone the potential for a PR damage to the brand? So, the amount of time that a perfectionist superstar like he would take to prepare for one challenge would be huge. Multiply that by 5 or 6 for the various *different* challenges that he'd have to simulataneously prepare for, and then add to that the inevitable PR commitments or other things required of an Iron Chef under their contract with network. It's no small amount of time,in my opinion. Not with his other commitments. Have you ever read Ruhlman's last book in his trilogy, The Reach of a Chef? At one point, he talks fleetingly about Thomas Keller's schedule during an average month (week?) in 2006, and it's pretty insane. I lost track of the number of cities. PR stuff, marketing appearances, going to Limoges for his porcelain line, going to check on Bouchon in Las Vegas, checking on Per Se, going to Paris to work on the Christofle line, stopping over in London to get an award from Sarah, Duchess of York, then onto to NY for Good Morning America, back to Las Vegas, then back to New York, and... and.... yikes, there's so much more, I can't type it all. And all of that was before he added mentoring and coaching the US Bocuse D'Or team with Daniel Boulud in 2009 to his list of obligations, along with other cookbooks, etc.. So, sure, he's got phenomenal people to keep his restaurants running in his absence but that doesn't mean he has the time to devote 3 weeks of cooking and timing prep (which is what most chefs devote in preparation) for each Iron Chef episode -- even longer if he has to prepare for a series of them to be taped all back-to-back. Nor does anyone at his level. Certainly not Chef Achatz, coming off a potential life-threatening illness, and just getting back to Alinea, along with his upcoming book, etc. So, again, I'll have to disagree with you about the time that the Uber Chefs would have to devote to a show like Iron Chef, but believe me, I agree with you that the show would actually MEAN something if such chefs were a part of it. I think that the real, underlying problem we're both facing in our wishful thinking for Iron Chef is this: the Food Network is not something that a Uber Chef of the caliber of Keller (Thomas or Hubert), Grant Achatz, Gray Kunz, etc. would ever want to be associated with. The FN is the Rachel Ray network. It has INTENTIONALLY positioned itself as the Rachel Ray network, and it has reaped the rewards to no end. But that focus has made it, to essentially paraphrase how Anthony Bourdain put it in "Medium Raw," all about the cult of mediocrity. How can any Uber Chef take it seriously? How can it be a draw for anyone who has reached the pinacle? Bottom line, this is the network of Sandra Lee and the infamous Kwanza cake. I'll be honest and say that, for me at least, I'd think LESS of Thomas Keller, Hubert Keller, Grant Achatz, Boulud or Gary Kunz if they ever stepped anywhere near this steaming mound of intentional mediocrity. And, thank God, they're too smart to do so (even assuming they had some hypothetical reason to want to even bother!). You and I are eager, avid, food junkies who would love to see the masters in action. I share your passionate wish that we could see the best, like the guys mentioned above. But I wouldn't wish the Food Network on any of these guys; it's a taint, imo. So, in the meantime, I think it's fun to enjoy TNIC or TIC for what it is: the best of the 2nd tier -- some of whom managed to prevail under some funky challenges or circumstances.
  23. Duvelus, I agree with a lot of what you wrote but had a question about this part quoted above. Do you not count James Beard nominations (as opposed to the actual award)? How about James Beard awards by region? Or do you mean that they should all have won James Beard "Best Chef in the Country"? If the latter, then obviously that would be super and fantastic to watch. However, I question the likelihood of such chefs being willing to give up their restaurant empires for the Iron Chef job. Realistically, someone at the level of Jean-George or Daniel Boulud would not have the time. Chefs like Hubert Keller (whom I adore) were fantastic on Top Chef Masters but that was a limited gig. Iron Chef's time commitments seem to be such that anyone who is at the Top Chef Masters level (or who has empire-making ambitions like Mario Batali) can't really do it. Personally, I think a lot of this years NIC crop are quite good. If I recall correctly, Chef Canora was responsible for Craft receiving the Best New Restaurant award (as well as 3 stars from the NYT). In addition, one of his own restaurants, Insieme, won a Michelin star. Some of the other chefs this season have also won accolades and/or awards. Chef Forgione also has a Michelin star. Chef Caswell has had several James Beard nominations and is a protegé of Jean-George V. And I think Ming Tsai's level of cooking is well known. Theoretically, I suppose I should be rooting for Chef Caswell as I now live in Houston, but I have to admit, I hated his famous REEF restaurant when I went there. Hated it. I saw nothing of the sort of Asian-influenced flair and brilliance that he's supposed to have as a result of Jean-Georges's mentorship. He did, however, demonstrate his passion for amberjack that he showed on the very first episode of NIC. I suppose I'm just not a fan of collard greens or southern cooking. I would be really thrilled if Ming Tsai won. His ideas and level of knowledge last night amazed me. He just needs to stop using 18 to 25 ingredients in his dishes, but I think he learnt from his mistakes 2 weeks ago.
  24. I'd been hoping for some discussion of the third version of The Next Iron Chef but found nothing. I refuse to believe that no-one on eGullet is watching this or has opinions on this. Not you guys, surely! So what do you think about Jeffrey Steingarten's absence from the judging panel? Which chefs do you like thus far or think would be a good addition to the current roster of Iron Chefs? Is Ming Tsai so obvious a contender that he just *has* to be out towards the end (given the implicit rules of arbitrary, shock-driven reality television that looks for false drama)? What do you think about challenges that are initially set up to be such ridiculous races that sand gets all over the produce? Alton Brown has said he feared the "brand" (his words, honestly, not mine) will be diluted but, frankly, and speaking only for myself, I think that ship has already sailed with Chef Garces. Mario Batali's increasing absences may *theoretically* warrant another chef, but the Food Network cares first and foremost only about ratings, which this show has consistently produced above and beyond most of their shows. At this rate, we'll have one of these shows a year. And yet, I still watch. Unfortunately, I'm a lemming who is sucked into this sort of thing the way one of Pavlov's dogs reacted to a bell. I truly can't help it. But please let me know I'm not alone in my peculiar addiction. What do *you* think of Chef Forgione, Canora, Caswell and Company?
  25. I too enjoy the show, although I'm a little more ambivalent about David Lamb's voiceover commentary. Sometimes -- a wee bit too often for my tastes --- he seems to be snarky *just* for the sake of being snarky. A few random questions or observations: 1- I'd love to know what the exact rules, restrictions and financial/budgetary allotments are per contestant. I did a minor (far too minor, I should add) Google search but (not surprisingly, perhaps) turned up nothing. Do they all have an identical budget in order to try to level the playing field a little? Some people seem to spend a lot more than others, perhaps in hopes of making that 1000 GBP prize actually amount to something after expenses. In contrast, others... 2- On a completely tangential note, I'm always rather horrified by the guests who go rifling through the host's house. LET ALONE their bedroom and drawers! I realise the rather hippy-dippy, 50 year-old scientist lady with an avowedly voracious sexual appetite wouldn't have cared much for people trying to dig up her sex toys (instead, only pulling up a box of DIY tools), but really.... I was aghast, even if she wasn't. (And she should have been! Or, perhaps, would have been if she hadn't been so plastered most of the time.) And she was hardly alone in having her private rooms ransacked by mocking, giggling and inappropriate guests. But, I suppose, that's one of the inevitable consequences of signing up for a show pairing you up with 3 completely random (and strange) strangers. 3- I read recently that BBC America showed this series (out of order and in random) as preparation for launching a "Come Dine with Me -- US version." There are apparently almost 100 or so original UK episodes but BBC America has selected a few at random to show in the US. In the meantime, they are preparing a US version of the show, to take place in NY-Metro homes. [sEE Link for details] I have to say, I'm not expecting the best. I enjoyed Gordon Ramsay's original BBC Kitchen Nightmares but everything he ever does under US television auspices just makes me cringe and reach for the remote (or the mute button). This may not be done by Fox (which destroyed the original nature, intent and spirit of his Kitchen Nightmares show) but I still don't think it bodes well. 4- I'm surprised by how many of the amateur chefs try a mere "pudding" (which isn't an actual pudding, by my definition of it at least). Or, perhaps, I'm surprised by just how many of them seem to try some minor variation on the same theme that all the British are very familiar with and, as a result, rarely seems like much of a huge gourmet effort. I understand they're going for the easiest and least time consuming thing, but in the 8 or so episodes I've watched, only one chap attempted a cake. If they're going for short-cuts with often pre-packaged or prepared sauces/meats/additives (as many of these novice cooks often do), etc, then why not try a package mix cake? It surely can't be worse than some of the disasters served up on this show?! 5- I saw the episode that IndyRob mentioned where the chap received what was supposedly the lowest score of all time on the series. And, I have to say, I'm really surprised it hasn't happened earlier. Some of the conflicts on the show (and the occasionally truly hideous dishes) would have warranted a far lower score from me (had I experienced them) than the 7s or 8s routinely handed out by the insulted, attacked or starved diners. Yes, I'm more food-obsessed than many of the guests (Guests? contestants? participants?) on the show, but there have been some right royal cock-ups and horrors, often inflicted by hosts with a particularly peculiar sense of "hospitality." The episode that IndyRob referenced was the first where someone got a score of "1" (or anywhere close to that range) and I'm very surprised. If this had been a US reality show, I think there would have been 1s and 0s handed out left, right and center far before now! Sorry for the tome, but this is my first, actual eGullet post and I suppose I just unleashed all my latent, repressed commentary from years of watching on the sidelines and merely reading.
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