Top Chef Season 2, Episode 4: Cheating! Or is it?
So...let's get right to the end first. Were they right in eliminating no one? Was it a cop-out by the judges? Don't they have the cameras on all the time in the kitchen to check what people are doing? Was Sam right to bring up the 'cheating' issue before the judges - and then wimp out when asked to name names? Should Mia have pushed the issue on?
My feelings: not eliminating anyone was a bit of a cop out but perhaps ultimately the fairest thing to do. It's also the second time that this group of contestants has not really followed the rules properly--okay, the first time was quite obvious, while this time it was not. I wonder if it was not put to them clearly enough that they could not change the recipes once they were signed off on by the nutritionists. If that was the case the decision not to kick Betty for instance would make sense.
But let's get back to the food. Once again, I thought these were two good challenges.
Amuse-bouche quickfire challenge
A Top Chef trademark, the make-something-from-crap-ingredients challenge. This time they had to make an amuse-bouche from vending machine ingredients. I love amuse-bouches at restaurants - it can give you a little clue as to what to expect. It's a tiny little appetizer, usually just a couple of mouthfuls at most, so my feeling is that it can go two ways: be something refreshing and cleansing, to 'clean the palate', or have a fairly intense flavor. Frank, of all people - he of the Fantasy Forest mushroom horror! - managed to come up with something that covered both bases.
Nevertheless, Carlos' vegetarian mini-loaf thing won. I have a feeling that anyone who comes up with an edible vegetarian dish gets extra points, since chefs are always scrambling for good vegetarian options. It didn't look appetizing at all, but then we can't taste the damn things.
Marcel had the right idea I think, but just went too sweet. It looked nice though, for a change. I mean you know, mmm, cracklings. He should have gone with that general baconistic theme and ditched the rice pudding or whatever. His miserable failure in trying to charm guest judge Suzanne Goin was very funny.
If only this had been an elimination challenge though. What Suzanne Goin said was quite right - Michael seems like he doesn't want to be there. His 'dish' looked like something my 4-year old niece would make.He is not even funny like Miguel was, he's just sad, and really painful to watch. I hope he goes very soon.
Under-500 calorie meal for kids
This was a very interesting challenge that unfortunately got overshadowed by the 'cheating' controversy. As all the struggles going on right now in the U.K. with the overhauling of school dinners to 'healthy' menus, and kids rejecting them, cooking healthy/low-calorie food that appeals to kids is quite difficult. (Incidentally, Camp Glucose is a horrible name for a weight-loss camp. What's next, Glycemic Index Fun Park?)
Coming up with pizza was a sure winner, and the video shows that Betty was the one who suggested pizza - though Frank actually made it. From all reactions he did a great job. The recipe on the BravoTV site seems to differ from what we were shown though - they were clearly making dough balls at one point, but Lee Anne shows pizzas made on whole wheat pita bread. (The video doesn't start up in Firefox 2.0 by the way...) Boosting up the flavor by using thick, intense but essentially fat-free (or low-fat, depending on the brand) tomato paste is not a bad idea.
Despite her 'cheating', Betty's crispy meringue cookies were a great idea. One of the first 'diet' baking recipes I remember trying was from an old Seventeen magazine, when I was actually 17, for meringue kisses flavored with cocoa. They were only 30 calories each! Of course, I ate like 10 of them in 5 minutes. Adding peanut butter, what looked like chocolate shavings, and banana to them was genius I think. Betty knows her audience, if not how to interpret rules.
The Orange team didn't do too well, though Carlos seemed to charm the kids. I know that ground turkey breast meat is supposed to be so good for you, but I personally can't stand it. It never cooks up moist, and dries out so easily. You can only really get it to be edible by adding lots of other stuff to it. I hate turkey burgers. I would rather use other meat, and smaller portions, than trying to wrestle with ground turkey - or go with a tasty vegetarian option, like using ground up chickpeas. (There are a couple of Japanese ground chicken recipe however that are very moist. I will try to make it soon and post the recipe here.)
Pair this with sour 'smoothie' topped with graham crackers of all things...sounds quite awful.
The chocolate fudge cake from the Red team's Marisa was quite intriguing - she used beetroot to make it moist. Unfortunately, the recipe is not on the Bravo TV site as of this writing.
Nothing the White team did was too interesting. I don't like regular coleslaw much anyway, so messed up low-fat coleslaw must not be too good.
And at the end of course, the Black team of Betty, Marcel and Frank won, with Frank getting the prize, but later Betty was accused of 'cheating' since she changed her meringue recipe from using Splenda to sugar. She should have really made the adjustment on day 1, while the nutritionist was there - you can't make meringue with Splenda. A lot of pissed off people were seen yelling at each other, but no one got eliminated.
To sum up the mess, here is a quote from Tom colicchio's blog:
I dislike the passive-aggressive tendency on the part of some chefs to keep mum about possible violations -- “stolen” lychees, extra squeezes of olive oil -- until they themselves are under fire at the judges’ table. What’s stopping them from speaking up at the time, so that the producers and judge’s can rule on it then and there? I believe in addressing things head on -- both for your own sake and for the overall health of the working environment.
Let's hope things get a bit better at least on that front as the season progresses.
Footnote: This is the second time we were reminded of Sam's alleged hotness. I don't think he is that hot, but then I am not a low-teen girl.
Footnote 2: The best official Bravo blog by far is Lee Anne's. She reveals in the most recent entry that she's lost 50 pounds, thanks to advice from season one Natural Chef Andrea!