Monthly Archives: December 2009

Top Chef Finale: Part 2

We’re live and blogging the showdown between the Voltaggio brothers and Kevin, for the next Top Chef!

Top Chef’s best season yet, with finalists:
Michael Voltaggio, Kevin Gillespie, and Bryan Voltaggio

I just realized that Kevin is 26 years old. 26!!! Pretty effing incredible. But, I think it was the early balding that threw me off.

Tom and Padma introduce the three four course meal challenge [updated]:

  • First course – cook a favorite childhood memory
  • Second course – must use identical ingredients from a mystery box
  • Third course – cook anything, with any ingredient
  • Fourth course – must cook dessert

Jennifer’s back! And, Bryan gets her. Bryan has a superstar chef team.

Poor Kevin. Looks like he gets stuck with some duds (read: Preeti).

Michael V says he is a risk-taker and Bryan plays it safe. Bryan says he plays it smart.

The chefs’ moms visit! Sweet, but what’s this about? Highlight the sibling rivalry?

Nope. Tom throws them a curve ball. Chefs have to cook an extra course — they’re favorite childhood food memory.

Kevin has bacon in his dessert. Says he should get an award from the bacon council. Pork belly is also his main course.

Looks to me like Kevin takes the first round, with his down-home fried chicken inspired dish.

Michael V is the favorite for the second course/mystery box, with his sweet and sour dish.

Here comes the most critical course. This “original” dish should be the most representative of what these chefs would have on their menus. And, it looks like Bryan comes out on top.

The dessert course looks to be a toss-up between the Voltaggio brothers.

Usually these sentimental moments make me uncomfortable, but I loved hearing why these chefs think they should be Top Chef.

[Update] For a complete breakdown of each chef’s course, read Tom Colicchio’s blog post. It was impossible for me to keep up with each dish and the many, many ingredients. In the end, Tom says Michael won two of the four courses. His second course of Dashi-Glazed Rockfish, Sweet and Sour Crab Salad with Squash and Meyer Lemon, and his main course of Fennel-Scented Squab Breast, Pistachio Cassoulet and Textures of Mushrooms, were the best.

Michael Voltaggio’s main course of Fennel-Scented Squab Breast,
Pistachio Cassoulet and Textures of Mushrooms

——Spoiler Alert——

Amazing that this comes down to the two brothers.  And, the winner is Michael?!?!?! Wow, I seriously thought it would be Bryan.

This was the best Top Chef season yet. Well done, fellas.

Author’s note: Blog post updated with pictures and links after the show.

posted by Ms. S&C

Top Chef Finale: Part 1

We’re covering this week’s Top Chef in real time, so be on *spoiler* alert. Part one of the season finale sends the final four cheftestants to beautiful Napa Valley.

Kevin tells us there is a Facebook page dedicated to his beard.

Guest judge is Micheal Chiarello — not sure there is anyone better to represent Napa Valley and the essence of California cuisine.

For the Quickfire, chefs must cook using grapes and all aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Jennifer drives a 2000 Chevy, so she wants to win the high-stakes Quickfire and get the keys to the Prius.

Michael Voltaggio wins with his grape leaf stuffed with “couscous,” and vinegar glazed grape and scallop kabob. Nice job using all parts of the grape.

Eric Ripert is Jennifer’s mentor, and we love Eric Ripert over here at S&C.

For the Elimination Challenge, chefs are catering the annual “Crush Party,” to celebrate harvest, and can only use local ingredients. They are to cook two dishes: one vegetarian and one featuring a local protein. Kevin says he only uses local ingredients at his restaurant, so he’s feeling confident.

Michael V says he is preparing a perfectly cooked egg for his vegetarian dish. But, most vegetarians don’t eat eggs, right?

Aside: Padma is a gorgeous pregnant lady, but not sure I’m crazy about her “Crush Party” outfit. The cut-out dress and tall red boots–definitely more Vegas than Napa Valley.

When discussing the duck in Jennifer’s dish — Tom uses “ducky” as an adjective and Gail says “it is a real quacker.” All in a good way.

At Judge’s Table, Tom defends Kevin’s simple techniques and his vegetarian dish is called stellar.

All the chefs pretty much deliver on this challenge. No idea who will be sent home.

——-SPOILER ALERT——-

The chef who made most of the farmers market, let the ingredients sing (as Chiarello said), and wins — Bryan Voltaggio!

Uggh. Jennifer is asked to pack her knives and go. Sadness. All girls in Project Runway. All boys in Top Chef.

Great episode — can’t wait until next week!

posted by Ms. S&C

Culinary Olympics

We’re down to four chefs! Kevin, Jennifer, and the Voltaggio brothers — these chefs have been the strongest contenders from the beginning (and maybe in the history of Top Chef) , so no big surprise really. But over here at S&C, we often like it when things work out like they’re supposed to.

Later today, we’ll be *live blogging* part one of the finale. But first, let’s quickly recap the last episode where the chefs where challenged to create a Bocuse d’Or dish. A few comments:

  • I was so happy to hear Padma say, “Welcome back,” to Jennifer after tasting her seafood turducken-esque Quickfire dish of Calamari Steak, Scallops, Salmon, Shiitake, Shiso with Rice Noodle Salad.
  • What the hell is Michael Voltaggio’s problem? His arrogance is out of control. His comment, “The food Kevin cooks is what I cook on my day off.” What? He sous vides lamb on his day off? Really? What a jerk.
  • Who gets the gold medal this round? It was sweet justice that Kevin won the challenge with his simply-prepared-but perfectly-cooked lamb.

Kevin’s Confit of Lamb Saddle with Baked Asparagus
and Sherry-Glazed Beets

For the drink pairing — I’ll admit, I’m not getting too creative on this one. But I’m not sure anyone would drink anything other than red wine with lamb. Jordan MacKay, over at Chow.com, even says so. Check out his article, “Lamb and Red Wine: They’re perfect together.” His recommendation — Rhône reds (particularly Syrah) often have an earthiness that compliments lamb’s meaty flavor. Yet, Pinot Noir offers a fruity contrast that may be more interesting.

posted by Ms. S&C

Keeping it Simple with Staples

Every gal with a penchant for entertaining should have a few stand-by cocktails up her sleeve that can turn a simple get together into something a bit more special with the help of a few basic ingredients. Over the past few months, I’ve been working on growing my collection of what I refer to as Staple Cocktails. These drinks offer something more than, say, your basic vodka tonic or scotch and soda.

My Staple Cocktails have a few requirements.

  1. Ingredients must be readily available. So, if you never have OJ as a fridge-staple, then a screwdriver is clearly not a Staple Cocktail for you. Staple Cocktails are as unique as the liquors and mixers in your kitchen.
  2. Assembly must be minimal – these are cocktails that can be prepared at a moment’s notice. Anything requiring a blender or food processor is automatically out of the running.
  3. The flavors must be popular people-pleasers. Any “controversial” flavors – say, coffee or anise liqueur – are a no-no.
  4. A Staple Cocktail must have a great name.

This week, I discovered a new cocktail to add to my simple, satisfying and growing library of Staple Cocktails. This particular drink came to fruition when I was faced with some stock ingredients which I hoped to transform into a special cocktail for friends, without an extra trip to the liquor store or grocery. Some quick googling resulted in what I found to be a delectable bourbon drink: the Brown Derby.

The sources of – and ingredients for – this particular cocktail are a bit sketchy. Some say it comes from the famous Hollywood institutional restaurant of the same name. Some say it calls for rum, others say bourbon. I had some Jim Beam on hand so opted for the latter, and replaced the recommended honey with my perennial fave, agave nectar.

Brown Derby
Serves one.

  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce grapefruit juice (I only use Simply Grapefruit or fresh juice)
  • 1 squirt agave nectar

Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker (if you can, do mix up a large batch using a fabulous, oversized, graphic vintage shaker like the one pictured here, a fantastic birthday gift for Miss Mojito). Pour over ice cubes in a tall glass.

Miss Mojito wants to know: What are your favorite Staple Cocktails?

Posted by Miss Mojito.