Tag Archives: top chef drink pairing

Powering Through

I have to say, this season of Top Chef isn’t packing the punch I hoped it would. It could be that, in its seventh season, Top Chef is starting to lose the novelty factor.

One new feature that I am enjoying about this season is the Washington Post’s fun coverage. Most weeks, they host a live Web chat with the week’s loser, plus a video chat with Food section writers and editors to break down the episode’s challenges. Check it out!

With Top Chef on location in DC, naturally, our own Washington Post gives it ample coverage with live Web chats and video chats.

This week’s Quickfire Challenge was basically a new spin on the amuse bouche challenge: create a delectable bite that can fit on a toothpick. The inspiration here is that, apparently, the only food that lobbyists can serve to members of congress must fit on a toothpick. Is that news to anyone else?

The Elimination Challenge wasn’t anything special – create a power lunch dish using “big” proteins provided by and served at The Palm – but the luncheon guests were an eclectic bunch. Sen. Mark Warner, Luke Russert, Savannah Guthrie and Art Smith (of Art and Soul) were just a few of the big names in the crowd.

The good news is that the high points in the meal were pretty high, resulting in some new chefs entering the winner’s circle. While Andrea’s vanilla-infused swordfish got her booted off, Tiffany, Alex and Ed received props for their creative and tasty power lunch dishes. Ed wins thanks to a superior applewood-smoked salmon with pea puree – but it’s not a win without controversy. Accusations quickly fly that Alex’s puree – perhaps the element that put him in first place – was stolen from Stephen’s cooler! Could it be?? A little thievery in the competition would certainly make for a more scintillating season.

Miss Mojito must admit that the Top Chef Drink Pairing for the salmon dish is a bit tricky, given that I don’t particularly have a predilection for its taste. Salmon seems to break the white wine/fish pairing tradition thanks to its bold flavor, so I’ll suggest a summery pinot noir rose: a full-bodied glass from the California Toad Hollow Vineyards might be just the ticket.

Posted by Miss Mojito.

Top Chef DC: farm-to-table

Last week’s Top Chef episode featured local ingredients: Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and food from a local Virginia farm.

The Quickfire Challenge had the chefs cooking our popular local treasure: blue crabs. Ed won the challenge with his dish of jumbo lump crab, thai basil, mango and cucumber. Considering I’ve picked crabs for the past *three* weekends straight, I tend to agree with local boy Tim’s philosophy: you don’t need to add a lot of flavors to blue crabs — the crab can shine on its own. But, I also don’t think anyone was planning to throw a half dozen crabs, covered in Old Bay, in front of Padma with a beer, a mallet, and some hushpuppies (I’d be in heaven).

The Elimination Challenge took the chef’s to Virginia’s first totally certified farm,  Ayrshire Farm, — a farm of locally produced, humanely raised meats and organic produce — to prepare elegant rustic farm dishes. I love elegant, rustic farm dishes. I love eating outdoors. I love eating outdoors wearing a scarf. And, I would love eating outdoors, wearing a scarf, with Eric Ripert. A few other comments about the episode:

  • Speaking of elegant, rustic food, Patrick O’Connell, owner of The Inn at Little Washington, was guest judge (how about that plaid blazer, and his very interesting deliberate manner of speaking?)
  • Angelo is kinda grossing me out with his oversexualization of food. The whole “I made love to that duck” bit made me gag.
  • Remind me never to serve salad in a bowl, since it can be referred to as “a concrete truck pouring on silk.”
  • Hooray Kenny! His dish of curried eggplant won. (Tim was sent home, btw.)

The Top Chef challenge was family style fare, but turn your focus to Kenny’s Hot and Sour Curried Eggplant with Peppers & Carrot Tops

For the Top Chef Drink Pairing: Virginia is for Viognier, not lovers. In a Washington Post article last year, Dave McIntyre reported that Viognier is very popular among Virginia vintners because the grapes are suited to this climate, and can remain balanced because it tolerates the heat and humidity (apparently the thick skin and growing in loose clusters makes it resistant to rot in the humid climate).

The wine is described as nuanced: lush and opulent with exuberant fruit, but also “austere and subtle in the classic fashion of the wines of Condrieu, Viognier’s homeland in France’s Rhone Valley.”  The only Virginia Viognier I can recall buying was a bottle from the Tarara Winery in Loudoun County, Va. I think the richness and slight sweetness of the Viognier would be a good match for the spicy curry in Kenny’s eggplant dish.

posted by Ms. S&C

Top Chef DC: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Last week’s episode of Top Chef DC was focused on hotel food. The episode itself was a lot like hotel food: somewhat boring, pretty ordinary, nothing too memorable.

Here are a few highlights, or lowlights as the case may be:

  • The Quickfire Challenge was sorta interesting: chefs were charged with cooking an adult meal that could be suitable for a baby (apropos with Padma being a new mom and all). Tamesha and Kenny were the favorites with their veggie chowder and bulgar wheat dishes, respectively.
  • The Elimination Challenge was sponsored by Hilton, so the chefs were cooking meals suitable for hotels and hotel guests.
  • There was a tournament-style element to the challenge in which chefs, working in teams of two, had three chances (hence breakfast, lunch, dinner) to avoid elimination. The chefs who have been having a rough time of it shined during the breakfast rounds: Tim and Tiffany were winners with their “Creole Style” Crab Cake Eggs Benedict, and so were Amanda and Stephen with their Poached Egg, Pancetta, Potato Rosti dish.
  • When it came to the dinner cook-off, it almost looked too close to call. I couldn’t believe Kenny was in the bottom! When it came to decision time, the judges offed Lynn and Arnold (who won last week!) because their pasta was overcooked and their Pineapple Red Curry Mussels dish was just too damn interesting for hotel dining.
  • One of my favorite lines of the show came when Andrea was cooking short ribs and said short ribs need the “bizness,” as in an au jus. She knew her and Kelly’s dish would beat Kenny’s because his didn’t have enough of the “bizness.”

Top Chef Breakfast: “Creole Style” Crab Cake Eggs Benedict with Asparagus & Bacon Potato Hash in Hollandaise

Top Chef Dinner: Braised Beef Short Rib, Polenta, Shiitake Mushrooms & Gremolata (aka the “bizness”)

There’s an article that I can’t stop talking about: Frank Bruni, former restaurant critic for The New York Times, wrote a piece on the bloody mary. When I shared the article on Facebook, a friend replied, “It’s hard to imagine a better breakfast. Or dinner. Or lunch. Or snack.” So true! Because it is a drink that is good any time of the day, and because it could be a meal on its own, the Bloody Mary is our pick for the Top Chef Drink Pairing.

I think a farm-to-table brunch is in my near future. With fresh, ripe tomatoes on the horizon and a bountiful herb garden, I’ve got the makings for my own “liquid salad.” And, wondering what to do with those leftover Maryland blue crabs you couldn’t polish off the night before? Yes, crab eggs benedict, please.

posted by Ms. S&C

Summer picnic: Top Chef DC style

This week’s episode of Top Chef DC had the cheftestants baking pies and grilling picnic food for Capital Hill interns, while they played badminton, croquet, and lounged on George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. (I want to picnic and play lawn games at Mt. Vernon! Right now. It’s gorgeous outside!)

I also want to see more of pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, who was guest judge for the Quickfire Pie-Baking Challenge. Not sure I was all that excited about the upcoming Top Chef: Just Desserts until this dark haired, tattooed chef (who has a book titled “Dessert Fourplay”) came into my life. Um, yeah, he is super hot. He was also a good judge. I particularly appreciated his comment to Amanda when she said she was not a pastry chef. He responded, “I think it’s kind of a cop-out to say you’re not a pastry chef. My grandmother’s not a pastry chef either, and she can make a pie.” (In the end, it was Kenny who finally came through with a win with his bananas foster pie. I like Kenny.)

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs prepared picnic food. It was interesting that most of their menus did not go in the direction of the Great American Picnic. A lot of the dishes were heavily Asian-influenced. And, the winning dish was Arnold‘s Lebanese-inspired lamb with lemongrass.

Arnold’s winning dish: Sesame Lamb Meatball, Tabouli Salad, Gazpacho

For the Top Chef Drink Pairing: given the picnic-y setting, lawn games and warm climate, it is hard to choose something other than beer. (Except that the distillery at Mount Vernon is now making a Rye Whiskey!) Considering the Mediterranean flavors of Arnold’s dish, Goldstar Beer from Israel could be an option (remember this funny advertisement?). Or, you could have the Great American Lager to go with the Great-but-not-so-American-Picnic.

posted by Ms. S&C

Back to School with Top Chef

For all of us Eric Ripert fans out there, the last episode of Top Chef DC was nothing to celebrate. The dreamboat French chef/semi-regular judge did not make a cameo. Still, this week’s show offered a few interesting twists, turns and snippets of drama.

  • It seems that the confidence level for this particular group of chefs is off the charts. I hope they take the advice of guest judge Sam Kass, White House assistant chef, to “leave your egos at the door and just get to work.”
  • Is anyone else already getting a bit tired of Padma’s DC puns? This week’s Quickfire, for example, is the Bipartisandwich. It is a silly name for a silly challenge, which ties two chefs together in one apron and gives them use of one hand each to create an exemplary sandwich. This week we see another win for Angelo who, partnered with Tracy, created a flounder sandwich with an herby salad.
  • The elimination challenge is very au current: create a school lunch with $130 for 50 kids, working in teams of four. The goal here is to bring awareness to the First Lady’s initiative to end childhood obesity in a generation.
  • Fun fact: Tom Collichio comes by his love for food honestly – his mom ran a school lunch program for 20 years!
  • In an episode twist, the losers get called into judges’ table first. I think everyone’s relieved to see that Angelo is on the bottom rung – but given his immunity, he’s safe from elimination. His team gets no love for their lack of veggies, while the other lowest scoring team garners criticism for a blah chicken breast with sherry jus and a sugar-full pudding. But the criticism isn’t coming just from the judges: The teams start slamming each other on the judges’ floor – bad form! Ultimately, Jacqueline – who was in the bottom two last week – loses for her unhealthy and grainy banana pudding with strawberries.
  • Kelly wins for her pork carnitas tacos, made all the healthier by homemade oatmeal tortillas. Her teammates helped her out with a black bean cake with crispy sweet potatoes; roasted corn salad, and caramelized sweet potatoes with chocolate sherbet. The judges loved the colorful plate and the creative use of veggies, not to mention the tasty tacos.

Kelly’s winning dish of Braised Pork Carnitas Tacos
with Pickled Onions & Cilantro

Considering the target audience for this particular challenge, I’m looking toward some alcohol-free options for our Top Chef Drink Pairing. And with this week’s Mexican inspired dish, I think some Agua Fresca is in order. AKA “fresh water” in Spanish, agua fresca is essentially water infused with a smooth fruit puree. Easy, refreshing and perfect for a summer day. Just puree any soft fruit — melon or mango are some good options — and push through a sieve until super-smooth. Mix with water (1.5 cups puree to 3 cups water), some lime juice and a smidge of agave nectar. Yum!

Posted by Miss Mojito.

Hail to the Chef

Hooray for three reasons! (1) New season of Top Chef. (2) It takes place in DC! (3) Eric dreamboat Ripert is a regular guest judge — that means we get to see him every week on the “Culinary Supreme Court,” as Padma Laskshmi referred to judges’ table. Padma also said Washington, DC, is a city full of “idealists, visionaries and ruthless powerseekers.” What do you all make of that description?

Top Chef returns for a seventh season and they are on location
in Washington, DC!

The first episode started off on the roof of the Newseum and showcased great views of our fine city. Filmed during the Cherry Blossom Festival, the episode finished off at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium with a reception for young, successful Washingtonians. (Um, Ms. S&C assumes her invitation was lost in the mail?)

In case you’re in need of a recap, here are a few highlights from the first episode:

  • The Quickfire Challenge was a mise en place relay. The cheftestants had to peel potatoes, brunoise onions (my new culinary term for the day), break-down chickens, and then — for those that made it that far — cook a dish with said ingredients. Kenny showed off his mad knife skills, but it was arrogant Angelo who came away with the win.
  • For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs created a dish that reflected where they are from: dishes included everything from Chesapeake rockfish to Pennsylvania lamb to deconstructed borscht.
  • Angelo came away with another win with his arctic char and bacon froth. Hippie John was sent home for his store-bought puff pastry and his maple-focused dessert that lacked actual maple flavor.

Angelo’s winning dish: Arctic Char with Pickled Shallots,
Chillied Tapioca & Smoked Bacon Froth

For the Top Chef Drink Pairing: I’m going with this Pacific Rim Dry Riesling. This is actually the first Riesling I’ve ever tried (over 10 years ago mind you). And I remember it because it used to be part of the Bonny Doon Vineyard (that funky, eclectic winery out in California, with cool, artsy labels), which I like quite a lot, mostly because of their funky, eclectic way. The Pacific Rim Dry Riesling is crisp, dry and mineraly, and has flavors of citrus. A very versatile wine, it complements both seafood and smokey bacon flavors nicely. And you can usually find it for less than $10 bucks.

The Top Chef Drink Pairing is a reccurring feature on the S&C blog where we recap each episode and pair the winning dish with a cocktail, or other suitable beverage.

posted by Ms. S&C

Apologies and promises

Ms. S&C apologizes for her intermittent blogging. She’s sorry for the lack of new content. There are the usual work-that-pays-the-mortgage excuses, and then there are a few other unrelated-but-delightful-distraction excuses (a danger of having too many hobbies) that have turned her attention elsewhere.

Despite her recent S&C blog absence, she posts updates and comments on Twitter. You can also keep up with her activities on the S&C Facebook page (which includes pictures from the “Style in the City” party and pictures from a very cool sherry-inspired fashion show she attended in the same week).

Ms. S&C promises to return to regular blogging very soon. One reason: she can’t be more excited for Top Chef DC! Eric freakin’ Ripert joins as a regular guest judge (you remember our crush on him, right?), and there will be episodes involving Speaker Pelosi, concession stands at Nationals stadium, and the C.I.A. Hooray for DC! Another reason Ms. S&C promises to blog soon: she is preparing a specialty peach bourbon cocktail for a friend’s going away party this weekend. Rest assured the S&C test kitchen is in full swing trying out new cocktail recipes.

More soon!

posted by Ms. S&C

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.


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