Tag Archives: top chef drink pairing

Live with Top Chef–or–Nigella Says

We’re skipping our usual Top Chef recap/drink pairing, and blogging about this week’s show in real time.


I’ll start with the obvious — this has to be Robin’s week to go, right?

For the Quickfire Challenge — it is breakfast in bed with Padma and Nigella Lawson. Eli describes Nigella as a “modern, updated, less French version of Julia Child.” Kevin tells us that Gordon Ramsey named a turkey after her, so she is legit. I’ve always had a thing for Nigella — I think she is totally girl-crush-worthy.

Nigella calls Eli’s reuben benedict a “great hangover breakfast.”

Jennifer makes cream chipped beef. Interesting choice.

Least favorite dishes: Bryan — Nigella couldn’t cope with vanilla and king crab in the same dish. Robin — she was a little too “one note.”

Favorite dishes: Kevin’s steak and eggs and Eli’s reuben benedict. Eil wins. There’s no immunity, but he gets a nod in the next Top Chef cookbook.

For the Elimination Challenge — Padma says they will celebrate the “crown jewels” of Las Vegas – the Strip. It goes something like this:

  • Bryan Voltaggio: Mandalay Bay
  • Eli: Circus Circus
  • Michael Voltaggio: New York, New York
  • Kevin: Mirage
  • Jennifer: Excalibur
  • Robin: Bellagio

Michael Voltaggio says he will pay tribute to firefighters in his dish. Jennifer visits the “Tournament of Kings,” and says she has no clue what to do. Bryan Voltaggio visits the Shark Reef for inspiration, and buys his son a shark plush toy. I predict he is either going to rock it or go home this week.

I’m ignoring Robin. Kevin says a bunch of thoughtful sh*t about his take on food. Sounds like tropical oasis will be the focus of his dish. I love Kevin. Eli visits Circus Circus and appears to be confused. And, he’s kinda scaring me with his peanut, apple, popcorn soup.

Jennifer’s “sword and the stone” dish is not well received by Nigella. She says she is ready to be in “winch mode.” Yikes.

Judge’s like Kevin’s salmon, compressed vegetables and tomato water.

I don’t know why Robin even bothers to show her unusable sugar stained glass.

Micheal cooks a boneless chicken confit with a blue cheese dressing. Not sure about his firefighter connection, but the judge’s like it.

Bryan’s halibut has “fantastic balance” says Nigella.

Toby says that Eli, like most people who come to Vegas, “has gambled and lost.” It sounds like Jennifer may be safe.

At the judge’s table — Kevin, Michael and Bryan are the top three. Michael wins with his fancy take on the buffalo chicken wing.


Michael Voltaggio’s Boneless Chicken Wing Confit
with Curry and Blue Cheese Disc

That leaves Jennifer, Robin and Eli on the bottom. Nigella says: Every part of Jennifer’s dish was disappointing;  panna cotta is “child’s play,” and Robin should have known how to make it; and finally, she would rather eat sawdust than Eli’s dish. I think I’m renaming this post “Nigella Says.” I could listen to her all night.

Wow. Robin does go. While I think she deserved to get the boot weeks ago, I’m not sure how Eli survived this round.


For the drink pairing — since Michael’s inspiration was New York, sobrooklynlager is ours. Brooklyn Brewery is one of our favorite beer makers. They have a great range of beers for you to fill your glass. Core brands include the brown ale, pilsner, pale ale, among others. Seasonal beers include their potent monster ale, black chocolate stout, oktoberfest, and more. Brooklyn Lager is their award-winning flagship beer. As with most lagers, it is versatile with food, and the fine balance of malt (for sweetness) and hops (for bitterness) make it a refreshing match for spicy chicken.

Author’s note: Blog post updated with pictures and links after the show. Also corrected a few grammatical errors.

posted by Ms. S&C

Vegging out

Last week’s Top Chef episode was all about vegging out, in one way or another.

For the Quickfire Challenge, the cheftestants created a TV dinner, inspired by an iconic television show. Kevin won the challenge with his Soprano’s meatballs with polenta.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs created vegetarian dishes for guest judge Natalie Portman. Kevin, Michael Voltaggio and Eli were the faves. (Mike Isabella was not.) Kevin won again. And, Micheal Voltaggio came off looking like an ungracious jerk. Even Tom Colicchio thought so. Read his blog for great behind-the-scenes insights.

kevin_vegKevin’s Vegetarian Dish: Duo of Mushrooms, Smoked Kale,
Candied Garlic and Turnip Purée

Kevin’s vegetarian dish reminded me a lot of Moosewood Cookbook‘s Warm Salad, which I make at least once or twice every winter — and, I drinkfairhillsred red wine with it every time. True, I drink red wine with most dinners, but I particularly love it with hearty kale and mushrooms. Since eco-friendly Natalie Portman was guest judge for this episode, and since October was Fair Trade Month, I’m going with the Fairhills Bus Stop Red for the drink pairing. I picked up a bottle at Whole Foods for less than $10. It was also highlighted on the Whole Foods blog, telling us that the wine is a product of one of the world’s largest Fair Trade projects, a joint venture between exporter, Origin Wine, Mendoza Vineyards in Argentina and Du Toitskloof Winery in South Africa.

The Fairhills Bus Stop Red is a dryish, medium bodied wine, with aromas of berry fruit and chocolate and hints of plum. Meatballs or kale, it should go great with either of Kevin’s dishes.

And, what makes the wine taste even better? Proceeds are dedicated to purchasing a school bus for the children of the over 800 farm employees and communities of San Martin, Lavalle and Medrano in Mendoza, Argentina.

posted by Ms. S&C

Anything but revolting

The Restaurant Wars episode is easily the most anticipated challenge of Top Chef. The judges said that this season was the best they’ve seen in TC history. I don’t think the caliber of the cheftestants has ever been higher. And, having said that, I was so glad they didn’t have to bother with the whole decor planning part this go round.

Here’s a much too lengthy recap (but it was such a good ep):

  • The Quickfire Challenge was a tag-team relay/cook-off (which may become the most anticipated Quickfire Challenge). It was super fun. The chefs were separated in teams of two, blindfolded, and had to cook one dish total — with each of them cooking for 10 minutes, one right after the other, not allowed to talk, and obviously not able to see what the chef ahead of them was doing. Yes, this is confusingly written, I know — let’s just say, it was much better watched.
  • The Blue Team (with Jennifer, Kevin, Mike Isabella and Laurine) won with Sablefish, Sauteed Mushrooms, Shitake Broth and Radish Salad. I thought the Read Team (with the Voltaggio Brothers, Eli and Robin) made a tactical error in having the two weakest chefs (Eli and Robin) start off. As opposed to the Blue Team, where perfect-planner-Jennifer started and perfect-closer-Kevin finished.
  • The Blue Team’s tactical mistakes came when their overconfidence let their $10,000 prize ride, and they chose not to make a dessert for the Restaurant Wars (RW) Elimination Challenge.
  • For the RW, the cheftestants took over guest judge, Chef Rick Moonen‘s restaurant, rm Seafood. The Blue Team became “Mission,” (think clean, San Francisco-style), and took over the white tablecloth section of rm. The Read Team became “REVolt,” (think rebellious and play on initials, rather than revolting and disgusting), and took over the more rustic-looking section.
  • REVolt won convincingly, and Michael Voltaggio won $10,000, for his Pressed Chicken with Calamari Noodles, Tomato Confit and Fennel Salad. He shared his earnings with his teammates.
  • I was shaking in my boots, thinking Jennifer would be sent home for her fish dishes. Instead, Laurine was given the boot, for her poor front-of-the-house performance, and not stepping in when Kevin didn’t properly cook her lamb.


Robin’s Pear Pithivier with Vanilla Ice Cream and Elderflower Syrup

For the drink pairing, it was hard not to use Robin’s pear pithivier dessert for inspiration, particularly because of the elderberry syrup. I found the Gigi, a pear elderberry cocktail over on Chow.com, which sounds just about perfect (and slightly reminiscent of the S&C celebratory Elderberry Spritz). According to Chow, Jackie Patterson, former mixologist at Le Colonial in San Francisco, created this stiff cocktail, combining three French spirits. When I try at home, I will likely cut back on the liquor portions, and possibly substitute the pear vodka for pear simple syrup. Or, just find a way to add more pear.

Gigi Cocktail
Courtesy of Jackie Patterson, from Chow.com

  • 2 parts Lillet Blanc
  • 1 1/2 parts St-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 1 part Grey Goose La Poire vodka (or other pear-flavored vodka, if available)
  • Ice
  • 1 part brut rosé champagne
  • 1 pear slice, for garnish

Combine Lillet, St-Germain, and Grey Goose in a cocktail shaker and top with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Float champagne on top of Lillet mixture. Garnish with pear slice and serve.

posted by Ms. S&C

Pigging out

The Pigs & Pinot episode of Top Chef made things easy for Ms. S&C’s recap and drink pairing. During this show, the cheftestants drew knives to select a part of a pig to use for a dish, then paired it with a pinot noir — all for a Charlie Palmer (who also was guest judge) and Food & Wine charity event.pigI was pleased as punch that my favorite four chefs created the four best dishes. You know who they are by now: Jennifer, Bryan Voltaggio, Michael Voltaggio and Kevin. If these are not the last four chefs standing when this season comes to an end, then there’s something wrong in the world. (Ash was the chef sent home, but how cat-food-pork-rillette Laurine survived, I don’t know.)

Kevin, (who loves pork so much that he has a pig tattoo), won the challenge with his pork leg pate. The wine he chose to pair with the dish was the 2006 Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, from the Willamette Valley, in Oregon.

TC_porkpateKevin Gillespie’s Pork Leg Pate with Mushroom Salad
and Pickled Cherries

I’ve personally always loved pinot noir (even before watching the movie Sideways). It is often my go-to red wine, mostly because I think you can abandon the age-old tradition of pairing red wine with red meat, and drink it with fish and poultry dishes. When researching the Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, I was happy to discover that the wine was $36.99. While that is still quite a bit more than I typically pay for a bottle that I’m drinking at home (usually I go for something in the $12, or less, range),  it is an acceptable price point for a special  occasion dinner at home. Wine.com highlights the wine’s black cherry, raspberry, truffles and cola/mocha components. Considering Kevin’s pork dish includes cherries and mushrooms, it appears he made a smart and tasty decision. But, that’s the kind-of chef he is.

posted by Ms. S&C

Top Chef keywords

During last week’s Top Chef episode, the cheftestants played a slot machine to choose three keywords, which they used as inspiration for a dish. The keywords were words like –> Stressed, Hot N’ Spicy, Asian. Those happen to be the ones Kevin selected for his winning Quickfire dish. Here’s another keyword for you –> Unbearable. And, that happens to be Mike Isabella.

After the slot-machine-keyword challenge, the chefs partnered up for a family-style-dinner-party challenge. Their dinner party guests were members of Macy’s Culinary Council: Tyler Florence (also guest judge), Tom Douglas, Nancy Silverton, Govind Armstrong, and Takashi Yagihashi. –> Strategic Marketing

Here’s how it went down:

  • Mike Isabella was partnered with Robin.  –> Sweet retribution
  • Micheal Voltaggio was almost sent home because he overcooked halibut.  –> Whew
  • Ash compared Michael V to Picasso, and said he’d be willing to wash his brushes. –> Embarassing and Uncomfortable
  • Ashley undercooked precious prawns and had a role in oversalted gnocchi. –> Eliminated
  • Jennifer and Kevin served the best dish of the night: Korean style barbeque, and Jennifer was crowned the overall winner. –> Dream Team

TC-kobe-beefJennifer and Kevin’s BBQ Kobe Beef with Cardamom, Tomato
and Ginger Broth

When I’m dining on Asian food, I usually drink a lager style beer or hitachino-alewhite wine. I’m afraid to experiment, as I don’t want anything to conflict with the flavors in my often-spicy food. When considering the drink pairing for Jennifer and Kevin’s dish, I checked out Takashi Yagihashi’s drink menu at his Chicago restaurant, and ran across the Hitachino Nest White Ale. Hitachino, from a Japanese brewery (Shuzou), is a white ale, similar to many Belgian whites, with hints of coriander, nutmeg, and orange peel. Jennifer and Kevin’s dish includes flavors and ingredients such as: orange zest, ginger, fennel, and I think the Hitachino would compliment nicely. Not to mention –> Refreshing.

Ms. S&C wants to know: What keywords would you use to describe the Top Chef contestants and their dishes?

posted by Ms. S&C


The theme of last week’s Top Chef episode was dynamic duo-ing and deconstruction. Presumably the dynamic duo idea comes from Penn & Teller being there as guest judges. The deconstruction concept comes from the oft misunderstood culinary technique.

Here are a few highlights:

  • The Quickfire was an “angels vs. demons” duo challenge. The chefs were asked to created two dishes of conflict, i.e. healthy vs. unhealthy, or new vs. old. Robin, who can’t be long for the show, won. Everyone was shocked. Eli, in poor taste, attributed the victory to her playing the cancer survivor card.
  • Deconstruction was the focus of the Elimination Challenge. The chefs had to “deconstruct,” or separate out all the ingredients, of a classic dish — yet, the newly re-constructed dish should maintain the dish’s original flavor. I think this means that meat lasagna shouldn’t look like meat lasagna, but it should taste like it.
  • At judges’ table: Michelle Berstein, and strong-opinioned Brit, Toby Young, rejoined the group.
  • On the top: Jennifer (lasagna), Ashley (pot roast), Kevin (chicken mole), and Michael Voltaggio (caesar salad). Kevin won.
  • On the bottom: Laurine (fish and chips), Ron (paella), Ash (shepherd’s pie). Ron was sent home.

kevin_moleKevin Gillespie’s Deconstructed Baked Chicken and Chicken Croquetta,
Mexican Coffee, Chili Flake, Pumpkin and Fig Jam

For the drink pairing — Kevin’s fig jam recipe includes strong brewed coffee and hot chocolate. Having tried the most incredible bean-to-cup hot chocolate at Rick Bayless‘ restaurant, XOCO, that’s what I want alongside this dish. I don’t even care that it doesn’t have booze in it. The hot chocolate is that incredible. It is ground from Mexican cacao beans right in the restaurant, and was my surprise favorite on a menu with a lot of great food (try the ahadoga torta also). As you can see from the pic, I drank it with hot-from-the-fryer churros, but I think the bitter sweetness would complement many savory creations as well. Muy delicioso!

hot-chocolateBean-to-cup hot chocolate and hot-from-the-fryer churros at
Rick Bayless’
XOCO restaurant in Chicago.

posted by Ms. S&C

Roughing it

Cactus, camping, and cowboys — that’s what last week’s Top Chef episode brought us. The chefs left the Vegas strip and headed to the desert. Tim Love, whose website describes him as a chef of urban Western cuisine, was guest judge.

The Quickfire challenged the chefs to cook with cactus, and Mike Isabella won. In addition to knowing that risotto is a way of cooking, he apparently knows how to make cactus less slimy. Good for him. For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs went camping and prepared an outdoor lunch for cowboys. I’m sure the desert heat was brutal, but I felt the chefs were a little too whiny about this challenge (Eli and Michael Voltaggio included). I don’t think it’s too much to ask professional chefs to cook something on a grill, which is why I was so baffled that two people prepared ceviche, (Mattin was sent home as a result), and no one cooked steak.

BV-pork loinBryan Voltaggio’s Roasted Pork Loin with Corn Polenta,
Dandelion Greens, and Glazed Rutabega

The Voltaggio brothers found themselves in their usual spot at judge’s table — at the top. For a second time in a row, Bryan won. His Roasted Pork Loin with Corn Polenta, Dandelion Greens, and Glazed Rutabega captured the spirit of the challenge. In addition to being a talented chef (obviously), he appears to be incredibly organized. If that isn’t enough, he’s totally likable.anchor_bottle

For the drink pairing – when you’re outdoors, in the heat, and grilling — you want a cold beer. You’re not going to bother with simple syrups, crushing ice, and garnishes. And lord knows, you don’t want that coconut mojito that Ron made. Anchor Steam, the flagship beer of the Anchor Brewing Company, is my choice for Bryan’s pork loin and polenta. Steam beer, also referred to as California Common Beer, is an unique beer. The brewing technique is a combination of ale and lager methods (brewing lager yeasts at ale fermentation temperatures). This technique gives the beer the easy-drinking quality of a lager, but it has the noticeable hop flavor and amber color of an ale.

posted by Ms. S&C

Déjà vu

After watching le épisode quatre of Top Chef, it appears this recap will be a lot like the others — Jennifer still kicks ass, the Voltaggio brothers are still on fire, and Kevin Gillespie is pretty awesome too. Not sure any of the other contestants are even in the same league as these chefs.

Last week’s show highlighted le cuisine français. The Quickfire featured escargot, the guest judge was French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud, and the Elimination Challenge involved classic French sauces and proteins. There were a few twists and turns — the Quickfire was “high-stakes,” which meant the loser (Jessie) was sent home, and the winner (Kevin G.) received immunity and a coveted dinner invitation with the best French chefs in the world, including Joel Robuchon.

b-volt-dishBryan Voltaggio’s Warm Cured Trout with Deconstructed Bearnaise

Michael V. worked with Jennifer to create the second best dish of Rabbit Chasseur with Mustard Noodle and Shiso. Bryan V. worked with Mike Isabella (who is totally riding the coattails of the Voltaggio brthers) on the winning dish of Warmed Cured Trout with Deconstructed Bearnaise. The photo of the dish doesn’t do the trout justice. In Tom Colicchio’s blog, he described the far more complex preparation of the dish, where Bryan took the two top fillets of trout, placed a thin layer of prosciutto between them, “glued” them together, and sous-vide them. And since Isabella admitted to never having made bearnaise before this challenge, Bryan V. clearly deserved his second win. The loser was Hector. chateaudesancerreAs with episode three, I’m not sure Hector was entirely responsible for the failure of his and Ash’s dish of Chateaubriand and Sauce a Poive. But the competition is tough this season.

What to drink with la truite avec bearnaise? Perhaps something from the Loire Valley. The Sancerre is beloved in France. Made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, this wine is delicate, semi-dry, crisp and refreshing. And, with aromas of grapefruit and white flowers, it is an ultimate summer wine and a good pairing for the winning dish. Want a recommendation? Try the Château de Sancerre.

posted by Ms. S&C

Reporting for duty

Michael Voltaggio is on fire. Every week he is vying for a win on Top Chef. In episode two, Michael’s Golden Delicious inspired dessert was second best, losing only to his brother. In the most recent episode, he wins the Air Force Challenge, convincingly.

michael_vLet’s hope Michael Voltaggio isn’t burning too bright after
a red hot start in the competition.

A few highlights from last week’s Air Force Challenge episode:

  • The Quickfire competition challenges the cheftestants to create an “out of this world” potato dish. Guest judge is Mark Peel, who landed his first culinary job peeling vegetables for Wolfgang Puck. The challenge involves potatoes; his last name is peel — get the connection? I didn’t at first, but it’s clever all right.
  • Jennifer, who is also on fire, kicks ass and wins the Quickfire (with steamed mussels with lemongrass potato sauce), giving her immunity — and more importantly, total respect in the kitchen.
  • The Elimination Challenge has the cheftestants working as a team to prepare a meal for 300 airmen at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The menu includes hearty classics such as clam chowder, braised pork shoulder and potato salad, and chocolate bread pudding with peanut butter sauce.
  • Michael V stands out, making a more contemporary dish of braised pork belly with soy mustard, wrapped in lettuce and served with a peanut garnish.
  • Preeti is the chef sent home, because she was inexplicable in her defense of her and Laurine’s hodgepodge, yet unflavorful, pasta salad. I  felt bad for Preeti. The dish was as much Laurine’s fault as her own. But someone’s gotta go.

porkbellyMichael Voltaggio’s pork belly lettuce wrap is on the right.
Ignore Michael Isabella’s greek salad on the left.

For the drink pairing — over the weekend, I made my own version of Michael V’s pork belly lettuce wraps and served the dish with sake, a rice wine from Japan. Whole Foods has a good selection of inexpensive sakes, so Mr. S&C picked us up a 375 ml bottle of Fudo Myoo, for less than $6.00. The Fudo Myoo brand is fairly sweet (hints of banana and anise), and is best served chilled. The chilled sweet beverage is a nice counter balance to the richness (and absolute deliciousness) of the pork belly. Kanpai!

The Top Chef Drink Pairing is a reoccurring feature on the S&C blog, where we recap the previous week’s episode, and pair the winning dish with a cocktail, or other suitable alcoholic beverage.

posted by Ms. S&C

The brothers Voltaggio

The second episode of Top Chef was typical Vegas – dice rolling, shots, bachelor and bachelorette parties. They even threw in a battle of the sexes. Though the episode focused on men vs. women, it looks like the season is shaping up to be Voltaggio vs. Voltaggio.

TC-ep2Todd English appears the second episode of Top Chef as a guest judge

The show started with the Quickfire Challenge, where the cheftestants rolled the dice and had to create a dish with the same number of ingredients (as shown on the dice). Michael V won with a nitro [liquid nitrogen] gazpacho, compressed cucumbers and toast point.

Both Voltaggio bros end up preparing the top two dishes of the Elimination Challenge. In the Elimination Challenge, it was men vs. women, and the chefs created dishes for a joint bachelor/bachelorette party, with the food complementing one of three shots: the Moscow Mule, tequila, and something called the Golden Delicious (which one chef described as sweet, gooey, and disgusting).

Michael V reworked the ingredients (fresh ingredients, of course) from the Golden Delicious, and made an apple and ginger sorbet with a goat cheese cookie. The judges loved it, but his big bro Bryan V won with his sweet and sour macaroon, filled with guacamole, corn nuts and corn puree, which he paired with tequila. His dish was a modern version of the all-time favorite Mexican appetizer — chips and guacamole.

TC-macBryan Voltaggio’s sweet and sour macaroon, with guacamole
and corn puree, paired with tequila

For the drink pairing, S&C is hot-to-trot over tequila lately. Recent blog posts have highlighted watermelon margaritas and a modified cantarito. We’ve also shared recipes for cranberry margaritas, the pink panther, and a Q-cumber fizz. Using the categories on the right-hand side, you can search for all blog posts featuring tequila.

Because Ms. S&C recently drank a great Paloma at Bar Pilar in DC, she’ll share a new tequila drink, to go with Bryan’s macaroon (otherwise, she may have picked Miss Mojito’s cantarito). The traditional Paloma drink is made with grapefruit soda (same as the one at Bar Pilar — and similar to the cantarito), but the below recipe uses freshly squeezed white grapefruit juice and club soda, to add fizz. It was featured in a great article on tequila, from the Washington Post’s spirits columnist, which was recapped by S&C last year.

serves one

Ingredients: paloma_wapo

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces blanco or silver tequila
  • 3 ounces freshly squeezed white grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce agave nectar
  • Sea salt, to rim the glass
  • 1 lime wheel, for garnish
  • Club soda


Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice and add the tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice and agave nectar. Shake well and strain into an ice-filled collins glass rimmed with sea salt. Garnish with the lime wheel and top with a splash of club soda.

Recipe Source: The Washington Post, from Apothecary in Philadelphia. Photo: Julia Ewan for The Washington Post.

posted by Ms. S&C