Tag Archives: top chef drink pairing

Vices that inspire

We’re excited as all get out that Top Chef is back. The show premiered last week — and you know what that means? It is time for the Top Chef Drink Pairing! The Top Chef Drink Pairing is a reoccurring feature on the S&C blog, where we recap the previous week’s episode and then pair the winning dish with a cocktail, or other suitable alcoholic beverage.


Season six of Top Chef is taking place in the city of extreme indulgence — Las Vegas, and we’ve been promised high-stakes play. I’m assuming when Tom and Padma repeatedly mention high-stakes, they are referring to the cooking, competition, and drama — where there’s a lot to be won, and a lot to be lost. Highlights from episode one:

  • There are two DC-area cheftestants: Michael Isabella from Zaytinya and Bryan Voltaggio from Volt Restaurant (whose younger bro is also a contestant on the show). First impression: The cute Voltaggio bros are easy to like. Isabella has an overbearing and slightly annoying personality, and let’s hope he reigns it in soon so he doesn’t go the way of Teddy ala The Next Food Network Star.
  • The Quickfire Challenge is the relay challenge, where the chefs work in teams to shuck clams, clean prawns, crack lobsters, and French-cut a prime rib. There’s one team who spent the entire challenge shucking clams, and it was painful to watch.
  • Winning relay team members square off for a challenge amongst themselves, with Jennifer (I’ve made men cry in the kitchen) Carroll‘s clam ceviche winning.
  • The Elimination Challenge has the chefs creating a dish based on their personal vices, and we know a little something about vices as inspiration. :) It comes as no surprise that drinking, scotch, bourbon, beer, and the overindulgence of spirits are the primary vices of our cheftestants.
  • Wolfgang Puck is guest judge for the Elimination Challenge, and he is funny. I like him and his Austrian accent.
  • Kevin Gillespie, who reminds me a little of Zach Galifianakis, wins with his procrastination-inspired Arctic Char with Salsa Verde of Turnips.


Kevin Gillespie’s winning dish, Arctic Char with Salsa Verde of Turnips

Since the prevalent flavors in this dish include fennel and star anise, I recommend a French pastis, or anise-flavored liqueur, for the drink pairing. Pernod, whose distinct licorice flavor is often used as a cooking ingredient, as well as before-dinner beverage to stimulate the appetite, is a good choice. Pernod has a crisp, sweet flavor that makes it a favorite in the summer (a French favorite that is). Purists prefer the traditional French aperitif, the Pernod Classic. But, you know me — bring on the champagne and the French Fizz. Recipes courtesy of Pernod Richard USA. À votre santé!

Classic Pernod

  • 1 part Pernodpernod_bottle
  • 5 parts water
  • Ice

Pour 1 part Pernod in a glass. Add 5 parts water. Add ice to fill glass. Serve in a highball glass.

French Fizz

  • 1 part Pernod
  • 5 parts champagne
  • Lots of ice

Pour Pernod and all of the other ingredients into a tall glass over lots of ice. Mix well. Serve in a white wine glass.

Shoes & Cocktails wants to know: What personal vice inspires you?

posted by Ms. S&C

The winning cheftestant

I think I can speak for many of us when I say that last week’s Top Chef finale was a big disappointment. Carla practically self-destructed; Stefan’s food was described as soul-less; and that left Hosea winning season five.

The final challenge was, as Tom Colicchio phrased it, “cook us the best three-course meal of your life.” The surprise twist, because each episode needs at least one or two surprise twists, was allowing each cheftestant to choose a contestant from a previous season as their sous chef. Carla partnered with Casey, my favorite from season three. Stefan selected Marcel, who apparently has a lot of personality (read: a jerk), but I didn’t watch that season so I can’t really say. Hosea picked (picture me swooning) Richard Blais, the runner-up from last season, to assist him. I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting Richard, albeit briefly, when I was in Atlanta last spring and I heart him. Heart him. Heart him.

The cheftestants served their three-course meals to a mixed bunch of musicians, restaurateurs and chefs at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Carla, poor Carla. Not sure how she was steered so wrong. She cooked her beef using a technique she’s never used, sous vide, and then forgot to lower the temperature of her soufflés. Stefan had a solid evening, cooking the best dish of the night — Pan Seared Squab, Braised Cabbage, Schupfnudeln, Foie Gras and Grape Jus. I guess he got some foie gras from Hosea after all. Stefan’s mistake was going the traditional route and cooking a three course meal that ended with a very average dessert, unfortunately.

In Hosea’s defense, his food overall looked like it was better and was thoughtfully prepared. He was probably Top Chef of the night, just not of the season. His Blackened Red Fish on Corn Cake with Creole Roumelade looked great. And, the Seared Scallop with Foie Gras on Pain Perou, Apple Preserves and Foie Gras Foam appeared delicious.


Hosea’s Seared Scallop with Foie Gras on Pain Perou,
Apple Preserves and Foie Gras Foam

For the drink pairing: The classic accompaniment for foie gras is a Sauterne, a full-bodied, sweet white wine from Bordeaux that has a high acidity and therefore a good accompaniment for rich foods. It is also good for dessert or as an apertif. A Twitter friend recommended this one from Barton & Guestier. Described as supple and suave, with nice freshness on the palate and intense mouth flavors. Hootie-hoo!

Big Easy Showdown

We’re getting close to crowning another Top Chef winner. In the last episode, the cheftestants arrived in New Orleans for a great showdown. The Big Easy’s most famous chef, Emeril, was guest judge. In a surprise twist, previously eliminated contestants Leah, Jamie and Jeff were brought back to compete in the Quickfire Challenge, which featured crawfish as the main ingredient. Emeril was hot-to-trot over Jeff’s crawfish and grits, so he earned a spot in the Elimination Challenge. The Elimination Challenge had the cheftestants cooking two Cajun-Creole influenced dishes and a cocktail!, for guests at a masquerade ball.

The Euro Duo prepared the least favorite dishes. Stefan lazily made gumbo and Fabio didn’t use enough heat. The Europeans apparently can’t make cocktails either because both Fabio’s bell pepper martini and Stefan’s black cherry rum cocktail were much too sweet. Sadly, we had to say arrivederci to our charming Fabio, and again to Jeff. But, we rejoiced when our hometown girl Carla won with her oyster stew, savory beignet and non-alcoholic cranberry lime spritzer. The oyster stew looked amazing and Bravo has made the recipe available.


Carla’s Oyster Stew with bacon, potatoes and celery root

As far as a drink pairing, we really, really, really wanted to bring you Jeff’s cucumber mojito. Not only is it a refreshing twist on the cocktail, it was the judges’ favorite, and for crying out loud, we’ve got someone named Miss Mojito around here! We’ll keep an eye out for it, but in the meantime here are two other recipes that look promising, the infused version in particular.

Cucumber Mojitos for a Crowd
recipe appeared in Seattle Times and makes 8 servings


  • 3 cups light rum
  • 1 bunch fresh mint (about 1 ½ cups sprigs)
  • 1 cucumber, sliced thin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups fresh lime juice
  • Loads of ice for serving
  • 1 bottle (10-ounces) soda water
  • Fresh mint sprigs for garnish


  1. In a large bowl combine the rum, 1 bunch mint and half of the cucumber slices. Cover and let infuse overnight.
  2. The next day, strain the rum, being sure to press out all the rum! Discard the mint and cucumber. Place the rum in a large pitcher and add the sugar and lime juice. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining cucumber slices. Right before serving, add the soda water and stir gently.
  3. Serve in glasses filled with ice and garnish with mint.

Cucumber Mojitos
recipe courtesy of myrecipes and makes 4 servings


  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped cucumber
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 large)
  • 12 mint leaves
  • 3/4 cup rum
  • 1 cup sparkling water, chilled
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • 4 mint sprigs
  • 4 cucumber slices
  • 4 lime wedges


  1. Place 2 cups water and chopped cucumber in a blender; process until smooth. Strain cucumber mixture through a sieve into a medium bowl; discard solids.
  2. Place 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and 4 mint leaves in a 2-cup glass measure; crush with a wooden spoon. Add 3 tablespoons rum and about 1/2 cup cucumber mixture; stir until sugar dissolves. Stir in 1/4 cup sparkling water. Place 1/4 cup ice in a 12-ounce glass; pour cucumber mixture over ice. Garnish with 1 mint sprig, 1 cucumber slice, and 1 lime wedge. Repeat procedure with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately.

posted by Ms. S&C

Last supper

We’re down to the final five cheftestants on Top Chef. Last week’s episode was the last one in New York City and included an array of culinary experts. Wylie Dufresne was guest judge during the Quickfire Challenge, which involved one of my favorite proteins – eggs. Come-out-of-no-where-Carla won it with her playful green eggs and ham dish.

Time for the Elimination Challenge, which was billed as the proverbial Last Supper. Each cheftestant drew knives to find out what renowned culinary authority’s favorite dish they were to prepare – as if it were going to be the last dish they would eat. I was pretty surprised at how ordinary the dishes were. I mean, they’re classics, but shrimp scampi and eggs benedict for the last meal of your life — really?

Anyhoo, here’s what was served:

  • First course: Leah undercooks eggs benedict for Wylie Dufresne
  • Second course: Stefan overcooks salmon with spinach and roasted potatoes for Marcus Samuelsson
  • Third course: Hosea under-seasons shrimp scampi with tomatoes provencal for Susan Ungaro
  • Fourth course: Fabio perfectly roasts chicken for the Italian lady, Lidia Bastianich
  • Fifth course: Come-out-of-no-where-Carla almost wins with squab and fresh peas for Jacques Pépin, who may have out-Eric-Ripert-ed Eric Ripert as one of the nicest chefs around.

Carla and Fabio were the faves, with Fabio winning what may have been his first challenge. Stefan’s ego was taken down a notch, but it was Leah who packed her knives.



There are a lot of drink options appropriate for Fabio’s roasted chicken dish. Keeping with the theme — if there was only one beer I could choose to be my last one, it would definitely be Anchor Liberty Pale Ale. Aromatic, full of hop flavor and a rich color, Anchor Liberty is a great, great beer.

posted by Ms. S&C

Gone fishin’

Last week’s episode of Top Chef featured chef Eric Ripert as guest judge. And now, I am totally crushing on him. He was super friendly and sweet and encouraging, and he seemed to be without pretense. He has definitely skyrocketed into my Top 5 celebrity chef picks. And, as good timing would have it, Ms. S&C was able to visit Chef Ripert’s Washington, DC, restaurant, Westend Bistro, over the weekend. Like the acclaimed Le Bernardin, seafood is the star at Westend. The Salmon Rillettes and Fish Burger may sound like average dishes, but they were excellent. Ms. S&C had a great cocktail too – the Memorial Bridge Sunset was made with Campari and Champagne, garnished with a dollop of pink grapefruit sorbet. I’ve never mixed Campari with Champagne before, but I definitely will again.

On to the Top Chef recap. The Quickfire Challenge had the cheftestants competing in a three-round fish filleting tournament with sardines, Artic char and fresh water eels. Stefan easily beat Hosea in the final round, after hammering the eel to his cutting board and peeling back the skin. It was a little disconcerting, to be honest. Stefan did not get immunity but got a huge advantage in the Elimination Challenge. After dining with Chef Ripert at Le Bernardin for lunch, the cheftestants had to draw knives to see which of his dishes they had to recreate for the Elimination. Stefan’s Quickfire win meant he could choose his dish outright. Naturally, Stefan chose the easiest dish and tops Fabio and Carla to get another win. Hosea, Leah and Jamie were on the bottom. I would have paid money to see Leah go, but it was Jamie who was sent home, presumably for not liking braised celery and not knowing how to use serrano ham in a sauce.

lobster-asparagusStefan’s winning dish of lobster and asparagus with hollandaise

For the drink pairing, I would personally have a glass of champagne or a crisp sauvignon blanc with this dish, as to not overpower the lobster.  So, in honor of a killer deal I found on champagne over at Pearson’s Wine & Spirits, I’ll pair it with the Fat Bastard Blanc de Blancs. They are practically giving it away over there — $5.99 a bottle! I so regret not buying a case.

posted by Ms. S&C

Catching up

Alright, so I know we’ve got A LOT of catching up to do on Top Chef. Our last recap/drink pairing was the holiday episode (!), so let’s review.


In episode seven, Toby Young, the hardass Brit, joined the judges’ gang and two cheftestants had to be eliminated. Immunity couldn’t have been more important this round. Radhika won the ultimate-sweet-treat-without-sugar Quickfire Challenge with her bread pudding. The Elimination Challenge allowed the chefs to cook whatever they wanted, because up ‘til now that haven’t been cooking anything great. Their dishes were served family style and they judged each other. Jamie won with her scallop dish and it was sweet redemption. Melissa and Eugene were sent home, and they’re already forgotten. Fabio, the mediocre but charming as hell chef, delivered another winner with “It is Top Chef, not top scallop,” when referring to Jamie’s dish. He makes us weak in the knees. And he knows it.


Episode eight brought back former Top Chef winner Hung for the Quickfire, and the cheftestants went down on the farm for the Elimination. Divided into teams of lamb, chicken and pork, the cheftestants used the fresh home-grown ingredients from Blue Hill Farm to make dinner. Carla, Jamie and Stefan, of Team Chicken, were the winners. Ariane was sent home and I was ticked. Leah is annoying. Even Tom Colicchio said in his blog, “The response to the elimination of Ariane was mammoth.”

The most recent episode was Restaurant Wars. The Quickfire started with a one dish tasting that represented each chef’s restaurant concept. Radhika and Leah were Stephen Starr‘s favorites so they were rewarded (or cursed) with being team leaders. Radhika chose Jamie, Carla and Jeff for her old spice trade style resto, Sahana. Leah chose Hosea, Fabio and was stuck with Stefan. Good lord, he is overbearing and arrogant – but, I also think he can cook. Not sure of the challenge count at this point, but I feel like he wins a lot, or is often in the top. Anyhoo, they delivered the Sunset Lounge as their Asian influenced resto.

Fast forward through romance drama between Leah and Hosea and Radhika’s weak leadership qualities. Sunset Lounge won by a hair and why? The Euro Duo. The charming and thoroughly self-aware Fabio was excellent in the front of the house, and the best dishes of the night were Stefan’s desserts.


To pair with Stefan’s orange chocolate parfait and the ginger and lemongrass panna cotta, I offer the first dessert wine I ever tried. And, it was on a first date. While in college in Williamsburg, Va, Mr. S&C snuck a bottle of Essensia into a movie theater for us to enjoy. Made from 100% orange muscat, the wine is sweet yet refreshing, with a nice accompaniment of orange blossom and apricot aromas.

Shoes and Cocktails wants to know: Who’s your favorite cheftestant? Or, who is your pick to win? Share a comment below.

posted by Ms. S&C

Eleven chefs a cooking

Just like her Christmas shopping, Ms. S&C is behind on the Top Chef recap/drink pairing.  But, there’s not another new episode for two weeks, so I guess we’re okay.

Episode six, or the holiday episode filmed in the summer, brought Martha Stewart as guest judge for the Quickfire Challenge.   Pray tell, why was mega-star-Martha only around for the Quickfire, and we got Rocco for a full hour?

Anyhoo, Martha came to the kitchen to judge the cheftestants one-pot-wonders.  The challenge was to cook an excellent meal using only one pot.  Some cheftestants took this one pot thing literally and cooked all ingredients together in one pot.  Some took it figuratively and cooked ingredients separately and washed the pot in between.  I was expecting Martha to scoff at the figurative group and be totally unforgiving for their lack of imagination.  Not the case.  Everyone was full of holiday spirit this week.  While she praised Hosea’s true one-pot paella, she crowned Ariane the winner with her cauliflower puree and herb rubbed filet.


The Elimination Challenge had the cheftestants catering a holiday cocktail party for amfAR, using the 12 Days of Christmas for inspiration.  Yes, that meant someone had to turn “eleven lords a leaping” and “nine ladies dancing” into fancy appetizers.  Things took a dramatic yet uplifting turn when the refrigerator malfunction had all the cheftestants scrambling to save Hosea and Radhika’s lost ingredients.  Coincidentally, Hosea and Radhika ended up in the top three.  But, in short, the judges thought that the food stunk in general.  And the bottom three were so bad, they couldn’t choose one to send home.  Or, that holiday spirit thing allowed them to give the losers a break.  It turns out that pulling off Christmas in July, for a celebrity charity gig, is tough for aspiring Top Chefs.wc-pub-pint

Hosea ended up winning with his pipers piping smoked pork loin with chipotle mashed potatoes, braised cabbage and apple jus.  After having cooked a braised pork shoulder awhile back, with caramelized onions and chopped apples, I served my dish with a bottle of cider.  I think cider would be a good pairing for the smoked pork as well.  Tart and crisp, cider can be a delicious beverage, particularly during those warmer months.  I personally like Woodchuck’s 802 Dark and Dry because it is dark and dry, and the sweetness is toned down a bit.  Cider Jack is pretty good too, for a lighter option.

Something borrowed

In the fifth episode of Top Chef, the cheftestants are teamed up to cook for Gail Simmons‘ very own bridal shower.  Gail’s friend, and Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine, Dana Cowin is guest judge.

The episode starts, as always, with the Quickfire Challenge.  I think most fans of Top Chef really like the reoccurring taste-test challenge, where the chefs have to guess the name of ingredients in a blind taste-test.  This time the challenge was some kind-of disjointed head-to-head thing that I personally didn’t like as much.  Anyway, Hosea wins and gets immunity so you know he’s around for another week.

The Elimination Challenge is Gail’s bridal shower, where the cheftestants draw knives for the something Old, something New, something Borrowed, and something Blue teams.  The “old” team cooks classic foods such as tomato carpaccio and terrine.  The “new” team cooks a disastrous assemble-it-yourself not-sushi-sushi.  The “borrowed” team borrows the Indian heritage of a fellow cheftestant (Radhika), and the “blue” team uses the deep blue ocean for inspiration.  No big surprise that the “new” team is crucified and it is Danny who gets sent home.   He may have been okay if he didn’t insist it was a great dish after hearing everyone destroy it.  The winners are team “borrowed,” and Ariane was the surprise champion.  Jamie was overconfident and therefore totally pissed because the dish was her idea, her concept, her secret ingredient (vadouvan), and she was team leader.  While I think she could have been a bit more gracious, she did get screwed.


 The winning dish was lamb marinated in french and curry spices, served over vadouvan carrot puree, and kale.  While Ms. S&C prefers red wine with lamb, she just doesn’t love it with Indian spices.  She’s open to it, but has never found the right match.  Please send her suggestions if you have ‘em.  Instead, she may choose an Alsatian white wine (Pinot Gris or Riesling) for the pairing.  Sweet, but dry, she thinks it compliments the complex Indian flavors nicely.

PS – Fabio update: We are still swooning.  How about the high praise he bestowed on Tom Colicchio, in his charming broken English?  “Tom come in the room make me nervous.  Colicchio for me is like if you are the priest and there is the pope in the room.”   Yeah, he’s adorable.

Amuse the mouth

We are running a bit behind on the Top Chef recap/drink pairing, so we’re gonna keep things short and sweet.  Episode four brings us Rocco, the chef famous for being famous, and the NBC cross-promotion machine.

The Quickfire Challenge has the cheftestants making a breakfast amuse bouche.  Boy, do I love an amuse bouche.  Mostly because I love saying amuse bouche, but also because I love that small little bite that a chef sends out to get you excited for your meal.  Amuse bouche is a one-bite hors d’oeuvre, and Leah went to great lengths to make sure we, and the judges, understood that she, and not many of her cheftestants, knew that.  It worked; she won the Quickfire by cooking bread and an egg, and was granted immunity during the Elimination Challenge.

The Elimination Challenge involved showcasing the cheftestants’ demonstration and presentation skills.  Yeah, I thought it was lame at first. I overheard a few of my friends mention that the challenge doesn’t really relate to being an actual chef.  While there’s no question that the level of difficulty and complexity of the food prepared was pretty low, my man Tom Colicchio had this to say on his blog:

“It’s amusing to me how so many of our cheftestants said, in response to this week’s Elimination Challenge, that they did not want to “do TV” in their careers as chefs … while they’re doing TV to advance their careers as chefs. As I recall, they were saying those words directly into the lens of a television camera. Let’s face it: The media has long been a critical factor in shaping high-level careers of all kinds, and today’s Top Chefs must be able not only to cook, but to generate heat about their cooking. On TV.”

You never know – maybe some of the cheftestants aspire to be Rocco – a chef that seems to only do presentations and hardly any real cooking.  Anyhoo, Alex was sent home, and your top three contestants, Jeff aka The Hair, Fabio, and Ariane, headed to the Today Show so NBC’s morning talking heads could choose the winning dish.  I honestly don’t remember off-hand what Jeff and Fabio prepared.  I know that Ariane won with an easy as poo lame watermelon, tomato, feta salad with basil oil.


Because time is short, I think I would serve up S&C’s very own watermelon lemonade cocktail with Ariane’s salad.  It is light, refreshing, and the basil garnish would compliment nicely.  Clearly this episode was filmed in the summer, and that being the case, you can also pour me a glass of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

PS – I heart Fabio.

Food fighters

Episode three of Top Chef is filled with last minute surprises and twists, in addition to having the cheftestants cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the band Foo Fighters.

During the Quickfire Challenge, the cheftestants randomly choose a page from the Top Chef recipe book and have to get inspired by previous contestant’s dish.  After several minutes into the challenge, Padma tells them to S-T-O-P.  Surpise Twist #1 – the challenge is changed and the cheftestants must take their ingredients and make a soup.  The Quickfire is sponsored by Swanson after all.  Guest judge, and James Beard Foundation’s 2008 Best Chef, Grant Achatz, chooses Jamie’s chickpea soup, Danny’s ham and egg soup and Leah‘s white asparagus soup as the top three dishes.  Jamie’s over-confidence would annoy me, but it appears she’s very, very good.  Not good enough, because it is Leah, who doesn’t hide that she hates the flavor of white asparagus, wins the challenge.


As winner, Leah gets to pick her team for the Foo Fighters Thanksgiving Elimination Challenge.  The Elimination Challenge has Team Sexy Pants (Leah’s team) going up against Team Cougar.  Aside: there should have been more air time discussing how terrible these team names are.  Anyway, the teams arrive at the concert venue and Surprise Twist #2 – the Thanksgiving dinner is to be prepared using microwaves, toaster ovens and one burner.  Plus, they have to cook outside.  Surpise Twist #3 – it starts to rain.  My favorite line of the night comes from Fabio, of the “Euro Duo,” who says, ” I’m not going home because of rain in my tiramisu.”  It may have been the Italian accent that got me.


Team Cougar cooks the best turkey, and Team Sexy Pants fixes the best desserts.  It is a close one, but Team Cougar makes the most mistakes so they lose.  The Hair’s pumpkin parfait and Danny’s al dente potatoes are no good, but it is Richard who gets sent home because of his failed s’mores. The judges thought it looked liked someone spat on the s’mores.  Too bad for “Team Rainbow;” it looks like Jamie is on her own.

For the drink pairing – in a recent post, DC Foodies, suggested a few wines for Thanksgiving dinner.  Since a meal like Thanksgiving has so many different dishes, they think you should play towards the middle and keep bonny-doon-winethe reds light and the whites big.  I agree, which is also why I recommend a Rose.  It has all the refreshing qualities of a white wine mixed with some of the depth in a red.  One of my favorites is Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris de Cigare.  Bonny Doon has always been one of my favorite wineries.  It is a funky vineyard in California that uses esoteric techniques (one of the first to use synthesized corks, and then the screw cap).  It also happens to have cool, artistic labels.  Their wines are very affordable and available in many wine and grocery stores.  S&C recommends you give any of them a try.