Dine Around Town

SAD, sad day. My buddy Dale went home. I know, I know… I know that he was not happy, nor were any of us, that he was the one going home. But, let me put all of this into perspective for everyone. We all felt that this season was a FUN one. And just to be clear, we all had a good time doing it. So, did Dale want to go to his lonely hotel room and cry? HELL NO! He took it like a man, and started planning the dinner he was going to have in NY City. Listen, we all have great things going on in our careers right now. Dale’s new restaurant in Chicago is getting RAVE reviews. He is busting his ass to make sure it is all good and great! And, it is. So, what was on his mind when the judges said to him, “pack your knives and go”? First thought, F. Second thought, “what do you guys have to drink around here??” Let’s go back to the beginning and sort all of this out.

QF. David Chang. It is really cool to meet him. I will say, there were rampant rumors going around the kitchen that he once referred to the chefs on Top Chef as “not chefs he would ever hire for his kitchen”. Funny, you are here then Mr. Chang. The QF was one of the best we have ever had on ALL of the shows combined. The way it was set up, the 15 minute timer set for the team that did the best…GENIUS. The Top Chef kitchen when we had completed our challenges looked like a BOMB had gone off. Padma said it was the worst she had ever seen. We were all tarred and feathered from the sticky garlic and garlic skins floating around like chicken feathers! I had so many knicks and cuts on my hands from the slippery lamb butchery-I had to call over a medic to put a finger condom over a finger to keep my blood from the lamb’s! Don’t even think that those lamb racks were chilled nicely for skilled and precise cuts. Oh no, they had sat out a while so that the fat was soft and the knife slipped through the lamb like butter and your hands slipped down the knife right onto the blade. It was AWESOME! I had a really good time doing it- we all did. I am pretty sure that David Chang made a comment regarding our team’s technique and how it was the best out of all of the team’s. -Not even kidding on that one. Did it show? Hell no. Oh well- so I can butcher…I know it. ;)

We didn’t win this one. We didn’t even place. We gotcha lamb carpaccio right here, Chang! Oh, they have lamb carpaccio over there too- awesome. Great minds think alike? Superb. We were totally bummed. I keep missing the boat and it is starting to punch me in the gut a bit. I am not enjoying being on the bottom. What’s up with all of these team challenges? Oh, I know…more drama takes place when we are in groups. I get it. Why would we be left to cook on our own? How BOR-ing.

Tre and Richard’s team win. I can’t even remember at this very moment who else was on that team. Does it matter? $5k LUCKY! When Padma had collected us all around the tables for the judging, we were in our perspective groups. And in those perspective groups we would stay. On to the elimination. We will doing the ‘ole TC knife pull. Each team will draw and each knife has a name on it. First knife, Ma Peche. I am immediately thinking, “all David Chang inspired?”. Next knife, Townhouse. Huh? I don’t get it. How did we go from Ma Peche to Townhouse? Ma Peche makes their own artisinal noodles. Townhouse is David Burke’s restaurant on the Upper East Side. It is “modern American” with whimsical flair. It’s like going from French Bordeaux to Apple Pucker. Other restaurants include Marea, which I have eaten at, and WD50. Holy crap. Thank G I didn’t get that one. It was pretty interesting to us all, that each chef seemed to get the restaurant that they might do well in. We learn that we will be going out to dine in our restaurants. Is this a trick? As soon as we are done dining, I am sure they will say, “you have 30 minutes to recreate the dish you have just eaten”. That would not surprise me. Not at all. I don’t know if you notice- but, I am wearing THE coolest shirt. It says “miss delicious” and there is a pig on it. The Miss Delicious refers to the tasty pig…so cute-SEGWAY!!! Sorry about that.

We don’t have to cook that night. We do on the other hand have to shop for our ingredients at Whole Foods. This means you have to know what you are cooking the next day. A plan, and you don’t get to re-shop for your ingredients. This is sometimes the worst. You will see chefs pacing around the house or sitting in a corner with a pen and some paper mapping it all out. What is fun about tonight is that each chef is coming back from having an incredible dining experience- the way chefs love to do. Each of us, tasting and talking, reviewing and critiquing. These are the moments we live for. Being on the other side of the restaurant. This we rarely get to do so we enjoy each part of these experiences. We are creating a dish that these chefs would represent in their restaurants, so we are wrapping our brains around what THEY would do. The first thought that came to mind was to do scallops. Then I hear that Antonia is doing scallops. I don’t want to do the same protein because you want to stand out. Be different. There is one mission here. Win. This challenge is tricky though…you have to win over the judges in the kitchens provided and your teammates’ food will judged against yours.

So, how did it go? Our kitchen was a small, tight kitchen that is very typical for New York. I can say that everything stored in this kitchen has a place. It ran basically like the galley of a ship. We each had our space and we got right to it. The cooking went well from the get-go. I was in good shape with a plan. I knew exactly what I needed to do to get things on the plate by the end of our time. Things were going smoothly and I had time to stop and taste Dale’s dish. It was fine, until. After the 3rd, 4th time I tasted Dale’s dish, I noticed he was starting that very familiar things that us chefs do when things go ary. It was a classic case of over thinking. The french toast didn’t turn out the way he thought? Add another ingredient. The sauce is too sweet? Add another ingredient. Peanuts, popcorn, curry oil, corn, thyme syrup, french toast, pork! What is happening!!!??? Dale, NO, I can not taste your dish any more…I am starting to lose my focus also! My sauce is to thick, I don’t have enough tapioca, my fish is very delicate and I need to CONCENTRATE! lol!!!! Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!

Dinner is served. I am feeling okay about my dish. I guess I am my own worst critic. Oh wait, there are worst critics out there. Believe me! Dale is worried. Jamie is feeling less than awesome. Antonia is feeling great. And on to the stew room we go. This room we have appropriately named the “stew room” is an awful place. Many people have asked how long we actually have to sit in this place and wait for our praise or doom. Let me clarify it is A LONG time. A LONG time. And, it is dirty. And, it is hot or cold. Which ever one it is, but it is never pleasant. THe first round of chefs are called in. We have all learned, as you have probably too, that the first group are the best dishes of the evening. SURPRISE us, Top Chef! Bring in the losers first one time and set us up for a shocker! No one will see it coming and it will be fun! But, I find myself in the middle again. I still can’t seem to be up or down. You know what it is? I am complacent in my cooking. I am complacent in life. I do know that I don’t have one of the worst dishes. But, I know that my David Burke whimsical dish was not that impressive. Technically, yes. Creatively, yes. Amazing, nah. Silly, right?! What is going through our minds…I wish I would have gotten Marea. I would have killed it.

Dale and Stephen are on the bottom. The feeling in the room is that it will be these two. You just know it. You usually see it coming and feel death looming in the room. You see the chefs sweating. They know it too. This SUCKS. Nothing to do but wait. And so, it is determined. Dale and Stephen are going home. Wahhhhhhhh!!!! You know, Dale and I have never been sent home before! In our season, we were in the finale and the winner was announced and we were still standing there. So technically, we never “packed our knives”.

I have since spoken to Dale several times. He is really okay with things. It sucks of course because you WANT to do well. And, NO one wants to go home early. This is the competition though.

I want to take a moment to comment on all of the nice people that I have met lately. Because of the show, people are stopping me in stores and on the street and coming into the restaurant. I am so very lucky to meet these people and everyone is so nice. I am grateful for that. If I run into you on the street, please say “hello!”. Maybe I will see you at a demo or on the road sometime. Until then… cook up something great and I want to hear about it.