Friday, January 22, 2010

Top Chef Experiments: Carla's Roquefort Souffle

The January 2010 issue of Food & Wine has the potential to scare. Right there, at the top of the cover, in big bold print, are three little words that so many cheftestants fear (with good reason): The Judges' Issue.

Fortunately, as a Top Chef blogger, those words look like beautiful art on the page.

The January issue is pretty judgy, too, with Frank Bruni torturing Eric Ripert's amazing sommelier, Aldo Sohm, and restaurant critics from all over the country opining on their favorite chicken dishes. Plus, there's Gail. Lots and lots of Gail.

And the best Gail is in the article, "The Gail Simmons Challenge: Rescue that Top Chef Recipe." It's pretty much as it sounds - Gail reworks some of the failed recipes from seasons past, turning disasters like CJ's hideous airplane broccolini and Jennifer Z.'s notorious chiles rellenos into workable, edible dishes.

Feeling cheffy myself, I attempted Gail's reinvention of Carla's Roquefort souffle that never made it to the plate in the season five finale. While I've eaten a lot of souffles in my time, I hadn't made one before, so I thought it would be a good test of a) the simplicity of the recipe and b) whether my kitchen confidence is unfounded.

And you know what? The recipe is not that difficult and I do, apparently, have some skill in the kitchen.

I switched out the Roquefort for Stilton (because my grocery store was having a Roquefort-free day) and used a combination of heavy cream and skim milk for the cup of milk (it's unspecified in the recipe). I also used eight 1/2 cup ramekins instead of four one cuppers...because it was what I had. As a result, I decreased the cooking time by just about four minutes.

Overall, the recipe took a little longer to make than I'd anticipated, and I might have overbeat the egg whites just a tad, which slightly dried out the souffle, but they rose in the oven and had great flavor on the plate. The intensity of the cheese and is a good match for the chives and for the airy texture of the souffle. Paired with a green salad, just the way the article photos suggest, it's a nice light meal.

And pretty, pretty, pretty. While the just-out-of-the-oven puff didn't last forever, I was able to bask in its glow for a few seconds as I fumbled with my camera.

The verdict? I might make it again to fine-tune my souffle-making skills. It's ideal for a fancy brunch or a ladies' lunch, though not quite hearty enough on its own as a winter dinner for me and my big strapping husband.

Not bad, though. Gail has done Carla proud. Hootie hoo!

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