Friday, April 30, 2010

Top Recipe - Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 4

The full recipe can be found here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

TC News & Information 4.29.2010

Season 3's Brian Malarkey is calling his forthcoming restaurant "Searsucker." Here's why.

Here's a video interview and a cooking segment with Bryan Voltaggio from Maryland's local ABC affiliate.

Season 6's Ron Duprat is teaming up with Whole Foods to raise money for his native Haiti. Read more about it here.

Season 3 Fan Favorite Casey Thompson is now the spokesperson for Terrazas de Andes Argentine Wines. Read more about it here.

Congratulations, Chefs Lee and Adams!

Congrats to Chefs Jody Adams and Susur Lee for making it to the Championship Round! Jody made it via the High Stakes Quickfire Challenge in which she bested the other 4 chefs with her fruit plate. She would have made it anyway, since she got the second-highest number of stars for her Elimination Challenge dish, putting her right behind Susur in the judging.

Susur, despite comments about the heat level in his chutneys, got an astonishing 19.5 stars, including 5 stars each from Gail, Gael, and Jay, the highest number in Top Chef Masters history.

Both of the chefs' dishes looked fantastic and deserving of the wins. We hope the both of you go far in the next round. Congratulations!

Reactions to Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 4

This week's episode was relatively drama-free and on the boring side. It was the final preliminary round and featured five new chefs:

Susur Lee playing for Andre Agassi Foundation,
Jody Adams playing for Partners in Health,
Debbie Gold playing for Children's TLC,
Maria Hines playing for PCC Farmland Trust,
and Rick Tramonto playing for Feed the Children.

The Quickfire Challenge was based on one from the first season of Top Chef which required cheftestants to create a perfectly styled fruit plate. The Top Chef Masters were probably happy to see that reality show "stars" with little or no palate were not judging this phase of the competition; instead, we got the lovely and boobaceous Gail Simmons and food photographer Steven Hamilton.

But wait, there's more - this is a "High Stakes" Quickfire, despite the show not being in Las Vegas! The prize this time is not casino chips, but an automatic placement in the Championship Round! High stakes indeed.

After 45 minutes of slicing pineapple and bruléeing figs, the chefs' plates are presented and judged. Jody Adams comes out the winner with her fig and walnut tart with zabaglione (which she pronounces with too many syllables) and is off to the next round.

Next up, the Elimination Challenge. This involves "modernizing" the family dinner. Considering that today's family dinner usually involves packing the kids in the minivan and heading to Chipotle, I wondered where this was all going. And it all went to hell in a handbasket Hollywood, as the Masters are serving their dishes to 125 ravenous cast- and crew-members of the ABC sitcom, Modern Family.

After a 45-minute, $350 trip to Whole Foods, the Masters set to 90-minutes worth of prep and preliminary cookery. The next day, the chefs finish their dishes and rush to a sound stage to set up their stations. In come the hoards of hungry actors and electricians who get to sample everything. How they can work after eating the equivalent of five lunches? And how can Kelly Choi tell Debbie Gold, "we're hungry" after she's eaten 4 other meals? And where does she put the food on her bony frame? (Obviously Gail stores it in her chest, Gael under her hat, and Jay in his crazy hair.)

Nothing seems like a real disaster, but we find out whose dishes weren't appreciated at Judges' Table. But first - the Fakeout Scene: Susur runs around in stockinged feet leading the other chefs to wonder if he's nutty. He confirms their opinion by telling the camera that being a chef is like being a Ninja.

AND THEN - we find out who wins before we get to hear the star count. There's a commercial for next week's episode in which we see snippets of some chefs we already know are in the finals and then the camera lingers on...Susur Lee...

...who ends up with a record 19.5 stars for his chicken curry dish, beating out Maria's score of 13.5 stars by a mile.

And that's the end of the Preliminary Rounds. What did you think about this episode? Please tell us in the comments!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Top Chef Masters Goes Bizarre?

Will Bizarre Foods guy Andrew Zimmern make an appearance on Top Chef Masters this season? This is what he says about it,

"I'm in an upcoming episode, which is very exciting. I got to go on and participate as one of the theme celebrities on there; I'm not a contestant. It's very fun ... it's a whole episode sort of ... well, it's geared around what you can only imagine would be why they would have me on." (Read the rest of the interview here.)

Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 4 Previews

This week on Top Chef Masters, we get to go behind the scenes when the chefs get a little taste of Hollywood as they strive to impress the cast and crew of Modern Family. But will the Masters be able to keep up with the fast-paced routines of showbiz? Then, in a high stakes Quickfire, the perfectionists get to shine as they have to create a flawlessly styled fruit plate. Gail Simmons of Food & Wine and renowned food photographer Stephen Hamilton act a guest judges.

Also, a little side note, Bravo has recently launched a new custom toolbar for your browser! It connects you directly with the hottest Bravo videos, episodes, photos and games wherever you are online. You can get yours here:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Top Chef at the Kentucky Derby

Dina Manzo from “The Real Housewives Of New Jersey,” Jeff Lewis and Jenni Pulos from “Flipping Out,” Isaac Mizrahi from “The Fashion Show” and “Top Chef’s” Michael Voltaggio, Jennifer Carroll & Eli Kirshtein Set To Appear

NEW YORK, NY – April 26, 2010 – Bravo celebrates the Kentucky Derby with the second annual “Ladies First: Bravo at the Kentucky Derby” special live from Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY., airing on Friday, April 30 at 5 p.m. ET/PT. This one-hour special, produced by NBC Sports and hosted by Bravo’s Andy Cohen, celebrates the very best in food, fashion and the celebrity experience associated with the 136th running of the Kentucky Oaks. Dina Manzo from ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” and Jeff Lewis and Jenni Pulos from “Flipping Out” join Cohen to celebrate a day for women and to give viewers a history on the fashion and festivities before and after the Oaks race. Isaac Mizrahi, renowned designer and host of Bravo’s “The Fashion Show” will dress “Today” show correspondent Natalie Morales for the festivities, and “Top Chef” stars Michael Voltaggio, Jennifer Carroll and Eli Kirshtein will be cooking from the Infield Club.

Viewers will get to experience the thrill of the Kentucky Derby experience live from their own homes as they watch the festivities unfold – Bravo-style. From learning how to bet on horse races with “The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s” Dina Manzo, to a Derby fashion show judged by “Flipping Out’s” Jenni Pulos, viewers will get a behind-the-scenes look at everything the Kentucky Oaks has to offer. Also, the special will include a “Top Chef” cooking segment judged by “Flipping Out’s” Jeff Lewis and a countdown of the best horse moments from the “Real Housewives” franchise.

Additionally, “Top Chef: The Tour,” a state-of-the-art customized traveling kitchen with expansive space to accommodate cooks and fans alike, will make a special stop at the Kentucky Oaks in the Infield Club. The 21-city nationwide traveling tour for the No. 1 food show on cable, the Emmy and James Beard award-winning “Top Chef,” gives Bravo’s passionate fans the opportunity to interact with “chef’testants” Michael, Jennifer and Eli in Louisville in a more interactive way than ever before. Visitors of “Top Chef: The Tour,” sponsored locally by Insight Communications, will have the opportunity to sample food tastings, receive gourmet cooking tips, hear “Top Chef” show “secrets,” and get chef’testant autographs. Also, fans will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of on-site “Top Chef” activities, including a Quickfire Challenge.

Kentucky Oaks 136, the companion event to the annual Kentucky Derby, will feature a day of events to raise money and awareness for Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, which leads the global movement for breast cancer research, education, advocacy and community support. Churchill Downs Racetrack, host of the Kentucky Derby® and the Kentucky Oaks®, and Komen, formed a partnership to raise funds to aid in breast cancer awareness and research.

In addition, both organizations are working together to create special events throughout Oaks Day that will be featured in the “Ladies First” special, including a First Lady of Fashion Contest, a Survivors Parade and a special Kentucky Oaks winner’s circle formed by breast cancer survivors to celebrate the Kentucky Oaks winner’s victory on the track and the survivors’ victories over breast cancer. Since the official color of both the Kentucky Oaks and breast cancer awareness is pink, Churchill Downs is also staging a “Pink Out” at the track on Oaks Day and encouraging all Oaks attendees to wear pink or to incorporate pink into their attire for the day to show their support. Through the new partnership with Susan G. Komen, Churchill Downs will donate at least $100,000 to Komen by dedicating funds from Kentucky Oaks 136 general admission and reserve seating attendance.

Recap Roundup: Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 3

Housewives. Ludo. Cocktails. And bloggers:

Jordan Baker on finding the balance: "I’m not saying I don’t love me some drama, and that I don’t often think that Top Chef, Masters could benefit from a teaspoon more of it. But there’s a teaspoon of drama and then there’s an hour of screaming, swearing, and unintelligible French accents."

CBS News shows restraint: "Some undercurrents of tension appear as Chefs Ludo Lefebvre and Rick Moonen-a re-known master of seafood squabble over who will make a fish and chips dish."

Marquee (CNN) on Peel's disaster: "The biggest meltdown was Mark Peel’s version of toad in a hole. He had planned to make a homemade seafood sausage, and onion sauce, but his timing was off. The Yorkshire Pudding came out doughy and undercooked instead of crisp and puffy."

TWOP on the Housewives: "The housewives are kind of idiots. I mean, it's like me judging a gourmet food competition, when my favorite foods are… not gourmet. They don't know much about food, and it shows."

Slashfood with something that makes me love GG even more: "Ah, the look on doyenne Gael Greene's face as she initially bonded with the drunken, plastic-surgery enhanced ladies, only to recoil at their stunted palates."

Onion AV Club on the Elimination Challenge: "I was ready to groan at uninspired upscale-pub-food challenge. So many gastropubs have cropped up over the past few years, serving slightly nicer versions of chicken noodle soup or burgers; it hardly seemed a stretch of our chefs' skills. But throwing in traditional Irish dishes pegged it to something more difficult, albeit depending on the dish."

Serious Eats quotes Ludo: "'English people have no taste,' he screamed. 'To just cook this food, this... shephard's pie... this Irish thing... I mean what the f*** do you want to do with this f****** food, man? It's disgusting!'" on design (the fashion kind): "In walks Charlotte Voisey, master mixologist. She's wearing a top in almost the same purple as Kelly, which to me proves that either this season's wardrobe stylist just doesn't care or the director doesn't, because pretty much any other show would've put Charlotte in a different top. Why does no one care about fashion? People: this is still a show on Bravo, and therefore watched primarily by ladies and gays. Please care about fashion!"

Grub Street on Jonathan: "In addition to being the first chef to win both challenges this season, it turns out that Jonathan inspires a weird awe in his colleagues, leading to some great nicknames: Chef Kenobi, the Jedi, Chef Obi-Wan, the Silver Fox. 'He’s got a little Gandalf in him,' explained Wylie Dufresne. For all of these things, we salute him."

Don't forget to listen to Creative Loafing's Top Chef Podcast!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Top Recipe - Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 3

Click here for the written-out recipe.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Congratulations Chefs Waxman and Moonen!

Welcome back to two chefs from last season's competition, Jonathan Waxman and Rick Moonen, who did far better this time around. Chef Waxman won both the Quickfire Challenge and the Elimination Challenge this week, his years of expertise leading him down the right path. Chef Moonen, who didn't complete his Quickfire dish last season, this time got high marks in the Quickfire and impressed the judges with his fish cookery in the Elimination.

Congrats to both chefs and we're looking forward to seeing you do well in the Championship Round.

This post is only for positive comments about Chefs Waxman and Moonen. If you have anything negative to say about them or any of the other chefs in the competition, please do so here.

Reactions for Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 3

This week on Top Chef Masters we saw six competitors from last season go head-to-head (to-head-to-head-etc) for another chance at the big 100K prize. The chefs and their charities:

Graham Elliot Bowles playing for the American Heart Association,
Rick Moonen playing for Three Square,
Wylie Dufresne playing for Autism Speaks,
Jonathan Waxman playing for Citymeals on Wheels,
Ludo Lefevbre playing for Chase for Life,
and Mark Peel playing for Doctors Without Borders.

The Quickfire Challenge was based on a favorite challenge from season 3 of Top Chef in which the cheftestants created dishes to pair with a cocktail. In this version of the challenge, the Masters' drinks are made with Stolichnaya vodka by mixologist Charlotte Voise.

After sampling each of them (at 8:00 AM - hey, it's 5 o'clock somewhere, right? Probably in Budapest.) the chefs make their choices. Graham goes for the "Coriander Mule," Rick takes the "Forest Fruit," Jonathan goes for the "Lemongrass Mojito," Ludo takes the "Nutmeg Apple Mojito," Wylie the "Russian Tearoom," and Mark gets the "Ginger Figgle." The chefs then get 45 minutes to cook.

Meanwhile, Ludo bitches and moans the whole time.

Judging them will be Gael Greene and three of the Whorsewives of Orange County - two of the interchangeably bimbonic bottle blondes and the brunette with the chin implant. What odd bedfellows - although they've probably all seen their share of strange sheets, Gael Greene's hat knows more about food than the three from OC put together. And when the judging starts, we see exactly that as the bimbos waffle between liking and not liking a dish and complain about having to eat pork. Despite that, they award five of the six chefs 4 stars, and 5 stars to Jonathan Waxman - who made a pork dish.

With a Quickfire win under his belt, Jonathan gets first choice in the Elimination Challenge, which is to take a traditional pub dish and make it upscale. He goes for the Shepherd's Pie. Immediately "fish guy" Rick shouts that he wants to do fish and chips, but Ludo, ever the pain, decides he needs to do that dish as well. Mostly because he didn't want Rick to have an advantage. But Ludo loses that battle and gets Irish Stew. Mark Peel takes toad in the hole, Graham gets steak and kidney pie, and Wylie takes bangers and mash.

After a trip to Whole Foods, the chefs get two hours to prep, which for Graham involves getting the pee stink out of a bunch of kidneys.

Meanwhile, Ludo bitches and moans the whole time.

The next day, the chefs congregate at Tom Bergin's Tavern to finish cooking their dishes. Mark has issues with the oven being cold, so we know right away unless there's a miracle or, better yet, Carmen Gonzalez' guardian angel intercedes for him, there's no chance of him winning this challenge.

Meanwhile, Ludo bitches and moans the whole time AND acts like a royal pain in the arse (well, since we're doing pub food here....)

The judges are served at the bar. Gael changed her hat for the occasion and they are joined by Gail Simmons and Jay Rayner. Ludo's dish comes out first and while it's tasty, it's in no way Irish stew. Jay even thinks that it might cause riots were it to be served as such in a British pub. As predicted, Mark's Yorkshire pudding was a disaster, but everyone else's dishes were well-received.

At Critic's Table we find that Jonathan's Shepherd's pie was the favorite of all involved and he gets a whopping 18.5 stars and a chance at the Championship Round. Mark comes in dead last, followed by Ludo, who bitches and moans and says the English are jealous of the French. Whatever. After all of the other chefs' stars are tallied, Rick Moonen comes out in second place and will be competing against the other champs in a few weeks.

Meanwhile...yes, you got it....bitching and moaning ensues.

What did you think of the challenges this week? Were you pleased to see the return of Wylie, Graham, et. al.? Please tell us in the comments.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

TC News & Information 4.21.2010

Don't forget Creative Loafing's Top Chef Masters podcast!

Here's an article from the LA Times on the goings-on behind the scenes of Top Chef Masters.

Everyone's favorite cuddly bear cheftestant Rich Sweeney (season 5) is opening his first restaurant in San Diego. Read about it here.

Fabio Viviani talks about TV, his partnership with Bertolli, and other stuff here.

Season 4 champ got targeted by PETA. Read the exchange here on her Web site. Just don't wear fur, Stephanie - they already have you in their sights!

Poll Results - Who Will Win Top Chef Masters

We took a poll earlier in the month to find out who you thought would win this go-round of Top Chef Masters. About one quarter of the votes (24%) went to Marcus Samuelsson, with TCM1 competitor Rick Moonen coming in second (21%). We know at this point that Marcus is in the Championship Round, and we'll find out tonight if Rick makes it.

Keep watching to find out who takes it all!

Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 3 Previews

It’s Irish Night in the kitchen and this week’s Masters must re-invent traditional pub dishes ranging from bangers and mash to fish ‘n’ chips. Season 1 chefs Graham Elliot Bowles, Jonathan Waxman, Ludo Lefebvre, Mark Peel, Rick Moonen and Wylie Dufresne are all back to go head-to-head in an attempt to satisfy the venues clientele with old-school tastes and skeptical attitudes towards ‘modern’ pub food. Whose side is the Luck o’ the Irish on? Find out tonight 4/21 @ 10/9c on Bravo!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recap Roundup: Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 2

Jordan Baker raps: "I bet every time he gave someone lip on the ER set, they were all 'Look who thinks he's Clooney/ He's just Mekhi Phifer.' I bet every time he snuggles his girlfriend, she's all 'Look who's gettin' spoonie/ hey, it's Mekhi Phifer.' I bet if he buys a purse for his mom, the sales clerk can't resist busting out with 'he's buyin' the Dooney/good choice, Mekhi Phifer.'"

Serious Eats on foreshadowing: "All seemed well until ominous music started playing, and the camera started zooming in on a shot of a lone foil-wrapped tray sitting on a shelf. At first I was a bit alarmed, until I remembered that's just Top Chef's way of saying, 'Tee-hee, somebody's totally screwed and they don't even know it yet.'"

Slashfood on drama!: "Anyone who knows and loves Top Chef Masters will admit it's relatively low on intra-chef tension, what with all the humility and sharing and mentorly learning going on. But in this, the second pass at weeding out 22 accomplished chefs for the title of Ultra Pro Haute Cuisine Jedi Master (we're paraphrasing here), there was a whole lot of drama. Blood! Sweat! Tears! Insincere hugs! This is why we pay for basic cable, folks."

TWOP on why everybody's jealous of Kelly this week: "Kelly is the judge, and each chef has to create an awesome grilled cheese sandwich. I would like to judge that contest. I would automatically eliminate anyone who put bullshit in there like caviar or spinach or something. I want good bread and good cheese with a crispy outside and a gooey inside."

Marquee on the actual food drama: "Monica and Thierry try to help Carmen out, cutting up the yucca and putting them to boil. You’d think two veteran chefs would now how to boil tubers… To prove the point that no good deed goes unpunished, they accidentally burn the starch. Carmen returns. She freaks. She decides to make the best of it, and serves the stew with chopped cilantro and sausage as a garnish."

Speakeasy on the moral of the story: "The takeaway: Trust your gut and you’ll win… but also don’t help others and get second place. The Good Samaritans in the episode (David, Thierry and Monica) just get pats on the back before being shown the door. It’s a cold world, Top Chef."

Box Office Prophets on Monica v. Marcus: "At this point, I was totally rooting for Monica. She helped Carmen out to the detriment of her own dish. Marcus played the “this is a competition and I’m in it for me” card and I never like to see that rewarded."

Squid Ink (LA Weekly) with the truth: "Of course, anybody who watches Top Chef knows that whenever you mess up and have to do a less complicated dish, then say you're not going to win, that usually means you're going to win."

Food Network Musings on keeping your food below 40 degrees: "I am still not understanding how she is intending to serve a pot of stew that was left out of the refrigerator all night. Will someone please explain that to me?"

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Top Recipe - Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 2

Kevin Gillespie demonstrates Carmen Gonzalez's winning dish.

Find the written recipe here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Interview with Dave Martin by NYC Menu Girl

I love to talk to all of you about restaurants, deals, the wonders of New York City, and bread baskets, of course. I think it is time that we go behind the scenes a little and into the lives of those that bring us the delicious food, ambiance, and experience that we desire. Therefore, I have started interviewing Chefs and will feature these interviews on my blog.

I could think of no better Chef to start with than one of my personal favorites – Chef Dave Martin. You may know him from Vynl, or Crave on 42nd, or, most likely, you know him as the 2nd runner up of Top Chef Season 1. Well, it was four years ago that he debuted on national television as one of the first chefs vying to win the Top Chef title, and Chef Martin has done a lot for this great food and restaurant industry that you should all know about.

Dave Martin says he is “a different breed.” His passion is not being in the restaurant – but rather, he has an entrepreneurial spirit and dives into several different projects. He has started a few restaurants, worked to build his brand, become a teacher, and a charitable chef. As Dave says “In every situation I am making the food. It is all me.” He is fun, extremely dynamic, and indeed, cooks delicious foods! He shows us that there are truly several different opportunities in food.

Dave Martin turned Terra Vento into Crave on 42nd, which served Dave’s infamous mac n’ cheese and other upscale twists on comfort foods. When the restaurant closed, Dave helped Vynl restaurant, which has a location Chelsea and in Hell’s Kitchen, revamp its menu. I have been three times – and the menu is amazing!

Dave says that he enjoys getting a restaurant up and running. As a Chef building his brand, he runs his own business. He is always thinking about the restaurant from the business perspective. He knows that the focus is on the customer and getting in touch with what they want.

Dave Martin does charity work with Ronald McDonald. He holds special events and auction dinners. He really enjoys working with kids!

On the subject of kids, Dave has a healthy line of foods for kids coming out soon. Dave says “Kids are the future and it is very important what they are putting in their bodies.”

Chef Dave Martin teaches at the culinary loft, a course called “American Regional Cuisine.” Sounds delicious! He also teaches at the French Culinary Institute. You may be thinking that this is for the most advanced people in aprons and chef hats. But Chef Dave Martins says “people off the street can come take some cool classes to me.”

Chef Dave Martin just published a cookbook called Flavor Quest in which he shares kitchen secrets and empowers ALL people to cook! And if you enjoy this book, look out for Volume 2, coming out sometime in the Fall.

New York
As the NYC Menu Girl, I wanted to know why Chef Dave martin was in New York! Chef Dave says: “I love NY. I am very happy to be here after being in Southern California my whole life.” And what he loves most about NYC is the Pizza! Dave likes simple food, and pizza is just that. He enjoys Motorino, which I can’t wait to try myself! He also enjoys Roberta’s down in Brooklyn. And of course, he loves Mario Batali’s Otto. It is a great place to hang out, and they have a good price point. He also recommends Metrazur in Grand Central. They have a $25 prix-fixe lunch that he urged me to try.

Top Chef
Well, he was on Top Chef, so I had to learn a little bit about that. Chef Dave Martin says “it was definitely a great opportunity. It was really the formulation of a successful brand.” I asked him what misconceptions viewers had, and he said that if we think someone is a jerk, they probably are! You see so little of their personality, which may mean it could be worse if you saw the whole personality. But, Chef Dave Martin also says that the show puts you in a vulnerable position, and so you may have seen Chef Martin cry in the kitchen, but he assures us that he has never cried in a professional kitchen before.

Last Words
Dave Martin says: “For me it has always been getting my food out to the people. Not everyone is going to get you, but if enough people get you, that is all that matters. I am not doing this to compete with others. I am doing my own thing. Upscale comfort – that is my niche. I am known for that. That is a good thing in a wealthy market and poor market. I want to get my food out there. You can get the book, if you live in Sweden, or Africa, you can get the book. It is cool to have that out there, since I don’t have a restaurant. It is a different way of getting my food out there. I thought the restaurant was the only way. It is about sharing. Inspiring people who never cook, or kids who do not know how to cook. I like the teaching aspect . . . Even if they learn something like using kosher salt and pepper, if they can get just one little idea of how to put flavors together, a little bit of wine information, if I can pass some information, that means a lot to me. I love that"

There you have it. Chef Dave Martin was a true delight to speak with, since he is so passionate about food and about getting his food out to the world. I urge you to check out his website,, or follow him on twitter, The people who bring us delicious food are doing all sorts of things, and I hope to share that with all of you through these interviews!

Have a delicious day!
NYC Menu Girl

Friday, April 16, 2010

Richard Blais on Iron Chef America

Did you catch Richard Blais acting as Cat Cora's sous chef for the second time this past weekend? As last time, he prepared a fast sponge cake using NO2 and a microwave. Want the recipe?

"The recipe is quite simple. 1/2 cup cake flour, 3 eggs, 5 tbsp sugar. Beat eggs and sugar. Fold in flour, fill siphon. 2 charge. Buttered coffee cup that's been slit a few times. Nuclear for 30-35 seconds on high power. Really butter the inside of the cup."

Voila - cake. In about 2 minutes.

Richard, looking all mad-scientist-y, assembling burgers. Photo from Portico Magazine. (Click the link to read an article about his latest outpost of FLiP.)

TC News & Information 4.16.10

Top Chef sightings all over the DC area, according to the Examiner.

Hosea Rosenberg is helping to develop a line of frozen foods for Kashi.

Stephanie Izard will be participating in a cooking demonstration/cook-off and luncheon to benefit Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center today at Midwestern Culinary Academy. More info here.

Marcus Samuelsson talks about Top Chef and more here.

Here's an interview with Top Chef Masters season 1 winner Rick Bayless.

Scary: Gael Greene's sordid adventures may be turned into a TV series.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Congratulations, Chefs Gonzalez and Samuelsson!

Congratulations to chefs Carmen Gonzalez and Marcus Samuelsson for making it to the Championship Round of Top Chef Masters 2!

Chef Carmen, despite many difficulties along the way, made a stew dish that wowed the judges and earned her enough stars to come out on top in this challenge. Chef Marcus, despite not dealing with soul food in his native Sweden, managed to inject his mac and cheese, greens, and chicken dish with lots of it, narrowly beating out another chef for a chance in the finals.

Both Chefs win cash money for their respective charities, which will make a lot of people - and in Chef Carmen's case, animals - happy. See you both in a few weeks!

This post is for positive comments about Chef Carmen Gonzalez and Chef Marcus Samuelsson. If you have anything negative to say about them, their dishes, or any other chefs, please do so here.

Reactions to Top Chef Masters 2 Episode Two

On this week's episode of Top Chef Masters, we were introduced to five new competitors, two of which will go to the championship round:

Swedish Chef by way of Ethiopia, Marcus Samuelsson, playing for UNICEF Tap.
Flavor-Spray dude David Burke, playing for Table to Table.
Make-up eschewing Monica Pope playing for Recipe for Success.
The tiny, hobbit-like Carmen Gonzalez playing for the ASPCA.
French dude in a hat, Thierry Rautareau playing for Food Lifeline.

For the Quickfire, Kelly Choi instructs the chefs to create an extraordinary grilled cheese sandwich. April is Grilled Cheese Month after all! The sandwiches would be judged by Kelly, who looks like she hasn't eaten since last season. Seriously - the girl is frighteningly skinny. After taking minuscule bites out of each offering, Kelly proclaims Monica Pope's Moroccan feta-and-raisin bread concoction the winner of $5,000. Although feta and raisin bread doesn't sound the least bit Moroccan to me, I feel myself start pulling for Chef Pope to win this week; there's something immensely likable about the woman.

For the Elimination Challenge, Kelly tells the chefs they are "going Hollywood," which means, I assume, they are all going out for spray tans and nose jobs. But no! They will be preparing food for some dude named Mekhi Phifer's birthday party. What? He was on "E.R." ? Sorry, never watched it. And if it's not Clooney, who cares? Mekwho comes out and tells the chefs he wants soul food, and they pretend to be excited.

The chefs are shipped off to Whole Foods in vehicles provided by Lexus. Quickfire winner Monica gets to choose her protein first, and it becomes off-limits to the rest of the chefs. She picks shrimp to make shrimp and grits.

Back at the Top Chef kitchen, after an hour of prep, the chefs pack their foods to be transported to the party venue. The next day, Chef Carmen realizes her food must still be at the TC Kitchen and has to hop back into a Lexus and drive across town - in LA traffic - to rescue her dish. Meanwhile, we see the food has been SITTING OUT ALL NIGHT. And when I hear she's working with oysters and sausage, I feel a little queasy.

Meanwhile, while Carmen is on her rescue mission, Monica offers to prep her yucca for her, with Thierry's help. It's times like this when one sees the great camaraderie amongst professional chefs - even though it was a competition, they banded together to help one another. Except for the very smug Marcus Samuelsson who suddenly becomes a douchebag. Or maybe he's always been one and I haven't noticed. Monica and Thierry have wasted their time, however, because the yucca ends up burnt and un-usable. Chef Carmen returns and does what she can to salvage her dish in the brief time remaining.

Next we see the chefs serving the guests and the judges. Because there can only be one hat per episode, and it happens to be on Thierry's head, Gail Simmons is subbing for Gael Greene. But we at ATC are happy to see Ms Simmons because boobies trump cranial attire any day!

I continue to be unimpressed with Mekwho when I notice that not only does he talk with food in his mouth, he makes nasty loud lip-smacking noises while he chews. Something his mama should have slapped him upside the head for decades ago. Ugh.

Party's over! Next we head to Judges' Table and find that everyone loved Carmen's oyster and sausage stew THAT SAT OUT UNREFRIGERATED ALL NIGHT. It earns her 15.5 stars, enough for first place and a trip to the Championship round. Neither Thierry nor David scored high enough to stay in the competition, so it was down to kind, helpful Monica and douchey Marcus. To my chagrin, Marcus gets more stars and ends up going to the finals with Carmen. Bah.

We end the show with a scene of Monica, crying, saying that Marcus informed her that there was a lesson here - she should have just worried about her own dish. Meanie.

So what did you think about this episode? Were you hissing at Marcus every time he came onscreen? How do you feel about audible chewing? Please leave a comment!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 2 Previews

Top Chef is going Hollywood this week when the Masters get a special request from actor Mekhi Phifer to cater his star-studded birthday party. His only request: for the chefs to make their own soul food for him and his guests. But, with no sous chefs to help and a 125-person guest list, will the "Masters" be able to handle all his requests and live up to his high expectations? And stress fills the kitchen when one chef realizes they forgot their key ingredient. Will they be able to retrieve in time to prepare their dish? Find out on BRAVO’s Top Chef Masters 2 Tonight at @ 10/9c

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Exit Interview - TCM2 Episode 1

Top Recipe - Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 1

Kevin Gillespie recreates Susan Feniger's winning dish of black pepper, scallops and shrimp with lime and fresh herbs.

Recap Roundup: Top Chef Masters 2 Episode 1

Top Chef Masters is back! Maybe not back with a vengeance, exactly, but definitely back with expert cooking and the respectful atmosphere you'd expect from seasoned professionals. So, right, respectful reality TV. How did the bloggers deal with that?

Jordan Baker on the Quickfire, with honesty: "Everyone’s pissed because they spent their commutes planning Chinese menus. And their judges will be. . .The Bravery. Because. . .they tour all the time, and eat out of gas stations. Oh, god, I hate these bullshit excuses for why certain people are the guest judges. Just say they have an album to promote and you made a deal, and be done with it."

The Daily Loaf on...well, not on anything written. It's a podcast!

Reality Wanted on Clamesco and fatty foods: "For the third dish, Ana and Jerry serve a Crispy Rice Cake with “Clamesco” sauce. One of the members thinks that the food is a little bland. Jerry thinks that it is because they are used to a high salt, high fat diet."

Speakeasy (WSJ) on the core series weakness: "And here we get to a unique situation in which a show’s strength is also its Achilles heel. All the dishes the star chefs turned out looked fantastic. The critics seemed to struggle to find fault, eventually deigning some lamb chops “blah” and calling out another for being hard to eat in a bowl."

Amuse Biatch on, ah, synergy: "Possums, the fact of the matter is that The Bravery’s record label is Island Def Jam, which is owned by Universal Music Group. 'Wait,' said Miss XaXa, her voice quivering with rapidly dying innocence, 'Universal, as in NBC Universal, which is the parent company of…' Yes, possum, Bravo.We were shocked, shocked, nay, even gobsmacked. Who knew you could buy synergy at the gas station?"

Marquee (CNN) on winning: "It’s an ephemeral prize, but worth its weight in saffron, especially amongst a community that author Anthony Bourdain once compared to pirates."

Melany with a frighteningly astute observation: "No, That’s Not ’80s R&B Singer Terrence Trent D’Arby; It’s Govind Armstrong"

Chicago Food Snob on baaad wine: "I did shudder when I saw the St. Margaherita white, yuck."

Fine Cooking on Govind's love that could not be: "I did have a favorte part though: it was the snippet of an interview with Govind where he recalled working for Susan as a teenager and being madly in love with her, with her pink punked hair and long earrings. But, obviously, their love was not meant be."

Media Elites on Gael's apparently satiable love for hats: "My favorite part of this week’s espiode wasn’t on the show at all - it came from Gael Greene’s blog, where she confesses to anxiety about being invited back as a guest judge for the new season: “Maybe the producers were just tired of my hats. Actually I was getting a little tired of my hats too. I only wear them for photographs and television because I feel a restaurant critic must try and stay anonymous.” Way to go into deep cover, Gael. Do you not know that we can see you?"

Monday, April 12, 2010

TC News & Information 4.12.10

Kevin Gillespie is a work of art.... You don't believe me? Check this out!

Season 5's Fabio Viviani "spreads the love."

For those who missed the first episode of Top Chef Masters, it's available on Hulu.

What's next for Bryan Voltaggio? A hotel maybe?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Top Chef Restaurant Experience - FLiP

You didn't think that self-appointed "giant Top Chef dork" Jordan Baker would go to Atlanta and not pay a visit to Richard Blais' burger joint, FLiP, did you?

I had a couple of reasons for wanting to go to FLiP Burger Boutique (or however it's capitalized) while we were in Atlanta. The first is, of course, because I'm a giant Top Chef dork. . . or, if you want to be more charitable about it, I've invested so much time in watching that goddamn show that I love getting the chance to actually eat food made/designed/what have you by the people whose cooking skills I've previously had to judge just from sight. It's the real frustration of the show, actually. You can pretty much tell if someone's clothes are well designed, if their hair styling skills are on par, or if their modelling is fierce just from visual cues. Food is a much trickier proposition to discuss if you don't have the chance to smell, touch, and taste it.

The second is because if you're going to be attending a wedding with an open bar later in the day, it's a good idea to lay down a nice layer of grease and salt to soak up the booze. And let's give FLiP credit where it's due -- I managed to put back three glasses of wine and a large-ish vodka and seltzer, and not be anywhere near as think as you drunk I am.

And the third is because. . . um, hello -- burgers. Shakes. Fries. I love them.

So to begin with, the space is beautiful. It's huge, and open, and everything is very crisp and white, but not in a way that feels creepy or sterile. There's a long, gorgeous bar along one wall, and a view into the kitchen area along the wall that's perpendicular to that. They've managed to work in a lot of seating without it feeling cramped (although that might change if they were at capacity), and seriously, they have some sort of magical Zen light bulbs or something. I felt very much at peace the entire time I was there.

We got there at around 2:30 or thereabouts on Friday afternoon, and had no problem getting a table. So we settled in and perused the menu, which is really extensive. It was one of those situations where you actually feel like you have too many choices, and there's no way you can possibly make a selection. Do I want a burger? A bacon cheeseburger? A $39 A-5 burger made with Kobe beef? Do I want a venison burger? A chorizo burger? AN OSSOBUCO BURGER???? And what about the shake? Krispy Kreme? Foie Gras? Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow?

Really, I wanted them all.

We came up with a game plan for sharing sides and so forth, and placed our order. First the shakes:

Clockwise from top left, we have the Turtle Shake, the Banana Pudding Shake, the Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow Shake, and the Coffee and Donut Shake.

I had the Coffee and Donut shake, and it was good. It had a very strong flavor of nutmeg and cinnamon, like one of the cinnamon powdered donuts at Dunkin' Donuts. There wasn't really a definite "coffee" flavor to it, though, more of a pervasive sense of. . .burny-ness? Not in a bad way, though, more like when you go to your grandpa's house and he offers you a cup of coffee, and then reheats it for you from the pot he made that morning that's been sitting around for awhile.

And I realize that's probably a lot of people's definition of burny "in a bad way," but you have to think of it in terms of sense memory. Yes, you're getting that burny, plethy taste of grandpa coffee, but it doesn't raise a "pleh, pleh! Burny!" reaction. Instead, it raises an "aw, grandpa coffee!" reaction. And the texture was good, which is always an important factor with any milk shake.

The other shakes got overwhelmingly positive reviews (I'll leave it to the shake drinkers to comment on their specific shakes if they wish), although the Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow was, according to its drinker, super rich, and she couldn't finish it (she didn't leave it, though -- so it was good enough that even if unfinishable in one seating, it was worth taking home with you).

For sides, we decided to order three and share so that we'd get to taste both their basics --French Fries and Onion Rings -- and one of their more exotic offerings:

So here we have (clockwise from the top, and very blurry) Vodka Battered Onion Rings with Beer Honey Mustard, Panko & Parmesan Zucchini Fries with Gremolata Mayo, and Hand Cut French Fries with Smoked Mayo and Ketchup.

The fries were good. There's not much more you can say about them than that -- they're fries. They had an appropriate amount of grease and salt, in that both were present but not overwhelming. The smoked mayonnaise, however, was DELICIOUS. I would like to soak in a vat with it.

The vodka battered onion rings were great. The batter was light and crisp and delicious, and managed not to overwhelm the onion. And -- AND -- I'll never understand how they managed this, but they seem to have invented THE ONLY ONION RING IN WORLD HISTORY that you can bite a small piece out of without accidentally pulling the whole long, unbroken string of onion out with it. Seriously, folks: I have eaten some onion rings in my life, and I've never seen this happen before. I have to assume that it has something to do with the vodka batter, which allows the onion to stay crispy and breakable instead of becoming a long, limp, overfried string.

The zucchini fries, though, were the true star. The Parmesan and panko breading was flaky and full of flavor, and the the zucchini was melt-in-your-mouth and had a delicious lemony taste. So good.

I will say, though, that the condiments with the rings and zucchini fries were kind of negligible. We'd forgotten what they were by the time our order arrived, and instead of being identifiable as "beer honey mustard" and "gremolatta mayo," we could only identify them as "mayo with. . .something sweet?" and "a . . .somewhat different sweet mayo?" You could tell which the ketchup was, of course, and the smoked mayo was identifiable by virtue of its deliciousness, but the other two kind of blended together.

And then it was time for our burgers. One person ordered the Farm: Organic Grass-Fed Beef, Smoked Mayo, Heirloom Tomato, Local Lettuce, Grilled Vidalia Onion, B&B Pickles:

One got the Bacon & Cheese: Onion, Lettuce, Tomato, House-Made Pickles, Benton's Bacon, American Cheese, Ketchup, FLiP Sauce:

And two of us got the Butcher's Cut: Caramelized Onion, Blue Cheese, Red Wine Jam:

I was in the last group. I chose this burger both because I'm still in the throes of my newfound love affair with blue cheese, and because even before we'd arrived at the restaurant, I'd had a running comparison going between FLiP and Good Stuff Eatery, and my most frequent order at Good Stuff of late has been the President Obama burger, which has applewood smoked bacon, bleu cheese, and red onion marmalade. So I thought going with a similar burger at FLiP would give me the best basis for making an educated comparison between the two.

On the one hand, as with the salad I had at Woodfire Grill, I kind of wish I'd ordered something more out of the ordinary. I eat burgers with blue cheese on the regular, but how often do I get the chance to have a freaking Ossobuco burger? So I think at some point, I'm due for a return visit so I can check out the more unusual options.

(Fortunately, I hear they're due in DC later this year, so I should get that chance sooner rather than later

On the other hand . . .it was a good burger. It was so juicy that as I bit into it, I felt something trickle down my hands, and thought I was losing my condiments. But no -- it was just delicious, juicy, burger JOOS. The blue cheese flavor was delicate and not overwhelming, and the caramelized onions and red wine jam mingled beautifully.

But on the third hand (yes, I have three hands. Shut up). ..

. . oh, God, it's going to kill me to say this. . .

On the third hand. . .it wasn't nearly as good as Good Stuff.


If you've been here for more than twenty minutes, you know how much it ABSOLUTELY KILLS ME TO SAY THAT. My stance for many, many years now has been that Richard is a good, funny, talented guy who wears pink crocs and has a female wife and an adorable baby (who is probably not so much a baby anymore, but whatever. Cheftestants remain frozen in time in the phase of life they were in during their season as far as I'm concerned).

Spike, despite being a nice guy in real life who's shown remarkable restraint in never serving me a beet-burger with a generous helping of phlegm sauce (to my knowledge), by comparison to Richard remains a hat wearing douchebag with a manky pube beard.

>But when I bite into a burger at Good Stuff, my eyes close involuntarily, and I find myself thinking "I could be ok never having sex again as long as I got to eat this burger once every two months."

And at FLiP burger, my eyes remained open, and I found myself thinking "this is good, but. . ."

Curse you, Spike. Curse you, and your hats, and your delicious onion marmalade.

Clearly the only real way to resolve this problem is to have a side-by-side taste test when FLiP comes to DC. Blind tasting. Two burgers, two shake flavors, and two sides each. Bring your best game. And --should the chefs be interested -- I will gladly offer my services for judging this event. Just give me two week's notice so I can fast for a bit in preparation.

Some final things I'll say about our visit: one, we don't know what the FLiP sauce on the Bacon & Cheese burger is. We're hoping it's something like the special sauce at Burger Garden in the Babysitters Club books where they go to Sea City.

Two: while we all liked our burgers, at least one of the other two people who've eaten at Good Stuff shared my opinion. But we agreed that FLiP definitely won on sides (or at least won on the number of options and the onion rings; tied on the fries and got bonus points for the amazing zucchini fries), and that it was probably about a draw on shakes, especially if you took the variety FLiP offers into account. And FLiP COMPLETELY trounces Good Stuff in terms of atmosphere. It's not that there's anything wrong with Good Stuff's space, it's just that there's so much that's SO RIGHT about FLiP's. Also, table service > counter service, any day of the week.

Again: blind taste test. Me. Blais. Spike. Only way to settle this.

Finally: the most exciting part of the visit (for me, at least) was the fact that WE SAW RICHARD. He was visible through the cut-away into the kitchen for a very brief period of time, wearing a baseball cap so I can't give you a faux-hawk status update.

And my immediate instinct was to go bounding across the room, and hug him, and show him a picture I may or may not have saved on my camera, while screaming "we have friends in common! We have friends in common!!!"

But I didn't. I don't know if it was the incredibly Zen lighting that had me mellowed out, or the fact that I'm getting slightly less inclined to make an ass of myself in front of famous and famous-ish people as I get older (I also managed to have a 7 minute conversation with a legendary soap actress this weekend without actually licking her, so that's progress. And that was after the three glasses of wine [but before the vodka]), but I remained in my seat. My calves flexed a little, in preparation for bounding and embracing, but my ass remained firmly planted.

So for now, my collection of pictures of me stalking Top Chef contestants remains frozen at two. Sigh. Yet another reason this blind taste test is A COMPLETELY GOOD AND NECESSARY IDEA.

You know where to find me, boys.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Congratulations Chefs Feniger and Mantuano!

Congrats to Chef Susan Feniger and Tony Mantuano for winning the first two slots in the Top Chef Masters finale! You worked surprisingly well as a team (as if two consummate professionals working well together should surprise anyone) and your spicy pepper shrimp and pasta with truffles were well-received by both the judges and the couples.

Wouldn't you love to see these two compete every week? I know I would!

This post is for positive comments only. If you have anything negative to say about Chefs Feniger or Mantuano, or any of their competitors, please do so here.

Reactions to Top Chef Masters Season 2 Episode 1

And we're baaaack! After what felt like a million years, the chefs are back on Bravo. Season two of Top Chef Masters kicked off last night with the same fabulous "critics" (I missed Gael's hats more than I realized) and a brand new crop of too-accomplished-for-reality-TV chefs.

As the episode began, I remembered that it's kind of a pain to meet six new chefs (and their respective charities) each week. I'm already ready for the semifinals. I also remembered that it's tough to get snarky about people who have worked hard and have, justifiably, achieved success in their chosen field. Sometimes blogging is awfully hard work.

That said, this group seemed nice enough, if a little boring - which made me extra thankful for the enormous, slightly crazy smile on Susan Feniger and for Govind Armstrong's "I don't want to work with a partner" bitching. Both were mild by reality TV standards, but added a little spice to this lineup.

So, the episode. It all started with the chefs pairing off by choosing aprons (what? the knife block is too good for this crew?) and being shipped off in Lexuses (Lexi?) to Chinatown. Well, to a gas station in Chinatown, where they learn they'll recreate a favorite Top Chef Season 1 Quickfire - the gas station challenge. Their job: to cook palatable, interesting food for members of the band The Bravery, using only ingredients found in a gas station. It's a pretty well-appointed gas station, if you ask me, but still.

Unsurprisingly, they rise to the challenge, delivering some interesting food - even the purchase of hot pink "fiery" cheetos, instead of regular cheetos, doesn't derail these professionals. The Bravery (including their culinary schooled bass player) are impressed.

Moving on to the Elimination Challenge, the chefs learn they'll stick with their partners and Govind complains - a lot. Their challenge is to create a duo of romantic dishes to serve to people on dates. Which means they don't really have to work in a pair. I mean, they have to coordinate, but it's not like they're only creating one dish. The consensus at my house is that Govind needs to stop complaining and start cooking.

After a relatively drama-less prep and service (are Susan's shrimp very slightly overcooked? Quelle horreur! Really, that was the bulk of the drama), the critics lavish praise on the chefs, then criticize them behind their backs. Ultimately, it's Susan and Tony Mantuano who move on to the next round, after serving a spicy pepper shrimp and scallop dish followed by a smooth, rich pasta with truffles. It all looks good, so who am I to judge?

A few random thoughts:
  • The critics really do seem more comfortable together this season, and it's nice to see them back.
  • Kelly seems more comfortable, too, sinking into her role as (as my husband calls her) the "Asian Giada."
  • Jerry Traunfeld = Younger Rick Bayless, minus the mustache
  • I like the pairing off strategy. It's much easier to follow three dishes than six.
  • During the Elimination Challenge, none of those people looked like they were on real dates. Or, if they were, they were some of the most poorly matched dates ever. Especially the slightly husky guy in glasses with the gorgeous black girl who worked in pharmaceutical sales. I am convinced he's a blogger. And she's...gorgeous.
  • Tony is President Obama's favorite chef. Do I smell an Art Smith reprise?
  • I was shocked that Govind didn't make it through to the next round, only because I was sure he'd get a chance to redeem himself after the jerky edit he got this week. He looked better in the DVR buster, when he talked about working for Susan in high school and having a crush on her (which I'm sure her long-term girlfriend thought was adorable), but overall, he was the villain this episode and then he went home.
So...what did you think? Did you miss TCM? Looking forward to a new season? Please leave a comment with your thoughts...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are You Ready for Top Chef Masters?

Food lovers, rejoice! Tonight, the Top Chef Masters return for season 2 where, once again, judges' table will be turned as world-renowned chefs compete against each other in a series of weekly challenges. 22 heavy-hitters will go head-to-head, 6 of whom are returning chefs back to defend their glory, to see how well they fare in the tried-and-true Top Chef format.

Money will be at stake for the chefs, with the winners of quickfires and eliminations being awarded cash donations for their designated charities. But only one winner can be crowned “Top Chef Master” and in addition to the prestigious title, win $100,000 for the charity of their choice.

Check out this introduction to the 22 culinary icons all putting their reputations on the line:

LA is a land of many cuisines and the chefs are going down to Chinatown in this first Quickfire Challenge:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Who Will Win Top Chef Masters 2?

After reading the bios posted on, you've probably made some preliminary decision as to who you think will win this season. At the very least, you've picked who you *want* to win. So who's it gonna be?

Pigs & Pinot

Charlie Palmer's 5th Annual Pigs & Pinot celebration was held on March 20-21. Both Bryan Voltaggio and Kevin Gillespie participated in the event. For more information about what went down that weekend, click here.

Chef Amar Santana, of Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdales South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California, was kind enough to let us post some of his photos from this year's celebration (he's the bearded fellow between Kevin and Bryan in the first photo.). Thanks, Chef!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

Top Chef Restaurant Experience - Woodfire Grill

The lovely and talented Jordan Baker shares her experience dining at Kevin Gillespie's Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. Yum!

When I realized I'd be going to a wedding in Atlanta in late March, the first thing I did was check the Braves schedule to see if they'd be back in town from Spring Training yet, and I could check another ballpark off my lifetime list.

Once I got over the disappointment at the fact that alas, it was not to be, the second thing I did was to e-mail the other people I knew who'd be going, and ask something along the lines of "who wants to watch me eat a great deal of food shortly before I try to strap myself into a vintage silk-chiffon cocktail dress?"

The reaction to that was more positive than you might expect. And so the third thing I did was to see if and when I could get a reservation at Woodfire Grill.

That's right, penguins. I ate at the home of the Mushroom Kingdom's own burly woodchopping tree dweller, Kevin.

I was super excited to eat at Kevin's restaurant because pork is both of our jams (which just makes me want to sing "oh hot damn, pork is our jam. . ." but I'll spare you), and because despite being apparently the only person in America who saw through the "Oh-em-GEE, Michael is TEH EVUL" nonsense and was super glad that he won, I liked Kevin. I liked his ideas about food -- all food, not just pork -- and I liked the way his dishes looked and sounded.

And after all the money I've thrown Spike's way, I like having the opportunity to support Cheftestants I didn't spend several months calling a variety of obscene and gynecologically oriented nicknames.

So we ate there on Thursday night, but the actual story of eating there starts on Wednesday morning. I was sitting in my office, and my cell phone rang. It was Woodfire Grill, confirming my reservation. "And does your party have any food restrictions?" the woman on the other end of the phone asked.

I blinked. "Yes," I said. "I'm highly allergic to beets."



"Hm," she said. "I'm glad you told us that, because there are definitely beets on our menu."

I was a little perturbed, because as far as I knew, we hadn't signed on for any sort of preset menu or anything. But I shook it off, and went about my day.

We got to the restaurant about ten minutes before our reservation, despite the utter cluelessness of our cabbie (who not only didn't know where the restaurant was, but drove right past it despite my yelling " back there! It's back there!!!"), and were seated in a charming, sunlit lounge area to enjoy a beverage while we waited.

After a bit, we were led into the main dining room. Our table was in the same section of the restaurant as the huge woodfire grill, and I had a great view of both the action there and the doors to the main kitchen.

So after we'd settled in, the waiter asked "I understand we have a beet allergy this evening?" I raised my hand, and he pointed out all the dishes on the menu that involved beets, and assured me that if we opted for the 5 course tasting menu, they could adjust it to accommodate my need for beet-less-ness. "And our featured amuse bouche currently includes beets, but the chef has an alternative option designed for you."

After much conferring, we decided against the tasting menu, and placed our orders. Shortly thereafter, we received our amuses: the aforementioned Beet Two Ways and my super special just for me so they wouldn't have to call the EMT's one, which involved White Grapefruit and Avocado.

White grapefruit and avocado are two of my favorite things, and the amuse was perfect -- a bright, refreshing little awakening in the mouth. My companion ate his beets quickly so I wouldn't get psychosomatic anaphylaxis just from having them near me, and assured me they were delightful.

For our first courses, my companion had the Smoked Halibut Chowder with Fingerling Potatoes, Dried Corn, and Oregano. The taste I had was really delicious -- and I'm not much of a halibut fan -- great smoky flavor with hints of corn and no aggressive fishy taste.

I ordered the Local Baby Mixed Lettuce Salad with Black Pepper Strawberry Vinaigrette, Feta Cheese, and Berton's Bacon. And when it came out, I broke one of my own commandments: thou shalt not be that douche who takes pictures of all the courses at a nice restaurant.

I just couldn't resist the beautiful strip of bacon draped seductively over the top of all those delicious greens.

And then the picture didn't even capture the beauty of the salad, because I zoomed too quickly. And because the food gods were punishing me for being that douche.

(You should read this post at Alinea at Home, by the way, so you can understand why I'm having even more of a crise de conscience than I normally would about doing something so gauche).

Anyway. The salad, however ineptly photographed, was delicious. But -- as I'm so fond of saying about things on various reality shows -- it's great, but it's not original. In retrospect, I kind of regret ordering something so standard when I could've gone for a more adventurous/unusual.

Since it's hard to get the douche cat back in the bag once he's out, I then continued subtly taking one picture of each dish. Because I was trying to be unobtrusive about my douchiness, I didn't take a whole lot of time in set up, so some of the dishes -- particularly the ones I ate -- are a bit on the blurry side.

Like, for example, my second course, the Pan Roasted Diver Scallop on Tarragon Glazed Baby Carrots with Arugula Broccoli Puree and Baby Radish Brown Butter.

I'm going to say "YUM!!!" and you should imagine it echoing serenely across the hills like the "Yum!" in the Red Robin commercials. SO GOOD. The scallop had an absolutely beautiful texture, and I can't even begin to describe the arugula broccoli puree. It was just a magnificently smooth, rich taste that complimented the scallop and carrots beautifully.

In fact, I'd be hard pressed to imagine anything better. . . if I hadn't had a bite of it with the same course. My companion had the wisdom to order the Pan Seared Artisan Foie Gras with Spiced Strawberry Syrup, Roasted Strawberries, White Chocolate, Avocado, and Pecan Sandies.

A. MA. ZING. The contrast between the crisp cookie and the smooth foie was just incredible, and the flavors. . .!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. I just can't even begin. I want foie with strawberries every day of the week. I don't care how fat I get, or how many geese or migrant farmers working in the strawberry fields have to suffer.

(It's also when I mostly stopped feeling bad about the whole picture taking issue for awhile. My kitchen is green and red, and I kind of want to blow up that foie picture and frame it and hang it on my wall. At the same time, though, I realized that if word got back to the kitchen that some chick who was allergic to beets was taking pictures and had transcribed her party's order into a moleskine notebook, I was kind of putting a target on my back. There are probably some Cheftestants out there who would put two and two together on that one, and serve me a dish of ground beets with a side of sulfa drugs)

Because one of the things Kevin and I share is pork being our jam (it keeps us partyin' to the a.m.), for my third course I ordered the Wood Grilled Berkshire Pork Loin, Melted Leeks, Fennel Pollen, Roasted Local Baby Corn, Toasted Almonds, and Fig Balsamic. 

Otherwise known as the dish that truly proved that pork is, in fact, Kevin's jam. And mine. The meat was beautifully done, and the leeks were insanely delicious. The baby corn was incredibly tender. We both agreed that this was the winner of the main courses, and a close second to the foie in the whole evening.

Also delicious, though, was my companion's Wood Grilled Painted Hills Beef Striploin with Creamed Brussels Sprouts, Braised California Morels, and Horseradish Mustard Beurre Fondue.

The beef was delicious, but the creamed Brussels sprouts were just fucking amazing. In the last year, I've learned to like a bunch of foods my former-picky-child-self used to turn her nose up at, and Brussels sprouts are one of them. And creamed Brussels sprouts can't possibly be Rocket Surgery, and they were so good that I'm now determined to figure out how to make them myself.

Stuffed almost to the gills, we still couldn't pass up the dessert menu. Because we're piggies. Horrible, horrible, greedy little piggies. And, in my case, because one of the options was a Lemon Meringue Tart with Vanilla Grapefruit Confit, Basil Syrup and Lemon Chip.

I love lemons, and I love basil, and I love, LOVE, LOVE white grapefruit (mostly because I grew up with two trees full of 'em in my back yard, and consider them the legit grapefruit. I'm just not as cool with their weird pinky brethren). And this was delicious -- the filling in the tart was crisp and delicious, and the pastry was flaky perfection. And dragging the grapefruit segments through the basil syrup was another experience I'd like to try and recreate for myself. So good.

My companion opted for a cheese course called Le Petit Dejeuner which was three cheeses served with Puree of Navel Oranges and Roasted Pistachios.

It's so far away. . . .Anyway, I didn't get a sample of it, because I've learned better than to come between this gentleman and his cheeses (and he knows the same is true of me), but I'm told it was exquisite.

All in all, it was a tremendous visit. But in the interest of fairness, I do have to point out a couple of small negatives: first, while being in the room with the grill was fascinating to watch, it did start to irritate the contact-wearing-eyes and my companion's asthma-having-lungs after a bit. So in addition to asking about food restrictions -- which I totally appreciated -- maybe asking about environmental allergies would also be a good step. It can't be too much harder to put people with lung problems away from the smoke than it is to keep beets away from me.

And second: the service was generally great. But our waiter -- while certainly attentive and eager to please -- was unctuous to the point that it became creepy. If you imagine the palace eunuch in a 1960's movie set in ancient Rome, that was him. And one of the female servers touched my boob in that accidentally-on-purpose way after putting my pork down.

So to sum it up: Kevin, you pig-loving, tree-dwelling bastard, it was outstanding. Sorry for being that douche who took pictures of everything. And thank you for making sure I wasn't served anything that could kill me.