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The Jet Stream: Tastes like umami, homey

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Elimination Challenge Winning Dish by Jennifer and Kevin: Kobe Skirt Steak and Salad
Photo: BravoTV / Trae Patton
Jet Tila

This week’s Quickfire was a Cookster.com challenge where the chef’testants got three key words and needed to cook a dish around those three words. It was a fun challenge, because it’s broad, as long as you are somewhere within or near the keywords. Some chefs embraced it better than others, who over-promised and under-delivered.

The “You sir/ma’am deserve a culinary bitch slap” dishes were:

Eli: Words: Stressed, Umami, Latin American. Dish: Mushroom ceviche with avocado. Not just OMG but OMFG dude! OK, mushrooms when cooked really give off some umami flavor. But then drowning it in citrus? That’s awesome dude, it’s like perfectly cooking off an amazing piece of aged prime rib eye, salting it with some sea salt and hitting it with some crack black pepper then…pissing on it after drinking a keg of beer and eating asparagus. WTF were you thinking, homey? And you made another CEVICHE? I wanted to reach through the screen and punch you in the face whilst wearing a little red neckerchief (homage to Mattin)!

Robin: Words: Stressed, Umami, Middle Eastern. Dish: Root vegetable hash with cumin and curry oil. OK, no umami in the dish; don’t know how this makes one think of being stressed; and then ain’t curry Asian? But then to get the verbal bitch slap not by the Tyler Florence, but by Padma wearing her green polyester paradise? OUCH!

Tips for the home cook on what ingredients that give off umami taste - seasoned seaweed, cooked mushrooms (especially cooked in butter) and cheese (especially parmesan). Salt aids in bringing out umami, so add a touch of salt to the above items to further coax out umami. MSG is used to mimic or chemically give off the umami taste, btw.

Congrats, Kevin: Words: Stressed, Hot N' Spicy, Asian. Dish: Char grilled pork with daikon and Vietnamese herb salad. Awesome work, dude! Especially for someone who never cooks Asian to win with a Vietnamese dish! Then Kevin takes the $15,000 instead of immunity? He wins the “Who has Big Balls” award for the week!

Chef-author-TV personality Tyler Florence and Padma Lakshmi in lots of green.

Chef-author-TV personality Tyler Florence and Padma Lakshmi in lots of green.

This week’s "TC" Fashion Moment?! Did you get an eyeball drink of Padma and her somewhere between Studio 54 and princess Jazmin from Disney’s Aladdin outfit? I couldn’t tell if I was turned on by it or felt pervy for almost being able to see her privates? I think I liked how it revealed her “physique” and hated the overwhelming amount of green flowing polyester. Very few women could pull that one off and she barely did… I think… maybe? I kept dreaming about her in episodes of Charlie’s Angels, Love Boat or Fantasy Island, and later that night dreamt about flying her around on my magic carpet singing, “A whole new world…”

Guest chefs and regular judges enjoyed an al fresco evening of home cooked cuisine at the "Top Chef" house.

Guest chefs and regular judges enjoyed an al fresco evening of home cooked cuisine at the "Top Chef" house.

Culinary Council Elimination challenge. Funny how they never mentioned the connection that Takashi Yagihashi has to Las Vegas. In case you foodie historians didn’t know, he was the opening chef for Okada restaurant at Wynn. Had a great run then moved to Chicago. He was one of the best new chefs 2005 in Food and Wine Magazine! Big Props, Takashi! He will forever have a page in the Las Vegas culinary history book.

The Quickfire slot machine gave the chef'testants three words each to inspire their dishes.

The Quickfire slot machine gave the chef'testants three words each to inspire their dishes.

This week the teams got two and a half hours to cook for notable chefs. They were given a family meal themed mystery basket. The chefs were grouped off in pairs, some happily and some not so much. The least happy pair was Mike I. and Robin. As frequent readers of this blog you know I am not a fan of Mike I. at all! He spends all his time bitching and complaining. The dude is a legend in his own mind, but his time is coming! I think he’s got about two more weeks of Top Chef life. Once Robin and Ash are gone, he can’t hide behind mediocrity for long. This dynamic duo made a marinated mushroom and pickled pear roll, seared tuna and scallop and truffle ponzu. As an Asian chef, I’d say they were lucky to scoot by with this kitchen sink dish.

Speaking of Ash, he dodged a major bullet this week by getting paired with Michael V. Like Mike V. said on the show, Ash is a sous chef, an assistant chef, the no. 2. He doesn’t have the experience or the confidence to lead yet. Being paired with Mike V. was good for him for a few reasons: He needed a Captain to his Tennille, or, for those of you under 30, he needed an Optimus Prime to his Bumble Bee. Second, I think this made him realize even more vividly, he’s gonna have to step up his game to have a chance to win this. But odds are he’s gone after Robin, who I think is next, anyway. Ash and Mike V. made pancetta-wrapped halibut with egg yolk ravioli, fennel and asparagus. This dish landed them in the bottom four, but only because of execution, not creativity. Their flat top electric grill blew out during the fish cooking and didn’t allow the pancetta to crisp thereby not cooking the halibut correctly. This bottom four experience gave Mike a little taste of what it feels like to be mortal, and I think that’s gonna push him even harder to not be in that position ever again.

The dream team this week was Kevin and Jennifer, who made Kobe beef with tomato-cardamom broth, petit bok choy and Asian pear. I like this dish because it’s not an over the top attempt at making bourgeois food. It was a smart, creative dish that made sense, and even had a twist. In case you didn’t know, Asian pear is a natural pair with beef. It not only adds an aromatic sweetness to beef, it’s a natural tenderizer! It’s a secret ingredient in my Korean BBQ at Wazuzu. The more Kevin wins challenges and gains confidence, the more of a competitor he is. He’s heading to the final four for sure.

And congrats to Jennifer this week for another win just when she needed it. Her confidence has been waning lately and this win is going to reassure her she is one of the best. So the holy trinity of Jennifer and the V brothers might have to make room, and I’ll have to come up with a cool term like the fab four with Kevin in the mix. OK, the fab four was not a cool term…hmmmm, maybe fantastic four…no…I’ll keep working on it.

Did y’all see Bryan V’s waiting room breakdown as Mike V was on the chopping block? Wow, he got a little touchy with the group, huh? These bros are a trip to watch! It’s obvious that only a V bro can talk smack about a V bro. No one else is allowed into their dysfunctional circle. And as much as Bryan wants to kick Mike’s culinary ass, he doesn’t want Mike to go home just yet. This is a trippy love/hate relationship and makes for good TV. And it’s going to get better as the weeks play out! Look for laughs, tears and maybe one bro punching another in the face (one can only wish).

Ashley got the axe this week for salty gnocchi and poorly cooked prawns.

Ashley got the axe this week for salty gnocchi and poorly cooked prawns.

Alas, our friend Ashley gets chopped this week. It wasn’t your time, girlfriend, but Eli being your partner didn’t help things. I think Eli has major potential but is just too young and out classed here in the group. You can’t teach experience, and Eli will be a major contender in about three to five years. I think Ashley is a good chef, but "TC" is for talented people who need to be quick and confident all the time. Second-guessing will not work here. A good chef’s best tool is confidence, because you know what you know, now you have to trust yourself to execute. Their grilled spot prawns with red beet sauce, crème fraiche gnocchi and kale looked gorgeous, but once you break it down the sum of the parts had some major flaws. If I were to stay with the gnocchi idea, I would’ve sautéed them lightly in herbed butter. Eli was almost deep frying them and losing all their pillowy goodness. Then I would have butter poached the spot prawns instead of grilling them. Spot prawns, like gnocchi are super delicate and need TLC.

I should probably just stop making predictions about next week, but here we go: Next to go will be Robin or Ash. Mike I. keeps pretending to know everything and shows us nothing. Padma will continue to wear sexy and almost inappropriate outfits. The V bros continue to reveal that they need family therapy, but can cook their asses off. And finally, more and more readers will cringe at the poor attempts of a chef trying to write a weekly blog for this great publication. Laterz!

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