Given the snow coming down outside our window here in New York, the setting of last night's episode of Top Chef—the sunny landscape of Dan Barber's Stone Barns—was almost cruel. It was sort of a high-low episode, really, with the chefs first having to make a dish from canned goods, then getting to cook with seasonal produce straight from the farm. Oh, and Toby Young was back with his metaphors. ("The pesto is the big, bad wolf that has blown this house down.")
Note: We reveal the winner and loser below...
So, here were our thoughts. Tell us yours in the comments.
1. Presentation can make a silk purse from a sow's ear. In the quickfire, the chefs had to use (primarily canned) pantry staples to make a dish in 15 minutes. There was a lot of puréed peas and Velveeta. And yet everything looked so lovely! If it's true that you eat with your eyes first, we enjoyed some very beautiful Spam last night.
2. Jeff loves his multi-mini-dish plates. Boy does he fall back on the tapas-like presentation a lot. But we're rooting for Jeff. He's so cool under pressure, he went out on a limb and made fried conch (from a can), and he also managed to whip up a piña colada in the 15 minutes.
3. Are they trying to torture us with the tomatoes and corn? Not that we didn't already know this, but it was summer when they filmed the episode, hence the bountiful produce at Stone Barns (which is in upstate New York). Thanks, Top Chef. Now we're craving tomato salad while we watch it snow.
4. We're glad they stopped short of killing the animals on camera. When the chefs were surveying their live produce—sheep, chicken, and pigs—we thought, "Oh no. They are going to butcher the animals on television." Thankfully, the meat was already processed and waiting inside the kitchen. (Although we did get a very unfriendly glimpse of a skinned lamb head. Did you catch that?)
5. With seasonal cooking, all the dishes tend to look similar. This is not a bad thing, mind you. All of the fresh tomato and corn salads and bright green garnishes/pestos/marinades were exactly what we'd expect and would want to eat in July or August. Good ingredients should be left alone to shine. But we imagine it was hard to judge, really, when all of the produce was so uniform from team to team...
6. ...which is why it came down to the meat... Kudos to the chicken team, who shared the win. We felt bad for them at first, since we think it would be harder to wow with chicken than with really superb lamb or pork. But they offered variations (fried cutlets as well as roasted on-the-bone meat) and cooked it perfectly.
7. ...and why Ariane went home. She did a bad job butchering and tying the lamb, something we wouldn't know how to do if our lives depended on it, so we sympathize. We can tell Padma agreed with us; she seemed genuinely sad to see Ariane go. When Dan Barber tasted the lamb, by the way, we thought he said, "The lamb is the best." But then we rewound and realized he said, "The lamb is a mess." Whoops.
8. Pretty meat doesn't win. The chefs obviously wanted to see the meat treated more simply—less dainty medallions and roulades, more bones and fat.
9. We may make a trip to New Jersey. Sorry, we're back to Ariane. But seriously, she won over her fellow chefs and the viewers with her sweet disposition, teamwork, and genuinely good food. We may cross the bridge to Montclair, NJ and visit her restaurant.
10. Stefan is the leading European. Fabio has been falling off the map a little in the past few weeks. Is Stefan the guy to beat? We're so conflicted. He's nice, he's mean, he's funny, he's awful...
What do you think?
Episode 1: Ethnic Foods Galore
Episode 2: Hot Dogs and Angry Chefs
Episode 4: Lights, Camera, Kathie Lee Gifford
Episode 5: Make Your Own Sushi at a Bridal Shower?
Episode 6: And a Martha in a Pear Tree
Episode 7: Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizzle