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Top Chef 2 - Episode 2 - authenticity questions

Is it just me or did the Korean/Vietnamese menu options last night have none but the most tangential connection with either of those cuisines?

How does Pho, a steaming bowl of noodles in a rich and complex meat broth, become a boiled and stringy pork cube with some shredded carrots? It's hardly an "interpretation", and it's not "fusion". It's a PF Chang-style fabrication.

Why does Josie, who cooks for Marlow & Sons (which is right by my house and I love, by the way) think that looking vaguely Asian means she can somehow instinctively tap into a cuisine she evidently knows nothing about?

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  1. Someone mentioned that Josie had worked for a Vietnamese chef at some point in her career. That having been said, I totally agree that whatever they were serving it wasn't pho. My favorite part is when Ming was correcting Josie on the pronunciation of pho and she was painfully slow on the uptake and mispronounced the word twice more before she understood she was being corrected.

    13 Replies
    1. re: KTinNYC

      Yeah, I thought that was odd... I don't even know that much about Vietnamese cuisine and I knew that it was pronounced 'fuh', or however you want to spell the pronunciation! She just seems really rough around the eges, to put it politely!

      I couldn't help but feel sorry for Otto... I know I shouldn't, but I just felt bad for him! I was really not liking that Marisa chick... she wanted to sell everyone out but herself and came across as very angry in the process. How hard do you think that panna cotta was? Hard and panna cotta just don't seem like terms that could go together no matter how firm of a panna cotta it was!

      1. re: Katie Nell

        I did feel bad for Otto but he KNEW he did the wrong thing & hoped nobody would care or notice. But how often have we done that ourselves? Gone home from the store & found something that wasn't paid for? Do we ever return it?

        As for Marisa..I think she went way overboard on the gelatin..1 teaspoon? Probably not. She added more than that because panna cotta needs to set for at least 12 -24 hours before serving. She was trying to make it set faster & in the end had jasmine rubber. People will have a lot more respect for you if you just tell the truth. I wonder if her former bosses are watching her? You know they were 2 of the Napa judges on TC1.

        1. re: sugarbuzz

          Panna cotta only needs about four hours to set....

          1. re: JudiAU

            depending on your recipe it can take 4-24 hours to set.

            1. re: sugarbuzz

              If you want to set panna cotta quickly, you can stir it over an ice bath until it begins to thicken before pouring it into serving containers.

        2. re: Katie Nell

          Yeah, she's an idiot. For the team's sake she should have kept her mouth shut in order to maintain a good working atmosphere - the show must go on, after all. It's the equivalent of noticing a co-chef making a hasty substitution while preparing a dish and then marching out into the dining room to tell the customer that he's eating the wrong dish - so disruptive/destructive.

          1. re: Katie Nell

            If she had just named it "GELEE" it probably wouldn't have kicked up a ruckus..it's all in the name...
            poor Otto should just have kept his mouth shut if he 'suspected' that they had gotten the lychees for free...
            if he hadn't backed out of the competition, and because he admitted his lapse in judgement...do you think Marisa would have been chucked out on her ass instead of Otto?.....again Otto should have kept his mouth shut about leaving, and let it play out...

            1. re: ChowFun_derek

              I don't know... I mean even jello should be wobbly and you shouldn't have to stab through it with your spoon. And who wants tapioca with the consistency of an eraser?

              1. re: ChowFun_derek

                I think Derek's right that if they'd renamed it they might have gotten away with it. Though did any of the judges even comment about the flavor?

                In defending her "panna cotta," Marisa said something about "every pastry chef knows the proportions are one teaspoon gelatin per cup," but in fact that's double the amount called for in most recipes.

                I'm dumbfounded by that bizarre combination of self-confidence and incompetence, but I guess that's how they cast these "reality" shows. To me most of the personality conflicts feel like filler, I'd much rather watch disciplined, emotionally mature professionals compete at a high level, a la Iron Chef.

              2. re: Katie Nell

                Marisa really threw Otto under the bus. We have all left stores and realized after leaving "Oh, wow, they forgot to charge me for an item". Most of us don't go back to return it, it was an honest mistake.

                If Marisa had such a problem with that, she should have said something and had them return it while they were leaving the store. Instead, she waited to tattle on Otto to Tom. She just wanted to create drama, and divert attention from her bad dessert. I'm sure she realized the panna cotta was sub-par by then and wanted to create a scapegoat on the team.

                1. re: AmblerGirl

                  I can't disagree more. I don't think that "most" of us would not return to pay for an item. I like to think that "most" of us feel that it is wrong to not pay for something. I have returned to a store many times to pay for say, that case of water that was on the bottom of the cart. Just as I point out an error when I'm over charged in a restaurant, Ii point out when something I ordered was omitted from the bill. It's the right thing to do.

                  While I agree that Marisa would have done better to insist that they handle the situation at the store, I disagree that she brought it up just to deflect from her bad panna cotta. She brought the issue up pretty much right after they got going in the kitchen and addressed it with Tom as soon as he came into the kitchen.

                  In addition to not doing the right thing and paying for an item for which you know you were not charged, using that item in a competition where the cost of goods was part of the comp. is cheating.

                  I was very impressed with how Otto handle himself at the end of the show. He admitted that h got caught up in the whirlwind of excitement and did something that he recognized was wrong, he took responsibility for it and showed genuine remorse. Good for him!

                  1. re: luckygirl

                    They put the case of lychees aside and weren't going to use it. That seems like the end of any possible unfair advantage. (The *real* unfair advantage was that the other team got only one of the four contestants with personality problems.)

                    Why should Otto have more remorse than the other contestants who heard his remark and were thus equally aware that they might have been undercharged?

                    Why send him back to the store immediately, as if he'd been caught shoplifting?

              3. re: KTinNYC

                She also said that it was a stew!?

              4. I'm Korean and I'll tell you we never had anything resembling Panna Cotta in my house growing up for dessert. Korea is not as famous for teas like China or Japan due to the fact that the water sources were not tainted. The two desserts I remember growing up were "duuk" which is a sticky rice dough that enveloped sweet bean paste and some concoction my mother made (don't know the name) which was essentially a fried heavy dough cut into small round scalloped shapes with a cookie cutter and then when taken out of the hot oil, immedately thrown into a container with fake maple syrup. Sometimes if we had company she would throw sesame seeds on it. In all, a sticky and sweet treat which I liked infinitely better than the duuk. One of my earliest memories of going to a cookie exchange in the neighborhood at the annual X-mas block party was bringing "mandoo" or fried wonton. WHen everything was sweet, these were actually a great treat. And a fried dough concoction could have been done much faster than the panna cotta, imo. :)

                16 Replies
                1. re: bostonfoodie111

                  To be fair, though, they ARE being a bit tough - it's kind of unreasonable to expect Western chefs to know how to make sushi, Vietnamese AND Korean food. Why should they? They're professional cooks, not food academics.

                  1. re: frenetica

                    Because I am as WASP as you can come and I don't work in professional kitchen and I can make all three (and do several times a month).

                    1. re: Atahualpa

                      Well, it's great that you can do that, but you also haven't made one particular genre of cooking your specialty or entire livelihood. I wouldn't dream of asking a sushi master to compete in a barbecue cook-off. And what ethnic foods are sufficiently "mainstream" is subjective. What if the challenge had been a Dutch rijstaffel or innovations with lutefisk?!

                      1. re: frenetica

                        They didn't have to make it better than anyone -- just better than anyone else in the competition.

                  2. re: bostonfoodie111

                    They didn't claim that the "panna cotta" was a Korean dessert, only that they were using Korean ingredients.

                    The failure of that dish was particularly impressive given that Marisa is/was the pastry chef at Ame, an expensive Asian fusion restaurant in San Francisco.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      What I meant is that tea is not a strong staple in Korean culture and particularly Jasmine tea. Nor was tapioca.Therefore the ingredients used were not particularly Korean. That was a tough challenge for sure.

                      1. re: bostonfoodie111

                        Didn't they buy all the ingredients at a Korean grocery store?

                        What Koreans eat in LA and what they eat in Korea are two different things.

                        1. re: bostonfoodie111

                          I agree with bonstonfoodie111. Jasmine tea is Chinese, tapioca is Chinese, panna cotta is Italian... She should have said Asian influence, not Korean, since none of the things were Korean in the first place. and the red cabbage kimchi??? just abhorrent!!!

                          the funny thing is, the lychee which got the team in a heap of trouble is Chinese, too! now, if they got their food origins right, maybe they wouldn't have gotten in to all that mess in the first place.

                          Maybe they should have just done some fruit thing with korean pears, fuji apples, or korean melons.

                          By the way, Korean markets sell a lot of Chinese and other Asian ingredients. Did that throw them off???

                          1. re: tuttifrutti

                            THANK YOU Tutti Frutti! BTW, I was born and bred in the states and never been to Korea and my parents frequented Korean grocery stores throughout my life and as with all Asian markets, they sell a variety of items, not just Korean, etc. so saying the dessert was with items bought at a Korean store doesn't mean much of anything. And I agree - Red Cabbage Kimchi - yuck! They could have gotten a nicer result with a cucumber kimchi. There is a "short cut" kimchi that a lot of restaurants make and if done right, it's not half bad.

                            1. re: bostonfoodie111

                              really you can make authentic kimchi with all sorts of things, including scallions and other easy to find veg

                            2. re: tuttifrutti

                              TOTALLY agree!!!

                              The red cabbage for kimchee is too much of a stretch in my book.

                              Also, on th lychee, I had the same thought... those are not Korean. And what troublee they could have avoided!

                              1. re: luckygirl

                                Basically the only thing "korean" about the dessert was that items were bought in a Korean grocery store. THat, IMHO, is a S-T-R-E-T-C-H! :)

                                1. re: luckygirl

                                  I don't know if it's authentic or not, but my mother used to make a delicious mul kimchi with red cabbage when I was little. Usually it's made with napa cabbage and daikon, but the red cabbage was nice and added a nice purplish hue to the "mul" part.

                                2. re: tuttifrutti

                                  I too was thinking about Korean pear, which usually appears just sliced fresh as a dessert or snack. They should have done a Korean pear panna cotta. Not all the ingredients have to be Korean (or Vietnamese), but one element should be. Jasmine and tapioca seem more Chinese to me, and maybe the tapioca threw off the gelatin proportions.

                                  Korean markets also sell tomato sauce and Heinz ketchup.

                                  I didn't mind the red cabbage kimchi. You can kimchi anything, really. I felt bad for Otto. I didn't think he would make it to the end, but I wish they hadn't accepted him bowing out, as he did own up to it.

                            3. re: bostonfoodie111

                              the fried dough concoction you speak of sounds like yakwa and i just had a chestnut version from one of seoul's top shops. very nice.

                              1. re: choctastic

                                OH!! Thanks for the name!! I totally forgot what it was called but your post made me remember. :) Thanks!

                            4. She was the pastry chef. The owners wouldn't give her the time off since she had only been there a few short months. I read somewhere..maybe the Chron..that the Ame crew gave her a quick rundown on how to cook. They would teach her after hours or whatever. But..my opinion is that if you don't know how to cook on the savory side you really shouldn't even consider going on that show. How often do they do a dessert? hardly ever.

                              1. I got the distinct impression that the stronger competitors were purposefully hanging back during the Korea/Vietnam challenge. A few of them demonstrated a fair amount of savvy during the sushi challenge and I find it hard to believe that they could not come up with a more sophisticated and appealing menu.

                                When they discussed serving pho, I was waiting for someone to point out the challenges of catering a half decent version. But after they took the decision to make 'spring rolls' I suppose nothing should have surprised me.

                                In all honesty the caterer who made the refresher really saved the day for them because without it the decision would have gone the other way.

                                And was it my imagination or did the other team use red cabbage to make their kimchi? There are so many different namul or quick kimchis that would have been a safer and more authentic bet - though apparently their rice was far worse than their kimchi.

                                Not an impressive performance from either side, which is why I think that the real players are just sitting back and giving the chaff enough rope to weed itself out.

                                1. I agree with Kater, I'm looking forward to the show getting down to about 7 or 8 chefs. I think once Sam, Clint, Ilan, Frank, Betty, and Mia are forced to be a bigger part of the process the quality of the show will go much better. However, I fear the producers will try and keep Michael, Marcel, Marisa and Elia around for as long as possible for the tension they bring to the show.

                                  Speaking of Elia, is it just me or did her training in Paris turn her into an arrogant a-hole. You would think she would relish in the opportunity but it appears she "expects" to be there.

                                  1. I think the Otto thing was dead on. By getting something for free that would have otherwise broke the budget he was heating. If they got it for free and it didn't put them over it wouldn't have been a big deal. But staying in budget is one of their rules. He broke it. They could have lost the challenge just on that.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: KitchenAid

                                      All Otto did was say something like, "I think we got a case of lye cheese for free." Nobody who heard him said, "oops, we better take it back, then." And then they put it aside and weren't going to use it.

                                      The producers preferred gratuitous drama to none and/or some of the contestants saw it as an opportunity to ensure that somebody else got eliminated. Filler. Not About Food.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Yeah, if he was such a thief why would he have blurted it out while being filmed?

                                        1. re: frenetica

                                          There is a difference between actually stealing an item and being willing to get away with not haviing paid for it however, both are still wrong.

                                    2. Marissa's attitude was 10x worse than any indiscretions that Otto did during the episode.

                                      Felt horrible when he resigned since I'm pretty sure they would have offed Marissa instead.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: fascfoo

                                        I'll bet they will bring Otto back at some point.

                                      2. The following is from Marisa's latest blog entry:

                                        First with Otto, let me just say that we all make mistakes. As I explained on the show (a part that’s conveniently missing) I don’t know that he took the lychees intentionally. Elia and I discussed the matter with one of the producers while we were still at the Korean store. What made the situation more uncomfortable was the fact that we did not get to take the lychees back at that point, but instead had to first discuss it on camera back at the kitchen. Which of course made it that much more dramatic to watch!

                                        The fact that Otto denied what he’d said to me did make me angry. The footage of the scowling pastry chef....that part was totally accurate. Now I can see why I’m being portrayed as a villain. Move over Tiffany, I sure do look nasty when I get pissed off!

                                        As for my hockey puck a.k.a. the panna cotta, here’s what happened there. We were supposed to have gelatin in the Top Chef pantry. However, what I found in the pantry was not professional grade gelatin but Knox gelatin from the grocery store. I used the same ratios you use for professional gelatin (1tsp to 1 cup liquid) assuming/hoping it would work. Knox claims that taking their product will improve a persons joints.....and that’s about all it will improve. To put it in non-pastry terms, it would be like having a computer from 1980 and trying to get a DSL connection. It’s not going to happen! To steal Carlos’s line “it wasn’t my crowning achievement but it also wasn’t crap on a plate.”

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: KathyM

                                          So it was set up by the producers.

                                          I think from now on I'm just fast-forwarding through the stuff that's not cooking or judging.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Most reality tv has been contrived in some sense or another and edited to evoke responses.

                                          2. re: KathyM

                                            I used the same ratios you use for professional gelatin (1tsp to 1 cup liquid) assuming/hoping it would work. Knox claims that taking their product will improve a persons joints.....and that’s about all it will improve. To put it in non-pastry terms, it would be like having a computer from 1980 and trying to get a DSL connection. It’s not going to happen! To steal Carlos’s line “it wasn’t my crowning achievement but it also wasn’t crap on a plate.”

                                            BS. I've used Knox when nothing else was available to make panna cotta. You just have to really reduce the powdered gelatin as it is much stronger than sheet gelatin.
                                            And my panna turned out great.
                                            If she really knew what she was doing she would know that 1 tsp. of Knox is equal to about 2 sheets of gelatin. So she pretty much doubled the amount of gelatin in her dessert.
                                            Sorry dear.. but it was crap on a plate.
                                            I've heard her desserts were good but now I'm beginning to wonder.

                                          3. There was a mis-translation of the Japanese chef when reviewing Mia's hand rolls. He said, "mazui kana tomotte demo oishii", which would mean that he thought it would taste bad, but it tasted good. The translater just said, "It wasn't really appealing." I wouldn't want him translating in the U.N.

                                            There is a whole philosophy that one has to buy into with the modern push to make American culinary capabilities extend globally to what the teachers of the CIA think it ought to be. That is the concept that all top chefs ought to know all cuisines - at least to the extent that Americans expect them to, which is to say, really mediocre shit. Whether it's CIA classes or American food TV, I find it amusing that people are challenged to make sushi, pho, kimchi - are further judged that their products are good - when they obviously have no real idea of what's what in those particular cuisines.

                                            Maybe it's the whole HoJo syndrome, accelerated to the next century - get the fancy french chefs to provide us with mass production versions that can be bought into by Americans.

                                            One of Boulud's After Hours series is in Blue Ribbon Sushi in Brooklyn - with the Bromberg brothers. They opened up a sushi place because of their passion for sushi - but they didn't try to do the sushi themselves - they brought in the big guns (ok, long katana's) from Tokyo and other NYC places. They knew that anything less would just be mediocre. So why should Top Chef think that the contestants would be anything but mediocre?

                                            Still - the Japanese chef was surprised when Ilan served ultra-fresh (just living) awabi (abalone) - and his eyes really lit up more than any other, and he said it was great. Ilan hit the real nerve of sashimi and the entire culture - freshness. And yet, the chef chose a more complex, non-traditional item (with jalapenos instead of wasabi) as the winning article. Of course, I wasn't there, but I'm left wondering how much of that was the production team, how much was the chef knowing this was an American audience?

                                            1. tapioca, jasmine tea, taro, and lychee are not even korean ingredients. Yes, koreans use them in korea BUT they are not considered traditional. Especially taro or lychee. I associate both with a country with a more warmer climate. When I think of Korean desserts, they should've used: korean pears, korean melons, persimmons, chestnuts, honey, pine nuts, etc. That is what korea is known for, not the 4 ingredients mentioned above.

                                              I also noticed that as ming tsai was tasting the panna cotta, he said "Is this an authentic korean dessert?" and marisa said "yes, these are all authentic korean ingredients". It was pretty obvious Ming knew that they weren't, yet he didn't say anything there or during the judging. I don't get it.

                                              There is nothing wrong with the panna cotta like I said, they should've just used different ingredients in it (:

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                                oooh bitsubeats - you make me remember that my mother made a sticky sweet rice with dates, pine nuts and chestnuts.. that would have been better than their bad rice and bad dessert attempt! :)

                                                1. re: bostonfoodie111

                                                  Oh yeah I love that stuff, I think the rice is colored brown from all the brown sugar that it is coated with. Sometimes I poke the chestnuts and raisins out of the sticky rice and just eat the rice. Nothing is better than brown sugar coated glutonous rice

                                                  1. re: bitsubeats

                                                    That's funny because when my sister and I were younger we'd pick out the raisins and chestnuts and leave the pine nuts and rice.

                                              2. also, I thought the preferred pronunciation for lychee was

                                                lee chee
                                                lie chee

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: bitsubeats

                                                  Depends on what region of the world you're from.

                                                  1. re: ubermasonfan

                                                    lie chee sounds more of an english pronunciation to me

                                                    1. re: bitsubeats

                                                      Cantonese: lie chee
                                                      Mandarin: lee chee

                                                      Both are absolutely fine.

                                                      1. re: frenetica

                                                        very very interesting, thanks for clarifying by the way

                                                        1. re: frenetica

                                                          荔枝, in Pinyin: lìzhī

                                                          lì is fourth tone and sounds like someone pronouncing "lee" angrily

                                                          zhī is pronounced nothing like "chee", its pronounced more like "zhi" hahaha.

                                                          so lee chee AND lie chee. theyre both wrong if you really want to be sticklers!

                                                          anyway, the show isnt called "most authentic chef"

                                                  2. I finally watched this last night. The constant mispronunciation of lychees drove me up the wall. Don't they know any better? Guess not.

                                                    8 Replies
                                                    1. re: cheryl_h

                                                      Soaking cheese in lye helps make it more digestible for people with lactose intolerance.

                                                      1. re: cheryl_h

                                                        apparently they know just as well as i do.

                                                        you know, a girl born and raised by a mother from hong kong and a father from a small town in china. funny, my grandparents don't speak a word of english, i should tell them they've got it all wrong ;)

                                                        1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                          Ditto on the ethnic upbringing. My parents were both born and raised in China, my grandparents never learnt much English. They, and all their circle of Chinese friends, all pronounced it exactly as the American Heritage Dictionary does.

                                                          1. re: cheryl_h

                                                            precisely, so there isn't a wrong way it's just different because as you know there are many different dialects within chinese.

                                                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                              The show is American, with American contestants and an American audience. There is a standard American pronunication for this word and it is lee-chee with no variants:

                                                              Your ethnic background is immaterial, however as you raised this issue, the pronunication in Mandarin which is the single standard dialect in China is also lee-chee. I seriously doubt that the Top Chef contestants are native Cantonese speakers.

                                                              1. re: cheryl_h

                                                                well now we're just talking fries or frites, i just encourage people to relax about "authenticity" and the like.

                                                                1. re: cheryl_h

                                                                  Merriam-Webster lists both lye-chee and lee-chee, and prefers the spelling litchi.

                                                                  1. re: cheryl_h

                                                                    Actually, if you want to get ridiculous,荔枝
                                                                    mandarin, lì zhī (li4 zhi1 [close to jrrr])
                                                                    Cantonese, lai6 ji1 (lai-jee]. know of no dialects where it would be lee-jee or lee-cheel with a hard ch sound. but maybe...

                                                          2. was it me or did ming tsai seem very underwhelmed with the whole top chef guest judge roll? he seemed almost pained being there.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: xman887

                                                              at least Betty will really put that priceless sushi knife to good use.... oh wait

                                                            2. Why would you want to pair Vietnamese and Korean together? They have nothing in common , it would be like pairing Mexican with French !

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: tk467

                                                                They weren't all that different once the contestants finished Americanizing them.

                                                                1. re: tk467

                                                                  They weren't exactly "paired", they were different stalls at an Asian food convention.

                                                                2. Yeah either they were confused or that was the worst pho ever. You just don't "interpret" beef noodle soup into dry pork over carrots.

                                                                  1. I noticed Marisa'a blog is gone. I wonder if they made her take it off? I was wondering if she was able to comment on the shows a day after they aired. Don't they sign an agreement to not talk about the show until after the Finale has aired?

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: sugarbuzz

                                                                      Didn't the same thing happen last year with Lee Ann Wong?

                                                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                        Is it just me or is it terriblly pathetic & funny that Marisa lost the ice cream challenge to someone who's never made ice cream before?

                                                                        1. re: sugarbuzz

                                                                          Yes, yes. I thought the same thing. After her (always) smug comments, that was hysterical.