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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.