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Jun 28, 2007 06:50 AM

Top Chef 3 - Ep. 3

Have to say I was actually surprised at Howie winning the Elimination Challenge (and doing so well in the Quickfire), but his final pork chop dish looked absolutely heavenly with the cider sauce! Ted Allen has good things to say about Howie on his blog. I suspect he'll be around longer than Joey will.

But what the heck was up with CJ's tuna casserole? That just looked completely icky.

And Hung (IMO) was rather childish and arrogant in saying that Alfred Portale didn't know what he was talking about when he commented about the gigantic "croutons" in putting Hung in the bottom 3 in the Quickfire.

As for Micah - the idea of the stacked meatloaf was OK, but even on television, it looked incredibly dry! Loved the Elks Lodge visitor saying "My meatloaf was crunchy!"

I do have to say I was actually looking forward to more imaginative renderings of American Comfort Food, but most of it just didn't seem all that appetizing. I will, however, be checking out the recipe for Howie's pork chops (especially with some real unpasteurized apple cider in my freezer!).

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  1. I was glad to see Micah go, her South African attitude was getting really annoying. And while American comfort food may be gross, you can't be a chef and pretend to know nothing about meatloaf, which has versions in any culture...terrines, hello? It's not like South Africa even has the most highly sophisticated cuisine around, anyway.

    It was interesting to see Howie's med-rare pork. Overcooked pork is still mandated by the US govt and that's obviously why they didn't discuss it on the show, but it was nice to see the slices obviously pink and the judges love that.

    5 Replies
    1. re: kenito799

      One of the blogs on Bravo (Padma's) noted that some of the Elks Lodge visitors had major issues with the pink pork, even after the reassurances from the TC folks. :-)

      1. re: LindaWhit

        This is such a great observation, and something I've been wondering about as well, as I even heard Ming Tsai say on his tv show "No pink guys!" when talking about a seared pork loin or chop.

        Didn't the judges also comment that it was cooked perfectly? So is medium rare pork ok?

        1. re: Rocknrope

          The paranoia about getting trichinosis from pork is way overblown---there are barely any cases anymore (undercooked ground beef is far more risky). Here's a discussion from Bruni's blog last year, sparked by the delicious medium-rare pork chops served at the Little Owl in Manhattan:

          1. re: Rocknrope

            Strange as on another episode I saw Ming Tsai declare how pork is now safe to be cooked medium rare (that's where I first found this out.)

        2. re: kenito799

          South African food is so meat and potatoes, Micah has no idea what she is talking about with that pretentious fake South African accent. Good riddance!

        3. Ugh...I cannot believe nobody commented on the sweat dripping from Howie's nose into his ceviche. I guess his dish won because it had that "a little something extra".

          12 Replies
          1. re: HungryLetsEat

            yup- that was gross. I am trying to decide who are the contestants who idolized Marcel. I seem to remember someone saying that in the SEason 1/2 Challenge. I fI had to guess, I'll bet it was Hung. Maybe he can cook, but he is not at all likable. And Bobby is a big baby!!

            1. re: macca

              Hung and Marcel are friends from Las Vegas so I imagine they are both big fans of each other's cooking.

              1. re: Elyssa

                Marcel has his blog up (one write-up for two episodes before he heads off for fishing vacation in Alaska - which seems completely incongruous to me!), and he praises Hung highly. No surprise.

                  1. re: macca

                    Word. I couldn't stand Marcel in S2 and can't stand Hung in S3. Hung will likely be in it in the end though.

                    1. re: ggdinero

                      I'll bet you are right- I wonder if Hung will aggravate the other contestants as much as Marcel did- but maybe that is Bobby's job in this series.

            2. re: HungryLetsEat

              i think there's a picture of him (in padma's blog at where you can see the sweat on the very tip of his nose. while it's not appealing, if a little sweat on your food bothers you, you might want to stop eating out. kitchens are very hot places, and, for those of us who sweat, it's really hard to prevent a little moisture from flying around, especially when really busy. it's one of those things best not thought about, but the reality is you're eating a little bit of the staff every time you eat out. gross? yes. but true, too.

              1. re: mark

                Fried Padma toe bathed in Howie sweat jus...

                1. re: mark

                  While intellectually I know this to be true (that chefs do sweat and do lick their fingers, etc and touch food in restaurants) I don't necessarily want to be reminded of it. Especially when I'm totally digging the food these people are laying out and am getting hungry just looking at it.

                  Really, what did this particular shot lend to the show? Realism? - yes. Ick factor? - most definitely. Increased respect (from the general non-restaurant-worker viewer) for previously poor finisher Howie ? - definitely not.

                  1. re: HungryLetsEat

                    i get what you're saying. i look at it this way, it's one of the few bits of reality you'll actually see on a "reality" tv show. while i agree it's a bit unpleasant, i also think it's kind of important in the greater scheme. we tend to view ourselves as somehow separate & better than the rest of the natural world. we live in our own little bubbles of illusion that allow us to remain aloof from our natural place. i think it's good when a little true reality enters the picture & reminds us that we're critters just like all the others. i don't think this is the producers' intention, but it doesn't bother me to see the human body doing its thing instead of a sanitized, hunky-dory version that creates unrealistic expectations. it's important to remember that there are people out there who actually believe what they see on tv. imagine how shocked you would be if your "knowledge" of restaurants came from the food network, then you visited a real, working kitchen during a busy dinner shift; you would probably never eat out again.

                    1. re: mark

                      I see your points. I guess I'm the only one who was grossed out by it since I didn't see any mention of it in the Top Chef blog comments. Usually those folks are quick to point out such stuff. On a separate note - I certainly didn't want to eat out for a while after reading Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential". Made me think long and hard about ordering anything with Hollendaise on it, among other things.

                  2. re: mark

                    LOL! Yeah, I took a cooking class at a local restaurant last year, and while the chef was saying, "Keep your fingers out of the food," he reached into a tub of butter and scooped out a huge dollop--with his fingers, of course. Totally funny!

                2. My San Diego Brian's quick fire made me want to go out at 10 pm. Hung is an A$$. Micah is a snob. Every country has funky looking "home" food and it sounds a bit pompous to bash it on American TV. Maybe they are all afraid to admit the guilty pleasure of simple fried chicken and mac n' cheese. Although simple, some of these dishes can be an art and they are not just peasant food.

                  20 Replies
                  1. re: Ela0427

                    I don't know, I thought the results were clearly racist... I mean, the Jamaican woman did a Jamaican turn on Chicken a la King, and the judges lambasted her because it didn't have peas in it. I grew up in an Italian-American household, and I would have no idea that chicken a la king is supposed to have peas in it. I don't even know what it is. So the "foreigners" are penalized because they're less familiar with American comfort food than the Americans are.... Doesn't really seem fair to me. And, hey, kenito799, what exactly is a "South African attitude"? That sound pretty racist to me, too.

                    1. re: ctscorp

                      "racist" is being a little harsh, don't you think? Micah is South African but she is white. Also, if anything the comments are more jingoistic than racist (maybe a slight euphemism but there is definately a difference).

                      While the foreign competitors may have not been previously exposed to these dishes, they were given a plateful to illustrate the "classic." I am sure that the Chicken a la king on display had peas.

                      Micah definately had a poor attitude when it came to the meatloaf. You can't completly judge something by its looks. South Africans eat all flavors of biltong and that stuff isn't that appealing to look at.

                      1. re: Bhutani

                        If you look at it another way, the foreign chefs could have had an advantage on this challenge because they wouldn't be constrained by their own perceptions of what a dish was "supposed to" be.

                        I just do not get Micah dissing the meatloaf. While the sample meatloaf did not look particularly good, meatloaf was one of the better (and tastier) options up there.

                      2. re: ctscorp

                        I grew up in an Irish-American household, and, like you, I still hjvae no idea what chicken a la king is. I wonder who really eats it?

                        1. re: macca

                          The chick Sara who had chicken a la king aptly described it as "a pot pie without the crust," so she clearly knew what what expected of her. She should have made some kind of braised chicken stew without the cream rather than kabobs, which have nothing to do with chicken a la king.

                          The ones who ended up in the bottom four were there mostly because their food tasted bad (Micah, Sara, CJ) or was cooked poorly (the lentil girl) -- although some of them didn't really follow through on the "redesigned comfort food" idea, the judges told exactly *none* of them that their dish tasted great but they were put in the bottom four because they messed up on the concept. I have no problem eliminating the people who can't make their food taste good -- it is a cooking show after all.

                          1. re: macca

                            My mom often served it for events like our birthday parties. We really liked it! But that was back in the day when everyone's mother (or someone in the home) cooked dinner every day. I don't think your being Irish-American has anything to do with not knowing Chicken a la King. I know plenty of Irish-Americans who grew up on the stuff back in Chicago when I did...

                            1. re: ChefJune

                              I think Chicken a la King is one of those classic American dishes that took off because the recipe was on the back of a Campbell's soup can because it used the product. A lot of classic American dishes became popular throughout the country because certain brands printed their recipes in ads or on the back of the box/bottle/can.

                              I've heard of it. You can still find it in old school diners and in frozen food sections. I think Stouffers or some other frozen dinners make it.

                              I've never actually tasted it and my mom never made it but I recognize it as a classic American dish.

                              Rachael Ray even did an updated version of Chicken A La King.

                              1. re: Elyssa

                                I make Chicken A la King often. I have never used a soup base, never heard of anyone that does. I make my own white sauce. It is a classic dish, and peas are optional.

                                1. re: Elyssa

                                  My Korean mom would make Chicken a la King with the leftovers from the chicken and broth after making Korean-style Chicken noodle soup. She did not make it creamy, though.

                                  I also do not believe that Top Chef was being racist by presenting an American Comfort Foods Challenge. If you remember from last season, one of the challenges was to make Vietnamese and Korean food.

                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                    And no one complained about the advantage/disadvantage that presented for specific cheftestants. Of course, that was a team challenge, where the chefs' strengths/weaknesses could be counterbalanced.

                                  2. re: Elyssa

                                    Chicken ala King was popular long before there even WAS Campbell's soup! No one I know ever used soup in that. OTOH, Tuna Noodle Casserole was a totally different story.

                                  3. re: ChefJune

                                    Sorry- I did not mean that being Irish American had anything to do with me not knowing what chicken a la king was! I was responding to ctscorp's post. Cts said he/she did not know what it was, and that he/she had grown up in an Italian American household. It was just a point of reference.

                                  4. re: macca

                                    My only memories of chicken a la king are from the early and mid '60's when I was a young girl living in Moscow, in the (then) U.S.S.R. We often had to eat imported canned food and one of the biggies was chicken a la king! I remember it as a creamy sauce with chicken chunks, pimiento and mushrooms. No peas. Served over rice--probably Minute Rice! I don't think my mom ever served it again once we got back to the States.

                                      1. re: Furgs

                                        No crazy peas in any of those recipes!! HA! :)

                                        1. re: Furgs

                                          Those canned College Inn entrees were disgusting! Almost as bad as Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast. Yuck.

                                          We ALways had peas in our Chicken ala King. and pimientos.

                                    1. re: ctscorp

                                      Clearly part of the challenge was to deconstruct the original comfort food, and reinvent it. I didn't think anyone did anything really imaginative. It didn't matter that they were unfamiliar with the dish, as one of the chef's hit the nail on the head by noting that chicken a la king was like chicken pot pie without the pie. I don't think the challenge was racist, even Hung noted that in his family comfort food was steamed fish, rice and veggies, but he seemed to figure it out. I think all of the chefs, even the "foreigners" work here in america, and I don't think Howie and Dale made it to the end by being more familiar with American comfort food, in fact Dale used his (russian?) family recipe to put his spin on his dish.

                                      1. re: ctscorp

                                        I'm going to have to disagree with the "racist" accusation, too. Maybe it was biased toward those who were more familiar with American comfort food, but it's not like the chefs didn't have plates full to brimming with the dishes they were supposed to recreate. Presumably, each dish had the appropriate ingredients in it (i.e., peas, which are pretty easy to identify), which would basically serve as a crib sheet for what their interpretation should contain or at least gesture toward.

                                        I also assume that the chefs could have tasted the food if they were unclear as to the cohesive flavor profiles they were to interpret. Again, I'm not very sure how that constitutes stacking the deck against someone who hails from another culture.

                                        And just to clarify:
                                        racist = to discriminate on the basis of race. "Jamaican" isn't a race, neither is "Italian."

                                        1. re: ctscorp

                                          i really do not think it was racist by any means. micah mentions she's lived and had a business in the states for two years. if anything she was the one being prejudiced by insulting american comfort food...
                                          as for the chicken a la king....they were given plated meals...not just the name. i assume they could take a long hard look and maybe a taste or two?

                                          1. re: ctscorp

                                            "I grew up in an Italian-American household"

                                            Sounds a little racist to jfood. From what jfood heard the judges did not like most of what they saw on this episode. Sounds a little anti-chefist to jfood.

                                            But heck do we need to lable everything?

                                        2. I was really happy to see Micah go - I couldn't handle hearing about her damn kid anymore! I think the knock on ketchup was what ultimatley gave her a few extra negative points that put her over the edge. Yes Americans like ketchup just as Germans like mustard or the French like mayo - it's what we put on stuff, no need to knock the culture of food. Her take on meatload was just trying to dress it up - and it was executed poorly.

                                          It seems like in each season where they try and get the cheftestants to improve upon a classic by making it edgy the judges are completly dissapointed. Last season no one really understood the idea of the Thanksgiving dinner (except Marcel) and in the season before I think the same thing happened. The chefs really don't have enough time to become completly creative in what they prepare - this challenge might be better in teams rather than as 1 person. I think the time constraint just makes them try and update the classic rather than reinvent it - so it fails to meet the expectations of the judges.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: wingman

                                            Wingman - You hit the nail on the head noting that the cheftestants in all three seasons have lacked in the "updated classics" department. I think the time constraints have a lot to do with that but on the other hand if this contest is meant to produce a "Top Chef" and similar challenges have occured in earlier seasons, you would think the contestants would have thought of what they would create if placed in similar situations.

                                            I laughed a little bit when Micah made the comment on ketchup. My boyfriend and I were sitting down to dinner and as usual his Costco sized ketchup bottle was right in front of him.

                                            1. re: wingman

                                              I love this show but think the time constraints are sometimes absurd. I've worked on the line in popular eateries and know you have to crank out plates like crazy - a facet of the job required of most cooks/chefs. But even in those situations, we usually knew the dishes well and spent the whole day prepping for dinner service.

                                              These folks are being asked to be super creative, in an unfamilar kitchen, with somewhat unfamilar dishes and ingredients - and they have a half hour or whatever? That's nuts. It takes me 20 minutes to reheat a slice of pizza in the toaster oven, unbag a salad and pour a coke... and I created none of that. How many pros can make a lasagne in that time? They ripped the gal who used store bought franks, but what's she gonna do in that timeframe? Meanwhile one of the guys figured this out and bought instant mash. That's telling. Likewise, one of the best chefs turned out a ring of green stool.

                                              The quickfire challenges cover the speed skills. Let them have a bit more time for the main dishes - not everything needs to be a sprint. Let them poke around, experiment, and have a tad bit of time to be creative. This isn't live TV so they can edit the pace/drama. I don't care for a 20 minute pasta sauce - show me the Godfather ragu. Let's see if they can smoke ribs or briskett for half a day. Roast a whole turkey or leg of lamb.

                                              Does anyone agree? Quick is sometimes good, but some of the best meals take some time.

                                              1. re: tastyjon

                                                Yes, I agree and have often thought the same thing. I would have loved to see a true "low and slow" BBQ challenge.

                                                1. re: Mushroom

                                                  I'll bet Tre would have won that one!

                                                2. re: tastyjon

                                                  I agree. I don't really care if it's "fair" to them, because I consider this show purely for entertainment purposes, but I think it would make for much better watching if they had more time and could therefore be more creative or show off any skills other than speed, which is just not the only important thing.

                                                  Personally, I'd like to see more really truly difficult and interesting challenges with a whole evening to think and prepare (which has happened on past seasons) because the results are so much more impressive -- like last season's 7 sins dinner, which was one of my favorite episodes from any season.

                                              2. Gosh... it could have been such a fun episode! I love remakes on American classics. I would have had fun with that challenge for sure. This is the first episode I've watched this season, and Tom looks even crankier than he did last season!

                                                And I don't know what chicken a la king is either??

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: Katie Nell

                                                  I guess chicken a la king is chicken pie without the crust. Gee- what is point of chicken pie if there is no crust???

                                                  1. re: Katie Nell

                                                    I think the problem was that there were two parts to the challenge: to "reinvent" the dish, but also to make it "healthy." Given the limited amount of time they had to conceptualize their dish, and the even more limited time they had to tinker with it, I think they mostly chose to focus on the "healthy" aspect rather than the "reinvent" aspect. The challenge also was worded in such a way (at least, as presented to the audience) that the term "reinvent" could simply have meant "make it healthy."

                                                    I think Howie was lucky, in that a pork chop and applesauce is not particularly "unhealthy" to begin with, so he could focus more on deconstructing and re-presenting it than making extensive changes. The dishes based on frying or creamy sauces or a starch base (tuna casserole, chicken a la king, etc.) were much harder to make healthy and still have them be recognizable. Also, this group of chefs didn't seem to have much experience thinking in terms of "healthy" cooking and didn't seem to have a clear idea of what some of the possibilities might be.

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      I found the challenge poorly defined. After Tom's walk through the kitchen, he expressed disappointment that he didn't see anything truly imaginative from the chefs. My understanding was that the primary goal was to remake a classic to be healthier (ie, lower cholesterol).

                                                      What I found odd was the loose definition of "lower cholesterol" and no quantifiable measurement of what that meant. Last season during the "fat camp" challenge, they actually had dieticians to measure fat grams.

                                                      1. re: Carb Lover

                                                        What I found odd was Tom and other judges complaining that so many people took the challenge "literally", then they complained that Sara's chicken a la king had so little resemblance to the original. I don't think of peas as being a defining element of CAK -- I think of the mushrooms in the sauce, and maybe green peppers and pimientos.

                                                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        Umn, I'm not a doctor (yet) but I'm pretty sure pork and applesauce is less healthy than lobster, and they ripped the lobster guy apart for the high cholesterol.

                                                        This webpage has a chart -- if you click it you can see how healthy lobster is.

                                                        I also for the record can't believe that no one made cauliflower, which to me is one of those obvious things that feels carb-y but is actually veggie.