Top Chef 3 Miami: Episode 11 - See Ya Later CJ
Episode 311: “Snacks On A Plane”
Quickfire Challenge: Hung
PADMA CHOWS DOWN
At 6 am in the morning, Padma pranced into the girl’s and boy’s dormitories screaming like a banshee: GOOD MORNING! RISE AND SHINE! She threw the sheets off Casey and tickled her silly. (Wouldn’t tickling be against show rules? Remember Cliff and Marcel in season two?). Anyway, Padma didn’t touch any of the boys, but her wake-up call absolutely thrilled CJ. He said she shined brighter than the sun. Aw ... was he revealing a school-boy crush?
The sleepy heads stumbled out to the living room in robes and pajamas looking quite disheveled. Actually, Padma looked rather au naturel herself with a no-make-up-I-barely-slept-a-wink-make-up-look.
The chefs had 20 minutes to cook breakfast for the hostess using none other than corporate-sponsored Brenville Blenders, butane stoves and of course, limited pantry supplies. Hung said they “scattered like cockroaches” in all the mayhem. Both Casey and CJ accused Hung of knocking over a bottle of truffle oil, which made the kitchen floor quite slippery. Also, the cooking stations were tiny; some chefs nearly toppled over a few saucepans.
CJ was convinced he could find the way to Padma’s heart by feeding her crepes. He was operating under the belief that all women go ga-ga for the fluffy, soft French version of the pancake. “I have girl power! If I were a spice girl, there’d be crepe spice,” he said smugly. Now, before you give me any shit making fun of this brave cancer survivor, tell me you didn’t think about his one remaining testicle when he harped on about crepes. Ew! Maybe he really should’ve fancied himself a member of The Pussycat Dolls!
Anyway, Sarah’s eggs-in-a-hole were “heavenly,” according to Padma, but it was Hung’s steak, eggs and Grand Marnier fruit shake that stuck to Padma’s skinny ribs, even though she’s not a great fan of steak and eggs.
Dale thought it was the booze in Hung’s smoothie that influenced Padma’s decision, but he also admitted that she might’ve liked steak and eggs for the very first time. You know, like a virgin—a beef and huevos virgin!
I’m sure Hung would’ve preferred, um, like immunity or something as his prize (even though the competition is fresh out of it), but instead he got a copy of Padma’s shamelessly promoted new book entitled Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet.
CAULIFLOWER VS. BROCCOLINI
Parting is such sweet sorrow. NOT! The chefs were thrilled to learn that they’d gotten tickets to New York City and that the finale would take place in Aspen. They couldn’t wait to get out of here, but not without talking all kinds of fake, publicity speak praising The Fontainebleau to high heaven. But more about that later …
After landing in Newark, the chefs sighed in disappointment when they learned they’d be stuck in Jersey until the next challenge. But why such grief? Newark is so pretty compared to Miami and so much more exciting than Manhattan! And if you believe that let me tell you about this bridge in Brooklyn. It’s for sale …
The next day, the chefs received instructions for the elimination challenge: make airplane food that doesn’t suck for picky first class customers. They received a quick tutorial from Continental Airlines executive chef Gerry McLoughlin and then had two hours to prepare and pack hot entrées for transport to an aircraft galley. Later, they had to reheat and serve on board. Hung got to pick his protein first since he had won the quickfire, which meant none of the other chefs could choose the same item.
Making a restaurant-quality dish for a flight isn’t as easy as you’d think. Ever wonder about the mushy texture of airplane meals? The culprit is the fact that proteins, starches and vegetables have to be reheated in the same container for exactly 10 minutes before plating. Adding to the challenge: the container can’t be piled high with more than two inches of grub. It has to fit perfectly in the warmer.
The chefs worked with a variety of proteins: chilean sea bass, lobster, filet mignon, shrimp, halibut, veal medallions and salmon. Colicchio explained that fish was a tricky choice, because it could be overcooked in a second. But some of the chef’s kept talking about “high fat content” as the key to moist meat.
The competition site was a jumbo jet parked inside a huge hangar. Jimmy Canora, from Continental’s Congress of Chefs, served as guest judge as well as returning killjoy Anthony Bourdain, a man true to my heart for his acerbic candor. But the real surprise here was an army of the airline’s elite flight attendants, whom according to Dale, “boarded the plane like ants from a Tom and Jerry cartoon.”
With only six chefs remaining, judge favorites were paired off in even three’s. Dale’s steak was a bit too peppery but otherwise perfectly cooked. His only failing? He missed one portion and let one diner go hungry. Hung’s sea bass got points for being flavorful and an interesting twist on a classic preparation. But it was Casey who took off AGAIN with a second win for her veal medallions and cauliflower gratin. Bourdain said she had the quality of a top chef, even praising her “creativity and daring.”
Casey won two round-trip business class tickets to anywhere in the world on Continental. Do you think she’ll come back to Miami? Nah. But she’s definitely coming back to rule Top Chef kitchen.
Good lord, the criticism doled on Sara, Brian and CJ was so harsh, it gave me indigestion. If you catch re-runs of this episode, make sure to keep a jar of Tums and some Kleenex nearby.
Never mind that fellow competitor Dale called Brian’s dish a “brontosaurus steak” large enough to feed Fred Flinstone, because the portion didn’t bother the judges as much as his purple potato hash. “Disgusting,” was Colicchio’s one-word conclusion. Bourdain thought Sara M’s salmon was so dry, he put it in “cat food category.” But it was CJ’s broccolini that inspired an all new level of critical brutality on Top Chef. Bourdain said it wasn’t even good enough for prison chow and Colicchio claimed it was the worst dish ever served in the show’s history. Ouch!
After so many gut-wrenching insults, a heart-wrenching conclusion: have you ever seen Padma get teary-eyed before uttering the dreaded words? Well, she was holding back from crying while telling CJ to pack his knives and go. Could it be that she too had a sweet spot in her heart for CJ? In any case, our one-testicled friend took it all like man, standing tall and proud. He even graciously thanked the judges for the experience.
Here’s what CJ had to say: “I’m looking forward very much to what’s going to happen next in my life. That’s one of the things that the show has really done for me, is kind of open my horizons. I want to open my own place and I think that’s coming up for me.”
CJ, you’ve survived it all! Surely, you’ll get to that place you want to be in your career. Best of luck.
SIDECOURSE: TOP CHEF WHERE?
Hung said he’d really miss the people and friendly atmosphere of Miami, but I wonder if the producers were holding a meat cleaver to his head while he read from a script, because all the chefs sequestered and bound by the show’s rule: no contact with the outside world. Yet after he gushed about the beautiful penthouse, he probably meant this in earnest: “As much as we love Miami, we all really want to go and enjoy the fine cuisine of New York City.” Wham, bam, thank you Miami! Who can blame him? He barely got a taste of the real Miami.
Honestly, being a native Miamian, I never got the sense that this show truly captured much of the culinary spirit of this city. Yes, the show featured some local restaurant owners and chefs as guest judges, but did we really get to savor Miami? Actually, let me put it this way: did this show have anything to do with Miami? Most of the outtakes featured about four square miles of Miami Beach, with the exception of Fresh Market’s façade in Coconut Grove. Top Chef could be held in Hoboken or Timbuktu, for all I care. It all boils down to the competition, the sponsors and publicity.
Who were the real stars of this city-based “reality” show? The Fontainebleau Hotel and the Greater Miami Visitors and Convention Bureau. According to a Miami Herald article (reprinted here) the hotel and the bureau paid well for prime time publicity. A few details:
I had a sneaky feeling Top Chef kitchen was at the Ice Palace when random outtakes began to appear at the beginning of recent episodes. But truly, the City of Miami Beach and one of its most legendary hotels stole the limelight. Gorgeous vistas from the penthouse and outtakes of the causeways on fair-weather days, not to mention plenty of beach shots featuring tits and ass, read like a travel promoter’s dream brochure. What did Top Chef teach us about Miami Beach? That it’s a beautiful place to come visit. Did we learn about where and what to eat? Not quite. Not at least from watching the show.
Luckily, Bravo’s website does pay some tribute to local flavor in a series called Miami Spice, which features Carlos Fernandez from season two. The Fort-Lauderdale based chef demonstrates classic recipes such as picadillo, arroz con pollo and other Latin or Spanish inspired dishes. This web-only feature is one of my favorite treats from the entire season. Go give Carlos some love and try some Miami Spice recipes at home!
Herald article tip via Menupages.
NEXT COURSE: The 12th episode of Bravo’s “Top Chef 3 Miami” is a pressure-cooker as the remaining contestants struggle to recreate a dish made famous by special guest judge Sirio Maccioni (Owner of famed Le Cirque in NYC). Later, the competition reaches a boiling point when the chefs must cook for some of the industry’s most renowned chefs. Joining the judges’ table is special guest Andre Soltner (The French Culinary Institute).
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