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Top Chef 3 Miami: Episode 2 - So Long Chef Sandee

June 27, 2007 By Maria de los Angeles in

Bring it on:  strong and spiritual Sandee shows the world she’s gonna rock no matter what. Looking for show updates? Read our coverage about Top Chef 3: Miami.

Episode 302:  “Sunny Delights”

Quickfire Challenge:  Hung
Elimination Challenge: Brian
Eliminated: Sandee


Nanny nanny boo boo, you don’t hold the patent on watermelon!  But you can slap my butt if you want to!

Best Candidate For Emergency Orthodontic Surgery
Chef Joey, opening a bottle of Grand Marnier with his teeth.

Best Potty Mouth
Chef Micah was positively pg-rated with her cute “freakin’ lemon and lime” compared to Howie and Joey’s rather unintelligible stream of bleeps.

Best Hint of Sadomasochistic Fraternity Hazing Tendencies
Chef Joey said he’d buy kneepads for Hung, who literally bent over and smiled!

Best Imitation of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver
Chef Joey and Chef Howie earn a tie between:  “Be a man” and “Don’t bitch like a little girl,” respectively.

Best BS Disjunction Between Reality and Reality TV
Illustrious chef judge Norman Van Aken closing his restaurant in Miami.

Best Weird Miami Beach Outtake
A shot of a pelican flying over (supposedly – no landmarks were in the shot) Indian Creek dubbed over with the birdcall of an osprey.

Best Insensitive Punk
Chef Hung on Micah:  “Don’t use your daughter as an excuse that you’re crying.”

Best Touché
Micah made it as top three finalist, Hung!  Ha ha!

Best Codependent Chef With Anger Management Issues
Chef Joey:  “It’s always someone else’s fault when it comes to Joey,” according to Chef Cassey.  And as Howie puts it at judge’s table: “pointing fingers at someone else is not what leadership is all about.”  Damn straight!

Best Underdog
Sarah N!  How is it possible you work as an executive chef and don’t know that scotch bonnet peppers are the most amazing hottest esophagus-scorching, ulcer-inducing vegetables of the world?  Still, you made it!

Best Judge Comment
Tom Colicchio:  “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.”


Chef Norman Van Aken, still the biggest cheese even though he closed his restaurant.

Padma Lakshmi arrived with the grand daddy of New World cuisine, Norman Van Aken, who acted as guest judge.  According to Padma, “Florida’s single most important ingredient is sunshine,” and so the chefs had to 30 minutes to prepare a dish with sunshine.  Oh wait, actually it was citrus, and I’ll bet you a cheap wine cooler most of it was imported. 

The editing team did a marvelous job of showing us how 14 cooks in one kitchen work like bumper chefs.  Utter mayhem, especially with Chef JC, who is taller than the Empire State Building and played linebacker to the rest of the height-impaired crew. How can one not bump into him?  He’s everywhere!  As Chef Cassey said at Fresh Market:  “Get out of my way!”

“I wish I was 5’3” ... no offense, honey.”

Poor Sarah N was a nervous wreck and had a hard time explaining her dish.  Van Aken’s best advice:  Speak up!  Chefs need the gift of gab to be able to talk about their food.

Micah was out of sorts because the fact of living with a bunch of strangers and being away from her daughter – well, that simply sucks.  “I’m staring at this and I’m thinking:  Micah you have more ideas staring at freaking gooey duck and monk fish liver than you are a freaking lemon and a lime, which you work with everyday.”

As Micah pounded garlic and cried, I wanted to give her a big hug.  But crying ruins the food, Micah.  This was expressly taught to us in Like Water for Chocolate

Did you know that reality tv shows are not as easy as they look?  Contestants are literally living like a sequestered jury.  They are not allowed to leave the premises nor have any contact with the outside world.

Results for the quickfire: Joey’s Watermelon, Grand Marnier and Coriander drink was a big hit but Hung won out overall.


The elimination challenge consisted of a BBQ at luxury condominium Aqua, located on Indian Creek just north of the Fontainebleau hotel.  The event was hosted by Miami uber-foodie Lee Schrager and would feed a bunch of elite socialites.  I can’t for the life of me understand why I wasn’t invited since other Very Important People attended, according to the Miami Herald.  Thankfully, it was a nice day.  Can you imagine this competition in a typical Miami thunderstorm?  What I did wonder was about all the bald-headed chefs not wearing hats!  I hope they slathered their noggins with SPF 30.  Can you say blistering scalps?  Oh well.

So what was the bigger sin, no BBQ or not upscale enough?  As Van Aken put it:  “three words go with BBQ:  low and slow.”  Funny, that’s also the criteria for a lap dance at Club Madonna, but let’s stick to food.  This was one of those episodes we could all relate to.  Who hasn’t cooked out at home?  And it’s true:  BBQ requires subtle technique to not dry the meat and to keep everything perfectly balanced in terms of acidity, heat and salt.  As well, it’s got to be easy and fun to eat. 

But Van Aken, I have an even worse sin for you: by far grilled food that tastes like lighter fluid trumps all the dishes served in the disaster category.  Any one of us who have survived hurricanes know the taste of chicken thighs a la Kingsford.

My favorite critique of Chef Tre, who ate him some major Texan humble pie, was the lack of acidity for his salmon dish.  “Where’s that dagger that goes through all the fat?” Van Aken concluded.  Ouch!  Talk about cutting through that self-proclaimed BBQ expert’s ego!

Brian, I love the idea of seafood sausage; however, the last name of Malarkey has got to go.

Brian won out with his Chino Latino:  Corvina Seabass, Scallops, Shrimp Sausage with Jicama Slaw, Sweet Chili Glaze and Asian Chimichurri.  Did you know you I just burned 500 calories trying to type that?  Click here to see Lee Anne Wong’s tips on cooking the winning dish. Indeed, seafood is very delicate and should never be overcooked; if you can master that on the grill, you’re the man!

Don’t cry for me Chef Micah!  “I feel like dog sh*t,” ... but maybe I’ll wow them with lamb.  Once again, Micah goes for the road less traveled as in her winning Italian ham plating in episode 301. No one else chose lamb to BBQ.

My favorite was Micah’s.  Anything with lamb and haroumi cheese has got to be delicious!  And our poor underdog, Sarah N, who confessed she didn’t know scotch bonnet peppers were the hottest in the world, made it to the finals!  Congratulations.

Note to self:  Rinse well after dealing with scotch bonnet peppers!

But who cares about food when you have all the drama?  Do you think Hung really stole Joey’s watermelon drink idea and if he did, who cares?  At the end of the day, Joey played his best imitation of Robert DeNiro from Taxi Driver, accusing Howie of being a wuss.  “Be a man!” Howie responded with equal chutzpah:  “Don’t bitch like a little girl!”  Ouch.  I think these two chefs need to go to a codependency anonymous meeting.


Yeah guys, you are acting like a bunch of little girls.  Let me tell you, the only persons with balls on this show so far have been women!

It was sad to see Sandee go only because I’ll miss her vibrant presence on the show.  I caught her on the phone this Saturday as she was driving up to New York for another television related event, which she couldn’t tell me about!  Oh darn!

One thing that impressed me about Sandee was her practice of karate katas (forms) on the balcony at The Fontainebleau.  Over our conversation, she told me that she had a 3rd degree black belt in Shodokan and Tae Kwan Do.  Prior to becoming a chef, she had opened a martial arts school in Atlanta where she taught underprivileged kids.  A true competitor, Sandee had been a lettered varsity athlete in her school days and continued to nurture her fighting spirit with the martial arts.  Obviously there’s more to karate than a pork chop:  how has this helped Sandee in the kitchen?

“The martial arts taught me how to focus.  It’s a confidence builder that adds discipline.  You strive for perfection.  When chaos happens you are able to control it.”

Discipline, focus and drive:  all three strengths that helped Sandee go from never cooking in a professional setting to kitchen manager in two weeks.  Three years later, she works as executive chef for Tantra, having garnered a one-diamond award per year.  Sandee is most certainly a fantastic role model for women.  I wish you continued success!

Sandee’s favorite dishes at Tantra are her Lamb with Pomegranate and her Goat Cheese Flan with Fresh Blackberries and Lemon Zest.  Sounds heavenly!

Read more about Sandee Birdsong from my fellow correspondent Matt Meltzer.  Here is Sandee’s exit interview on Bravo.


On May 31, Norman Van Aken closed shop after 12 years but may reopen a new restaurant in a hotel.  Aken was inspired by Florida:  “Coming here as a person from the Midwest, I was knocked out by the plantains, the black beans and the spices and the fruit.”

Check out this CBS news video.  If you want to try his food, you’ll have to go to Orlando or Key West until (I hope!) he reopens a new restaurant in Miami.

Paula’s Salad

Why does everything have to be so complicated? Try Paula Nino’s simple yet delicious mango and cucumber salad as a side dish for your next BBQ, especially now that mango season is right around the corner.  Look for the recipe at Paula’s Miami foodie blog, Mango and Lime

Maria’s Mojo

Sour oranges are used in a Cuban mojo. They look terrible—somewhat like citrus fruit that’s been mummified since the Egyptians built the pyramids; however, they’re perfect for mojo, a sauce used for boiled yuca (a tuber root, similar to potato, but very grainy).  Here’s my recipe.  I don’t do quantities … play with it and figure it out!

Sliver (do not chop) fresh garlic and cook it on medium heat in some light olive oil.  Do not let the garlic burn! You must hover over the pan like a hawk and make sure the garlic does not brown! If it does, start over again.  After about five minutes or so, add a pinch of dried cumin seed and let it toast in the oil and garlic for about a minute.  Then add:  fresh-squeezed sour orange juice, a few squirts from a lime, a few tablespoons of regular OJ and some sea salt to taste.  Simmer for a few more minutes then let cool and refrigerate for one day.  Before serving, I like to add some fresh cilantro.  The rest is simple: boil some frozen yuca and smother it with the mojo.  I don’t recommend using fresh yuca.  It’s slimy and cumbersome to prepare.  Variation:  add some chopped hot peppers of your choice to the garlic and cook for a few minutes before adding the cumin.  Some people also like to sautée onions; I prefer my mojo hot and garlicky, balanced with the tart sweetness of the citrus.

NEXT COURSE:  Is 13 really an unlucky number?  Who will be the odd one out?

Reality TV Fans Gossip About the Show

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About the Author: Maria de los Angeles is a freelance wordsmith who loves to write about all things travel in Florida and the Caribbean. She is also the author of the award-winning blog Sex and the Beach.

See more articles by Maria de los Angeles.

See more articles by Maria de los Angeles

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