Top Chef 3 Miami: Episode 3 - Micah Gets Out Before it Gets Ugly
Episode 303: “Family Favorites”
Quickfire Challenge: Brian
BEST OF EPISODE 303
BEST LIVING SITUATION SHOT
BEST COULD BE AN INTRO TO SOFT PORN MOMENT
BEST DUMB ASS LINE BY PADMA LAKSHMI
BEST HUNG COCKY BRAVADO MOMENT
BEST CRITIQUE OF HUNG BY JUDGE PORTALE
BEST ELK CONVERSATION
BEST ELK CRITIQUE
MOST HUMILIATING JUDGE COMMENTS IN TOP CHEF HISTORY ABOUT MICAH’S MEATLOAF
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: DON’T BE SO SHELLFISH
Thirteen remaining chefs stood with baited breath as Padma introduced them to guest judge Alfred Portale, winner of the James Beard Award for Most Outstanding Chef. He may be most outstanding, but his personality on camera was about as exciting as tapioca.
This quickfire challenge was particularly weird. Each of the chefs had to get their sleeves wet as they scooped a variety of live shellfish out of a small tank with a “flimsy” net. Never mind that crawfish, conch and scallops would never be found together in the same body of water. Hung got first dibs and basically hogged as much as he could and then dropped a crawfish on the floor. Everyone complained about Hung’s poor kitchen etiquette. As Lia remarked, “you’re supposed to clean up after yourself in the kitchen.” Indeed. The chefs also felt sorry for the poor crustacean, but give me a break, how can you have sympathy for an animal you’re about to boil alive in water?
In this challenge we also saw the tender side of Joey. He had nothing but praise for Alfred Portale, who is well known for artistic plating technique, which Joey compared to the Sistine Chapel: “I don’t even want to eat it, it’s so pretty.” Well, it’s true that we eat with our eyes first, so it’s understandable that Portale took great offense at Hung’s giant croutons. Those chunks of bread looked like huge road turds on that small plate!
After each of the chefs had collected their bowl of sea critters, they had 30 minutes to prepare the best possible shellfish dish to impress master chef Portale. Holy crab claw, thirty minutes! That’s not much time to chuck, de-vein and clean shellfish, let alone retrieve conch meat from the shell. Conch became a major nemesis during this quickfire challenge; most of the chefs avoided it altogether and it proved to be Micah’s downfall. Portale told Casey she was smart not to use it and Dale admitted he didn’t have time “to dick around with the conch.” But I have to wonder, was conch the trick question of this “quiz”? Conch is tough as brick and needs to be tenderized by pounding and simmering. Why would they include conch in a thirty-minute challenge? And besides, conch isn’t even a shellfish, it’s a snail! Hmm ...
My two favorite dishes were in the top three. Howie’s ceviche looked lovely, garnished with a fried plantain chip. Even though ceviche needs to marinate for more than 30 minutes for the citrus acid to “cook” the seafood, the dish pleased Portale’s taste buds. Brian won over all with his less is more philosophy: “The less you do with seafood, the better it is, because it’s already phenomenal.” I couldn’t agree more. Brian’s dish was not only pleasing to the eye, its name was also poetic. “Tres Rios” (Three Rivers ... of course, it sounds sexier in Spanish!) consisted of three little platings progressing from raw to cooked. An oyster mignonette sat next to clams, scallops, mussels and crawfish sautéed in wine, butter, garlic and chives. These two items must’ve been so good that Portale forgave the third, a green mess he called conch toast.
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: FROM FRESH TO STALE
In this episode’s elimination challenge, the chefs had to create lower cholesterol, healthier versions of American classics—Tuna Casserole, Chicken A La King, Meatloaf and such—for two generations of Miami Elks Lodge members. This part of the episode was the dullest airtime in the history of Top Chef EVER. Underwhelming and awful dishes kept coming out of the kitchen, so perhaps that’s what made the judges look like they were about to doze off at the table, bored out of their minds. As Ted Allen put it, “We are in serious need of some wow here. We’ve had three courses of not wow.” But perhaps it was also the somewhat questionable premiss of the challenge. No doubt it’s unhealthy to eat rich, creamy, fattening American comfort food everyday, but if it aint broke, why fix it? The whole point of family favorites in real life is not to come home to a box of twigs and raisins, but to something warm, satisfying and nurturing.
Adding to the challenge was the idea of “healthy” interpretation. Like I said, if it aint broke, why fix it? Padma made an ironic comment about CJ’s Tuna Casserole: “It tastes like health food.” I know what she means, but what else to expect? Yes it looked like a “green blob” (Portale), and yes, it looked like its flavors were probably muddy (Colicchio), but make up your minds, people! Do you want healthy or what?
Colicchio was disappointed by the fact that most of the chefs were taking a literal approach to their interpretation of American classics and yet at judge’s table, Sarah was criticized for making her Chicken a la King more like Chicken a la Don King, nothing having to do with the other.
Micah was spot-on when she discussed the challenge. It’s difficult to serve traditional food reinvented in modern ways to people who are used to eating classic preparations: “There’s a pre-conceived notion of what they’re going to eat.”
And so it was easy to see which dishes would come out on top—the ones that not only gave you comfort food warm fuzzies, but also looked like bad-for-your-thighs American grub, without adding to your growing collection of cellulite. Dale’s Chicken and Dumplings, though made from prepackaged dried mashed potatoes and store-brought rotisserie chicken, looked positively scrumptious, with a simple seal of approval from Colicchio: “This is good.” Howie won the challenge with his beautifully presented Pork Chops, which was more of a mouthful to spell out than eat: Fennel Crusted Pork Chops with Apple Fennel Salad and Sultana Raisin Emulsion with Apple Cider Ginger Reduction.
Congratulations, Howie! Your dish is something that would stick to my ribs and keep my heart healthy. It sounds delicious and easy enough to try at home.
As for poor Micah, I am without words. How could her meatloaf have been that bad? With critiques like “terrible” and “yuck” the judges made it sound like even a dog would turn its snout at it! It’s just as well. A tearful Micah had these parting words: “Winning is great, but I think it’s going to get really cut throat and there are some people here who will probably do anything to win and I’m not like that. So I think I’m better off getting out now before it gets ugly.”
Micah may not have won this competition, but as far as I’m concerned, Micah is a winner in real life! She started her business with a suitcase and four hundred dollars, infant daughter in tow. A single mom who can do all that can certainly bring home the bacon. You rock, Micah! I wish you continued success in your catering business.
Click here to see Micah’s exit interview on Bravo.
SIDE DISH - WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T PUT KETCHUP ON YOUR CONCH
Conch Is Good For Lovin’
In the quickfire challenge, Dale said he didn’t have time “to dick around with the conch.” Speaking of dicking around with things, I once learned from a group of women selling fruit at a market in Antigua (West Indies) that if you serve raw conch to a less than enthusiastic man, he’ll act like he’d just taken a double of dose of viagra. Just sayin’, ladies ...
Let’s be honest. The premiss here was that Americans have been eating a lot of fattening crap for generations and then the judges were offended by Micah’s comment about Americans putting ketchup on everything. But guess what? We do! My friend MKH, author of Hidden City, who is originally from Paducah, Kentucky (you can’t get more American than that), thought it was unconscionable that Micah would’ve been criticized for including ketchup as a major American vegetable. “My mom used to put a layer of ketchup on top of the meatloaf, covered with bacon strips and slices of green bell peppers. The ketchup would cook into a topping you could just peel off the meatloaf.” Now that’s comfort food, my friends!
What Do Elks Eat, Anyway?
Ed Rose, Manager at Miami Elks Lodge #948 (South District) told me that they typically serve filet mignon, liver and onions, pork, churrasco and shrimp. No mention of Fried Chicken, Frank and Beans or Sloppy Joes! “We’ve got the best Italian dishes in Dade County on Tuesday nights like Shrimp Alfredo, Chicken Picatta, or Spaghetti with Peppers and Sausages,” Ed said proudly. The lodge is a private club, but fortunately, the public can enjoy a huge breakfast buffet, including omelettes and blintzes, for about nine bucks per person. What a bargain! Open 9am to 1pm on Sundays. Visit Miami Elks Lodge #948 online for more information.
NEXT COURSE: With only 12 chefs remaining, who will pack their knives?
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