Tag Archives: Top Chef

Ontop of a Potato…all covered with Cheese (read to the tune of ‘On Top of Spaghetti’)

I’d like to begin this post with a quote from the band Guster, “step on a kid he’ll grow up hating you” from their song Either Way, is a real summarization of how kids are most vulnerable to influencers and role models in the early parts of their lives.  As adults we meet people all the time who influence our life.  But the difference is, as adults we’ve already established a foundation for who we are based on the people from our childhood.  And by human nature we surround ourselves with people who are similar to us.  So the hope is by the time you are an adult you are being influenced by good people.

With that in mind, every year I volunteer as a counselor at Camp Happy Times.  This is a week long camp for kids ages four to eighteen who have survived or are going through cancer treatment.  I’m going to make a very bold statement and say that for some of these kids Cancer saved their lives.  Many come from rough neighborhoods of New Jersey and their ticket to life outside the chain link fence and cracked pavement is behind a hospital wall where they find people who care about them and instill the will to survive not only for the sake of living but for the chance to make something of themselves.  The role models at the hospitals have a different job from us camp counselors.  Our week with the kids is an insight to their social lives.  Each year my range of problem-solving skills expands.  But the real skill comes in how you build trust and negotiate with these kids so they trust you.  Which in turn will make you a role model and influencer.

The skill that was added to problem-solving file cabinet this year was a mix of body image and nutrition.  One of my food fantasies is to have an army of Top Chef constants come into the challenge of making a healthy meal out of camp food.  The food needs to be rich in vitamin c, as many of these kids are still sick,  while also delivering protein, energy and hydration.  Oh yea and it has to taste good and be fed to about 200 people.  For me each meal was a personal Top Chef challenge, to dig out some nutrition from the meals presented and also be subject to the poor eating habits of thirteen-year-old girls.   While camp is a time for these kids to let loose I felt I looming responsibility to influence their eating habits.

By the middle of the week the baked potato bar was really taking its toll on their energy levels, and they were all starting to develop little baked potato beer bellies.  It wasn’t until I explained that their friend Mr. Potato Head while rich in vitamin c and potassium was not giving them any nutrients by day three especially when topped with a man-made river of cheese whiz.  With a cliff notes version of complex carbs and high glycemic
index I explained this is why you feel exhausted by 2:00 everyday.

Other mealtime characters included salt-shaker-Sally and two-bite-Betty.  There were some kids who were trying to eat healthy by going to the salad bar.  But I just cringed at the sound of them chomping down on Iceberg lettuce swimming in Ranch dressing and Bacon-bits.  I was faced with a moral dilemma to hide the salt shaker, shove a chicken finger down a kid’s throat and begin preaching Michael Pollen style about knowing where your food comes from.

Making a healthy version of Sesame Chicken with the girls in the kitchen.

My best advice to these girls was as follows:

At the ripe old-age of thirteen your little bodies have already had some pretty toxic chemicals to deal with.  Between school lunch and mall food courts it’s not easy for you to find healthy choices.  Food will fool you into thinking it’s giving you nutrients when it’s not.  And you might not think eating a cheesy baked potato covered in Bacon-bits and a river of cheese three days in a row will matter much right now, but I promise you it will come back to visit you later.  Your body is precious, it’s already been through a lot, feed it what it deserves.

On a lighter note, here is a link to Sesame Street singing ‘On Top of Spaghetti’

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Top Chef All-Stars

It’s like the end of baseball season, or a presidential election, or finally seeing the new Harry Potter movie, what am I going to be obsessed with now?!

My overall thoughts of the season are favorable.  I liked the idea of bringing back old cast members as you already had established relationships and character developments.  I feel like every new season it takes me a couple episodes to find out who I want to root for.

Some outstanding moments:

Jen leaving so early!!!  What they hell was up with that?  She was so close to the finale in her season nearly smacking down those Voltaggio brothers.  Red-headed Tiffani quoted how she really expected to get schooled by Jen, but alas.

Jamie what a wuss.  Did you even want to be on the show?  She did make a total comeback in the finale though.  I think she knew we were on to her.

Tre didn’t know too much about him, but loved how he called himself the “Black Italian”

Carla so happy she won fan favorite!  I didn’t think she’d win the competition but happy she made it pretty far.  I couldn’t believe her in that Target challenge, I mean I get a little caught up in the place too but seriously woman get cooking!  And the Jimmy Fallon thing was a little much with the pot pie.  BUT  the CRUST ON THE BOTTOM is KEY.  And now I secretly love Jimmy Fallon for his love of food.

Elmo and Cookie Monster need I say more.

Fabio was great to see him back but seriously man it BURGER not BOUGER

Tiffany I truly don’t know how she made it that far nor did the blogging community, it was a sigh of relief when she finally went home.

The finale was great.  I really enjoyed watching Mike and Richard take leadership in the kitchen.  That is the true mark of a great chef.  And really got a kick out of watching Spike the Spy!  So random to see Lidia as one of the guest diners?  Where was Bourdain?  I thought he was part of the original panel?  I love listening to Gail’s critique’s and she’s always very complimentary.

So happy to see Richard win!  I did feel bad for Mikey though, I wanted to give him a hug.  And that look on his wife’s face when they announced the winner…EESH.  But as much as the Andy Cohen Watch What Happens Live was a drunken *hit show, Mike looked in good spirits.

I’m anxious to see what Bravo has up their sleeve for the next season!

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What I’ve been Up To

Restaurants:

Butter: Celebrity Chef Alex Guarnaschelli has a gorgeous dining space and her restaurant week menu was very impressive and delicious.  I peeked into the kitchen and saw Ashley from Top Chef Season 6.  We asked the waiter if she could come out and say hi.  (I told him I was a famous food blogger.)  Apparently she was too slammed in the kitchen so we were denied.  Funny that the kitchen was slammed because she didn’t look busy when I peeked in earlier, and our dessert took so long to come out that the waiter gave us a free glass of wine.

Ciano: After my Meatball Madness event I have been anxiously awaiting the opening of Shae Gallante’s new place, the name taken from one of my favorite wine’s Montepulciano. I became friendly with the Sous Chef Tyler who I’ll always remember re-instated a famous lesson to me (in reference to plating the meatballs) Fingers were meant for burning. Ciano was amazing, rich Italian food with a dining room designed by Vogue.  Tyler also gave us a tour of the upstairs private dining area and wine tasting room.  Reminded me of how the Lion restaurant has these secrete little private dining room spaces.  Of course try the meatball appetizer but don’t get the Tiramisu.  The pastry chef isn’t Italian.  Go for the Pistachio Cake with cherries, butternut squash and farmer’s cheese gelato.

James: A seriously delayed attempt at me getting to Brooklyn.  Named after the owner’s grandfather this charming little spot was participating in Brooklyn’s restaurant week.  I know a place is good when I’m desperately torn between the pre-fix and ordering off the regular menu.   But the spinach and escarole soup with garlic chips and ricotta mousse was a fine first course followed by a roast pork loin with mushroom fennel stuffing and a been stew.

 

Talks:

Is Local Agriculture Good for the Environment: The Hidden Costs of Food in New York City at the Museum of the City of NY

First of all I hate getting up to this place, dam you upper east side.  You have to walk through this seedy neighborhood on 106th street until you finally see Central Park in the distance.  Anyway, the lecture was packed.  The panel included:

Gabrielle Langholtz, editor of Edible Manhattan, and moderator

Peter Hoffman, chef and owner of Savoy

James E. McWilliams, author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (Little, Brown, 2009)

David Owen, author of Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability (Riverhead, 2009);

Jennifer Small, owner and farmer from Flying Pigs

The main point was the debate between using more land to raise better product and feed fewer people, or use less land (factories) to produce more food of a lesser, cheaper quality.   Moderator Gabrielle Langholtz, to me is a trusted news source of publishing and advertising wholesome and sustainable food.  Edible Magazine,  is a place I go for advice on trying to live locally and greener.  With all her might she tried to get hard answers out of the panel.  What do we do?  What is the answer?  All seemed to say, ‘It’s a complicated question’ and I’m not sure we really got anywhere.  There were a lot of environmental terms that got thrown around that went over my head.  But I did relate to Peter Hoffman when he said, (paraphrased) I can buy the local trout from Brooklyn, but it won’t taste as good as the salmon I could get shipped from Alaska.  But ya know what, I have a good relationship with that salmon fisherman, he comes from a long line of responsible fisherman and while the carbon footprint might be greater, I’m getting a better product with a responsible undertone.

It seemed on more than one occasion the answer was to eat more vegetables.  The pig farmer even chimed in and said after years of raising pigs she has found herself eating less meat.  Mostly because she savors it more.  And on a little tangent, there was an episode of the Fabulous Beekman Boys where they slaughtered two pigs.  It was obvious that they developed a personal relationship with Porky and Bess and have more respect for the meat and meals provided by them.  

Hopefully one of these days I’ll finish Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and move on to James McWilliam’s Just Food as there were multiple questions from the audience that seemed to be easily answered by reading a passage from the book.

Personally, I go half and half.  I look for cage-free eggs, but in these cold winter months I’ll buy produce from Mexico.  I support local farmers not only for the mission but for their entrepreneurial spirit.  I’m looking into joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and maybe buying some meat from the farmers market this summer.

 

An Evening With Amanda Hesser

Amanda Hesser was a food writer for the NY Times and has now started a new food blog called Food52. She is most noted for a piece she wrote where she bashed the food of Emeril.  Somehow I’m not surprised.  She’s been working hard at Food52 which is a place for people to share recipes.  The best community recipes are tested, awarded and then eventually made into a cookbook.  The first book was recently published The Essential New York Times Cookbook. I was able to get some answers out of her as an aspiring food writer.  She said the best writing samples to submit is your own original work.  Which would be my blog.  Also, she recommended reading material that is outside of your category to help you become a better writer.       


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Top Chef wins Emmy Award

Congrats to ‘Top Chef’ for finally receiving an Emmy Award and beating out the long time winner ‘Amazing Race.’ 

I’m still on the fence about the superfluous amount of reality TV, and especially in the cooking category.  I had a chance to watch an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s ‘Master Chef’ and I was really embarrassed for some of the contestants and even more so for whoever is coming up with the challenges.  Critics are paralleling ‘Master Chef’ with American Idol and in a lot of ways I can see the comparison.  Many of the contestants on Idol are so bad it’s funny!  People who care about them have been filling their head with praises making them think they can actually make it in the music industry.  Just because your friends or your husband or family thinks you’re a good cook doesn’t mean you have the ability to compete on reality TV.  One woman broke out into tears because she couldn’t make a cupcake! On that same episode one of the armature chefs had to compete against the acclaimed Kat Cora.  Really?!  That sounds like a set-up for failure.  And if the two shows continue in a parallel universe, probably only a handful of the Master Chef’s will make it in the real world.  It’s also frustrating from a person like me who is dedicating time to school to watch these ‘one dish wonders’ suffer through a competition way out of their league.  

While ‘Top Chef’ has it’s moments of absurdity I think it’s pretty well done.  After being in school for a few months I recognize more techniques and can make better judgments on whether or not I think the judges are making smart comments.  However, this season I am having a hard time picking a person to root for.  The casting from previous seasons has been much better.  One word FABIO!!! 

It’s hard to think that the future of television depends on reality drama so much that they had to make it it’s own category at the Emmy Awards.  I’ll just keep rooting for Modern Family and Glee!

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