Thursday, December 11, 2014

Top Chef - Episode 8 - Clean-up on Aisle 2

Aaaannnnd here's where I get a little ticked off.

Although it may not seem like it, shows like Top Chef have rules. Remember the second season, when Cliff got kicked off the show for physically pinning down Marcel and threatening to shave his head? So we know that any unwelcome physical contact between contestants is not allowed.

Surely there is also a rule about stealing ingredients from another chef's workstation.

We've seen incidents before in which a chef grabs all of a choice ingredient and just parks it at his or her station simply to prevent other people from using it. That is completely obnoxious, but never before has it been suggested that another chef can just take what they want from someone else's station. So in this case, during a Sudden Death Quickfire requiring that the chefs make a chowder, Mei was not out of line to take all the littleneck clams -- in fact, I would think she would have to grab the basket, because if she tried to grab handfuls of clams she likely would have dropped a bunch of them. And more importantly, Mei then immediately shared the clams with Adam when he asked her to.

So unless we had some very creative editing here and we're missing part of what happened, Melissa was completely out of line to snatch the clams from Mei's station when Mei was in the pantry. Here is what I want to know: 1) why didn't Mei protest immediately? 2) why didn't Mei tell Padme and guest judge Jasper White that she intended to use littleneck clams but they were stolen from her station while she was in the pantry? and 3) and why didn't someone from the Top Chef staff intervene? Obviously the camera crew is just there to film, but I'm fairly certain that there are one or more assistant producers in the kitchen at all times during these challenges. Remember Lee Anne Wong from Season 1? After her season, she became a producer on the show and blogged about it; she was usually in the kitchen the entire time challenges were ongoing.

So either Top Chef doesn't have a rule against stealing ingredients, in which case it's odd that it doesn't happen more often, or it does have a rule and it is not being enforced. It drives me insane when an otherwise good episode is marred by some kind of injustice like this, or by some kind of ridiculous physical challenge that is unrelated to cooking (such as who can harvest cranberries the fastest).

The Quickfire

Now that my rant is over, on to the results.... The top chowders included Gregory's razor clam and sweet potato chowder with coconut milk broth; Adam's red wine poached littleneck clams with tomato water; and Melissa's cioppino chowder with littleneck clams and shrimp. Jasper White chose Gregory's dish, granting him immunity yet again. Gregory seemed to regain both his confidence and his ambition, the latter of which had apparently been missing during Restaurant Wars. All four of the other chowders came in for negative comments: Katie's sourdough base for her clams in lobster stock was overpowering and gummy; Mei's clam and lobster chowder was deemed the prettiest but was underseasoned; the poblano and jalepeno in Katsuji's green chowder completely overpowered the oysters; and Doug's grilled oyster chowder was too salty.

Katie's was deemed the least favorite and so she had to compete to stay on the show. Instead of getting to choose her competitor as has been the practice in this season's other Sudden Death Quickfires, Katie instead had to face one of the already-eliminated contestants: George, who got the most votes when the eliminated chefs each had to name one other person in the group as their choice to compete. (As a random aside, if memory serves, this is how Alan Shepard was chosen to be the first American in space: each of the Mercury astronauts had to name who they would want to go besides themselves.)

The challenge was rabbit, and it quite looked like George was not going to plate in time, but he pulled it off, presenting the judges with roasted rabbit loin with barley risotto and mustard rabbit jus. Katie made a braised rabbit leg with moroccan tomato sauce. With three judges, the first to get two votes would win, and both Jasper and Tom chose George, who thus cooked his way back on to the show and sent Katie home. I like Katie, I think she's a nice person and a talented chef, and I admire that she tended to try and stretch herself a bit during challenges, but I admit that at no point did I ever think she would win this competition. She just wasn't consistent enough.

As for George, I'd forgotten that in the very first episode, he'd come in at the bottom of a mise en place relay, after which he picked Gregory as his competitor in the Sudden Death challenge. Boy oh boy, would he ever had picked someone else if only he'd known how great Gregory would be cooking for most of the season! So it's kind of nice that George got to come back and actually cook.

Elimination Challenge

This week's elimination challenge was fun: the seven contestants drew knives to see which judge would be doing their shopping at Whole Foods so they could provide a tasting menu for 75 Top Chef fans. Adam and Doug got Richard, who bought them lots of proteins and vegetables and a couple of things suitable for molecular gastronomy. Gail shopped for Katsuji and Melissa and got them shrimp and lots of fresh veggies and herbs. Tom supplied Mei with lamb and eggplant. Last but not least, Gregory and George had Padme shopping for them. I have to admit I had no idea what the jackfruit were when Padme picked them up!

The dishes did look tasty. Katsuji made harissa-poached shrimp with Tunisian potato salad; I don't get excited by shrimp, but I would have loved to taste the potato salad and the white sangria he made to go along with it. Gregory made a coconut milk and chicken madras curry with jackfruit relish that Tom and Padme coudn't say enough good things about. Adam made a flash marinated shrimp with peppadew peppers, which Gail in particular found a bit "squeaky." Melissa produced a sauteed-to-order shrimp with harissa yogurt, fig, fennel, dill, mint, and artichoke salad. Mei did a rack of lamb with charred eggplant puree, scallion-ginger relish, and jus. Doug made chorizo-marinated mussels with sweet pepper and cauliflower relish, and George made a beef-lamb kebob with lentils and cucumber-mint yogurt. Overall the judges seemed pretty pleased with the evening's output, and the fans seemed to have fun too. (I was filled with envy for the fans who got to go, and slight annoyance that the judges kept referring to them as superfans. Please!)

At judges table, Gregory, Doug, and George were singled out as the three favorites, and Doug took home the win for the second week in a row. Personally, I would have given it to Gregory for a more creative dish due to stepping up to Padme's jackfruit challenge, but Gail actually remarked in her blog that they felt Gregory's offering was awfully similar to some of his earlier dishes. In any case, I was happy enough for Doug, and also glad for George -- stepping into that situation had to be really intimidating.

On the bottom: Mei, Adam, and Melissa. (I noticed that Katsuji looked none-too-pleased to be smack in the middle of the pack this week. I still don't like him.) I can see where the elimination decision would be a close one. We had two chefs with tasty dishes but with protein that was a little unappealing the way they prepared it (Mei's undercooked lamb and Adam's strange not-really-cooked shrimp). And we had Melissa, who all the judges felt played it safe and boring, with easy-to-cook seafood atop a little salad, which was similar to what she made in Restaurant Wars.

In the end, Adam went home, and looked completely stunned. I haven't really been admiring his attitude and personality lately, but he is talented and there is no mistaking his passion for cooking. I would rather have seen Melissa go home than Adam after what happened in the Quickfire, but I'm glad it wasn't Mei. I suspect this competition has shaken her confidence a little bit. I still tend to think she's the strongest overall chef after Gregory.

Chefs I Particularly Liked This Week: Doug, for simply cooking good food and getting it done, and Mei, who is always willing to compliment her fellow chefs when they deserve it.

The Dish I Most Wanted to Taste: Hands down, Gregory's chicken curry with jackfruit. I've never had jackfruit, and it looked exotic and delicious. Doug's flavor combinations also sounded terrific.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Top Chef - Episode 7 - Restaurant Wars

It's almost tempting to limit this post to just the following: It was Restaurant Wars, and Keriann went home for front of the house.

Yep, that pretty much covers it. I can't say I was overly excited about the food this week, and there wasn't even a Quickfire, which is just as well because Restaurant Wars are difficult enough without one team being given a distinct advantage up front. I have to say, I was happy that they didn't just say "choose up your teams" but rather let drawn knives determine which two chefs would take turns selecting their teammates.

Melissa went first and wisely chose Doug; I think by this point people realize that he may not be loud or showy, but he generally knows what he's doing. Katie chose Gregory -- no surprise there as he's usually so strong -- and Melissa went with Mei next. Katie took Katsuji, Melissa took Adam, and that left Keriann for Katie's team. I would have been hard pressed whether to make Katsuji or Keriann my last choice; he's a more creative chef but can be more difficult, and she has come across as unfocused and a little distracted in several of the past challenges.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the episode for me was that neither Gregory nor Katsuji seemed very interested in being Executive Chef, leaving it to Katie to do so. I felt like they both decided early on that their only goal was to get through Restaurant Wars without being eliminated. That's not to say they didn't work their butts off, but I was surprised that none of the judges, particularly Tom, called them on their obvious "play it safe" modus operandi. On the other hand, I can understand that there are two terrifying roles in Restaurant Wars: executive chef and front-of-the-house. Maybe someone should compile stats on how many times the eliminated contestant was in one of those two roles. I would also note that even though we've had plenty of episodes over the years where the overall winner got a car or $10,000, the overall winner of this episode got nothing. Heck, they often come up with great extra prizes for Quickfires, so why not do it in Restaurant Wars, which is the one challenge where chefs may really need a little extra incentive to step up and take a risk?

On the other team, which eventually named its restaurant "Four Pigs," everyone including Adam seemed determined that Adam should be front-of-the-house, and although I'm not always sure how to feel about him these days, I was glad to see him handle it so well. I hate to see the service go badly; the best Restaurant Wars episodes are the ones in which both teams do great. In any case, Adam clearly knew what he was doing. I thought some of his "patter" was a little strained, but people seemed to be having a good time and the right food got out to the right places. And this was all on top of his 150 cleaned clam shells going missing and having to take the time to re-do that portion of his dish. That's fairly impressive, and I wouldn't have quibbled if he had won the challenge overall, but I think I do agree with the judges' decision to give it to Doug, since he expedited so well and turned out a dish that the judges were quite enthusiastic about.

Another nice aspect was that Mei, who's usually pretty strong-willed, was willing to relinquish the chance to be Executive Chef because she felt she would be of more use as a line chef. Well, the way she actually put it was that "women are better line chefs." I don't know if that's true, but she and Melissa pretty much rocked the food out together, so it was obviously the way to go. In fact, the only real misstep for the entire team seemed to be Melissa's oversalted and possibly overcooked scallops, but her other dish, a mixed fruit cobbler with cardamom cream, helped make up for that a bit.

The other team was just a nightmare. Instead of choosing any kind of actual theme for their restaurant, they all decided what dishes they felt like making and then simply named their restaurant after the explorer Magellan and called it an international menu. Bad idea for Restaurant Wars, because even if both teams had done equally well in service and execution, "Four Pigs" would likely have won simply for having a cohesive menu. Keriann seemed to make every possible bad choice: agreeing to run the front when she doesn't have much experience with that, choosing a fairly run-of-the-mill dessert (crepes and mousse), and making the crepes the day before. While I understand why she wouldn't want to ask one of the other chefs to make them to order, which likely would have been a disaster, she should have picked a more exotic yet lower maintenance dish to make. Look at Adam's clams: once they were done, they were done. In fact, Keriann might have used that as a bargaining chip: I'll do front of the house as long as I don't have to do dessert. Aside from Exec Chef and front-of-house, dessert is another common pitfall that sends chefs home.

Judges Table

As mentioned, there were no surprises at judges' table. The judges asked why Katie didn't tell Keriann that she felt the dessert needed changing. I do feel Katie should have communicated better, although I also understand her reluctance to do so. If she had said to Keriann "your dessert isn't working; how do you want to handle it?" and Keriann insisted it was fine, the judges might then have blamed Keriann with a clear conscience, but they also might have chastised Katie for not acting like an Executive Chef and simply insisting. I also wonder why service was so bad. Surely the two sets of wait staff weren't that different from each other in experience and ability. Why did they struggle so much on Magellan's side? On the whole, because Katie has pleasantly surprised me once or twice, I'm glad she was not the one to go home, but it was a really close call.

Chefs I Particularly Liked This Week: I'll have to go with Doug this week. He got it done.

The Dish I Most Wanted to Taste: I have the feeling that Doug's pork and beans was probably the dish to taste, but I don't particularly care for pork (it's partly psychological for me, since pigs are quite intelligent). So I think my first choice would have been Mei's chicken liver toast with plum puree. I've never tried chicken liver, and I've become more interested in unusual taste combinations, so I think this would have been quite interesting and likely very tasty.

Overall, not my favorite Restaurant Wars episode, but probably not my least favorite.

One last note: Katsuji, STFU about Doug's height. You wouldn't make remarks about him being fat or disabled or African-American or any of twenty other things. Why do you think it's OK to constantly comment on his height? That would be like them making fun of your English. It's just not necessary, and continually calling him short is a sign of your weakness.
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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances

I’ve had this book since 2010 and have been meaning to read it since then, but somehow every time I came across it again in my messy piles of books, it was never the right season.

Well, now it is the right season, and this book perfectly suited my holiday mood. Titled Let It Snow, this book contains three short novels, or three quite long stories, billed as “holiday romances,” respectively written by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle, all accomplished young adult authors. What I didn’t realize, and what really made this fun, is that the three romances are linked, all taking place from December 24 to 26 in the same small town during the same big blizzard. (Some spoilers ahead.)

The first story is Maureen Johnson’s “The Jubilee Express.” Jubilee, who goes by Julie, cannot believe it when her parents get arrested during the annual Christmas Eve line-up for the coveted Flobie Christmas Village limited edition building. Their neighbor and lawyer bundles an unwilling Jubilee onto a train to go to her grandparents, which means that Jubilee will miss her boyfriend’s family’s Christmas Eve smorgasbord. Matters get worse when Jubilee’s train not only gets stuck in a blizzard near Gracetown, it’s inhabited by a team of perky cheerleaders who seem to tumble everywhere like a bunch of good-natured puppies. Jubilee makes a break for the Waffle House across the railroad tracks only to be followed by said cheerleaders; her boyfriend will barely give her a minute on the phone; and she finally accepts an offer from a local boy, Stuart, to spend the night with his family.

This was by far my favorite of the three stories. The Flobie Christmas Village stuff is just funny, and Jubilee’s romance story was, to me, the most moving of the three. I liked Jubilee’s voice, I liked Stuart’s slightly wacky mother, and I felt that this story also embraced the Christmas spirit the most. In addition, I felt like this story had the greatest consequences, if that makes sense -- what happened really matter, and not just in the characters’ imaginations.

I’ll have to admit that I didn’t much care for John Green’s story, “A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle,” which surprised the heck out of me. I actually bought this book on the strength of John Green’s name, having absolutely loved his Looking for Alaska (and much later, his The Fault in Our Stars), and I was tempted to read his story first, but thankfully I didn't, because the way the links between the stories are constructed, you really do want to read them in the order presented.

In this story, a boy named Tobin is spending Christmas Eve watching James Bond movies with his two best friends, JP and the Duke, the latter of whom is actually a girl named Angie. Tobin’s parents are conveniently stuck in Boston due to the same storm that landed Jubilee’s train in Gracetown, where Tobin lives. While Tobin’s parents’ absence is actually less contrived than Jubilee’s, the fact that JP and the Duke’s parents don’t seem to care that their teenagers aren’t spending Christmas Eve at home strikes me as a little odd and a little too convenient. In any case, the threesome get a phone call from another friend who is working at the Waffle House and wants to share his good fortune: the place has been invaded by a group of stranded cheerleaders and so they should get down there right away! The Duke has little interest in cheerleaders, but knowing Tobin and JP think of her as one of the guys (you know where this is going, right?), she tags along.

Unfortunately, here’s where the story gets silly. While yes, I absolutely believe that a trio of teenagers would risk driving in a blizzard for an adventure, they almost crash the car -- and then they try it again anyway. The author tries to give the story false urgency by making us believe that the Waffle House friend said they will only be allowed in the restaurant if they get there more quickly than his co-workers’ friends, as though the cheerleaders are the prize in a macho death match competition.

To be fair, various characters point out that the myths surrounding cheerleaders are silly, not to mention offensive to the cheerleaders themselves. But seriously, I really don’t think that their friend would lock them out of the Waffle House (aren’t those places open 24 hours, anyway?) during a possibly life-threatening blizzard just to make sure the cheerleader-to-guy ratio remains more in his favor. Even worse, when Tobin’s car ends up in a ditch and they start walking to the restaurant, they've gone quite a ways when their friend calls to say he won’t let them in because they accidentally left their Twister game in the car. So they go back for it, even though Tobin’s feet are so cold that he actually starts having difficulty walking. Sure, risk having your toes cut off for frostbite damage so you can get a Twister game so you can see the cheerleaders!

It gets even sillier than that (no, really) but I won’t burden you with any more details. Suffice it to say that yes, I know that to young people, things that really aren’t life and death sometimes seem that they are. And so I believed that Jubilee’s Christmas was absolutely ruined (or so she thought) by missing her boyfriend’s family gathering. I believed that Stuart had been devastated when his girlfriend publicly humiliated him. But I did not believe that Tobin and his two friends had to get to that Waffle House no matter what the consequences might be, and I was annoyed that ultimately there were no consequences. No bad ones, anyway.

The third story, “The Patron Saint of Pigs” by Lauren Myracle, is narrated by Addie, a girl consumed with guilt and sorrow after fighting with her boyfriend, getting drunk, and kissing someone else. She made a plea for her boyfriend to meet her at Starbucks, but any hopes raised by his noncommittal “We’ll see” were dashed when he didn't show without explanation. The reader knows who this boy is -- remember that train that got stuck? -- and at first it’s a little hard to care too much when Addie is so self-absorbed, but actually, that’s the point of the story. Addie vows to turn over a new leaf, and starts by volunteering to pick up her friend Tegan’s teacup pig at the pet store. A series of comedic mishaps result in a wild goose (pig) chase, but hey, it’s Christmas, so the reader can't be blamed for expecting a happy ending at this point, both pig- and boyfriend-wise.

This story was also a bit contrived in the way the pig “emergency” was set up, and it is difficult to like Addie for a fair bit of the story, but in the end I enjoyed it, in part because it tied in so well to the other two pieces. Those stories didn’t have loose ends, per se, but it was nice to see the aftermath of their respective plots. Also, Addie’s transformation was a little abrupt, but still pleasant to witness. She really is a good egg who cares about her friends; she just needed to get past the drama of having drama all the time.

Overall, this was a nice, feel-good little book that’s a quick read. I'm glad I finally read it, and I’m sure I’ll be picking it back up in future years when I want to get into the Christmas spirit. I note it's also been re-issued a couple of times with new covers -- and I just noticed that the latest cover says "New York Times bestseller" on it, so people must like it. If you can get past the silliness of the middle part, it's pretty good stuff.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Top Chef - Episode 6 - The First Thanksgiving

Ahhh, the Thanksgiving episode. I'm sure it must be weird for the chefs and the judges to be cooking/tasting this kind of food weeks or months before the holidays, but I'm glad they do it because my mood is gearing up for the holidays.

The Quickfire

We started out strong here: with guest judge Tiffani Faison (of Top Chef Season 1, Top Chef All Stars, and Top Chef Duels) taking the chefs out to a cranberry bog to harvest cranberries. I'm definitely a city slicker; I had no idea cranberries were grown/harvested that way, even though I'm sure I've been hearing the phrase "cranberry bog" all my life.... it's so easy to forget to ask where food comes from!

BUT we quickly went downhill: it's fine that the chefs harvested the cranberries, but why did it have to be a physical competition to see who could do it the fastest? Enough with these physical contests that are completely unrelated to cooking! To add insult to injury, the winners were the four who "filled" their baskets first, which to me seems a fairly subjective thing. If they really felt they had to do this, each basket should have been on a scale, and the contest should have been for which baskets reached a specified weight first. Sigh....

Back at the kitchen, Padme and Tiffani announced that the chefs would have 30 minutes to cook a dish highlighting cranberries, and hopefully not resorting to Thanksgiving standby dishes. The four fastest harvesters, who were Adam, Doug, Gregory, and Katie, would have access to better ingredients, while everyone else had to make due with an obviously inferior pantry table.

There were lots of fun dishes here that I would liked to have tasted, which I found amusing because I've never tasted cranberries -- I never eat them at Thanksgiving. Of particular interest to me were Gregory's arctic char with sweet and sour cranberry sauce, mushrooms, and pears (if anyone is going to get me to try a wider variety of seafood, it would be Gregory); Melissa's fried turkey bite with apple butter, cranberry compote, pecans, and fried sage (I'm a sucker for small bites); and Mei's sweet and sour pork with pickled mustard seeds and apple salad.

Tiffani singled out Mei's dish along with Katie's borscht and Doug's glazed pork tenderloin as the best three dishes, having noted that Doug's dish tasted "like fall in New England" and she would eat Mei's dish every day. In the end, though, Tiffani found Katie's borscht to be the boldest and most unique, and gave her the immunity. The bottom three contenders were Katsuji, who used skirt steak to make a tartare without cutting it finely enough; Adam for having a non-cohesive dish with his glazed New York strip steak (he had burned some element he'd wanted to put on it); and Stacy's curried cauliflower soup for a lack of seasoning and an overall "clunkiness." Padme had also noted that the cranberries in Stacy's dish had the least amount of sugar. I was actually surprised that the dish didn't get a "not enough cranberries" comment since it looked as though they weren't very prominent in the dish.

Elimination Challenge

For the elimination, the chefs were told they would be making a traditional -- a really traditional -- Thanksgiving meal to be served family style at the Plimoth Planation to descendents of both the Mayflower and the Wampanoag tribe. They would only be allowed to use ingredients and cooking utensils/methods available at that time.

This challenge can be summed up by something that Adam said after they'd finished cooking: "Us nine absolutely nailed it as a team." And they did. No fighting, no drama, no bad dishes, and people helped each other with the final plating. It was lovely.

The chefs had been instructed to split themselves into two courses, and Doug, Katsuji, Stacy, and Melissa ended up going first. Doug served a spit-roasted rabbit with garlic, ramps, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and radish. I was a bit worried for him when one of the Wamponoag guests noted that they would have served the rabbit whole, whereas Doug had served it in chunks, knowing that the diners would not have forks available to them. Fortunately, the judges' later dicussion indicated that they really liked his dish. Katsuji served a roasted butternut squash with poached lobster, chestnuts, and an ancho chili butter, which was well received. Melissa served roasted vegetables: parsnips, green beans, and zucchini with a ramp and onion vinaigrette. Tom said there was a lot of flavor but that the zucchini could have been cooked a little more. Stacy produced ramp-smoked clams with butternut squash, lobster, and ramps. Tom seemed to like it, but Gail noted that there was a flavor she couldn't identify. Overall, Tom said it was a great course.

The second group consisted of Adam, Katie, Mei, Gregory, and Keriann. The diners seemed to love Adam's succotash with beans, corn, summer squash, wilted spinach, and spiced goat milk. They were sort of perplexed, but in a good way, by Katie's blueberry stuffing with blue cornmeal cornbread and lobster; Gail couldn't get over how "wacky" it was but admitted that she kept eating it. I have to admit that on appearance alone, it looked somewhat unappetizing to me, but there was a certain sameness in color and texture to most of the dishes that I know was because of the ingredients and techniques available.

Mei served a duckfat-roasted cabbage with trout vinaigrette that was well received. Poor Gregory, who had trouble controlling the heat levels and was worried about overcooking his goose, ended up with a dish that somewhat undercooked, which I have to imagine I would have found pretty unappetizing. Tom was gentler in his criticism that I've seen him be at other times; it's very obvious that he really respects Gregory, and I'm sure he would hate to see Gregory go down for something like this. Keriann initially intended to serve blueberry pie but saw that it wasn't going to work, and switched to venison with a blueberry compote. She assured Tom she hadn't sweetened the blueberries yet so it would be savory, but although the table complimented Keriann's dish in her presence, they later indicated that the blueberries were too sweet. Before the judges left the table, they noted that their least favorites were Melissa's (not as flavorful as other dishes); Greg's (not as powerful, and undercooked); Keriann's (blueberries too sweet), and Stacy's (that unidentified flavor, which by now had become "offputting" to Gail).

Judges Table

Good news comes first: the judges called forward Katsuji, Doug, and Mei as their favorites. Tom said that Katsuji produced great flavors with simple ingredients, while Gail said that Mei's cabbage was brilliant and unusual with a lovely texture. They also felt Doug's rabbit had just the right amount of smokiness. Guest judge Ken Oringer then named Katsuji as the winner.

For the least favorite dishes, the judges named Stacy, Melissa, and Gregory. Not for one minute did I think Gregory would go home (and I'm glad he didn't; it would have been a real loss to the competition), but I didn't know if they would eliminate Stacy or Melissa, the latter of whose dish they said sort of blended into the background. In the end, Padme asked Stacy to pack her knives, although Tom made a point of saying that it was a tasty dish, just the least favorite among all of the tasty dishes. Stacy said she was sad and a little relieved, and that the stress of being the "home" contestant from Boston had been keeping her from sleeping. While I can sympathize, I'm not sure if it makes much sense in the context of this challenge, because contemporary Boston chefs wouldn't be expected to know how to cook in dirt over a fire pit any better than anyone else.

Chefs I Particularly Liked This Week: Katie has been stepping it up lately, and she seems like such a nice person, so I really like her. Mei is consistent and determined, so that I find it hard not to root for her in some ways. Doug is a nice guy and has a lot of talent. And although Gregory had a bad week, I think he's still the most talented one there. I am finding the show more enjoyable as we get down to more manageable numbers and I feel like I know the chefs' strengths and weaknesses better.

The Dish I Most Wanted to Taste: Once again I was more interested in the Quickfire dishes than the elimination challenge dishes. My first choice would be Melissa's fried turkey bite. If I had to choose from the elimination challenge, I would probably go with Katie's stuffing or Mei's cabbage.

Coming Up: There's no show next week on the Eve of our actual Thanksgiving, but the show returns on December 3 with the infamous Restaurant Wars. I always cringe, because I get scared that the person who takes the front of the house is going to get screwed -- they're in a bad spot if the kitchen can't get food out, and they have to trust the other chefs to oversee their final food plating, which I think would be terrifying. Once in a while, though, a chef really manages to nail the front of the house role to perfection.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
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