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Monday, December 17, 2012

Next Iron Chef: Redemption - Episode 7: Transcendence Recap

This episode opens with the four remaining chefs: Marcel Vigneron, Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag, and Nate Appleman standing in the museum of magic in Las Vegas, with Alton Brown sitting in a helicopter cockpit, living out some odd dream of him being a 'copter pilot. Alton introduces the group to famous illusionist David Copperfield, who acts (poorly, I should add) shocked that he has sold more tickets to his performances than anyone, including Lady GaGa. Then, Alton stands aside as Copperfield carries out this gimmicky, confusing, and all around unnecessary illusion with cards to reveal the ingredient for the Chairman's Challenge to "Transcend" the typical buffet style meal. After suffering through all the confusion, it is finally revealed that the ingredient/theme would be... BACON! There will need to be three hot dishes, and two hot dishes, from each team, prepared and presented in two hours.

The chefs would be placed into two teams of two. Freitag had the advantage from the last win, so she got to choose her teammate; she picked Appleman. This put Alex and Marcel together. In the side commentary, Alex makes it clear she is not happy with her partner selection. As the twist, the non-winning team would be the two competitors in the Secret Ingredient Showdown. So eloquently put by Alex on several points in the episode, "Friends become Frenemies!" Sorry, Alex, does that mean you consider Marcel to be your buddy?

Before I get into the Chairman's Challenge, I should point out what I think about the contestants. Guarneschelli is my favorite, by far. Over the past few weeks, I have really come to like Appleman, as well. Both would be great Iron Chefs. Freitag wouldn't be a poor choice, either. But when it comes to Vigneron, I have not been able to stand him the entire season, thus far. I really wish he had made an exit with his "Bro", dude. Now, onto the Challenge!

Team Alex/Marcel decided to take the buffet to a French Bistro style. Marcel got all into his own selfish mind, and was about to piss himself with the idea of innoculating every dish with bacon. He was dead set on "bacon-wrapped bacon", but Alex seemed to have talked him down from it. After planning the menu, Alex and Marcel got down to business. Marcel immediately became a selfish little bitch by keeping the entire jar of sugar on a shelf over his station; Appleman retrieves the sugar for his teammate. Also, it seemed that Marcel went ahead and started the bacon-wrapped bacon, without letting his partner know he returned to that idea. He tossed a pork belly into the pressure cooker, and then wrapped it in a mat of bacon. While this is taking place, Alex does a basic roast chicken that has been mummified in bacon. When Marcel spies the chickens in the oven, he goes on and on about how he would seduce and mount them, and refers to them as "hot sex on a plate". I could have really done without the imagery of the offspring of a chicken and Vigneron. *shudder* And to be honest, I was not impressed with Marcel's idea to make a chocolate mousse with bacon.

Team Freitag/Appleman got to work on some very tasty-sounded creations. While Appleman's country fried bacon (which he credits from watching Good Eats) sounds fantastic, I wasn't really sure if he should be tempting fate with crepes while he couldn't pull off a good pancake, last time. As Freitag fills and rolls the crepes, she proudly boasts that her crepes "will bring all the boys to the yard". Indeed, Amanda, they just might.

The teams had to decorate their own buffet table. Alex tossed together something decent, which Marcel, much to her dismay, completely re-decorated. Appleman, smartly, realized he only had to make their table look better than Alex & Marcel's.

And in typical food television challenges, it appears neither team will get done in time. *GASP* Wow, they did finish just in the nick of time!!!

For the tasting and judging, Donatella, Simon, and Geoffrey were joined by Hal Rubenstein from InStyle Magazine, apparently to judge the buffet presentation?

First up is Team Freitag & Appleman. They transcended the buffet by going "petite". You know, when I think of all you can eat buffets, I think "petite". Their dishes included:

* BLT Salad with Jalapeno Lime Vinaigrette, with the deep fried bacon
* Lobster Crepe with Canadian Bacon
* Bacon Roasted Potatoes, cooked in bacon fat, with shitake mushrooms, asparagus, finished with sherry
* Honey Mustard Pork Belly with a cheddar, bacon biscuit, on their carving station
* The Elvis Brulee, Peanut Butter Pudding, Bacon Peanut Brittle

Simon did not enjoy the salad, as his was basically void of the dressing. A diner they showed also complained of the omission. All the judges seemed to agree that the pork belly was just too "mustard-forward" and was overwhelmed by it. Everything else seemed to please the judges, except the fashion judge did not approve of how the table was dressed. The Elvis dessert garnered praise from all the judges, and was deemed the best dessert of the competition!

Next was Team Guarneschelli & Vigneron. Their method to transcend the typical buffet was to go French Bistro on it. Their dishes were:

* Leeks & Eggs with Bacon Vinaigrette: a classic bistro dish
* Lobster Bacon Burre Monte with Potatoes: poached lobster in the bacon butter, with fried fingerling  potatoes
* Bacon Wrapped Chicken
* Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly with Brussels Sprouts
* Chocolate Mousse with Bacon Pecan Streussel

Geoffrey observed immediately that the leeks were undercooked in their opening dish. Then, he pointed out that everything in the lobster burre monte dish tasted the same. Let me guess... did it all taste like bacon, perchance? The bacon-wrapped chicken from the carving station brought mixed reactions. Simon thought they were juicy. Donatella said the ingredient was transcended. Uhm... what does that mean? And Hal knocked them for being unattractive and just "piled" in that pan. Question: If they are on a carving station, what does it matter how they look prior to being sliced? Everyone seemed to enjoy the bacon-wrapped bacon. The mousse dessert had broken, and become grainy. Simon smartly states that bacon does NOT make everything better. Hal complained about the presentation of the table, and said that the buffet did not call out to the diner. I'm still baffled why this guy was on the show.

Both teams had negatives: pork belly overwhelmed by the honey mustard, and the undercooked leeks & broken down mousse. The judges decided that Freitag and Appleman would move on, and Guarneschelli and Vigneron would battle in the Secret Ingredient Showdown. Marcel seemed very confident and Alex seemed stressed, as usual. This is Alex's first trip to the elimination round, and Marcel's third. And to note, this is also the point, last season, when Alex was eliminated. Please God, don't let Alex get eliminated against Marcel!

Secret Ingredient Showdown
In the world of product placement, Food Network is beginning to shill nearly as much as Top Chef. In this instance, the secret ingredient was Hershey's chocolate and candy. The contestants had to select two items and create a savory, holiday dish.
Alex chose Bliss White Chocolate and Special Dark, along with duck and radicchio. She created a Duck Breast and White Chocolate Fennel Cherry Salad. Her plating looked fantastic and did a great job showing a holiday theme: the cherries looked like Christmas ornaments, and the shaved white chocolate a nice snow over the dish. The dark chocolate on the duck breast and fried duck heart was a great pairing of flavors, as well as the dark chocolate in the red wine onions. 

Marcel selected Hershey Milk Chocolate Bars and Kisses, to pair with his savory duo of lamb and eggplant. He decides to create Roasted Lamb with Eggplant Caponata. I was confused about the holiday theme with his idea, since caponata is primarily a summer vegetable dish. He worked the chocolate into his eggplant puree, and went with a white chocolate curry risotto. He burned up his first pan of risotto and decided to use a sushi rice in order to cook faster. His lamb never had a chance to cook fully given the time constraints. He broke down the rack of lamb and appeared to be poaching or frying the lamb in chunks, on the stove top.
Vigneron's Showdown Dish, including underdone lamb
Vigneron was first up in the "Chamber of Judgement". Simon was very apprehensive about the white chocolate curry risotto (and who wouldn't be?), but found it to be wonderfully the best dish on the plate. He did not like the undercooked lamb. Geoffrey disagrees about the doneness, and Donatella never voices an opinion, other than a slight head nod.
Guarnaschelli's Showdown Dish
Guarneschelli is praised for her use of the duck heart, but Simon thought it was not well seasoned. The judges enjoyed the flavor compliment of the endive and fennel in her salad. And they thought she was spot on with holiday snow scene of her plating.

After much discussion, it was decided that Chef Alex Guarneschelli would move on to cook another day. Adios, Bro! Marcel made some remark about coming back possibly as a challenger on Iron Chef America in the future. Whatevs...
Time for pouty little Marcel to run home to his Bro', Yo... 
I'm happy with the three final competitors. I can picture any of the three being a great Iron Chef. Of course, my order of favorites: Alex, Nate, Amanda. It will be interesting to see who will be the final matchup. Next Sunday night is the Season Finale, and the new Iron Chef will be chosen!

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