Top Chef: Episode 4.1 Gourmet or No Way?
Top Chef: Episode 4.1 Gourmet or No Way?
Last night was the premiere episode of Top Chef 4 and our first glimpse into the culinary profiles of the 16 chefs who are competing for the ultimate title. Some seemed eager to push the boundaries, some seemed like hearty comfort food is their style, and some just seemed a little in over their heads.

So if we had to make a dinner reservation tonight just based on what we saw in last night's episode, which chef's maitre d' would be getting the calls and which chef's dining room would be likely to be looking pretty empty right about now?

With the usual caveat that we, the home viewer, really haven't got a clue as to what the real story is since we can't taste the food, here's my picks for whose food seemed most and least appealing.
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GOURMET

 

Antonia and Richard both seemed to have the tastiest selections in last night episode of Top Chef 4, although their approaches to cuisine seem very different.

Richard, with his bag of molecular gastronomy tricks like the smoker he whipped out last night to smoke up the Middle Eastern/North African spice mixture called Ras el Hanout, seems likely to be the flashy chef this season. I'm of two minds about this kind of cooking. It can be creative and exciting, but it can also be a little gimmicky.  Rocco DiSpirito's response to Richard's peach pizza with sweet tea sauce shows that – so far at least – his conceptual creativity is either in service to or at least doesn't diminish his ability to make delicious food. He was one of only two chefs to be called out as among the best in both the Quickfire and the Elimination Challenges.

Antonia was the other chef to get called with the best both times. With her Italian heritage, she seems to focus on making food that is straightforward, traditional, and that focuses on showcasing quality ingredients. But just because her style might not be as immediately flashy as Richard's doesn't mean it takes any less skill – after all, she worked at a two-Michelin starred restaurant for years. Making delicious food prepared simply and without a lot of bells and whistles can actually be more challenging, because you don't have the element of surprise with which to delight and entice the diner. She is looking like she might have the raw skills to be one to beat in coming weeks.

NO WAY

 

Personally, as a recapper, I was relieved to see Nimma go mainly because I think I'm losing my hearing anyway, and she spoke so dang softly I couldn't hear half of what she said.

As a diner, I would be concerned that she hasn't mastered one of the most crucial elements of cooking: seasoning.

In his book by that name – The Elements of Cooking – Michael Ruhlman recounts working on The French Laundry cookbook with one of the most well-respected chefs in the world, Thomas Keller. Keller is one of the few chefs in the world to have two three-Michelin-starred restaurants simultaneously, per se in New York and The French Laundry in Napa Valley.

Ruhlman asked Keller what the most important thing is for a chef to know, and Keller replied it was seasoning, knowing how to salt and pepper food.

For Nimma's Quickfire to have been missing salt, and her Elimination Challenge dish to have been too salty could have just been an unfortunate turn of events due to the heat of competition. Nevertheless, all we can do is go by what the judges said, and from that, it seems like Nimma hasn't yet truly developed this key component to her cooking. Without that, it doesn't seem like she had a chance to move further in the competition of Top Chef 4.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Bravo)

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