Top Chef: Episode 4.4 What the Professional Chef Thinks
While we're right on the verge of a new episode of Top Chef 4, we just had the chance to catch up with Dana Cree, pastry chef of Veil and our own professional guide to the culinary world, about the last episode of Top Chef 4.

So as we head into tonight's episode, here are her thoughts on how the chefs did last time.  She also gives us a tip for recreating one of last week's winning elements, as well as her own clever idea for a fun film-and-food combo inspired by one of her favorite movies.

Once again, Dana was impressed with Richard Blais' performance. She thought the creativity he demonstrated really fit the theme of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, while he still was able to put his own style into the dish. When I agreed, but said my only quibble with it was that I'd wish he incorporated something actually from the movie since it was about food, she reminded me that they did include a version of a “fizzy-lifting drink,” which I had forgotten.

She noted that the fact that Richard has been running his own restaurant meant that he is used to having a lot of creative control and freedom. Some of the cheftestants have mainly worked as sous chefs, though, following someone else's concepts and attempting daily to perfectly recreate someone else's recipes. For them, this creative liberty might not be as second nature, and this could impact their chances in this competition that often rewards imagination on par with execution.

I have been skeptical but curious about the white chocolate and wasabi combo, and Dana said that while chocolate, with its creamy cocoa-butter richness, is actually a great complement to a variety of tastes, and that she thought wasabi was a good match. I am still going to have to taste it myself, but after all, regular chocolate and spiciness work well together, so I guess it's not that far-fetched.

She, like the judges, was surprised that Spike Mendelsohn would pick a summer roll as the dish to make to represent Vietnamese cuisine.  She agreed with what Tom Colicchio noted: this is something you can get at nearly any inexpensive local joint, and there was not enough of a twist to elevate the simple fare to something creative enough for  this challenge.

Dana said that Andrew's faux caviar is actually not that difficult to recreate at home for those who might be curious about this. Bravo's website gives the recipe for making his exact version which uses tapioca pearls. The ambitious home chef can create other kinds of faux caviar with an even more caviar-like texture (i.e., a membrane surrounding a flavored liquid) by using more complicated molecular techniques of mixing a food puree with sodium alginate and dropping the liquid into a bath of calcium chloride bath to create little spheres that will pop in the mouth just like caviar.

I couldn't resist asking Dana what she would have done had she been participating in the “dinner and a movie” challenge, and I thought her idea sounded both fun and delicious! Here's what she said she would create:

“One of my favorite movies is Legally Blonde,” she said. “For that movie I would make ‘Grilled Cheese with Bad Salad'.”

Why “Bad Salad”?

“Because when Elle gets dumped by Warren in the restaurant and becomes vocally distraught,” Dana said, “Warren explains to the concerened onlookers, ‘Bad salad,' and a woman says, ‘Well I am definitely not ordering that.'”

She said the salad could either be a composed salad, possibly “large shavings of fennel and whole leaf parsley dressed in a champagne vinaigrette, stacked on top of cherry tomatoes and red peppers confit'd with thyme.”

The grilled cheese, she said, could be a refined little dish with a cheese custard and lobster inside thinly-slivered bread toasted in lobster oil, or rustic white bread, filled with fontina cheese and fried in thyme- and garlic-infused butter.

Why a grilled cheese? Dana said that was from the Legally Blonde scene where the sorority sisters are describing Elle as so very depressed that “she ate like 6 grilled cheese sandwiches. Just shoved them in her mouth. It's so sad." As though, Dana said, “eating 6 grilled cheese sandwiches is the ultimate sorority girl crime.”

Something tasty to consider making tonight as you watch the new episode of Top Chef 4!  For more from Dana, check out her blog

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)