Tag Archives: La Cocina

Top Chef Masters: Nostalgic Finale Edition

16 Jun

Host Curtis Stone checks in with San Francisco finalist Traci Des Jardins. - via Bravo TV

Last night brought the finale of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, and our SF-based Traci Des Jardins was in it to win it. On the line was $100,000 for the cheftestants’ charity of choice. For those of us rooting for the home team, we hoped La Cocina would be victorious.

The episode began with the remaining three chefs (Des Jardins, Mary Sue Milliken, and Floyd Cardoz) joining host Curtis Stone and critics James Oseland, Ruth Reichl, and Gael Greene in the kitchen. The final challenge was to create the three-course meal of their lives. The first course was to be inspired by their first food memory, the second course was about what made them want to be a chef, and the third was critic’s choice.

Des Jardins was paired with our favorite insatiable critic, Greene, who wanted French-inspired fried duck. Des Jardins is trained in classic French cookin, so she looked relieved and then overjoyed when Morgan Mueller, her executive chef at Jardinière, got to join her for the challenge. Greene to Des Jardins: “This is kismet.”

The dish that made Des Jardins want to be a chef? A quail salad from Zola in San Francisco during the ’70s. It was served at the exact moment when she was figuring out if she wanted to go to college and her life was forever changed.

When it came down to prepping and cooking, Los Angeles native Mary Sue Milliken knew it was a rainy day in LA. She kept all of her shopping to one stop and was the first in the kitchen. Unfamiliar with the local traffic, New Yorker Floyd Cardoz made several grocery stops that kept him out for far too long and left him to enter the kitchen with the shortest amount of time on the clock. The only twist for the finale was a sexy and sweet one: Host Stone made a surprise light lunch for the finalists.

Diners for the last supper of the series included OG Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio and Top Chef Masters alums such as Milliken’s other cooking half, Susan Feniger. Milliken explained that in this Laverne and Shirley of food relationships, she always has Feniger try things first. (We like to call it the canary in the coalmine method.) Case in point: Feniger did Top Chef Masters first and married Milliken’s husband first. Quick, Bravo, get these ladies a spinoff show!

Milliken prepared Asian tartare, shrimp two ways, and the lemon soufflé Reichl requested. Reichl noted that this dessert enhances and continues her love affair with lemons, and Alan Sytsma (who used to work with her at Gourmet) added that the dish tasted like Reichl.

Des Jardins made shrimp Creole, quail with sweetbreads, and duck two ways. Unfortunately, it was not fried, and Greene was happy with only one of the duck preparations. When asked whether she would still be a food critic if she was served this duck several years ago, her answer was no. We were heartbroken, but liked the idea of Green still writing “silly stories for Cosmopolitan about how not to get dumped by your husband on his way up.” Cardoz served the most subtly complex meal with a polenta upma with coconut milk and mushrooms similar to his afterschool snack, snapper in a tomato and fennel broth, and the rendang Oseland requested and loved.

The competition was as stiff as Stone’s overgelled hair, but Cardoz was crowned the Top Chef Master. His winnings support the Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund, selected in honor of his late father. We were bummed that Des Jardins didn’t win, but in her stint she raked in $30,000 for La Cocina — masterful work!

Original published on sfweekly.com – Original Post

Top Chef Masters, Week 1: Traci Snarls, La Cocina Wins!

7 Apr

We are still suffering from a bit of Top Chef overload, but the new season of Top Chef Masters with new host, format, and judges brought us right back into the world of cheftestants, Quickfires, and knife packings. We tuned in last night for the Season 3 premiere, hosted by our number-one hunky chef as seen on TV, Curtis Stone. Also, the judges this time around ― Ruth Reichl and James Oseland ― are just as topnotch.

The promo: Twelve of the most acclaimed chefs in America, battling in a culinary clash of the titans. San Francisco’s very own Traci Des Jardins was the opening’s most intimidating, saying she’d been the only woman in most of the kitchens she’d worked in France, and that she’d built a reputation for being mean. We like them fighting words ― we’re in!

Other master cheftestants we have our eye on:

Suvir Saran, who blamed a bite from a rabid dog for his participation, and said his good looks and eloquence would carry him through (adding a “kidding” at the end)

Hugh Acheson, the self-proclaimed White Swan of the Masters, who parts his lips and speaks in a very interesting way

Mary Sue Milliken, who does women chef trips with Traci to Mongolia and Egypt, which should be its own reality show

The Quickfire was mystery box pairings. Chefs went head-to-head with the person next to them, creating a dish from what was in their box and their partner’s. Amazing combos (frogs’ legs and cottage cheese, dragon fruit and sardines) were as odd as the chef matchups. Three of these so-called masters failed to fully finish and plate.

Our hometown hero, Traci, had to use black licorice (a food she despises) and peanut butter, making duo salads for the win! We thought it was a cop-out to make a duo instead of a unified dish, but the judges unanimously loved it. The prize of $5,000 went to one of our favorite charities, La Cocina, so we aren’t complaining.

The Elimination Challenge was everyone’s favorite Top Chef stunt: Restaurant Wars. The winners from the Quickfire’s head-to-heads were on one team, the losers on the other. The winning team was far more mature ― we loved listening to everything that came out of Suvir’s mouth..

The losers’ group was headed by Naomi Pomeroy, of Portland’s Beast, who earlier served up an empty plate, and was looking for redemption.

Traci’s team of winners had a restaurant called Mosaic, with traditional staggered reservations and seatings. The food was all on point, if a bit safe. Traci, even with immunity, pulled out another beautiful salad. The only surprise was the size of Hugh’s scallops and the supermarket quality of Mary Sue’s cupcakes.

The other team, Leela, had a very different approach, with all-at-once seating, an idea as nutty as its peanut soup. The judges had to demand the next course to be delivered, and when it was, the plates were labeled.

The critics preferred Mosaic, but the guests (who chose the winner), preferred Leela. Hugh and Mary Sue were at the Critics’ Table to answer for their dish errors, and Hugh was sent home. His scallop was inedibly salty. We’re guessing he may never use Maldon salt again.

Next week , the masters will cater a party for the voluptuous redhead from Mad Men. Call us mad, but we’ll be watching and reporting next week.

Original published on sfweekly.com – Original Post

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