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All You Can Eat

Trend-setting restaurants, Northwest cookbooks, local food news and the people who make them happen.

January 3, 2013 at 12:32 AM

‘Top Chef Seattle’ and the curse of the risotto

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The best ‘Top Chef Seattle’ moment you didn’t see Wednesday night? It was a visit to The Cooking Lab in Bellevue, where Padma Lakshmi and the show’s contestants got a 22-course version (that’s the stripped-down one) of the famed Modernist Cuisine feasts. In the video above, which didn’t make it on the final show, we got enough personality and humor and serious food talk to carry the average episode. (Top lines: Lasers shooting mosquitos out of the sky. Padma saying how she looks at the cheftestants at this point and thinks about how they could use a massage. Brooke getting to chat with Padma about both being moms. And Padma thanking Nathan Myhrvold for hosting her and nine of her closest friends. “Soon to be eight,” Myhrvold smiled.)

All that, along with the ultrasonically-bathed French fries, went on the cutting room floor. What we got instead was a reminder that cooking risotto under stressful conditions on Top Chef is never a good plan. In my restaurant critic years, I started wondering whether restaurant kitchens should even serve risotto — it seemed doomed to failure. But cheftestant John Tesar argued that “Risotto is not a difficult thing to cook,” and set out to do it. You can guess how that turned out, or move on to our weekly collection of highlights and lowlights:

Sharp-edged quickfire: Master bladesmith Bob Kramer of Olympia guest-starred for the quickfire challenge, slicing through lengths of rope like cookie-softened butter, and judging the nine contestants on their abilities to sharpen a knife, tourne potatoes, and butcher a rabbit. Micah won immunity and one of the knives, which Padma priced at $500/inch.

Product-placement challenge: The main event — provided through Kindle Fire videos — was to take an assigned moment from a previous season of Top Chef and create a healthy dish inspired by the food in the video. (Kristen wins.)

Ingredient mishaps: The shopping once again took place without elaboration at Central Market, one of my favorite places in town (or, technically, in Shoreline.) But when it was Lizzie’s turn to cook, she said her scallops didn’t smell fresh. Then they gave off so much water in the pan she protested that they wouldn’t evenly sear. Judge Wolfgang Puck called them “dubious.” Guest judge Jonathan Waxman said she should have taken a bold step and done the scallop dish without the scallops. “It was horrible. I’m sorry, it was horrible,” Lizzie told the judges.

Joining Lizzie on the bottom rung: John, whose risotto, indeed, was a disaster. “I think for me, the travesty was the improperly cooked rice,” said guest judge Chris Cosentino, telling John that some of his grains were mushy and some were raw. John protested that he couldn’t find a flat-bottomed pot at Tom Douglas’s Palace Ballroom. (“Funny, they seemed to work fine at our wedding reception,” tweeted one unimpressed Seattleite.) Puck told him “at the end of the day when the customer eats it, he doesn’t want any excuses.”

Final showdown: John and Lizzie got a chance to battle each other in a healthier recreation of CJ’s failed burger-and-pickle from an earlier episode. John presented a lamb burger topped with a fried egg (healthy?), while Lizzie managed to make a chicken burger moist and tasty. (That’s a recipe I’d like to have.) John — who had been looking to some eyes like a potential season winner — was asked to pack his knives and go home.

Gracious response: “Thank you for letting the old man play the game,” John told the judges.

Second-thought response: “I got the shaft today. I’m not bitter, but yeah, I think it’s bull#$%$,” he said to the camera.

Priceless response: John seemed to think he was being magnanimous in not simply stealing all the key ingredients and making Lizzie lose by default. “I shared the pickles because that’s who I am,” he said. (“Priceless” was Colicchio’s comment.)

Coming up: Next week’s show will be at the Bite of Seattle.

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