Spain’s Top Chef – Episode 2

2013.Dec.09 Monday · 0 comments

in Books & Other Media

Picking up on Top Chef Spain from where I left off at the end of the pilot episode.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

We move on to episode 2 – I’m actually way behind on these as I think the show is already in its 10th week, but I’ll get to them as I have time. This is the first week with the official contestants having been settled.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2
Top Chef Spain - episode 2

The first prueba de fuego, or “trial by fire”, what the US and Canada versions call the “quickfire challenge”. The contestants get told that the winner will get immunity from elimination, and that the task for the day will be making a one-bite pincho, an hors d’oeuvre on a toothpick that features some sort of cured Spanish pork product of their choice. The guest judge for the day is Iñigo Pèrez Urrechu, chef of his eponymous restaurant and a protege of famed chef Martin Bersategui, who is introduces as a master of the pincho.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2
Top Chef Spain - episode 2

He takes about three minutes to put together a little s-curve of ham with pre-cooked octopus, some salmon eggs, tomato seeds, whipped cream and chives, which on tasting, head judge Alberto proclaims features all of Spain in a single bite. Okay. If you say so. On to the contestants who are given fifteen minutes to collect their ingredients and make their canape. Time flies by with much commentary, then all the contestants run around and look at each other’s work and comment on it for the cameras. Then the judges get to tasting. It doesn’t start off well as youngest contestant Ivan’s “false tomato”, which he says is false because he hollowed it out and filled it with cured pork loin, is declared a “real tomato” that’s been hollowed out and filled with cured pork loin. It’s noted that setting it on a crumble of tuna is sort of useless as you don’t get to eat any of the tuna because it’s neither part of the skewer, nor does it stick to the tomato when you pick up the bite.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2
Top Chef Spain - episode 2

I’m not going to cover all the commentary on the rest, some is good, some is bad, there’s no question it’s pretty damned critical, particularly of oddball combinations that don’t work (admonished with the equivalent of “did you bother to taste this before you stuck it in front of us?”) and a couple of people who simply didn’t manage to finish. We reach the results. Four are announced as “without a doubt the worst” – Elisabeth, whose flavors didn’t work together; Ivan, because he’s kind of clueless and for misnaming what he presented; Javier, for not representing himself well and just throwing something together with little thought; and Borja (who looks a bit like a tall Buddy Hackett), for presenting something that you might be dared to eat at a dive bar after a night of hard drinking. And, the winner is announced, Hong Fai, the Chinese expat chef, who wrapped ham and melon in rice paper and flavored it with a quick curry sauce and sea salt. He runs around and gets a kiss and hug from everyone, does a bunch of ceremonial bowing to the judges, and gets an immunity armband placed on him by the guest judge.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

Guest chef Urrechu leaves and it’s on to the first team challenge. It will be a 100-person cocktail party, the contestants divided into two teams of five, grey and orange, via drawing knives from a knife block. Hong Fai gets to pick which team he wants to jump onto, giving them a sixth person. They’re given five minutes to elect a team captain. One team elects Borja because he’s a caterer and therefore should understand cocktail parties – besides that means he’ll be supervising rather than preparing something else inedible; the other team argues at length between Antonio and Jesus, but Barbara just keeps insisting it be Jesus because “he understands flavor”(how does she know, none of them know each other yet?) and talks for almost the whole five minutes without taking a breath – the rest of the team gives in.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

They’re given 15 minutes for a one time visit into the pantry to plan their selection of three hors d’oeuvres and pick their ingredients, one team at a time. There is, of course, a twist. This is Top Chef after all. Each team captain is told to pick up a crate and go over to their opposing team’s table of ingredients and remove one ingredient of their choice. Borja takes away the orange team’s pork loin, the main ingredient of one canape, so Jesus takes away the grey team’s foie gras. The teams are given 80 minutes to cook and pack up their hors d’oeuvres to be delivered to the cocktail party, to be held at the Madrid horse racing track, and to clean up their work space. The public are going to decide the winning team, the judges will decide who from the losing team will go home.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

The teams don’t gel well – but let’s face it, this is the first time they’ve worked together. Still, the team captains have their work cut out for them just trying to keep the bickering to a minimum and get the work done. Jesus finds himself pounding on countertops more than anything else.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

And we get some side interviews. Our old friend Borja, leader of the grey team, lets us know that while he thinks woman are important in this day and age in the kitchen world, they’re dangerous to have around because they don’t understand what being a team is all about and they make up excuses for not getting their work done, something a chef (and man) would never do. Not surprisingly there’s a bit of discussion on his team enroute to the track, since two of his teammates are women.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

Head judge Chicote gives them final instructions at the party – they have 15 minutes to put up their first hors d’oeuvre, then 15 more for the second, then 15 more for the third. They all look a little panicked, clearly having figured on more time to get 100 pieces of each canape finished off and onto serving trays. They are sooooo not ready.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

Somehow they manage, and the first trays leave the kitchen. A tropical fruit and salmon ceviche from the orange team and a bacalao dish from the grey. The judges say they’re nervous to try the first dishes. It’s not clear why they should be nervous. Suzi says she doesn’t think salmon is a good choice for ceviche (I’d tend to agree, not a favorite) and they should have picked a different fish. Angel says the bacalao, which has the texture of porridge, is bizarrely sweet. They both agree that bacalao lacks flavor and the ceviche needs more acidity.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

Barbara still hasn’t stopped talking and her team is getting a bit tired of her, and have started interrupting and ignoring her. She is pretty annoying.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

The judges and guests move on to the other two hors d’oeuvres and it’s clear no one is overly impressed. Interviewing some of the guests one sums it up well – “nothing was horrible, but given that these are professional chefs we expected something a lot better.” Angel responds with, “nobody here is going to remember any one of these canapes tomorrow morning.”

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

It’s judging time and back to the knife block. The judges tell the contestants that their food was pretty ordinary and not worthy of the show and they need to do a whole lot better if they want to stay in the competition. In sidebars the excuses start – Borja, who made the earlier claim about women making up excuses, starts in with “even the best chefs in the world make mistakes, we shouldn’t be criticized because we made some”. What? Did they think no one was going to criticize them in a competition? Angel tells them that if they can’t figure out how to work in a team, they’ll never survive either the competition or the industry. Borja’s team wins, drawing the green knife.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

It’s back to the Top Chef kitchen where the five members of the orange team now have to compete in the “last chance” round. Another guest judge comes in, Diego Guerrero, who was named best chef in Madrid in 2012. He makes a little dessert of custard and chocolate that looks like a soft-boiled egg cut in half. Ivan gets it pointed out that this is what a “false” something is all about. The five are given an hour to produce a plate that has something that fools the eye. The three main judges leave the contestants in the hands of Diego (they’re going to taste the dishes without knowing who cooked what), who coaches them through what they’re making and presenting.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

The judges (sans Diego, who leaves) taste through the five dishes. And… Barbara is called along with Antonio (they’re called by their dishes since the judges don’t know who cooked what). Barbara’s tagliatelle with a tofu bolognese is deemed a bit underwhelming and bitter. She bursts into tears. Again. But, the judges declare the dish acceptable because it was at least creative and showed that she has some skill.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

Antonio’s sashimi dish that’s made of watermelon that looks like tuna ticked all the boxes, surprised the hell out of the judges, and they’re both passed through.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

The other three are called in. They’re told that two of them made it through but one is going home. Jesus’ Basque style bacalao dish is deemed worthy of staying in the competition. Ivan’s risotto is deemed just generally lacking – not enough “rice” (he’s used some unidentified vegetable in place of rice), not enough, well, anything. He says he ran out of time and didn’t get to put what he wanted on the plate. Miguel’s fake morcilla using black olives is pretty much written off as an interesting idea that just doesn’t quite work – it needed more cooking, more intensity, more, anything.

Top Chef Spain - episode 2

But in the end it’s the risotto dish from Ivan (on the left in the photo above) that sends him and his knives packing. And so ends episode 2. Hmmm, I may have to cut back on how long these reviews are, this one’s pretty long, but hopefully gives you a sense of how this show’s going.

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