Spain’s Top Chef – Episode 3

2013.Dec.14 Saturday · 1 comment

in Books & Other Media

Not feeling any closer to catching up with the show, which has just released its 11th episode, but hey, if you’re watching it, you’re probably not reading my updates, and in converse, if you’re not, we’ll just move through this together at a leisurely pace. On to episode 3, and another graphics heavy post (it’s hard to pare down a two-hour show to a brief review).

Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3

We open with scenes of some very modern, flashy buildings, and are told that this week the show is based in Valencia. After a montage of the city we zoom in on the 99 year old central market, and inside, where head judge Chicote tells the remaining contestants that the whole week is going to be about the sea. Barbara, who has still not stopped talking, lets us know that this is her city and she’s drawing energy and inspiration from simply setting foot in it.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3

Their “trial by fire” for the week, they have 15 minutes to run around the market and find a fishmonger, get a bonito tuna, return to their stations, clean and fillet their fish properly to end up with four perfect fillets. The winner will get not only immunity, but a big advantage to be announced later.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3

Not surprisingly, carnage ensues. Between running around trying to find fish, slipping and sliding on the floor, careening into market customers, and then attempting to butcher the fish, it’s an all around disaster. Interestingly, there’s a side commentary from a couple of the chefs, particularly Hong Fai, objecting to the fact that they’re forced to use knives that have been stuck on the tables for them, rather than their own knives, and that they’d be much more comfortable doing this task with tools that they’re used to. While there’s the old adage of “it’s a poor craftsman who blames the tools”, there is a lot of truth to there being a level of comfort in using a knife that’s balanced the way you like it and that you’re comfortable with.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3

Several of the competitors have truly stuffed up the challenge and just obliterated their fish. Borja, our old macho buddy from last episode, is near tears as he announces that as far as he’s concerned he’s demonstrated such a poor level of skill that he doesn’t deserve to continue in the competition. Barbara announces that everyone has a bad day and tries to comfort him. Hong Fai has a lot of chopped up fish on the table, but no actual fillets (top photo), Chicote says basically that making tartare or sashimi wasn’t the task, filleting the fish was, and tells him the whole excuse about the knives is BS – that any decent chef should be able to accomplish a task like this with whatever knife he’s given. Easy comparison to, for example, Barbara’s fillets in the second photo.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3

Antonio C, Miguel and Barbara are complimented on being the only ones who did a decent job, called to the front. There, the usual twist of the week is announced – this wasn’t the actual trial by fire, which is now about to start for the three of them. Hong Fai tells several of the other contestants that he’s embarrassed – not because he did a sucky job, but because Barbara beat him, and then expresses disbelief that she could do better than all the others who were in the middle or bottom – all in a loud voice as he walks around point to each person’s tray and saying why he thinks they did a better job than her, because anyone should be able to see that she’s not competent enough to be in this competition. Barbara, near in tears again, wants to know why he’s treating her like some sort of enemy. I’m beginning to really dislike him, and his attitude.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3

The three front runners are given ten minutes to create a tuna tartare from their fillets, which seems easy enough (and gee, Hong Fai would have already been ahead at this point). But of course there’s a twist. There are several other ingredients on the tables – lemon, ginger, salt, pepper, salmon roe, olive oil, soy sauce, and chives – that all have to be incorporated into the tartare, and the biggie – they’re not allowed to taste it as they make it, it has to be totally a by sight and touch judgement. And, we’re let in on a secret – at the end, the three of them are going to taste each other’s tartares – blindfolded – and pick the winner. As they work, Hong Fai continues his out loud criticism of everything Barbara is doing, to the point the others are starting to roll their eyes. Barbara gives her two competitors big kisses and wishes them well – she is a bit annoying, but I’m starting to root for her.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3

They’re told about the blindfold twist, and admonished to be professional and honest in their critiques. They all taste each of the tartares in turn. Antonio votes for Barbara’s, declaring it to be the best texture and showing elegance. Miguel votes for Antonio’s because of its explosion of flavors. Barbara likewise votes for Antonio’s as simply the best of three really good tartares. Antonio wins.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3

On to the main challenge, in pairs. Antonio gets to pick his partner, and he picks Hong Fai for his quality of work (wtf? has he been paying attention?). They hug. Chicote assigns the rest into pairs. Borja and Begonia (one of the two women he dissed last week for simply being a woman) – of course, since she’s done better than him in everything so far, he admits that maybe he spoke hastily the previous week. Elisabeth and Miguel. Then Antonio A. and Barbara (he isn’t happy). Jesus and Javier. We get a side conversation between Borja and Begonia where he admits he was wrong, and gives her a kiss.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3

Off to the Valencia Aquarium (the fancy modern building up in the top photo) where the competitors are told they are going to have to create dishes from “trash fish” – fish that are usually discarded or generally considered poor quality. Lisa (mullet), oblado (sea bream), salpa (porgy), breca (pandora), and hererra (steenbras). Antonio C gets to assign a fish to each pair. They’re told that the judges are going to be a group of local fisherman. They get one hour to cook twenty portions of each dish under the supervision of judge Angel.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3

We’re treated to the usual interaction between the various pairs. Antonio C and Hong Fai start off badly when Hong Fai not only does a lousy job of cleaning the fish, but throws out the fish liver which Antonio needed for the fish liver sauce they discussed. Hong Fai says he’s really nervous about the whole thing. We also get cuts to the judges Alberto and Susi discussing the different fish and how they might treat them, and what they’re hoping for. To the judging, in the dining room of the aquarium. Antonio C and Hong Fai serve up their breca in orange broth with a liver emulsion (where did they get the livers from, I thought Hong Fai threw them all out?) and a little salad of greens on top. The judges aren’t impressed – oh wait, there we go, the liver sauce has no liver in it. Javier and Jesus present a fillet of hererra over a puree of squash with anise, a fennel gel, asparagus, cashews, and aioli, to all around positive commentary. Antonio A and Barbara have served up an escabeche of lisa with noodles that Barbara prepared with a touch of lime, almond emulsion, and caperberries. The judges comment that the dish looks like two different people worked on two different dishes and stuck them on the same plate, without working together – which is accurate. Borja and Begonia serve up oblada in vegetable broth, a potato and olive oil emulsion, and diced vegetables. The fish is still half raw, the judges aren’t happy. Miguel and Elisabeth offer salpa, seared with a crispy skin, potato foam, roasted baby carrots and fish broth. The fish is cooked well, but the skin isn’t crispy, and the fishermen don’t seem to like the flavors at all. The diners vote. The judges critique, and harshly, all the dishes. Each pair draws a knife from the knife block. Javier and Jesus get a green knife. Borja and Begonia, red. Elisabeth and Miguel, red. Hong Fai & Antonio C, red. Antonio A and Barbara, green, which sort of squelches all the anti-Barbara commentary.

Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3
Top Chef Spain - episode 3

The six on the red teams pass on to Last Chance. Antonio C has immunity, so he doesn’t have to compete. It’s a mystery box challenge and they open the boxes to find a fillet of grouper and a whole pigeon, from which they have to make a creative, modern, surf and turf dish. 75 minutes to cook. The judges commence their side commentary, noting that, for example, Hong Fai has probably never cooked with a pigeon in his life (which he also says in a sidebar). Midway through cooking, judge Chicote announces that there’s a twist, surprise, surprise, and gives them each a pre-cooked pig’s ear to incorporate into the dish. In the end it’s my now blacklisted Hong Fai who goes home for a plate that includes a piece of uncooked fish sitting in a “very acidic” sauce with the pig’s ear fried and crumbled into it, and a separate “lollipop” of pigeon drumstick that’s so overcooked they judges aren’t able to bite into it, and some lettuce on the plate. They admonish him for wasting time the entire 75 minutes, showing little to no skill or creativity, and just not being up to the competition all day long. The waterworks start, but the decision is made. He admits he was out of his depth in the competition and just couldn’t manage the time or the thinking on his feet that was necessary. He thanks them for the chance and heads out. To his credit he has the courtesy to apologize to Barbara on his way out for his earlier behavior. Ciao.

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