Spain’s Top Chef – Episode 7

2014.Feb.11 Tuesday · 1 comment

in Books & Other Media

Top Chef España - episode 7

Jumping back into Top Chef España we pick up at episode seven. We’re down to six contestants…. After last episode’s meltdown I’m wondering just what this one has in store for us!

Top Chef España - episode 7
Top Chef España - episode 7

Right off the bat the contestants are told that today is the day they take to the streets. Specifically the streets of the village of Guadalajara where they’ll be cooking for a local festival. More to the point, for 100 people lined up along two sides of a very, very long table. No Trial by Fire, straight to the challenge. Divided into two groups with Miguel and Antonio A as the team captains, selected by random knife drawing.

Top Chef España - episode 7

Miguel selects Javier and Antonio C as his teammates, Antonio A selects Begoña and Barbara as his, clearly unhappy with the last selection. And then, the twist, the two captains are switched by head judge Chicote. Task – make a stew for hundred people that must include veal, vegetables and potatoes, a “caldereta“.

Top Chef España - episode 7

The teams get 30 minutes and 400 euros for their shopping, and have to plan out their recipe enroute to the market. We’re treated mostly to arguments in the orange team van with Miguel basically trying to get Barbara to stop talking and let them actually get a recipe planned out and Begoña trying to stay out of it. Barbara gets a side bar where she lets us know that she doesn’t care that no one values her opinion, she’s going to keep talking and giving it, and one from Begoña who’s afraid that with the argument going on, she’s going to be left to do all the work by herself.

Top Chef España - episode 7

At the checkout line the grey team finds that they’ve exceeded their limit by 56 centavos and have to put something back, they choose to put back one of their two packages of salt…. I just have this feeling that doesn’t bode well. The orange team goes over by about 5 euros and puts back some of their vegetables. The two team captains get into a discussion about how much meat they’ve got going into their stews – the grey team has almost 30 kilos, the orange team a mere 15. Remember, this is a stew for one hundred people.

Top Chef España - episode 7

The contestants are welcomed to the village with a band, lots of dancing, singing and laughing. That never happens in the US version of the show, everyone’s always so serious. They get two hours to prepare and cook their stews. That seems like an awfully short time to make stew and get all the textures right and flavors to meld – I usually figure on about four hours of cooking or even more.

Top Chef España - episode 7
Top Chef España - episode 7

Right off the bat we get two big differences. The grey team gets the meat right into the stew along with the vegetables while the orange team decides to first wok fry their meat, lightly floured, to brown it before adding it into the stew. I’m with the orange team on this one. It just adds more flavor and I think helps keep the meat from drying out a bit.

Top Chef España - episode 7
Top Chef España - episode 7

More – the grey team is using bouillon cubes to give their stew flavor while the orange team is making stock out of veal bones and chicken carcasses. I’m still with the orange team here….

Top Chef España - episode 7

Nor surprisingly, as the two hours approaches up, Chicote samples the stews from both teams and pronounces that the meat is still too hard, it hasn’t tenderized. Didn’t I mention this a bit earlier? There’s no way in under two hours to stew meat properly, unless you have a pressure cooker, which they don’t.

Top Chef España - episode 7
Top Chef España - episode 7

The stews are presented, dished up, sampled. Orange team has a lamb stew with sauteed mushrooms and asparagus, and fried potatoes, while the grey team has mushrooms, bacon and confited garlic, and mashed potatoes. I could have sworn that they were both supposed to make veal stews, but maybe that was just the discussion of what the traditional caldereta was. The orange team’s plate certainly looks more like a stew, and more appetizing.

Top Chef España - episode 7

The general consensus seems to be that the grey team’s stew tastes more traditional for the region, but the meat is very hard to chew and the plate overall is a bit uninteresting, while the orange team’s is more reminiscent of a stir-fry, but has great flavors, the meat is much softer, and everyone likes the vegetables. I think it’s sort of telling that the orange plates are almost empty while the grey plates are still half full at the end of the meal…

Top Chef España - episode 7

…However, at the judging Angel tells them that most of the people he talked to liked the grey team’s traditional version because they could identify with it and Susi tells the orange team that they went out on a limb making a modern version and that a lot of people tried it, liked it, but went back to the traditional version to eat. That’s not what it looked like to me, but that could just be the editing cuts. Chicote asks Miguel if he’s getting used to being on the losing team, he responds that he loves it, he learns something new every time he has to do the last chance kitchen. Miguel’s kind of growing on me – at the beginning he was just a cocky know-it-all, but he’s turning out to be both a better chef and a more “genuine” person than I expected.

Top Chef España - episode 7

And…orange team, Miguel’s team, wins. I’m a little sad, because it means that we’ve lost another chance to get rid of Barbara, who only seems to still be there because she manages to be on the winning team each week (and it occurs to me that the challenges seem to be heavy on team challenges in this version of Top Chef, versus individual stuff, though maybe not), and, I like all three guys, the two Antonios and Javier (this is his first time on a losing team), on the other team and will be sorry that one of them has to go.

Top Chef España - episode 7

Back in the kitchen Chicote tells them to note that they have blank workspaces, just an oven and a stovetop (have they ever had anything different?), and that their task is going to be very difficult. They’re going to have to work with an ingredient that’s very humble and commonplace and turn it into something of value. Lettuce. In sidebars all three chefs seem mystified, all they can think of is that lettuce goes in a salad, what else could you possibly do with it? Really?

Top Chef España - episode 7
Top Chef España - episode 7

Time, of course, for a guest chef, Rodrigo de la Calle, an “expert in gastro-botany”, which has got to be a word they made up for the show. His focus in cooking starts with vegetables. Like many chefs out there. They do define gastro-botany as the investigation of new species of vegetables, the rescue of forgotten species, and their use in the kitchen. He makes a beautiful little soup plate with lettuce puree, a lettuce and garlic broth, shaved hearts of lettuce, baby lettuce leaves, and decorative flowers.

They get 50 minutes, and, away we go. The pantry is stocked with only vegetables, including a couple of dozen varieties of lettuces – which in this case goes a bit beyond lettuce, including things like radicchios, endives, etc. It’s interesting watching them fumble around with the idea of cooking with various leafy things – they all seem completely lost at the entire concept. There’s a lot of juicing going on.

Top Chef España - episode 7
Top Chef España - episode 7
Top Chef España - episode 7

On to the plates. Antonio A has made a “gazpacho” with all the various usual vegetables – tomato, cucumber, peppers, etc., cut up small, accompanied by some diced cherries, cauliflower couscous, and various baby lettuce leaves, and has made a lettuce and mint broth, almost more of a puree, to surround all that. They like it, find it very complex and harmonious, other than Susi finds the raw onion bits to be a bit sharp. Antonio C has made romaine lettuce and green chili rollups, cut in sections and served in a “salad emulsion” – basically a puree of lettuce hearts and endives with vinaigrette, and garlic flowers. Chicote says basically that after much running around (he changed his mind several times on what he was making), he’s ended up with a green salad in a bowl for 50 minutes of work. Javier has made canelloni using a gelled lettuce puree as the pasta rolled around a filling of tomato and toasted pinenuts and surrounded by a “salad juice” – essentially having pureed some greens with olive oil and vinegar, and topped with little crisps made from ground pinenuts. They like the look of it but find it bland and the only flavor they can taste is the pinenut one, with some tomato – the lettuce is completely lost.

Top Chef España - episode 7

Deliberation time, and the judges don’t agree on their least favorite plates. Antonio A is passed through almost immediately – Susi describes his dish in glowing terms of the complexity, roundness, flavors, aromas, textures, etc. in the “gazpacho”. Chicote then trashes Antonio C’s dish, saying it just doesn’t represent the quality of work that they expect from him. Angel reiterates that Javier’s plate is lacking in the star ingredient’s flavor, lettuce, and any kind of complexity given its lack of seasoning. Chicote’s turn again, Antonio C loses and is told to pack his knives and go. Not a whole lot of drama in this episode, definitely the most boring one of the season so far.

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