Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Top Chefs come to Atlanta

I normally like to envision Top Chef contestants enjoying the spoils of their reality show stardom. But the reality is when they're not glad handing at their restaurants, they're touring the country maxing out on their fame by doing demos for the masses.

A couple weeks ago, Top Chef Season 3 contestants Casey Thompson and Hung Huynh made their way to glamorous Alpharetta, GA, to do a demo at the Publix Cooking School.

Personally I was sold on attending the event the moment I heard Sam "Hunkiest Chef Alive" Talbot was going to be there. So imagine my distress when I got there to find that Sam had been replaced by Hung. Granted Hung actually won the whole thing, but my fantasies of Sam's passion for me being ignited by the hot kitchen flames, simply didn't include the rather diminutive Hung. That said, Hung turned out to be great. He's actually far more charming than the show let 0n, and his hyperactive way of emoting with his whole body was truly entertaining.

The class was as much Top Chef Q&A as food demo. Hung was asked why he was cooking at a kosher restaurant of all places. His refreshingly honest answer - "They offered me shitload of money." Not to mention, the owners of that restaurant are bankrolling his new seafood venture set to open in 5 or so months in Murray Hill. In keeping with that, Hung prepared two kosher, seafood dishes for the class. He emphasized that both recipes were really just guidelines, and as long as you have the proper technique down, you could improvise with different kinds of fish, vegetables, and seasonings. His recipe for Baked Hamachi with mushroom sauce and Seared Snapper with heirloom tomato salad were light and flavorful and made the most of seasonal veggies. I've already tried the heirloom tomato salad and a baked halibut with mushroom sauce using the recipes and found them to be great additions to my repertoire.

Casey's menu choices were a bit odd, but she had some great snarky tidbits about Top Chef, so she more than made up for it. With a breakfast menu more befitting of Rachel Ray than a top chef, Casey didn't have very challenging cooking to deal with, which left her more time to dish on the show. When asked about Gail Simmons, Casey said that she always really respected Gail's opinion, whereas Padma was a bit of a culinary dolt. OK, she didn't say it like that, but she did say that Padma would complain of too much salt, and Tom Colicchio (someone famous for actual cooking) would say, "really? I thought it needed more seasoning." Casey's eye roll and tone while telling the story to me, clearly suggested what I've always guessed- Padma is just eye candy and her cookbook is really just capitalizing on her fame, not on her amazing culinary abilities.

Casey also mentioned that some contestants leave the show only to find they're out of a job because of their bad attitude or embarrassing show antics. No names mentioned sadly. So very curious who found themselves out on their asses??? I certainly can't imagine why anyone would want to hire Lisa "The Gorgon" Fernandez after her showing on the most recent Top Chef (Mai House, I'm looking at you!)

Not much to say about Casey's dishes, other than they were in fact quite tasty, albeit unexciting. Her chocolate french toast with cherry syrup was a delicious treat perfect for weekend guests. And because I was in the first row, I actually got to sample the milkshake Casey made during the demo rather than the one her helpers were preparing on the side for the entire group to try. So yeah, that's right, I drank her milkshake...I drank it up!



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