Sunday, September 11, 2011

There Is No “Ooooh” in “Macaron”: An Opinionated Top Chef: Just Desserts Recap

Those of you following along know I’m a die-hard Top Chef fan and that I am unabashedly rooting for local pastry chef Megan Ketover, a contestant on this season of TC: Just Desserts. I was delighted to see Megan on the winning team for the second week in a row, although I’m itching for individual rather than team Elimination Challenges already.

I am somewhat surprised at my overall reactions to Wednesday night’s episode. Despite the egregious (but of course not uncommon) product placement component to the Quickfire Challenge – contestants were tasked with creating a dessert that might grow up to be a chewing gum flavor – I was impressed by the pastry chefs’ efforts. Sure, the prospect of winning the $25K ponied up by the chewing gum sponsor might have been a motivator. But, at least as the show was edited, I didn’t see any of the contestants rolling their eyes at the silliness of the exercise. When this show is at its best, the contestants rise above the goofball twists and constraints they're up against to produce innovative and well thought-out results. And I saw a lot of that in this Quickfire.

While for the most part the contestants came off well, the sponsor, not so much. The winner was to have his/her dessert “voted on by consumers” as a potential new gum flavor. However, it seems the sponsor has dumbed down [unexpected] winner Craig’s Lemon Mascarpone Pancakes with Cream and Strawberries and is offering it in gum form as "Lemon Square" alongside Root Beer Float and Bananas Foster flavor options. Vote if you care to. I won't bother. Nor will this episode convert me into a chewing-gum consumer, whatever the flavor.

Other than that, I’m wondering if I'm looking at this season through rose-colored glasses as I root for my local, Megan. Somehow I didn’t find the Real Housewives on this JD episode as annoying as I expected to. Nor did my usual allergy to the color pink send me into hives at this week’s dishes for the Elimination Challenge.

Hugh Acheson's appearance as a judge may have helped keep this episode from becoming too saccharine for me. I loved his dry sense of humor as a contestant on Top Chef Masters last season and am looking forward to his appearance as a judge alongside Emeril on Top Chef 9: Texas.

But the one thing that drove me crazy this episode was that everyone – even that chick at the end of the table who was Housewife Lisa Vanderpink’s colleague who I assumed was French – pronounced this dessert as “macaroon.”

What a missed opportunity! Macaroons are shredded coconut American concoctions, while macarons are delicate cream-filled sandwich cookies of French origin. Serious Eats has a solid 101 on the topic here. And you can listen to something resembling the correct pronunciation of macaron here. OK, stepping down from my soapbox now.

Next week Just Desserts meets Willy Wonka in an episode TC producers The Magical Elves selected as one of the all-time top 10 favorite episodes they’ve ever produced, telling Entertainment Weekly it “may be the ultimate episode of Just Desserts. . . The contestants cry when the challenge is announced, and it's one of the most creative and dramatic episodes of any show we've ever done.” So, as for that preview that shows Megan Ketover in tears? I’m hoping it was filmed at the beginning of the challenge, not after. The Elves love misdirection . . .

Meanwhile, if you’d like a taste of Top Chef before next Wednesday rolls around, Season 6’s Kevin Gillespie, one of my all-time favorite TC contestants, appears in cartoon form at 11:45 Sunday night in Squidbillies on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Sounds like Kevin had a hoot playing himself. You can read more here, and here's a video that's giving me fits trying to upload.

It's Restaurant Week 'round these parts and I'll be back with more later in the week. Enjoyed a fine dinner at Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar with local food blogger Stephie of Small Girl Adventures, who is hosting this month's Culinary Smackdown: Battle Oktoberfest. What a delight to meet her in person!


Julie said...

The pronunciation of macaron in the US absolutely kills me. No one pronounces it correctly.

Though it's funny-- I too went to Bouquet this weekend. Did you happen to go on Friday?

Sharon Rudd said...

Julie, glad you share my feelings about that mispronunciation. Actually we went to Bouquet Saturday night. It would have been funny to run into you :)

Julie said...

It really would have been! I've been known to actually correct people about the pronunciation. I know it's obnoxious, but I feel like I"m educating. :)

Sharon Rudd said...

Yes, and Top Chef could have done some educating if anyone, anyone at all had pronounced macaron correctly :)

Buzz Kill said...

I really felt sorry for the chefs in this episode. They made bubble gum flavors and food for a dog (I think it was a dog). And to have housewives of whatever as your judges? I think I can bake better than that emo Craig. I'm just not feeling this show at all.

As an aside (and being that you brought up the past Top Chefs), the Mrs and I are supposed to dine at Season 7 winner Kevin Sbraga's old restaurant Rats in a couple of weeks. He's suppose to be opening a new restaurant in center city Philadelphia called Sbraga this fall, so maybe we'll check it out too.

Sharon Rudd said...

Glad you stopped by, Buzz! Hope you and the Mrs enjoy your dinner at Rats. If you end up going to Kevin's new restaurant when it opens, I hope you'll share!