Having a “TV personality” is not (and should not) be a prerequisite for being a fabulous chef. However, if a TV network is going to put a bunch of chefs on a TV cooking show, they should probably make sure most of them are ready for their close-ups. We had trouble getting into this season (season 3) of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.
We cheered for Rick Bayless and his innovative ancient, yet contemporary Mexican creations during the first season. While we were pulling for Jonathan Waxman in season two, we felt his exhaustion and understood when he was voted off. We were pleased with Marcus Samuelsson’s inventive and creative dishes from all over the world and applauded his win. As for season three? The chefs all seemed perfectly nice, if not household names (which is fine, there are only so many celebrity chefs). But no one really jumped out as a leader in food or had particularly progressive cuisine. The challenges felt superficial and no one really pushed the envelope.
When it came down to the final three — Mary Sue Milliken from Border Grill, Traci Des Jardins from Jardiniere in San Francisco and Floyd Cardoz of Tabla in New York — no one person really jumped out because of their food. Milliken stuck close to her comfort zone (casual Latin food) and seemed extremely sweet. Des Jardins seemed very technically perfect, but her contemporary French cuisine lacked imagination. Cardoz, who is apparently known for Indian food, was kind of all over the culinary map but seemed like a really nice guy. When he ultimately won, we were really surprised (he won very few, if any, of the individual competitions), but wanted to give him a high five because he seemed nice. Did it inspire us to go to his restaurant? Not really.
If the cheffin’ done on season three of Top Chef Masters is indicative of culinary trends now (or those soon to come), we’re all either really bored or going to be so. I hope Bravo steps it up in the actual food department and then it can tone down the increasingly silly “team” challenges and shots of frantic running through grocery stores and ridiculous things like making haute cuisine in a microwave. That said, in anticipation of the final episode, we chose to make Mary Sue Milliken’s delicious-looking Tomatillo Barbecue Ribs, Avocado Corn Relish and Potato and Rajas (click here for the recipe). While not especially challenging or innovative, it did look like a tasty play on traditional ribs, potatoes and salad.
Actually, we made it more of a challenge than it needed to be by not reading the recipe closely enough. We used a combo of bone-in and boneless pork ribs and I gave them a dry rub of paprika, cumin, salt and pepper and let them sit in the fridge. The way we read the recipe was that the ribs needed to cook in the oven for 45 minutes. The way the recipe actually read was that the ribs needed to bake uncovered for 45 minutes then covered for an additional 45. Oops. Not being patient enough to wait two hours for dinner, we threw the dry rubbed ribs on the grill for a few minutes on each side then put them in the oven, sprinkled with some water and covered, to steam for about 45 minutes.
While they were cooking, K made the tomatillo glaze with sautéed onion, garlic, jalapeno and tomatillos and simmered the heck out of them so everything would thicken in time to glaze the ribs before they were in the oven too long. I sautéed corn until it was popping and crispy then mashed up avocado with some chopped scallions and cilantro and some red wine vinegar. When combined, it made the awesome avocado corn relish. I also diced and boiled the potatoes and, while they were simmering away, chopped onion, red pepper and poblano.
K basted the ribs with the tomatillo glaze and we sautéed the potatoes and peppers with some oil. When the ribs were ready, we added a little cream, some Monterey Jack and cotija cheeses to the potato and pepper mixture and, in a last-minute rush to the finish, were ready to eat.
Despite the variation in how they were cooked, the ribs were tender and so flavorful. The tomatillo glaze was tart and slightly fruity. The potatoes and peppers were less crispy than I wanted them, but were rich, salty and just a bit creamy. The avocado relish was buttery and perfectly pungent with little snaps of that crisped corn.
So it wasn’t the most inventive dish in the world. It was damn good and solidly summer food (even though I grilled the ribs in the rain). Just make good food with love. Maybe that will be our new motto. Of course, we are most definitely not ready for our TV close-ups!!
Alterations: We briefly grilled the ribs then put them in the oven, covered for only 45 minutes. We used a bit of brown sugar instead of maple syrup in the tomatillo glaze. We did not make the apple dessert in the recipe.
Would we make this again: Yes, oh yes. It is going into this summer’s repertoire.