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Chicago entertainment musings reviews Top Chef TV

White Castle and Top Chef — A Match Made in Hell

Our first meal in Chicago wasn’t on my list, but it wasn’t entirely unwelcome either. I’ve always been intrigued by the White Castle hype, especially since the burgers don’t really look all that appetizing. My friend Maria mentioned that there were several White Castles near her South Loop condo, so we stopped by for a little snack on the way back from the airport.

The impromptu White Castle visit also coincided with the season premiere of Bravo’s Top Chef, and we made it back to Maria’s condo just in time to watch it from the beginning. Can there be a greater juxtaposition to White Castle than Top Chef?

White Castle - Chicago, IL

I really don’t understand the appeal of these burgers. The buns are soggy, the meat is mushy, and for something so small, they kinda just sit in your stomach like a big grease bomb. I think they’re easily outshined by something as mundane as McDonald’s regular hamburgers. Why do people like them so much? Is it the nostalgia? Or do you really have to be high to enjoy them?

As far as Top Chef is concerned, the chefs seem pretty boring compared to previous seasons, although there are a couple Filipinos in the mix this year. Gene is looking like the anti-Dale (temperamentally speaking) and Leah definitely has potential. The two cocky Euros (Stefan and Fabio) should be make the show interesting though.

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Anthony Bourdain entertainment Filipino Top Chef

The FINAL Dale Post, Courtesy of Bourdain

I swear this is the last time I write about Dale’s departure from Top Chef. I wouldn’t have said another word about it, but I just read Anthony Bourdain’s blog on the subject. Bourdain filled in for Tom Colicchio during Restaurant Wars, and he offers a first-hand behind-the-scenes account of what when down.

Dale’s departure and Lisa’s continued presence (in the Final Four no less!) has been fodder for a lot of rage and anger in the blogosphere, but I think Bourdain’s objectivity and Dale’s own reflections (see here and here) on his departure should serve to calm folks down (for a second or two.)

On Dale’s butterscotch scallop dish:

…Supremely bad. Jaw droppingly bad. So bad that there was a long, awkward moment at the table when all the judges just sat there, silent, stunned with disbelief that anyone—especially Dale—could serve something so…disgusting. It’s the only time on Top Chef that I literally could not take another bite.

Dale was in deep, deep trouble from the judges’ first mouthful of this luminously wretched gunk.

Lisa’s laksa was screwed up. Unpleasantly smoky. But I could eat it. Her “sticky rice” dessert was awful. But not dig-a-hole-in-the-ground-stick-my-head-in-pour-in-Clorox bad. Like those scallops. They were distinguished by their sheer degree of awfulness, sucking everything around them down with it.

Shit Happens When You Don’t Win the Quickfire:

He had the misfortune to almost win the Quickfire. Had he lost, and not come in second, he would not have been team leader—and would not have had the additional burden of leadership.

(A burden he was ill suited to carry)

He was even more unfortunate in that he WON the coin toss, after which he made the regrettable and ultimately foolish decision to anoint himself Exec Chef. Looking around at who he had to work with, and knowing, one would hope, that he was unlikely to be able to either lead or inspire them, he could have put ego aside and stayed out of the line of fire and avoided the clusterf**k.

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entertainment Filipino Top Chef TV

Top Chef’s Dale Defends His Vision in BuddyTV Interview


A friend sent me a link to another interview with Top Chef contestant Dale Talde, this time on BuddyTV.com. It covers some of the same ground as the Chow.com interview I discussed in my previous post, but he spent a good chunk of the interview defending himself amidst criticism that he only cooks Asian food.

Are you going to (ask) an Italian chef, “Why do you only do Italian food?” Are you going to (ask) Alain Ducasse, “Why do you only do French food?” My food is inspired by Asia…ALL of Asia…the Philippines, Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. You want to talk about Asia? Asia is enormous.

In Season 2, Ilan Hall won the title of Top Chef by relying on his background cooking Spanish food. At least Dale was drawing from an entire continent for influence, not just a single country.

If Dale was bothered by anything, it was the criticism of his vision.

Criticize my execution if you want to. If my dish wasn’t good, fine, I’ll take it back. Don’t you in your life ever criticize my vision. It’s MY vision, not your vision.

Dale also said he had no problem throwing down with anyone if they wanted to cook Italian food or French food, but he finds that food boring because the flavors don’t “pop out” to him.

My flavors are big and bold and bright and in your face, and sweet, sour, salty come all at you. I’m not going to sit there and roast a piece of rack of lamb, and cook some noodles, and deglaze with white wine and shallots and then put it on a plate. That’s not who I am. Chilis…vinegar…miso paste. That’s what I do.

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entertainment Filipino Top Chef TV

Dale Eliminated on Top Chef, Opens up to Chow.com

Chef Dale TaldeMy heart sank when Padma Lakshmi told Dale Talde to “pack his knives and go” on this week’s episode of Top Chef, but I knew it was inevitable after the disastrous opening of Mai Buddha with teammates Lisa Fernandes and Spike Mendelsohn during this week’s challenge, Restaurant Wars. Dale was the executive chef for the restaurant and when things go wrong, the guy at running the show gets the blame.

Aside from some brilliant cooking and wins in both the Quickfire and main challenges, Dale’s time on Top Chef was also marked by his ongoing friction with Lisa. When asked about the rivalry, Dale said:

Dale: Come on, rivalry? Rivalry connotates that someone is at the same level you’re at.
CHOW: So you’re saying that Lisa was nowhere near your level?
Dale: Please. Scoreboard. C’mon.

Dale’s reference to the scoreboard is telling since he had more wins than Lisa and Spike combined and was in the bottom three only once before getting the boot (with his Wedding Wars teammates Lisa, Spike and Nikki). Lisa, on the other hand, had only one challenge win and was on the bottom four times, and I honestly thought she should have been eliminated last week instead of Andrew. Spike had one Quickfire win and was on the bottom five times.

So why was Dale given the boot? He knew it was coming when Antonia picked her team. Both Dale and Antonia were praised as the best contestants during this episode’s egg station Quickfire, but Antonia was declared the overall winner and got to pick her team for Restaurant Wars. She picked Richard and Stephanie, the two strongest contenders on the show aside from Dale.

“Did you see the team? It was like a junior varsity basketball team versus a professional basketball team. I got put on the short-bus all stars.”

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dessert entertainment Filipino Top Chef TV

Dale “Busts Out” Halo Halo on Top Chef

I’m a big Top Chef fan, but I’ve been watching the Chicago incarnation with great interest because of Dale Talde, the ornery and talented Filipino American sous chef at Buddakan, an upscale Chinese restaurant in New York. During the first six episodes of the season, the Chicago native’s dishes have reflected a pan-Asian influence, but last week, Dale got to express his Filipino side during a dessert Quickfire Challenge and received praise and Top 3 finish from guest judge Johnny Iuzzini, the pastry chef at Jean Georges.



Dale chose to make halo halo, a classic Filipino treat of shaved ice, milk (usually condensed or evaporated) and any number of other tropical ingredients, such as sweet beans, tropical fruits, and ice cream. Because of the variety ingredients and personal preferences, there isn’t one set recipe for halo halo, and Dale’s is no exception—a combination of shaved ice, avocado, mango, kiwi and nuts. Sure it was a non-traditional, upscale interpretation, but this is Top Chef, and it was nice to see him bring Filipino culture to the table.

This season of Top Chef hasn’t been nearly as exciting or dramatic as previous seasons, but I still love the show. Dale got off to a slow start, but as the season has progressed, I think he’s found his groove and is now one of the favorites to win. He even showed his “gangsta” side when he grabbed his crotch and went off on Lisa Fernandes after she pandered to Ming Tsai’s “Asian-ness” and then won a trip to Italy despite being negative, whiny, bitch-ass teammate. (Can you tell I really don’t like Lisa?)

Dale goes GANGSTA!What? You say something?

Are you watching Top Chef? Who do you want to win? Should there be a faux-hawk ban next season?