I fully planned on sleeping in today. I found a new type of logic game (Hidato) at the bookstore the other day while looking for a good Sudoku book, and puzzled myself to sleep last night. I got a call from Evan shortly after 9, telling me to get my butt out of bed because he spotted a giant Top Chef truck on the street at Hollywood and Highland.
I threw myself together and got to Hollywood and Highland with about half an hour to spare. It was early enough that there weren’t an insane amount of people there yet. I gave the folks in charge my name and wandered around for a bit. I recognized Eli from season 6 hanging out nearby. That was exciting. He was a household favorite among my roommates and Evan. Then I saw a sign outside the demonstration area that the other top chef of the day was Hosea. Huh.
As 10:30 approached, they started calling names to fill the seats for the demonstration. Apparently you could pre-register and reserve a spot online! Luckily only five or six people/parties did that for this demo and I got a seat. Under a large tarp there were four long tables with eight chairs along each side. As we filed in we could see a platform with a countertop on it. There was a stove and a mirror above so that we could all see exactly how everything was being prepared.
A short video featured the music from Top Chef and clips from all the previous seasons. Then an announcer introduced Eli and Hosea. I was still hoping there might be some other surprise chef like Stefan or Fabio (since they live nearby) or even Carla (I loved Carla!), but it was just the two dudes. They were entertaining. Eli started by saying he was going to make pork belly. Hosea asked, “Aren’t you Jewish?” to which Eli replied “I’m Jewish.” Most everyone got a chuckle out of that.
So Eli proceeded to show us how to make pork belly. He threw a mixture of spices plus apple cider vinegar into a blender and then poured it over the slab of pig. Since it would have taken at least 4 or 5 hours to cook, the chef had an already-prepared finished dish ready to show us. Eli also made radishes to go along with the pork. He simply cooked them in a pot with some apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and butter. I’m not sure how long they take to cook. Eli said the recipes would be on the website but I haven’t found them yet. I’ve never been a fan of radishes but these were delightful. Also, he turned the radish tops into a pesto with onions, oil, garlic and almonds. Delightful. As they passed out small plates for everyone to eat they had a Q&A.
Once the demonstration was over I took pictures with cardboard cut-outs of Padma and Tom, and also got the chef’s autographs and a picture with them. Once I found out that the 12:00 session would be different (a shrimp dish!) I decided to stick around for it. I walked around the center to kill the time. Some creepy old man offered to take my picture, or asked me if I wanted it taken, to which i responded “No.” I imagine this old dude just sits on that bench with his nice camera and takes pictures of young girls. Gross. That could be Evan someday.
I walked into the tent again just before noon. This time there were more pre-registered people, but since I put my name down as soon as I got out of the first session I got a good seat again. This time Hosea took charge of the dish and the instruction. Right away I could see a difference between the styles of the two chefs. Whereas Eli had only a few ingredients set on the counter, Hosea had the counter almost covered to the edges with different ingredients. His dish was Thai noodle salad, with pork, shrimp, ginger, several types of chillies, cellophane noodles, basil, cilantro, peanuts, spices of all kindsâ€¦.. lots of stuff. One great thing I remember him saying is a key to making a great dish is layering flavors. Instead of cooking the noodles in plain water, he first boiled water with ginger, lemongrass, and salt, cooked the shrimp in it, and then used that water to cook the noodles. The end product was so-so. I like complex flavors and textures when they work right, but there was just too much going on in the Thai noodle salad. Several people around me didn’t finish theirs, and apparently I didn’t even think to take a picture of the plate.
During the second Q&A period I sat quietly. That’s because I’d already asked one question earlier. I wondered, how long do the chefs spend waiting in the “stew room” during each episode while the judges deliberate and they answered at least 8 or 9 hours. Even when they’re standing in front of the judges waiting to see if they won a challenge or lost the competition, it would take at least 3 hours with no breaks. Wow.
Lastly, I’m sure you would all like to know (especially Evan) that when asked about Gail Simmons, both Eli and Hosea agreed that she is so super-cool and sweet and nice and that when you meet her you just want to hang out with her because she’s so awesome and smart and cool. Ugh.