This week’s final pre-finale Top Chef episode celebrated two things: the notoriously stinky fruit known as durian, and the mothers who produced these contestants, the notorious fruit of their stinky wombs (sorry, moms, I just really needed a play on words there).
Hey, does anyone actually like durian fruit? Watching this episode I get the feeling the answer is “no.” I mean sure, guest judge Abe Conlon said he loved durian, but not while he was actually eating it. The contestants all sampled it and about the best they could muster was “gee, it’s not as bad as it smells!”
I get the feeling durian is just Southern China’s vegemite. Every culture has one. It’s the food that locals tolerate while pretending to love mainly to see the look on outsiders’ faces when they try it. In San Francisco we made people take shots of Fernet Branca. You pretend it’s a “delicacy” but really it’s a hazing device. It’s fun! But maybe instead of having to cook with it, the chefs should’ve had to try to eat a bunch of it without making a face. Just go full Fear Factor with this challenge.
Instead Abe Conlon (my brain did an uncanny valley thing when I found out the chef from Chicago named Abe was not Abe Froman, the sausage king) chided everyone for their lack of real durian flavors and awarded the victory to the chef whose dish made Padma look like she’d just gotten a frozen lemon juice enema when she took the first bite. Now that’s what I call cookin’!
After that, the chefs’ moms (and sister, in Eric’s case) showed up, and it was cute, but like almost everything else this season, slightly disappointing in its lack of drama. The chefs were challenged to “fuse your own heritage with Chinese ingredients,” and just to put a bow on this very “special” season, the chef who’d won the quickfire ended up eliminated at the end of the episode. What I wouldn’t give for a stolen pea puree.
1. (+3) Sara Bradley — AKA: Party Mom. AKA: One-Upper. AKA: Abe Fro-ma’am. AKA: Jiggle Juice. AKA: Waffle Box. AKA: Kanye.
To add to this season’s general inconsistency, Party Mom hasn’t even really been partying. Though she has been winning. She cooked a “crispy skin bass, vadouvan and durian curry with dinosaur plum” in the durian challenge, which landed her in the top two but I guess wasn’t gross-tasting enough for Abe Not Frohman, the Macanese-cooking king of Chicago.
After that, Sara’s mom showed up and they talked about being Jewish in Paducah, Kentucky, where they serve squirrel at your bat mitzvah or whatever. I did enjoy the line “you’ll always have friends when you say you’re a Jew.”
In the end, she cooked “chicken thigh with matzoh balls and a savory mushroom consomme” (is there such thing as a sweet mushroom consomme?). Partly thanks to her mom’s special tip — putting soda water in the matzoh mix — Sara took home the victory. I’ve never made matzoh but that sounds like a pretty obvious tip that most matzoh makers would know. I have no evidence for this, but “put some soda water in there” just sounds like it would be the secret to all Jewish food, from matzoh balls to egg cream. Or maybe I just associate any food popular in the tri-state area with someone saying “you know why it’s so good, it’s cuzza da watah.” Come try dis pizza bagel egg cream papaya dog, it’s good cuzza da water.
Sara had a good episode and I think she has about the same chance of winning this as everyone else still in the competition. If I were her manager I’d tell her to keep reminding the judges she’s a Kentucky Jew. (*chomps cigar*) I’m tellin’ ya, dat story’s gawt legs, kid. It’s good cuzza da watah.