As we mentioned last week, Teddy Folkman recently took over as executive chef at the Capitol Lounge, a classic Hill watering hole. What better way to roll out some updates to the old bar-food staples than to show them off before this week’s episode of the Next Food Network Star?
A savvy observer might suspect that a chef would be unlikely to invite people out to try a new menu the week he gets eliminated from the show, but Teddy wasn’t talking as he settled in to watch after the evening’s abbreviated service. And he was eager/apprehensive to watch: he hadn’t even seen this week’s episode before it went on, so he was as much in the dark about the judges’ comments as anyone else. So we all settled in for this week’s ride.
It started off with a bang (and a holler from the crowd) as Teddy and the rest of the competitors received their opening challenge: to create a dish that the average Esquire reader would not only like, but be willing to attempt. The catch: each contestant received a pair of foods that a reader would be likely to have on hand, regardless of how well they went together. The other catch: this challenge would include their first direct-to-camera presentations, requiring them to describe their dishes to the TV audience in sixty seconds.
Some of the pairings were decidedly easier than others. Pickles and ground beef? Maybe I’m biased because I frequently use homemade pickle relish in my own burger patties, but this one seemed like a gimme putt. Whiskey and porterhouse? Beer and strip steak? Again, not exactly tastes that are completely at odds with one another. Others, however, took some thought: coffee and pork chops, bran flakes and rack of lamb, peanut butter and flank steak all required creative approaches.
Teddy ended up with a ribeye steak and maple syrup, a combination that wasn’t among the most challenging but definitely needed some effort. He stepped up to the plate with a beautiful presentation of steak coupled with maple-glazed butternut squash and caramelized onions. His presentation to the camera? Not quite as winning. Once again, Teddy’s presentation suffered from a case of over-enthusiasm, and he ended up putting the judges off with his energy. As Susie Fogelson put it, “If he were cooking this for me I’d take the steak and run.” Ouch.
The winner of the Esquire challenge, a rundown on the contestants’ second assignment (SPOILER ALERT, of course), and a taste of the new Cap Lounge menu after the jump.
With a clean camera presentation and a dish that was simple and flavorful, Eddie Gilbert took the win. Beer and strip steak – again, not exactly a bizarre pairing – carry the day. His recipe will be featured in Esquire magazine, and Eddie’s stock rises significantly after his ninth-place finish last week.
What you didn’t see: You may not have noticed, but the editors over at the Food Network only gave us about 20 seconds of Teddy’s presentation. “Thank goodness,” say the Teddy-haters, but Folkman let us know what we missed. Perhaps you noticed that martini glass in the first shot? It contained a cocktail that incorporated the maple syrup and helped to tie the presentation together. As he put it to the camera, “Even if the steak and the squash doesn’t win over your date, this sweet cocktail is sure to.” No word on whether it will be making an appearance at any of his restaurants, but we’d definitely be willing to give it a shot.
Moving on, the cheftestants head to Good Housekeeping magazine for a second media-related challenge. This time, they were tasked with cooking up a meal that embodied a holiday chosen for them by Eddie from among a list of nine:
Debbie – Mardi Gras
Michael – Halloween
Katie – Earth Day
Brett – April Fools’ Day
Eddie – Valentine’s Day (awww…he kept it for himself)
Teddy – Labor Day
Melissa – Mother’s Day
Jamika – New Year’s Eve
Jeffrey – Groundhog Day
Generally speaking, it looked like Eddie was trying to be nice and hand his opponents holidays that fit their approaches wherever possible (Michael, Katie, Melissa). Of course, fans of Top Chef can tell you that there’s such a thing as too good a fit, which can result in overthinking (or overdoing) a dish to disastrous results. Katie’s Earth Day effort was just such a case, as she took the opportunity to once again play the role of healthy-eating apologizer. Rather than embracing the Green eating movement that she was clearly chosen to represent, she seems to believe that most Americans need to be tricked or goaded into eating healthy foods.
What you didn’t see: Teddy was very complimentary of Katie, describing her as “knowing more about foods, their nutritional content, and just about everything else” than any of the other competitors. Through the wonders of editing, she is coming across as flustered, one-note and somewhat dull, but Teddy felt she was much more capable and impressive than she seems so far.
Teddy’s Labor Day presentation, a take on surf-and-turf that combined a well-made crabcake with filet mignon and potato salad, was well received by the judges. Not so well received was his Jim Carey-esque introduction, which included an impassioned impression of the crab meat (“Use me! Uuuuuse me!”). Once again, his technical merits were overshadowed by his acting.
The winner of the challenge? Jamika, whose authentic renditions of family classics and earnest presentation sold the judges and made them feel like they were honorary family members for the meal.
Afterwards, the judges’ table got a bit heated as Brett decided to step forward and call Melissa out for her lack of poise in the professional kitchens where the contestants have been working. Two episodes, two instances where she has needed help to get across the finish line; Brett took the lead, but Teddy didn’t take the bait. His statement that he wasn’t “there to throw anyone under a bus” earned him a sigh of relief and a round of applause from the audience at the Capitol Lounge – many of whom have suggested that Teddy’s lack of media training is at once his charm and his Achilles’ heel. But Teddy lived to cook another week and “One More Week!” rang throughout the bar once again. The bottom three this week were Eddie (again, despite his Esquire challenge win), Katie (for making healthy eating seem so…unpleasant) and Brett (who failed to embrace the spirit of either of the week’s challenges). Brett’s gambit failed, and he was eliminated.
So what about that special menu item at Granville Moore’s in honor of Jen Isham, last week’s dismissed contestant? The moules frites joint rolled out a version of their Spring Mussels that featured cherry tomatoes, walnuts, wine and asparagus (in place of Jen’s green beans). This week’s special will try to encapsulate Brett’s culinary perspective, as evidenced by his efforts this week. Burgers and pickles don’t seem like much of a special, so we’re expecting something inspired by Brett’s ‘April Fools’ Day’ dish – lobster tempura and pan-seared filet.
As for the new menu items at the Capitol Lounge: they were a great representation of gourmet bar food, Teddy’s announced ‘culinary perspective.’ The crispy tuna rolls offered a fun take on egg rolls, introducing seared tuna into the mix and serving them alongside a chipotle pepper dipping sauce. Pizza offerings, a staple on the Capitol Lounge’s menu, have been expanded to include three sauce options (red, white and pesto/green) and a host of new toppings. The Gourmand included artichoke hearts, prosciutto, kalmata olives, basil and tomatoes – a too-salty mixture, but still so tempting! Our friend Babe-B-Q opted for the classic grilled cheese (a holdover favorite) and paired it with the sweet potato fries, which come tossed in the spice mixture that has made Granville Moore’s frites so popular.
Fears that the Capitol Lounge has been changed beyond recognition have proven to be largely unfounded. Although the decor has changed slightly it’s still homey and political; the new menus may be cleaner and in fancier covers but this is still a place to get your pub grub on while enjoying a few beers after work. And for at least one more week it’s a great place to catch Teddy watching Teddy on the Next Food Network Star.