Top Chef DC


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We have to give credit where credit is due.  The chefs who came back for this All-Star season of Top Chef have given us lots of reasons to root for them.  And the quality of this season has done a lot to wash the bad taste of Season 7 (filmed here in Washington) out of fans’ mouths.

By the end of tonight’s episode, we’ll be down to four remaining chefs.  And if bringing an extra chef along to the finale in the Bahamas means we get one additional week of sunny skies and killer cooking, we’re all for that.

Yesterday, we shared our interview with Mike Isabella as we head into the finals.  Today, we’ve got our pick for fan favorite, Carla Hall.  There’s something about the way Carla seems to root for everyone to succeed that is endearing and rare on competition shows like Top Chef.  Watching her fall short of her own expectations – especially when working with “her flavors” and cuisines – is heartbreaking.  But we’re not telling you anything you haven’t already seen for yourself.

We talked to Carla about her deceptively strong performance so far, her involvement with local causes, and some of the things she’s got in the works:

Capital Spice: You’ve really come out swinging this season!  Three Elimination Challenge wins, three big prizes.  How does it feel so far?
Carla Hall: It’s great, but I really don’t know when Matthew [her husband] and I are going to get a chance to take all those trips.

CS: Beyond the trips, you seemed really excited to win Jimmy Fallon’s challenge.  Are you that big a fan of his?
CH: There were two things going on there.  I’m definitely a fan of Jimmy’s, and it was so much fun to be on his show.  He really is just like you’d expect him to be.  But I’ve got a personal connection to chicken pot pie as well: that’s the first thing I ever tried to cook for myself back when I was modeling and going back and forth to Paris.

CS: So this was a recipe you’ve made before?
CH: It was, though I’ve never tried to make the upper crust by forming them around cookware like I did.  I’m glad it worked out!

More of Carla’s projects in the works after the jump.

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When the list of competitors for this All-Star season of Top Chef was announced, we were excited to see Washington represented by three of the most memorable characters from their respective seasons.  As the season has gone on, we’ve been cheering ever more enthusiastically as two of our three local cheftestants demonstrated that they have what it takes to go the distance (or at least as far as the Bahamas).  Our chefs now represent 40% of the Final Five, and the smart money is on at least one of them making it into the Top Three.

We got a chance to chat with both of our local chefs after last week’s episode, and what we heard from Mike Isabella and Carla Hall made us even more excited for what is yet to come – both on the show and in their local endeavors.  Check out our interview with Mike today, and then join us tomorrow for our chat with Carla before watching the first of the finale episodes tomorrow night.

Capital Spice: Congratulations on making it all the way to the finals, Chef.  You’ve been a solid competitor throughout the season.
Mike Isabella: Thanks.  It was definitely tough competition to get there.

CS: Let’s talk about your new restaurant, Graffiato, first.  How’s everything going?
MI: It’s going good.  We’re still under construction, putting in the duct work, the heaters, the framing.  Next week we’ll be laying the pipes for the water and gas.  I’d say we’re looking at a later spring opening at this point.

CS: Being in the middle of all of this construction, it must have been hard to travel and stay focused for the finale episodes as a result.
MI: Actually, I was really focused.  I have a great team working with me on Graffiato, including a lot of chefs and staff who are coming over with me.  That freed me up and allowed me to focus [on Top Chef] again.

After the jump, we talk Quickfire wins – both satisfying and controversial – and find out who Isabella thinks went home before their time. (more…)

If you’ve had a chance to check out the first two weeks of the new Top Chef season, then you know that the producers have chosen to bring back competitors from each of the first seven seasons who came *this* close to winning it all.  This “All-Star” season, set in New York City, pits some fan favorites (and some favorite villains) against each other in a rematch to see who has grown the most since their initial Top Chef appearance.

Here in Washington, we’re lucky enough to have THREE local competitors vying for our slavish loyalty.  In order of original appearance, they are:

  • Spike Mendelsohn (Season 4 – Chicago), chef/owner of Good Stuff Eatery and We, the Pizza.  In his first season, Spike came across as…arrogant.  Has wisdom come with age?
  • Carla Hall (Season 5 – New York), owner of Alchemy by Carla Hall.  She’s transitioning from catering to gourmet sweets and savories.  Hootie hoo!
  • Mike Isabella (Season 6 – Vegas), who has moved on from his position at Zaytinya and is in the process of opening his own place, Graffiato.  He had trouble with leeks last time around (what…that’s NOT what you remember about him?).

Over the past two weeks, we’ve had a chance to chat with each of them.  We asked about what they’re doing professionally, the differences between their first appearances and this season, and what made them decide to subject themselves to the pressure cooker competition again.  Sure, a victory would be big for any of them, but each brought a sense of perspective to the show that they may not have had at first.

Check out some of our conversations with the cheftestants – including big news from each about the directions their projects are heading – after the jump. (more…)

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When we woke up from our Top Chef-induced food-TV coma last week, we realized that we forgot to save room for dessert!  Top Chef: Just Desserts has been on for three weeks now.  It’s hosted by Gail Simmons and it even features a local competitor, Hook’s Heather Chittum.  How could we ignore it?

If you’ve ever dreamt of walking away from your day job and getting into the restaurant business, Chittum should be an inspiration.  She came to Washington from New York to work on the Hill.  After four years she took a job with Share Our Strength, and then in 2001 her passion led her to L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg.  She has since built a reputation as one of the top pastry chefs in the Washington metropolitan area, winning the award for Pastry Chef of the Year from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington in 2008.

We caught up with Chef Chittum last Friday and talked about pastry chefs in the spotlight, the interplay between entrees and desserts, and – of course – whoopie pies.

SPOILER ALERT – if you haven’t watched last week’s episode, you may want to stop reading now.  But just until you have a chance to watch it.  Then come back.  We’ll be here. (more…)

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We missed you!

Sorry for the post silence lately – we promise we’re still keeping an eye on openings, eating around town and trying some delicious dishes at home.  We’re just a bit behind on letting you know about it.

So…how about that Top Chef DC?  Yeah, definite wasted opportunity.  It had its moments: Sam Kass and school lunches, for example.  But Washingtonians and viewers in general pretty much agree that this season was lackluster.

Oh well – they’re off to Thailand and we’re ready for the rumored-but-not-officially-confirmed Top Chef All Star season that may or may not be currently filming in New York (more on that later – some familiar faces from DC may be involved).  We’re also rooting for the home team on Top Chef: Just Desserts when it debuts this week, cheering on Hook’s Heather Chittum as she takes on a field of eleven other pastry chefs.

And we’re also looking back at some more enjoyable Top Chef memories, as well.  Top Chef Season 6 gave fans plenty of talent and competition – and gave DC fans a favorite to root for clear to the end in VOLT’s Bryan Voltaggio.  The first season of Top Chef Masters provided a fun twist on the format and a winner who’s just such a darn nice guy.  And then there was the Top Chef Quickfire Cookbook – everything you need (except years of training) to duplicate some of the most inventive dishes from the show’s first five seasons.

They’re all available for purchase now…or you can win them right here.  That’s right – we’re having another Top Chef Finale giveaway contest this week.  The winner gets a prize pack that includes Top Chef Season 6, Top Chef Masters Season 1, and the Quickfire Cookbook!

Want to win?  Leave a comment with three components (one for each prize):

1. A celebrity chef you’d like to see as a judge next season
2. The competitor you would MOST like to see in an “All Star” season, were there to be one
3. A challenge from a previous season you’d like to see brought back

We’ll announce a winner (selected at random from all eligible entries) on Thursday morning, just in case you don’t get your fill of Top Chef with Wednesday night’s back-to-back episodes.

And thanks for reading!

Check out our map of sites associated with Top Chef DC, updated each week

Top Chef is playing with our emotions.  Or at least they’re trying to, though many Washingtonians seem less than enthralled by the current season despite its being filmed right here in our backyard.  After a week where there was next to no Washington connection, we’re back in full force with a lobbyist-influenced Quickfire and a “power lunch” elimination challenge, both of which featured famous-for-DC types.

So why doesn’t this season have folks on the edges of their seats?  This may be Top Chef’s most diverse pool of cheftestants, but they still come across as pretty vanilla.  The field is still too unwieldy to care about everyone, and the Angelo vs. Kenny drama really isn’t all that compelling.

But we here at Capital Spice are watching with a different eye, looking out for the ways in which the producers remind viewers that they spent six weeks or so filming in the Nation’s Capital this spring.  The clips of landmarks and monuments help, sure, but we all know that DC provides near limitless fodder for challenge themes and pun-heavy episode titles.

This week we opened with a challenge that did a great job of marrying “official Washington” with Top Chef in the form of a “Toothpick Rule” challenge judged by a Member of Congress.  Afterwards, it was on to one of Washington’s storied white tablecloth restaurants, the Palm, for a Power Lunch served to a Senator, a top lobbyist and a host of NBC hosts.

After the jump find out more about the Toothpick Rule (we’ll keep it short, we promise) and all the special guests (more…)

Check out our map of sites associated with Top Chef DC, updated each week

Yeah, so…

I should have guessed that the whole “actually focus on the foods and chefs of the place where you’re filming” thing from last week was going to be short-lived.

It’s a shame, too, as the Cold War-inspired elimination challenge would have provided a great opportunity to feature a location like the International Spy Museum or the Embassy of the Russian Federation (with its strategic location overlooking all of official Washington).  It could have put the contestants on one of the highly informative and entertaining spy tours that are run by individuals with varying degrees of connection to the events they’re describing (though the producers score points for the use of the USS Sequoia in a cameo role).   And I suspect they could have found a chef a little closer to Washington than Miami to judge the episode.

As a result, this week’s map has just one addition.  But if you’re looking to enhance your own Cold War-related experience while you’re in Washington we’ve got a few more suggestions for you after the jump. (more…)

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