Photo credit: Bravo

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.

(more…)

Image by Bravo

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…)

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

Finally!  An entire episode that represents some of the best of the Washington area’s foodshed.  From Maryland blue crabs to organic and humanely raised meats from Ayrshire Farms, this week viewers got a chance to see the kind of local bounty that we enjoy in and around Washington.

No political puns in the challenge, though there may have been a comment or two about getting crabs, because most chefs are just grown-up fifteen year-old boys.  No “official Washington” guest judges: instead, an honest-to-goodness chef from one of the area’s most famous restaurants. And no flags-and-Americana backdrop, though Ayrshire is hardly your average working farm.

If past seasons are precedent, we’ll probably want to enjoy this while it lasts.  Host cities are rarely more than a backdrop for the challenges, and there are too many DC celebrities (Speaker Pelosi! Joe Scarborough! Buzz Aldrin?) yet to appear whose names were leaked in the preseason press release.

After the jump, we’ve got details on who, where and what you saw this episode as well as a suggestion for a great place to get all-you-can-eat blue crabs. (more…)

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

This week, Top Chef DC approached Washington less like tourists and more like honeymooners.  Sure, they knew the sights were out there, but they were perfectly content to spend the day in the hotel.

Poor Season 7 cheftestants.  When Top Chef did a hotel dining challenge in Season 1, the chefs served professional poker players and the cast of Cirque du Soleil.  When they did a hotel dining challenge last season (in Las Vegas, where the hotels pretty much ARE the attractions), they served breakfast in bed to Padma and Nigella Lawson.

This time?  Breakfast lunch and dinner to DC area Top Chef alums and the chef/owner of the country’s first certified organic restaurant.

So that means we’re all about the personalities this week as we dig into the who’s, what’s and where’s of Top Chef DC.  After the jump, find out what Mike Isabella, Spike Mendelsohn and Bryan Voltaggio have been up to since their appearances on Top Chef, meet celebrated chef Nora Pouillon and check out a local company that’s doing baby food even Padma and Tom would like. (more…)

<<EDIT #2 4:39 PM 7/8/10 –As reported elsewhere (including Tim Carman’s Young & Hungry post), the opening has been pushed back a week and is now slated for Monday, July 19th.  Stay hungry!>>

<<EDIT 11:29 AM 7/7/10 – Official word from We the Pizza is that they’re planning for a Monday opening. They’ve been working ’round the clock to finish everything up and, in Mike Colletti’s words, “Everything’s great…but I’m tired!”>>

Brace yourselves.

Better yet, Capitol Hill, break out your fat pants.

In just a few days, Spike Mendelsohn (along with his family and friends) will be opening We, the Pizza in the space that used to be Zack’s Taverna.  Consider it the polar opposite to the new SweetGreen – the menu consists of pizzas, wings, sandwiches and gelati all washed down with ice-cold beers and hand-flavored Italian fountain sodas.

The opening party is tonight, and they’ll be turning out pies to the public as early as Friday.

Can’t wait that long?  Check out the menu on their already-live website.

Better yet, check out the following photos to get a feel for the place.  We were lucky enough to get in for a first look yesterday, and it’s clear that Spike, Mike Colletti and Brian Lacayo are ready to have some fun with their new concept.

More photos after the jump. (more…)

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

We knew it was coming.  A challenge involving George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

Sure, we could have guessed in light of the proximity to Washington, DC and the fact that it’s George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. But DCist had actual confirmation of this particular challenge while it was happening, and it looks like the Post’s Express Night Out had an inside source who was on hand for the taping.

Unfortunately the Quickfire Challenge and the guest judges this week didn’t give us a lot to work with in terms of Washington-specific details.  Cheftestants were tasked with making pies as a cross-promotional opportunity for the upcoming Top Chef: Just Desserts.  The guest judge for the Quickfire was New York pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, and he was replaced for the Elimination Challenge by New York chef (and former Top Chef Masters contestant) Jonathan Waxman.  Oh well.

We’re going to go ahead and assume that you don’t need us to give you the insider’s scoop on what Mount Vernon is all about.  Instead, we’re going to clue you in to George Washington’s other claim to fame, point you toward some well-made pies in DC and reveal some of the places where those interns actually work (hint: It’s not Capitol Hill).

Check it out after the jump. (more…)

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

It’s official: the Washington-related puns have begun and it’s only Episode Two!

Last night’s episode of Top Chef began with a Quickfire Challenge whose DC connections were worn on its sleeve, er, apron.  Paired cheftestants, red and blue aprons, working together to achieve consensus (with one hand tied behind your back, no less!)…what better metaphor could there be for Congress?

And the end result: a bipartisan-dwich!  Get it?  The only way this could have forced the connection any further is if every sandwich was required to include “pork” as a main ingredient.

Even so, the episode did a great job of introducing the chefs (and the audience) to the Let’s Move! initiative and the national effort to improve the quality and nutritional value of school lunch programs across the country.  It didn’t hurt that they included White House Chef / Food Policy Guy / Foodie Sex Symbol Sam Kass to do so.

After the jump, details on the local (Kass) and the locale (Alice Deal Middle School) as well as some more info on Let’s Move! (more…)

As we promised earlier in the week, we’re not going to be doing minute-by-minute recaps of Top Chef on Thursdays…there are plenty of other blogs and sites that will take care of that.  Here at Capital Spice, we’re all about the Washingtonian aspects of each episode.  We’ll give you a run-down of the who, where and why.  And we’ll be tracking all of the Top Chef locations – including challenge sites, the Top Chef house, Whole Foods and past Cheftestants’ restaurants – on one of our signature Google maps.

Top Chef wasted no time throwing the seventeen new Cheftestants into action last night, once again leading off with a mise en place competition and then challenging the competitors to cook a dish that reflects where they’re coming from.  With a focus on introducing the competitors and no special guest judges, this episode could have taken place almost anywhere.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  The episode title – “What’s Your Constituency?” – served to connect the elimination challenge to Congress and, by extension, Washington.  And the beautiful views down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Newseum can’t be duplicated anywhere else.  This week, the real DC connections come in the form of the challenge venues.

After the jump, check out some local intel on the locations and the map. (more…)