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The Salmon Trap

A 'Top Chef' update.

8:08 AM, Dec 2, 2011 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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At his Chicago restaurant Chilam Balam, Chuy Valencia serves up a salmon-goat cheese dish that is popular with his customers. But on this week's episode of Top Chef Texas, it was anything but popular. "Smoked fish is paired with cream, which is why mild cream cheese works with lox," writes head judge Tom Colicchio on his blog. "But goat cheese is pungent, and I can’t figure out why Chuy would think it paired well with salmon. Think about it: In Italy, we do not put parmesan on fish dishes.... Chuy couldn’t execute the dish properly because his proportions were off: In order to warm the goat cheese inside, he had to overcook the salmon."

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Like many viewers and even Colicchio himself, Chuy was astonished to be leaving so early (he had excelled in the previous episodes). On the phone this afternoon, he admitted that "it kind of sucked—one little thing or, in my case, one big thing can send you home." Nevertheless, Chuy called the judges' verdict "a perfectly fair decision." Would he have done anything differently? "I would have seared a [salmon] filet with a crispy skin and a nice sauce." His other problem was tending to individual packets of the salmon dish for the progressive dinner party (appetizers, main courses, and desserts in three different mansions in Highland Park).

Equally challenging was catering to the desires of the wealthy hosts, not all of whom have sophisticated palates. One man admitted his obsession with Gummi Bears and that even his wedding cake was a giant Gummi Bear. (When you have that much money, I guess it's okay to admit you are not a man.) But as Colicchio and the other judges later explained, chasing after the customer's every whim will lead to chaos. Chris Jones crafted an appetizer that resembled a cigar (he figured out the man of the house loved stogies). Colicchio described it as "all gimmick" and asked, "Would you want to eat a cigar? I love cigars, personally, but I wouldn’t want to eat one, nor would I want to tuck into its ashes." (The cigar wrapper was actually collared greens.)

P.S. Because of THE WEEKLY STANDARD cruise, there will be no Top Chef update next week. Knowing my luck, it will be the episode Padma decides to do a cookoff in the swimming pool.

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