Top Chef Texas Episode 9: Chef Ed ‘Swiss Miss’ Hardy on McGee, Magic + Meat

"Has anyone seen My Pretty Pony?"

Straight from the slopes of Switzerland, we’re rehashing the latest episode of Top Chef: Texas and some other Very Big Issues with Ed Hardy of Red Rooster Harlem.

Happy New Year! I think you spent it abroad, and, luckily, we had a repeat last week. Where were you, and why doesn’t that country have U.S. cable?

I was in Switzerland hanging with Richard Branson and Prince Harry in Verbier. Those wealthy Brit types sure like to get drunk and violent in quaint and idyllic Switzerland ski towns! By the way, I brought you back some of the best macarons ever: Luxemburgli. As for the cable, au contraire, my dear. It does have U.S. shows re-packaged for French-types. All the bad ones. I think I’ve stumbled onto the reason why Europeans have such a low view of us. No Emmy-award winning shows here. Mad Men? 30 Rock? Puh-leeze Try MTV Cribs and The Jersey Shore re-dubbed in French. Quelle horreur!

You’re a Harold McGee fan. I can still hear dear Chef Martin scoffing, “McGee!” You must be able to tell me about Mr. Mhyrvold, then. His books seem too long and spendy to me. Also, is he a late-life savant, a scientist, or a bonafide chef?

Scientist. Not a chef. Also a Dr. not a Mr. (despite some cheftestants calling him “chef”). He’s a former Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft, and, generally, an all-around rocket scientist. He turned a small personal fortune into an extremely well-equipped food research lab that has employed around 20 people for the past 10 years. The Modernist Cuisine cookbooks are gorgeous and have ground-breaking food photography. My food-journalist wife has actually had the experience of eating a tasting menu cooked by Doc Myrvold both in New York and in his secret technology lair in Seattle. The books are long and, certainly, expensive, but, oh my! Look at those photos. Look at those techniques. Chef Ed wanty very badly.

Paul practices his 1,000-yard stare in a failed attempt to intimidate Tom.

Chief Technology Officer! That sounds important, though not nearly as cool as Chief Dining Officer. Okay, Chris Jones is killing me here. Is he saying he has invented techniques that are in this book? Can this be true?

He’s not lying. The Moto guys are, by any measure, leaders in the molecular gastronomy movement. Chris’s boss is even in the Modernist Cuisine index under “Cantu, Homaro.”  See “on carbonated grapes, 2-469” and “edible films of, 4-60.”

Is Modernist Cuisine magic, like Doug Henning?

No. It’s science. Mind you, it’s fun Mr. Wizard-meets-Mythbusters-meets-Monty-Python science. Magic happens when cheese ages and wine ferments. True Doug Henning magic happens when Jamón Ibérico ages in some ancient Spanish farmhouse. One slice and you will have faith again, my meat-skeptic, vegan-leaning blogging companion!

A seething Ed pushes his hands into his pockets to keep from strangling Sarah.

Watching the not-at-all-Modernist-Cuisine chefs struggle is like watching my parents try to appreciate NWA back in the day. What does the majority’s struggle say about the spread (or not) of molecular gastronomy?

I’m a little bit reactionary to molecular gastronomy these days, but everybody has gotta have one or two techniques in their back pocket. I know I do. Plus, they had the cookbooks for an entire night! Can they not read recipes and remember one simple one? I respect the efforts spearheaded by McGee and Myhrvold to understand food and how it cooks. In that way, I guess I respect molecular gastronomy. Knowledge makes me a better chef, even if I’m not using it all the time. So, even though it’s not my thing, I am a little disappointed with some of the clueless folks. Poor Beverly. Did she not test her foam before trying to apply it to Padma’s dress? Her time is almost up, thankfully. She’s gone farther than a cook of her talent and limited repertoire should, and now its time for her to shuffle offstage.

"Stay gold, Pony Boy!"

So, in the QFC, despite his braggadocio, Chris J. eats it. Can we talk about the Matrix pill, and how that’s an unfair game-changer anyway? You’re changing someone’s palate? WTH?

I’ll say it. I think you’ve got this one wrong. Chris J. got robbed. The sweet/sour berry is cutting edge and really interesting. Plus, he used the same maltodextrin technique in his cheesecake that Ty-lor used for his oil and watermelon dish. Plus, he actually made something rather than just slicing some watermelon. The berry has interesting applications when you think about how you can use it instead of sugar additives.

The EC involves three BBQ’d meats and two sides for 300 diners. It’s gotta be hard to do your best work, even in 24 hours, as that eliminates really good brines/air drying/rubs/etc.?

It’s hard to tell how much time they had to cook. Twenty-four hours would actually be an okay amount of time, if you were able to use each hour correctly. Eight hours to cure/marinate, eight hours to smoke/slow cook, and eight hours to finish/grill/continue slow cooking. But, I doubt they had that much time. So, yeah, you’re right. This wasn’t an easy challenge.

I am so over Top Chef featuring cruddy, cruelly commercially farmed meats. I think it is time for this show to start using (and naming the sources for) sustainably raised meats. I mean, I couldn’t eat anything on this show or, likely, anything served at The Salt Lick. Oy!

All righty then. You’ve forced me to start having that larger conversation that we were avoiding. This could, by the way, be expanded into a whole back-and-forth discussion, but allow me to put some cards on the table. Yes, I am in support of bio-diversity and against monoculture. Yes, I am pro-Michael Pollan and anti-Monsanto. I shop for local and seasonal products as much as possible. Yes, I am in favor of re-regulating feed lots and antibiotics use for safer meat. But we will never be able to reverse the clock back to a time where we all had a cow in the backyard. Time, science, and food distribution march on. I have no way of knowing what kind of meat they purchased and from where, but, from an epicurean’s point of view and a common consumer’s point of view, it doesn’t matter for BBQ. This is way different from throwing a steak on the grill, where the origin, care and feeding of the cow might make a big difference. After you cure, brine, smoke, rub, inject, grill, slather some beef, it just doesn’t matter. And, I’m not ready to join you in this impractical crusade just yet. Ask me again later.

But it does matter, from a sustainability perspective. I am aware that it is currently impossible for everyone to eat local/sustainable foods. However, those of us who are economically and geographically able to have a responsibility to do so (I’m looking at you, food bloggers!). Restaurants have actually been at the forefront of the sustainability movement. The Salt Lick could and should sustainably source its meat. Period. Paragraph. End of story. Or, rewrite the story and make everyone who dines there watch a video of a commercial farming operation and slaughterhouse before ordering their “I don’t care where it came from” BBQ. All of this is goes back to the idea of doing the right thing, *especially* when no one is looking or cares. And, now I’ll step off my soapbox. But only for now. 

Chef Ed Hardy holds up his hand and pledges to eat only sustainably sourced meats in the new year. Yay, Ed!

Back to the show, your homeboy Paul leads his team to another W. How ballsy was the team’s Asian-influenced BBQ, in a place such as Texas?

Just when I thought Top Chef had nothing more to offer me, they sent me Paul. He’s an angel straight from food heaven. I love him. I want to be with him. But, enough of my completely straight yearnings. Asian flavors work in BBQ. Ginger and soy are components of most American home BBQ sauce recipes, so its not really a stretch. Plus, I get the feeling that Paul has tried this out on native Texans before. Either way, good job.

How sick would you had to have been to have bailed a la Sarah on your team? And, was Chris C. not the sacrificial lamb on that team? Chris J., which producers do you have naughty photos of? Also, where the heck was the Gatorade? 

Well, I believe that she was actually sick. It was very, very hot in Texas this summer. My problem was her attitude when she got back. A culinary team is a delicate and fragile concept, and you can’t blame Ed and Ty-lor for not being able to reintegrate immediately; it’s asking too much. As I said earlier, Beverly should have gone home. She made coleslaw. Of course, you couldn’t send Ed and Ty-lor home; they were down a teammate. Chris C. admitted over-salting the rubs, so I guess he deserved the loss.


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