Improv was the name of the game for the remaining contestants on Wednesday’s Top Chef – and the top 10 had to be more creative than ever. Audience members at Chicago’s famed Second City comedy club dictated this week’s challenge by shouting out adjectives, colors and ingredients (example: perplexed, green, tofu). The Top Chefs had to then design a dish incorporating all three elements. Like improv, some results were wonderfully spot-on (the “perplexed, green, tofu” menu prepared by Richard and Dale was love at first bite for the judges), while others fell flat (Stephanie and Jen’s “turned-on, orange and asparagus” dish, which the judges deemed a turn-off by its texture and taste). So Jen–and her knives–was sent packing.
Back in San Francisco, Jen offered up an exclusive recipe for one of her signature dishes: coriander-crusted tuna capellini. And see what the chef had to say about her ouster after the jump. –Brian Orloff
Jen’s Coriander-Crusted Tuna CapelliniFor the tuna: 4 oz. bluefin tuna cleaned, cut into 2-in. diameter logs 3 oz. coriander seeds, lightly toasted and crushed 3 oz. canola oil
• Season the tuna roll in the coriander • Heat a stainless steel saut pan with the canola oil. Just before the oil begins to smoke, add the tuna log • Sear on each side for 30 seconds. Chill the fish immediately to stop it from cooking further • In boiling water, cook 1/4-lb. of capellini pasta
Vinaigrette In a bowl, mix: 1 oz. grated bottarga al tonno 1 oz. lemon juice 2 T. parsley, chopped fine 3 oz. extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper
• Mix the cooked pasta, tossing thoroughly • Slice the chilled tuna into 1/2-in. thick slices with a fine, thin knife. 3-4 pieces • Plate the bottarga pasta by twirling it with a dinner fork to form a spindle • Lay the tuna around the pasta • Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette around the plate • Garnish with julienne of preserved lemon
(Note: If you can’t find bottarga–a delicacy of southern Italy made from preserved, salted tuna roe–you can make the same paste with finely chopped anchovies.)
How did you come up with this tuna recipe?It’s one of my signature dishes. It’s a pretty interesting dish because it seems like it’s Asian–just because the tuna is encrusted in coriander. But it’s also used in Mediterranean cooking. It has a great bright flavor and, with the Ahi tuna, texturally it’s very interesting.
How did being on the show affect your relationship with Zoi?It’s tricky. Just the stress of the show – once the show started to air, it was a relief. But not knowing what they were going to show, that’s stressful. We love each other so much. We have a great relationship, and the fans here in San Francisco are so nice and so sweet. We just really appreciate it.
The judges had a tough decision this elimination. Knowing this, did that make your elimination easier–or more frustrating?It was more frustrating. Laughs I honestly walked into the judges’ table and Steph was like, “We’re dead.” And I was like, “No, no way.” I was shocked. I thought we represented our dish really well and Antonia and Lisa didn’t really represent their dish accordingly, to the comedy challenge.
Improvising your dishes seemed to lend itself to a looser feel in the kitchen.The improvisation was there pretty much in everyone’s dish. Steph and I created a dish that was, I thought, absolutely representative of that statement, but also still utilizing orange in a tapenade and orange in a citrus vinaigrette — then cooking the cheese in a way that it looked like an orange. If that’s not improvisation, then I don’t know what is.
Tell us: Did you feel Jen deserved to go home?Chuck Hodes/Bravo