Thursday, September 17, 2009

Top Chef: SF's French connection is a goner

French-born Mattin Noblia, chef-owner of Iluna Basque in San Francisco's North Beach, is gone from Bravo TV's Top Chef competition.

Mattin was eliminated at the end of Wednesday's episode for a ceviche that was unevenly "cooked" (see my Sept. 1 blog entry) and poorly seasoned. Mattin may be a fine chef, but he seemed out of his element in the competition, never building any momentum and not cooking the way he does at his restaurant.

Of equal significance, to me, in Wednesday's episode was the Quickfire Challenge, in which the contestants were required to use cactus in preparation of a dish. Few if any of the dozen competitors seemed to know how to deal with this special vegetable, but the best contestants found ways.

Cooking with cactus? Old hat to Mexican cooks. Nopales, or prickly pear cactus leaves (some call them "pads"), are standard fare in many a mamacita's kitchen.

Tucson food author and longtime acquaintance Carrie Niethammer wrote what is probably the most accessible set of instructions for using nopales, The Prickly Pear Cookbook. It has 60 recipes for nopales.

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