Spoiler alert: 15-minute “sexy” burger on Top Chef LCK

(Technical difficulties: Written by Amy Hubbell not me — dp).

In Episode 5 of Bravo’s Last Chance Kitchen, Top Chef’s online spinoff, Tom Colicchio challenged the three chefs to make their best burger in 15 minutes.

One chef chose lamb, one chose to grind pork belly and mix it with beef, and the other did a beef and pork patty.

The food safety nerd in me knew there would be no time for thermometers and wondered how 15 minutes could be long enough to do all the prep and properly cook the meat. Yet among the chefs, there is a lot of talk about fear of overcooking the burgers.

Watch the tasting from the 8-minute mark here: http://www.bravotv.com/last-chance-kitchen/season-5/videos/lck-ep-5-a-delicious-burger

raw burger TopChef LCKep5When Tom cuts into the center of Burger #3, the beef-pork mix, it is apparently raw inside. “It’s a little raw dog,” says one competitor. “No! I think that’s a pretty sexy slice right there,” retorts Tom as he gobbles it.

Colicchio eating burger

And the raw burger wins. Tom apparently hasn’t died from E. coli yet.

‘Top Chef’ producer, others push for GE labeling; maybe push for safe food practices in kitchens instead of food porn?

Genetically engineered foods should be labeled – that’s been my  position for 20 years. But a whole range of other food production techniques, and especially microbial food safety (the stuff that make people sick) should also be on the label.

hucksterismSmart phone technology coupled with QR codes is making this realistic.

“Top Chef” producer and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio has been an outspoken proponent on the issue of labeling genetically engineered food and ingredients. He has urged chefs and consumers across the country to support labeling legislation.

Maybe he should urge the use of thermometers in his food porn kitchens.

Chef Colicchio may also want to ask why Cheerios and Grape-Nuts no longer contain four vitamins that previously had been added to Grape-Nuts — vitamins A, D, B-12 and B-2 (also known as riboflavin) — were gone – and riboflavin vanished from Cheerios.

Wayne Parrott, a professor of crop science at the University of Georgia criticized General Mills and Post Foods for marketing their non-GMO cereals as especially wholesome. “The new version [of Cheerios] is certainly less nutritious,” he told a reporter for Foodnavigator-usa.com, which covers the food industry.

This mini-controversy never got much attention. Recently, though, as we interviewed scientists who are using genetically altered yeast and bacteria to make nutrients and flavors, we recalled the strange case of the vanishing vitamins. We wondered: Do GMO microbes make vitamins, too? Is that why they can’t be used in non-GMO cereals?

monsanto.debatingThe companies directly involved weren’t terribly helpful. Post Foods, the maker of Grape-Nuts, informed us in a prepared statement that vitamins were removed because “they did not meet non-GMO standards,” but refused to explain why this was so.

Two of the world’s major vitamin makers, BASF and DSM, declined to provide details of their manufacturing. “There is very little non-proprietary information I could talk to you about,” a spokesman for DSM wrote in an email.

We dug further and discovered that vitamins may fail the non-GMO test for a variety of reasons.

Some companies are most likely making vitamin B-12 and riboflavin using genetically modified microbes; they have, at least, published scientific papers showing how this can be done.

I’ll stick to oats for breakfast and focusing on what actually makes people sick.

A Top Chef Thanksgiving

Last night with the 80 degree temperatures outside, I curled up in bed with the seasonal spirit to watch the Top Chef Thanksgiving. The chefs split into teams with Emeril Lagasse and Tom Colicchio to cook their family favorite recipes.

On team Emeril, returning cheftestant Josie used her immunity to cook her team’s turkeys for the FareStart organization which trains disadvantaged individuals to become chefs. At some point her birds started looking blackened and she deemed the ovens to be too hot. She dialed down the temperature and played a guessing game.

During the meal the judges discussed the very pink meat on the birds:

“Not recommended by the USDA.”

“Coulda cooked a little more, unfortunately, but well seasoned.”

“Good flavor from the outside, but the inside was practically raw.”

All the while, there were no thermometers anywhere. Given the feedback, I presume the judges ate the pink birds.

Back in the kitchen Josie commented, “I’ve had my ups and downs on Top Chef, but, I’m happy with the turkey over all. But the question is, ‘is it overcooked?’ ‘is it dry?’ ‘is it moist?'” Josie was shocked when the judges told her it was undercooked.

Had she used a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, she would have known the answer. Blackened skin does not mean the turkey is cooked to a safe internal temperature of 165F.


Elbow shake

Magic glove syndrome, the phenomenon where food service workers think they are immune to cross-contamination because they’re wearing protective gloves, is rampant on reality TV. Even our own butcher here in Brisbane touches everything from raw meat to money with his gloves on. It’s just one of those things I never would have thought about before I met Doug, but now I find it disgusting.

Tonight I’m catching up on missed episodes of Top Chef Just Desserts and have noticed some glove action going on. First, during a one-handed challenge, an opponent helped Chef Orlando put a sanitary glove on the one hand he was allowed to use. Then I did a happy double-take when I saw Chef Sally Camacho offer her elbow to Judge Hubert Keller at an event the cheftestants catered in L.A. She respected her gloved hands and diners by avoiding bringing potential clients’ germs into her dishes. 

Food safety failures at Top Chef’s restaurant

Top Chef glorifies food porn and features terrible food safety.

I do like the way they eliminate contestants, and wish I had thought of that when I was coaching 8-year-old girls rep hockey – your slapshot needs work and you have no idea what off-side means, please pack your skates and go home.

Top Chef winner Richard Blais’ Flip Burger failed an April 8 health inspection at its Buckhead location (that’s near Atlanta, in Georgia, U.S.). Dick, you wanna be a TV star, expect some attention.

The restaurant scored a 69 on an inspection last Friday (April 8). The Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness says a score of anything below a 70 is considered failing.

A new Fulton County health inspection conducted on Tuesday showed the Buckhead eatery with a passing score of 98.

Top Chef would be mildly entertaining with Charlie Sheen

I have no idea why those morons on Top Chef don’t use a thermometer.

During last night’s episode, Carla (right, exactly as shown) serves raw pork.

Judge Gail says, the center of my pork loin was pretty much completely raw.

Carla goes home

Thermometers would make them better cooks.

The Charlie factor is best summarized by music critic Lester Bangs in the film, Almost Famous:

Lester Bangs: The Doors? Jim Morrison? He’s a drunken buffoon posing as a poet.

Alice Wisdom: I like the Doors.

Lester Bangs: Give me the Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.

Top Chef dirty hands leave a bad taste

The producers of Bravo’s Top Chef have me pegged as their target audience. Tonight’s episode featured the Sesame Street characters Telly, Cookie Monster, and Elmo (who were hilarious judges), and new ads for Target featuring former Top Chef cheftestants and Padma. It’s an entertaining episode that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Tonight’s challenge was to cook a meal for 100 employees in a closed Target super store in the middle of the night. Because of the improvised cooking setting, the chefs were forced to set up their kitchens, find their ingredients, and prepare to serve the employees and judges within a 3 hour time limit. Some concentrated on table linens, some on flavors, but there was a frightening absence of handwashing. Granted, many of the chefs opted to make soup, which in theory should allow for thorough cooking of all ingredients. But what about any fancy garnish and fresh salad that ends up on the plate?

My favorite of the season, Richard Blais, made a pork tenderloin (pictured right exactly as shown). He then topped his finished pork with some freshly sliced apple and green chili slaw before serving. His concern? "It’s not the prettiest dish in the world. I know that. But I’m ready to defend my dish if I have to. I think it’s tasty."

Anthony Bourdain confirmed, "Frankly, I think Richard’s disk was butt ugly, but it was delicious."

One day I hope a chef will stand up and protest the cooking conditions or demand a meat thermometer. I will leave the food safety assessment to the experts, but I spotted a few potential concerns:

– using all cooking utensils and dishes straight from boxes with no chance to sanitize them

– improvised utensils, linens, garbage cans, etc.

– no handwashing stations, sanitizing solutions or rags to clean work surfaces or dishes.

I have hit pause on the DVR so many times that I’m not even done watching this episode yet, but I hope it does not end with a foodborne outbreak.

Fancy food does not mean safe food, NYC edition

Grub Street New York reports the city’s No. 1 restaurant, Le Bernardin, featuring celebrity Top Cheferer Eric Ripert (right, not exactly as shown), received 32 demerits (4 points above the C mark) on an inspection last Friday.

General Manager David Mancini says he’s expecting a follow-up on the initial “courtesy inspection” in the next week or two and tells us, “As aggressive as the inspection was, I don’t want to make any comment until they come back and reinspect us, and then I’ll probably have a great deal of comment.”

Failures in the current inspection included:

• cold food item held above 41º F (smoked fish and reduced oxygen packaged foods above 38 ºF) except during necessary preparation;

• raw, cooked or prepared food is adulterated, contaminated, cross-contaminated, or not discarded in accordance with HACCP plan;

• sanitized equipment or utensil, including in-use food dispensing utensil, improperly used or stored; and,

• plumbing not properly installed or maintained, anti-siphonage or backflow prevention device not provided where required; equipment or floor not properly drained, and ssewage disposal system in disrepair or not functioning properly.

Bon appetite.

Thermometers make chefs (and mere mortals) better and safer cooks

Food porn was on the menu last night as the new season of Top Chef kicked off. That’s me watching for about 30 seconds (right, not exactly as shown).

Earlier in the day I got a press release about the Grilled Australian Lamb Burger with Brie Cheese, Cranberry Compote and Roasted Jalapeno Aioli, “America’s new favorite upscale burger” created by Anthony Jacquet, executive chef of The Whisper Lounge in L.A. (left, exactly as shown).

The burger won the “Make Australian Lamb America’s New Favorite Burger” contest, sponsored by Plate Magazine and Meat & Livestock Australia.

The cooking constructions state:

To prepare burgers, place patties on hot grill. Cook for 2 minutes and then turn a quarter turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Flip burger and cook another 2 minutes. Turn a quarter turn and cook another 2 minutes. Add brie cheese and cover with a stainless steel mixing bowl for another minute. Pull burgers off of grill and let rest. They should be medium rare.

I don’t know what medium rare is. If Australia wants to increase consumption of lamb burgers, require clear cooking instructions, like using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to ensure the burger reaches 160F so people won’t barf and consumption of lamb doesn’t plummet.

Susan Burton of Slate Magazine required almost 2,000 words yesterday to say she likes meat – well-done – and that she hates the food thermometer.

I honed in on the modern American history of doneness, in large part because it can be tracked precisely—thanks to the meat thermometer. This early-20th-century invention brought about a giant cultural shift: the reliance on a gadget—rather than instinct, or experience—to assess our meat. The thermometer was promoted to home cooks as a tool of scientific precision. It was also an instrument of relaxation, something that freed you from worrying about misjudging the meat: "A roast thermometer makes for carefree roasting," advised the 1959 edition of Fannie Farmer’s famous tome. By midcentury, temperature measurements were a common feature of cookbooks.

Our standards for doneness changed rapidly when, thanks to Claiborne, Julia Child, and others, we discovered, and began to venerate, cooking methods that originated abroad. Once American palates adjusted to the European style of underdone meat, guidelines fell even further. (Child’s leg of lamb: rare at 140 in 1961; 125 in 1979.) Times writer Florence Fabricant took note of this development in a 1982 article called "A Trend Toward ‘Less Well Done.’ " Fabricant called overcooking "a tradition in this country" and attributed the change to the influence of "Oriental" and "French nouvelle" cuisines. She also connected the trend to the then-new vogues for crisp-tender vegetables and for raw foods, like sushi. But eating rare meat wasn’t simply a matter of evolving taste. It was a means of signaling something about yourself, an ethos. When Fabricant’s article was published, serving your guests rare meat showed you were sophisticated.

These days, it shows you’re cool. (Look no further than the title of Bourdain’s forthcoming bad-ass memoir: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.)

Somehow, author Burton manages to simultaneously trash the precision of a meat thermometer and propagate food safety myths about so-called factory farming.

She’s so cool, she likes food well-done and doesn’t need a thermometer.

I’ll continue to stick it in.

Number 1 most idiotic food story of the year; Prevention magazine

I’ve been interviewed and quoted by Prevention magazine a few times about food safety stuff. They didn’t seem any worse or better than anyone else and I always took the time to explain things from my world of microbial food safety and what makes people barf.

But their latest story, which did not include me or any other food safety expert I know, claims to present, The top 7 foods avoided by food safety experts.

Greg Johnson, editor of the Kansas City-based The Packer went twitterlistic, writing that the "7 foods experts won’t eat, from Prevention mag lists conventional apples and potatoes. Too bad "experts" are bunch of leftist hacks.”

Not sure if it’s a left or right thing – the U.S. is big on moral dualism. Maybe it’s a dumb or smart thing.

Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief of Prevention Magazine, recently interviewed several experts on food healthfulness and safety. She asked, “What foods do you avoid”, and was surprised by some of the answers.

1. Canned Tomatoes, Canned Soup, Canned Green Beans

Something to do with BPA. Risk is minimal. Canned tomatoes are a great source of antioxidants. Canned soup and green beans are great comfort food. Food safety is impeccable.

2. Corn-Fed Beef

Something to do with nutrient profiles and blowing Whole Foods. Corn-fed beef rocks.

 3. Microwave Popcorn???

Something about the chemicals. Eat real food, not popcorn.

4. Nonorganic Potatoes and Carrots???
Something about root vegetables absorbing pesticides. I worry more about microorganisms, and eating enough fruits and vegetables.

5. Farmed Salmon???
Something about chemicals in farmed salmon, which are far below acceptable government limits. Farmed salmon preserves the environment.

6. Milk Produced with Artificial Hormones???
Something about rBST and this is the best someone at the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility can come up with, when 30 per cent of all people in all countries get sick from the food and water they consume each year, and none of it has anything to do with genetically engineered hormones.

7. Nonorganic Apples and Pears???
Something about pesticide accumulation. Total BS. Bring on the conventional apples and pears. My kid loves them.