If Richard Blais has any rug burn on its face, it's from hanging out with Fabio Viviani for the last few days. “The kisses are getting longer,” Blais joked. “It's the stubble that bothers me.”
The two have spent yesterday and today going head-to-head on the Top Chef Tour — a mini version of the Bravo show that travels the country pitting Top Chef alumni against each other for the enjoyment of small but enthusiastic crowds.
These showdowns focus on one main ingredient. Today, at the pop-up battlefield in front of the Kodak Theatre, that ingredient was pork.
The real challenge for each mic'd chef, however, was to juggle witty banter and audience participation alongside whipping up a Quickfire-style dish for a panel of three judges. Yours truly served as one, along with season 6's Hector Santiago and season 9's Chris Crary, who's currently chef de cuisine for Whist at the Viceroy.
Not surprisingly, local favorite Viviani (Firenze Osteria, Cafe Firenze), who's known for his gregarious style, fared well at this, keeping the audience giggling as he went. One ballsy 12ish-year-old asked “the Italian spice,” (the kid's words) “Do you think about women when you cook?”
Viviani, stunned, and looking for the child's mother, responded, “Like any Italian man, I think about women all the time. But also like any Italian man, I only get to touch one.”
All the while, each chef focused on their pork dish, for which they could each use a secret ingredient. Blais employed ranch dressing, which he mixed with Sriracha to make the cleverly-named “Srirancha.” Viviani's choice, no joke, was Spiderman — a costumed fool he pulled off Hollywood Blvd. to dance around his opponent. “This is psychological warfare,” Viviani declared.
After 15 minutes of cooking and shenanigans, Blais plated his seared pork loin topped with quinoa salad, mangoes and cilantro stems overtop the “Srirancha” sauce. Viviani served his with roasted grapes and walnuts mixed with hints of ginger and Parmesan overtop polenta. The whole audience got a taste. Both dishes — despite the circumstances — were quite good. Still, for the intrigue of the Srirancha and the freshness of the cilantro, Blais edged out his opponent.
A similar battle will take place at Hollywood and Highland tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m., though Blais will instead be taking on Santiago. From there, the competition moves to Long Beach, then to San Diego. Tickets are required for a seat and a tasting. Full details on the Top Chef Tour can be found on bravotv.com.
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