Monday, September 01, 2014

Cornbread Canaries and the Crêpe of Perpetual Motion

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 8

Summer is winding down, so your Four Courses hosts did a fair amount of eating outdoors this past month. Whether it was patio dining at a restaurant or attending local food events at the park, we were all about soaking up the sun while we can. That seasonal eating influenced a couple of our discussions this month, so go give Episode 8 a listen, either on our site, or via iTunes/Stitcher.

Topics include Katie's Pizza, the specialized lingo of bar drinking, the culture of food trucks, and the recent surge of Cajun and Creole cuisine. Finally, we wrap up with Kyle's thoughts on how a certain actress' contribution to the world of food goes over. Spoiler alert: Maybe she should stick to acting.

I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to mail with any questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

American Food Mythology and the Feast of Waffles

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 7

Independence Day falls in July, of course, but there are a lot of other reasons July makes us feel so darn patriotic. Summer BBQs! Baseball games! Fruit pies! We spend this hour delving into how food and drink ties us to America, so go check out Episode 7 on the site, or subscribe to Four Courses Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

Topics include the alluring waffles of Melt, a grown-up approach to Jello shots, foods that might make the average American feel patriotic, and the phenomenon of pop-up restaurants. Finally, I get a little feisty in railing against a fruit that nobody seems to like, yet won't just do the honorable thing and go away.

Please enjoy, and mail with any questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Sacred Sandwiches and the Romantic Meat Connection

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 6

With summer upon us, we felt we must tackle some appropriate, hot-weather topics. But really, any excuse to get together and shoot the shit about gin and steak is acceptable. Episode 6 is now live at the site, or if you want to take us on the go, subscribe to us on iTunes or Stitcher. You'll be just in time to listen to me flail about hopelessly when it comes to backyard grilling.

Topics include the achingly good BBQ at Sugarfire, the versatility of gin, the ins and outs of grilling, and in our most popular Dessert segment to date, a discussion of the food buzzwords that drive us up the wall. Finally, we wrap things up with an impassioned defense of the classic grilled cheese.

Please enjoy, and mail with any questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Señor Skrillex and the Citrus Dichotomy

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 5

¡Hola! Up for some Mexican food? Sure you are! Well, you're in luck. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, the May episode of Four Courses is almost entirely Mexican-themed. Why not mix up a margarita, kick back, and go give Episode 5 a listen? It's live at, and is also available for subscription on iTunes and Stitcher.

Topics include Tower Taco, the origins and variations of margaritas, the St. Louis festival for Cinco de Mayo down on Cherokee Street, the relatively recent trend of upscale Mexican food, and finally, a short discussion of the edibles we've got planted in our spring gardens.

Please enjoy, and mail with any questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions!

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Polish Hospitality and the Schrödinger Brunch

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 4

Hello! There's a lot of news to report in the world of Four Courses! We have a shiny new logo, and have become available to download from and subscribe to on iTunes. And now that you've got a new way to find us, how about a new episode to go with it? Episode 4 is now live at (and on iTunes, of course), so go give it a listen!

Topics include the Goody Cafe, the Civil Life brewery, the wide variations of St. Louis' lenten fish frys, the uptick of dim sum's popularity, and finally, Kyle takes us out with his...strong feelings about flair bartending.

I hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to email with any questions or comments you have about the show.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Websites of Mystery and the Great Pastry Wars

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 3

Greetings! Though we've edged into April, I'd like to ask you to cast your mind back. Back, back, back. All the way to... March. Done that? Good. Now that you're in the proper frame of mind, why not give Episode 3 a listen? It's posted at, so go check it out.

Topics include "Table", garnishes and mixers for your favorite cocktails, the March eatin' holidays of Pi(e) Day and St. Patrick's Day, the basics of what goes into the failure or success of a restaurant, and finally, some righteous anger about a food festival that's making all the wrong moves. Literally.

I hope you enjoy it, and please consider joining the Four Courses community!

Friday, April 04, 2014

Crown of Thorns

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 17

Previously on Top Chef: The whole season. A certain person got ultra-busy with his other food project and unforgivably left the finale recap to rot on the shelf. That was also partially due to the loss of both Louis and Shirley - it's always a bummer to see your favorites go. But onward! Tonight, a winner will be named! If by "tonight", you mean "months ago", but incomplete series bug me. Let's knock it out.

Here we are at the end of an overly-lengthy season. I think it's time to go back to the days when we began with fewer chefs; there's no need for Top Chef to be longer than I, Claudius. It's down to Nina and Nicholas, and thankfully, the finale challenge is one of those give-us-all-you-got four course menus. I'm still a little bitter about that finale where the proteins were chosen for the chefs. There will be two services, and in a strange twist, the finalists will not only be serving the judges, but doing a full-on restaurant shift, serving a bunch of other diners as well, managing a waitstaff, etc. I'm not necessarily against it figuring into the challenge, but it sure is weird.

Naturally, a task of this magnitude will require some help, and unsurprisingly, that help will come in the form of eliminated contestants. Not everyone is there to choose from, but I doubt we're all aching to spend more time with Michael anyway, so no big deal. Nicholas won the previous challenge, so he gets to pick first. He selects Jason (the hair-flipping model from way back when), Louis, and Brian. Nina picks up Shirley, Stephanie, and Travis. That settled, the chefs spring into prep work. Nicholas is going to focus on classical French technique, while Nina opts for more local flavors. She also decides to take a bit of a risk by including two optional dishes, trying to get as much of her work in front of the judges as possible. That risk almost immediately blows up in her face when the ice cream recipe she's shopped for is ruined by the lack of an ice cream machine at the restaurant she'll be working in. Nicholas hopes to redeem his terrible flan by making panna cotta.

After the day of prep is complete, the chefs are taken to dinner with the judges. As a fun surprise for them (and the better to get their emotions all whipped up into a lather), other guests have been invited, too: Nina's husband and brother, and Nicholas' wife and mother. Hearts swell. Nerves are excited. Tom indulges in some terrible wordplay. Par for the course, really. The next day, it's time for final prep. Nina worries that her goat dish is too chewy. Nicholas is having staff problems, and I can't tell if he's being overly demanding, or if his servers are as stupid and incompetent as he's making them out to be. Time runs down, and the two sets of judges (along with the usual Names) gather at the restaurants alongside the random diners.

First Course: Nina begins with an amuse bouche of crispy breadfruit, served with foie gras butter, and some curried salt. I've never had breadfruit, but it sounds good. She follows that up with tuna and escolar tartare with tomato water, jalapeno, and lemon. The judges find it nicely refreshing, and a good reflection of Hawaii. Nicholas' first course consists of a crudo of hamachi and tuna, with three preparations of green apple. He's already snapping at his servers and expediters, who to be fair, do seem to be screwing up left and right. His first course is - wait for it - underseasoned. I'll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the ground.

Second Course: Nicholas and Jason have prepared a sweet shrimp bisque, with scallops and "noodles" made of daikon, some shaved abalone, and Thai basil. This course goes over much better. It does sound pretty intriguing. Nina has worked out her goat problems (there's a sentence I'll never need again), and serves braised baby goat with orecchiette pasta, a cherry tomato confit, and whipped goat cheese. The judges are over the moon for it, and for good reason. It looks amazing.

Third Course: Nina and Travis have made a spice-rubbed swordfish with squash puree, braised kale, and smoked onion jus. This course is not as successful as her other ones. The fish isn't bright enough, the kale's flavors are intruding on the swordfish, and there may be too much spice rub involved. Nicholas brings his duck up to a medium doneness, which is unusual, but he's trying to work around some texture issues. The course is a seared kombu-cured duck breast, with compressed kabocha squash, hijiki, and ginger. The judges mostly love it, with two noticeable problems. Once is Emeril's flabby cut of duck, which he chews and chews without ever being able to break down. And speaking of "break down", Nicholas openly berates his serving staff right there at the table. And I mean, no matter how terrible they are, that's not a professional way to handle it.

Fourth Course: Nicholas has made a white chocolate panna cotta, with almond cocoa crumble, and some tropical fruit. It doesn't look or sound that great, but the judges seem to appreciate it. Before Nina's dessert comes out, she serves an intermezzo of compressed dragon fruit in a ginger simple syrup, with some frozen papaya. Sounds refreshing! Her dessert proper is chocolate zeppole with macadamia nuts, toasted coconut, and a passion fruit angalise. Stop ruining desserts, coconut.

Once the first service is over, the judges swap locations. There's not much difference in the reactions with this second crew, except that Nick's duck course goes over much better, and him screaming about the terrible waitstaff can be heard in the dining room. It's pretty understandable to be frazzled about coming so close to the win and feel like you're going down on a technicality, but pull your shit together, dude. Nobody's going to say "You would have won, but your servers didn't place the fish on the left, so forget it." Both menus are well-received by the judges, with Nicholas' being notably stronger than his usual fare. Service winds down.

Judges' Table. As expected, only a few brief comments are dedicated to Nicholas' problems with the serving staff. I just want to mention one last time that it's fine for this not to be a big deal on Top Chef, but that it's a very big deal in real life. I've seen a few chefs get off on terrorizing waiters, and it is not acceptable. Now, to the food. Nicholas' first dish lacked seasoning, which has been one of his most consistent problems. Tom and Padma disagree about his second course. Padma didn't get enough scallop flavor, but Tom loved it. He also really liked Nicholas' duck, which is Emeril's cue to mention how terrible his portion was. The panna cotta was fine, though it has some minor texture issues. Nina's crudo and goat dishes were wonderful, but her swordfish dish was a misstep. Also, her dessert felt too slight.

Deliberations begin. Normally, when they say the finale is close, I dismiss it as disingenuous. Nine times out of then, they obviously know who they're going to select as the winner. I do have to say, though, that this one appears to genuinely come down to the wire. Nina is generally accepted as "winning" the first and second courses, while Nicholas "won" the third and fourth. The judges argue back and forth for hours before a final choice is finally made. The winner of Top Chef is... Nicholas! And a million foghorn noises go off in a million brains. He, of course, is deliriously happy, and Nina is gracious in defeat. Everyone celebrates and toasts the champion, and the season comes to a close.

Plenty of internet ink has been spilled about this decision, but I can't whip myself into too much of a froth about it. Sure, I would have preferred that Nina have won. Well actually, I would have preferred that Shirley have won, but I can see where the groundswell of support for Nina is coming from. She's been leading the pack since the very first challenge, and it's very likely that overall, she's a much more talented chef. And there's a whiff of symbolic unfairness that despite her being more talented, the straight-white-dude judge turned it around so the straight-white-dude contestant could win. I'm not saying that Tom is prejudiced or that the season was rigged or anything. It just comes off as a disappointing shrug of a finale. Like I said, though, I'm not too bummed, because Top Chef is about a lot more than the final decision. Nicholas gets the title and the money, but Nina gets the word-of-mouth career boost. It's obvious that no matter where she's cooking, people will flock to taste her food now. And I don't even dislike Nicholas. He seems like a decent guy, and I don't begrudge him the win. If nothing else, maybe this experience will teach him a few valuable lessons. Not least of which about how much salt to put in his dishes.

Overall Grade: C
Overall Season Grade: B