Last night, per usual, I was glued to the couch for the new episode of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.” One of the finalists in the Champions Round is Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia and the Art Institute’s own Terzo Piano, the restaurant on the third floor of the Modern Wing. Each episode features two challenges, a short “quick fire” challenge and then the longer elimination challenge, in which losing chefs get booted off the show. Though Tony’s team lost the elimination challenge, he survived to cook another day and we can expect to see him next week.
Last night’s quick fire challenge, though, really sparked my interest. It was a tag team challenge. The chefs were divided into two teams of four. Their assignment: cook something. Not so tough, right? Wrong. Because each of the chefs would get one ten-minute stint at the stove. Before their turn, they would be blindfolded and weren’t allowed to communicate with anyone else cooking. So the first chef would pick ingredients and get things started; after ten minutes, the second chef, who had been blindfolded, would have to assume the station, try and figure out where the first chef had been going, and develop the dish; and so on through the four chefs.
Watching all the blindfolded chefs stand around and wait their turn reminded me of some of my favorite works hanging in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing: the “exquisite corpses” of the surrealists. The exquisite corpse was essentially a high-stakes parlor game played, in our case, by such artists as Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, André Breton, and Max Morise. A piece of paper would be folded into sections, like a fan. One artist would take one of the sections and start a drawing, then fold the section over and hand it over to the next person, who would pick up a line from the preceding drawing, without seeing the context for it, and make their own drawing. The result is a four-section drawing that hangs together but isn’t really connected.
One of the works currently hanging in the Modern Wing is an Exquisite Corpse of 1928 by Man Ray, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, and Max Morise, part of the Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection. A highly stylized couple kissing in profile melts into a biomorphic shape that resolves into a hand holding a gun, leading in turn to an abstract line drawing, the bottom arc of which crushes a prone naked man. You can still see the folds in the paper that shaped the sheet into blank segments, lending the drawing an immediacy and vitality.
The name itself is apparently derived from a word-based version of the same activity, with the random selection of exquisite and corpse appearing together and then memorialized in a late 1930s dictionary of surrealism.
While the surrealists didn’t wind up with fish stew, as last night’s contestants did, they would probably approve of the tag team challenge. But they would probably like it more if the chefs had to use fundamentally inedible ingredients.
Man Ray, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, and Max Morise. Exquisite Corpse, 1928. Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection, 105.1991. © 2008 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
As you may have noticed, we’re very proud of Tony Mantuano, one of the current contenders for the title of Top Chef Masters and chef of the Art Institute’s own Terzo Piano. Tony (and his partner Susan) won the first round of competition two weeks ago and we were thrilled to find out that in celebration of this feat, he added his winning dishes to the Terzo menu for the month of April. We obviously considered it our obligation to head over for a taste test…
First up: ravioletto with crescenza cheese, wild mushrooms, and rosemary (see above). And while the cheese was appropriately gooey and the mushrooms suitably woodsy, the pasta was (quite naturally) the real star. In the words of my reality-obsessed colleague Erin H., given all of the ingredients it was surprisingly light. Let’s put it this way…tasting the pasta made it very easy to see why he won.
Next: chocolate bread pudding with banana caramel and Intelligensia coffee ice cream. In culinary parlance, this was killer. It was a little different from the Top Chef Masters version (i.e. it wasn’t made from ingredients from a gas station), but we all agreed that our favorite part was the homemade coffee ice cream. As Jocelin S., the museum’s resident facebooker and tweeter astutely pointed out, it’s time for Intelligensia to diversify. We would all buy this by the gallon. I have to admit, my favorite dessert is still the chocolate semi freddo (I just can’t get enough of the salted caramel), but I’m going to recommend that this be added to the permanent menu. Five stars!
Now I just need a nap!
An update: To celebrate chef/partner Tony Mantuano’s win on the season premiere of “Top Chef Masters,” Terzo Piano is adding the two four-star dishes from the episode to the dinner and lunch menu. They will be available for the month of April. Dishes inspired from the episode’s challenges include: Tony’s “Top Chef Masters” Ravioletto with Mozzarella Co. crescenza cheese, wild mushrooms and rosemary and Tony’s “Quickfire” inspired chocolate bread pudding with banana bourbon caramel and Intelligensia coffee ice cream. The prices are $10 and $9 respectively.
It isn’t very often that my work life manages to coincide with my tv-addict life. For, while I am the Director of Public Affairs and Communication at the Art Institute, I am also an indiscriminate viewer of reality television. So last night was a truly special occasion: the season premiere of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” a cooking competition among the country’s culinary elites. And one of the contestants in the premiere is Tony Mantuano, identified as the chef at Spiaggia and Café Spiaggia (and also identified as President Obama’s favorite chef). Tony is also the chef of the Art Institute’s own Terzo Piano, the Modern Wing’s restaurant that opened last May. So excited was I last night that I live-blogged the episode. At home, on the couch. Alone. I was live-blogging for myself. I offer that now-un-live-blog below . . .
Quickfire Challenge: Chefs have to choose an apron color. Why? That seems cruel. Tony of Terzo Piano is paired up with Susan Feniger of Street and he’s already nervous that she won’t be serious enough. Tony admits upfront that Chinese food isn’t his forte. I’m already starting to sweat a little bit. But . . . psych! They’re at a gas station, for the time honored Top Chef challenge of making a meal out of quickstop food. And wha? Tony is a fan of the Bravery? I’ll have to look them up and try and catch Tony at Terzo Piano for other musical recommendations. He’s easy to talk to; he’d probably make me a playlist. Tony and his partner are trying bread pudding made with white bread. Tony sarcastically calls it “artisanal bread.” Funny. Tony’s charity is Feeding America. I like it when chefs have charities that actually have something to do with food. Other chefs are working with Cheetos and Clamato, both of which I admit I have enjoyed singly but never together. Tony and his partner Susan did the smart thing by going with something sweet instead of something savory. My favorite bread pudding in Chicago is at Ceres Table, up in Andersonville. I feel ok saying that because Terzo Piano doesn’t do bread pudding. My favorite Terzo Piano dessert is fresh mini-donuts but they aren’t currently on the menu. So I go for the chocolate semi-freddo with salted caramel instead when I’m there.