Saturday, September 1, 2012

Viet Pham Survives Another Week on "Extreme Chef"

Viet Pham on "Extreme Chef"
Viet Pham has survived the third episode of the Food Network's "Extreme Chef," and it hasn't been easy. Twice, he's had to go head-to-head with another chef in the one-bite showdown, winning both times. (Here's an update on Viet Pham's upcoming gig, The Next Food Network Star). 

His cool confidence garnered more snotty comments from the other chefs, such as:
 "A show-off's a show-off"  — Tiffany
 "Viet's so smug" — Issy
 "He's so d--- cocky" — Terry 

But behind that cocky, know-it-all facade lurks a big secret that Viet confided to the camera.
"My strategy from the beginning is to always be confident and arrogant," he said. "It's an intimidation factor.  But what they don't know is that I go into these competitions just as scared as they are."

I've met Viet, and he's a lot more personable in "real life" than he comes across on the small screen. Now we find out  he's just playing the "show-off chef" to intimidate the competition. But will it also put a big target on his back, as the one they all want gang up against and eliminate as soon as possible? We'll see.

To me, this past week's ingredients - indigenous to Native American Yoem tribe in the Mojave desert, were more palatable than in previous episodes. Give me fresh cactus, chiles, elk and rabbit any day over jarred beef tongue, Spam and military MREs. Viet won the first challenge with his fire-roasted cactus hash with pumpkin seeds and quail egg.  He was innovative, cutting up his shirt to use it as a strainer.  The win gave him the advantage of a real knife to use in the second challenge, where he made smoked rabbit and quinoa stew.  The rest of the chefs had to make a blade by breaking up obsidian rock — reminiscent to the Native American arrowheads.

Scott Brandolini of Boston was ousted; he lost the challenge when part of his food fell into the fire. The challenge winner, Terry, chose Viet to go up against Scott for the one-bite challenge, and Viet's sage-smoked trout with fire-roasted fava beans won. I thought that toasting the bones and skin for a "cracker" was certainly creative.

One interesting side note about cactus: I recently visited the National Institute of Health and Fitness, and raw nopales (prickly pear cactus) is routinely served on the salad bar there. Director Marc Sorenson said there's a lot of research showing that nopales helps keep blood sugar levels steady, which is important for diabetics.

So who's going to win? Issy's cooking skills have won some challenges, but she's not as physically tough as the rest of the group. So much depends on being able to quickly chase down ingredients, and she's lagging behind.  Tiffany is physically fit, but  her food hasn't won any of the competitions. She threw in so many unfamiliar herbs and spices on her last challenge dish that one judge said it tasted like "an old lady's perfume."

Terry seems to be finding his groove after a rough start.  Remember the first episode, when he couldn't get his fire started?  Susan Dillingham saw he was in trouble, and lent him her torch so he could start cooking. Susan ended up going home, but that act of good sportsmanship made her a winner.

I'm predicting that Viet and Terry will be the last two chefs standing, but with so many twists and turns, strategies and surprises, anything can happen. 

Can't wait to see what happens next week when the chefs show up in Thailand.

For my original interview with Viet, click here.

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