How well did the Top Chef production team familiarize itself with what makes Seattle Seattle? In this recurring column, we gauge how fairly the previous night's episode represented the city - and correct misconceptions viewers elsewhere might form based on the show.
1. We don't always see the sun at 3:45 a.m. Or 7:45 a.m.
As you may recall from your grade school days, as you travel north from the equator, summer days grow longer and winter days grow shorter. That means it's been months since dawn tapped its rosy fingers on the Space Needle before 4 a.m., as depicted in last night's opening scene. Don't let the recent Thanksgiving episode fool you: Top Chef was obviously filmed at the height of summer. Today, the sun showed up at 7:44 a.m. (and is scheduled to set at 4:18 p.m.)
2. Pike Place Market has more to offer than flying fish.
Here's where Top Chef unexpectedly juked right: Although judge Hugh Acheson promised Voracious readers they'd see "salmon flying through the air" this season, last night's episode highlighted the produce and products that are the real reason to cherish Pike Place Market. While the episode didn't try to capture all the glories of the market in mid-summer - shooting the indoor stalls must have posed serious technical challenges - Top Chef may very well have kept last night's undistributed $10,000 prize for itself as a pat on the back for showing more interest in Pike Place Fish's salmon candy than its tourist-luring antics.
3. Sur La Table doesn't keep such convenient hours.
Not only does the store's original location not open at daybreak: It closes at 6:30 p.m. To be fair (which isn't the word to describe my mood when I need to buy a hostess gift after work), that's in keeping with the market's schedule.
4. Artisan products can pose quandaries in the kitchen.
Seattle has lots and lots of artisans, although you might not guess it from reading local restaurant menus. A few artisan products pop up frequently: You could probably string together a week's worth of meals featuring Mama Lil's peppers. But chefs often seem stumped by how to integrate artisan goods into their cooking. That's partly because certain chefs would rather make their own pickles and preserves; partly because artisan goods are made in small quantities and largely because many artisan foods aren't designed to take a backseat to any other ingredients.
"I wish they hadn't used other chocolate," Theo Chocolate's Debra Music grumbled when presented with a tart that was supposed to showcase her company's coconut curry milk chocolate bar. The chefs last night learned the pitfalls of obscuring the distinctive flavors of an artisan item (Scrappy's cardamom bitters disappeared into a clam broth) and leaning too heavily on them ("If you get too much, you feel like you're eating someone's grandmother," Acheson said of Woodring's rose petal jelly, liberally applied to a Muscovy duck.) When faced with the monster that's the contemporary artisan foods industry, chefs can't win.