Katsuji Tanabe, Mexi-Kosher maven, competes on ‘Top Chef’


“I’m a Mexican-Japanese who owns a kosher restaurant.”

Welcome to L.A.

Katsuji Tanabi is our neighborhood chef, founder of the ‘lil Mexican Kosher joint, aptly named Mexi-Kosher, located in the Pico-Robertson area. He’s won Food Network’s “Chopped” and now he’s competing in Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Don’t have time to watch the hour-long episodes? Follow his gastronomical journey here, in recaps!

EPISODE 1: Sudden Death

Guest Judge: Richard Blais, Top Chef Season 8 All Stars Winner

“Hi, my name is Katsuji Tanabe and I sell tacos in Beverly Hills.”

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Timed Techniques

Katsuji’s Technique: Shucking oysters

It’s day one and it’s not pretty. After brief introductions, host Padma Lakshmi gets down to business and, bam!, announces a sudden death quickfire. Contestants are divided into four teams of four.

It’s a timed mission and Katsuji’s team is in the lead. Until it’s his turn to perform. Each person is designated a different task. His, you ask? Shucking oysters.

As you might imagine, the kosher chef can’t shuck. Banging the oysters against the table, Katsuji realizes oysters aren’t his forte.

Still, in the nick of time, he eventually shucks enough and, though not first, his team doesn’t finish last. Saved from elimination!

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Cook a spin-off of the first dish you ever made.

Katsuji’s Dish: “Petroleum” shrimp, saffron couscous, serrano aioli and squid ink fondue

Katsuji incorporated way too many elements. A basic “shrimp quesadilla” manifested into a squid-ink-gruyere-cheese-chicharron-hard-boiled-egg overload. Because of his boldness, he’s among three contestants on the chopping block. But he prevails and doesn’t go home!

EPISODE 2: Boston’s Bravest and Finest

Guest Judge: Todd English, Boston Restaurateur

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Surf and Turf

Katsuji’s Dish: Poached sweetbreads, sunny side up quail egg, uni and caviar with hot pepper jelly

There’s no elimination in this quickfire, but the winner gets $5,000.

“I’m not even thinking about $5,000. I just want to prove to the other chefs that I have good days and I have bad days. But right now is the most amazing day,” says Katsuji.

Although the day starts with some mishaps, Katie the klutz, a fellow contestant and culinary instructor, collides with Katsuji when he’s holding a blender’s worth of boiling liquid. The scalding sauce burns him and F-bombs go flying. After that blunder, Katsuji resumes his game-face and serves up a pretty impressive dish.

A contender to win the $5,000, he loses by a hair.

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Cook for the commissioners of Boston’s fire and police departments

Group Dish: Pea coconut puree with sauteed halibut, pickled rhubarb and grilled fennel slaw

Through random selection, Katsuji ends up in a group with klutzy Katie (of course) and haughty Mei, sous chef at Michael Voltaggio’s “ink” (LA’s “it” restaurant), who won the elimination challenge last episode.

High and mighty, Mei doesn’t trust any input that isn’t her own. She’s a culinary back-seat driver. When Katsuji says he’ll make the puree sauce, Mei holds up a fight. End of the challenge, Katsuji serves up a beautiful sauce made from peas and avocado. Mei apologizes…sort of.

Although top contenders, his group didn’t win the challenge.

EPISODE 3: The Curse of the Bambino

Guest Judge: Ming Tsai, celebrity chef of fusion cuisine

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Boston Tea Party challenge

Katsuji’s Dish: Toasted brown rice tea broth with brown rice crusted tuna

The contestants have to fuse tea into a dish, so Katsuji selects a toasted brown rice tea blend and, celebrating his roots, concocts a Japanese-inspired dish. Although it receives acclaim from the judges, ultimately, it doesn’t win the challenge.

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Fenway Park Concession Food

Katsuji’s Dish: Bread pudding with mushrooms, bacon and deep fried pork belly

Inspired by baseball stadium grub, contestants are expected to take typical Fenway snacks and transform them into fine dining dishes. Katsuji decides to take a swing (get it??) with fried bread. He’s the only contestant to select that gutsy ingredient (the majority of contestants opt for popcorn or pretzels).

The pudding doesn’t go down well with the judges.

While waiting for results, the chefs wait in the kitchen. And that’s when things heat up. Aaron is this season’s putz. Aaron says to Katsuji, “Bread pudding is what five year olds cook, you’re a Top Chef.” Yadda yadda yadda, things heat up in the kitchen, Katsuji says, “You ever talk to me like that again…” and Aaron, unphased says he wants to shove bread pudding in Katsuji’s mouth.

Again on the chopping block for his traif pork belly and bread pudding, the judges tell Kastuji he needs to be a better editor.

EPISODE 4: Chefs Walk Into a Bar…

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Upscale Bar Food

Katsuji’s Dish:Mahi mahi and tuna ceviche tostada with roasted tomato and jalapeno salsa

In yo’ face! Katsuji won. The challenge takes place at the Boston bar Cheers and actor George Wendt (Norm!) guest judges. Katsuji earns immunity from elimination.

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Three Course Italian Meal

Katsuji’s Dish: Spring pea and goat cheese ravioli with pecorino, green chili and mint

Teams have to write and create a three-course menu. Katsuji’s in a team with Aaron (the bread pudding shover) and Gregory, Season 12’s star child (who practically wins every competition). As to be expected, Aaron and Katsuji butt heads, but they keep it to a minimum.

While cooking his ravioli dish, Katsuji gets a special gluten-free request. A deer in headlights, he deconstructs his ravioli rather than substituting the pasta for a gluten-free option. Turns out, the celiac is actress Emmy Rossum. Judges are unhappy with his ravioli, but who cares! Katsuji has immunity.

Jew of Arcadia


 

Becky Wahlstrom isn’t a Jew, but she plays one on TV. As Grace Polk on CBS’s “Joan of Arcadia,” the blond Chicagoan looks refreshingly unlike your stereotypical Jewish character. Of course, Grace’s character wasn’t supposed to seem Jewish from the start. The contrary, politically outspoken, rebellious teenager in black has been packed with surprises since her character debuted in last year’s first season. Recently, it came to light that her mother is an alcoholic. Toward the end of last year, it was revealed that her father was a rabbi and that, at age 16, she was finally giving in to his pleadings that she have a bat mitzvah. Tonight, then, is the big night. Grace will become a woman in the eyes of the Jewish community at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26.

“Joan of Arcadia,” is a one-hour teen/family drama, that centers around the titular Joan Girardi (Amber Tamblyn), an average teenage girl who just happens to hear from God on a regular basis. Although an ongoing plot point this season involves Joan’s mother (Mary Steenburgen) returning to Catholicism, the God on this show is supposed to be nondenominational, embracing people of all faiths.

Coinciding with the bat mitzvah storyline in this episode titled, “The Book of Questions,” is one in which Joan must cope with the death of a close friend, priming a discussion on one of the heaviest questions religion tackles: mortality. As the show rarely brings in the viewpoint of any one religion, it’s noteworthy that they chose a Jewish perspective to tackle such a weighty issue.

“I think the amalgamation of this rite of passage and Jewish theology had a certainly important part to play in [the characters] finding meaning and comfort,” said Cantor Chayim Frenkel of Kehillat Israel, who, in addition to teaching Wahlstrom how to chant her Torah reading for the episode, also served as a technical adviser and has a cameo appearance.

Grace and Joan’s inner conflicts in this episode made the idea of questions a logical theme, according to the episode’s writer, Ellie Herman. Grace’s conflict is that while part of her wishes to appease her parents by going through with the bat mitzvah, there’s another part that both fears her mother’s alcoholism will be revealed to the public and questions whether this ritual even holds any meaning for her. Meanwhile, Joan is grieving and angry with God for showing himself but refusing to give her any answers about why her friend had to die.

In Judaism, Herman noted, it’s all about questioning, and this is what Grace eventually realizes. She is handed the Torah, which Herman described as the true “book of questions.” Grace, a rebel with a mind of her own, realizes “she’s not being handed a bunch of answers. She’s being handed all the questions of life,” Herman said.

For Herman, a seasoned writer of shows like “Chicago Hope” and “Party of Five,” this subject matter was particularly close to her heart, having undergone an adult bat mitzvah herself two and a half years ago.

“It is an event that I feel is profound, one of people publicly claiming their spirituality,” Herman said.

The bat mitzvah service and reception scenes were filmed at North Hollywood’s Temple Adat Ari El. Wahlstrom also understood the importance of her role, and took seriously the particular challenge of chanting Torah. She worked with Frenkel for two to three weeks on learning the melody and words phonetically from a transliteration Frenkel wrote out for her.

“Everything I’ve learned for this episode had to be researched. I’d never been to a bat mitzvah and had never even been to a temple before,” Wahlstrom said. Frenkel also invited Wahlstrom to attend a bat mitzvah service at Kehillat Israel to help her prepare for the role.

She said that at least in one respect, it was easy for her to play the part of a rabbi’s daughter.

“I have one parent who is extremely religious, so it wasn’t uncomfortable for me to imagine one parent being extremely religious. It just happened to be Jewish instead of Catholic,” Wahlstrom said.

As for his student’s level of success, Frenkel proudly said. “She was amazing. She was like any of my great bat mitzvah kids at K.I.”

For more information about the show, visit

No Stranger to Strange


From call girl to Trump girl, actress Lisa Edelstein has played myriad parts on stage and off. Now she’s landed a plum role, starring on the Fox TV series “House,” an “E.R.”-meets-“CSI” drama. The Boston native heads the fictional teaching hospital that houses strangely ill patients.

“You’re trying to find out what’s wrong with this living person before he dies,” she said.

For Edelstein, strange is nothing new. In the 1980s, she worked for the Donald, finding models for Trump business ventures. Recently, the actress saw Trump at a party. “He had no idea who I was,” Edelstein told The Journal.

Since the early ’90s, Edelstein has enjoyed a succession of film and TV supporting roles, including two episodes on “Seinfeld,” playing George Constanza’s fed-up girlfriend. “It’s amazing how many people recognize me from that,” said the actress, who also played an upscale call girl on, “The West Wing,” and a male-to-female transsexual character on “Ally McBeal.”

Edelstein grew up in a Conservative home in northern New Jersey and later Brooklyn. She went to New York University and became a Manhattan art scene fixture. She dropped out of college to create “Positive Me,” an off-Broadway play early in the AIDS crisis. She was the subject of a 1986 New York Times Magazine story, “Lisa in Wonderland.”

“I had already been famous in New York for just being out and about,” Edelstein said. Her Warholian, famous-for-being-famous stature resulted in co-hosting a 1990 morning show that was MTV’s stab at imitating Regis and Kathy Lee. “It was terrible,” she said.

The MTV stint prompted the move to Los Angeles, where she lives a vegetarian life. Here, Edelstein’s dark, curly hair often gets her (“too often,” she said) mistaken for actress Melina Kanakaredes, who coincidentally stars in “CSI: N.Y.,” the CBS hit that the new drama, “House,” resembles.

“That’s why on this show I wear my hair straight,” she said.

TV Drama Dances To New Beat


NBC’s Sunday night drama, “American Dreams,” finds the generally non-Jewish saga’s second season storylines, about an Irish Catholic family in 1960s Philadelphia, becoming a bit more Jewish.

“We have people praying on TV,” said “Dreams” executive producer Jonathan Prince, the prototypical nice Jewish boy from Beverly Hills who co-created the series about the Pryors, a middle-class white family, and the Walkers, a poorer African American family.

Three new “Dreams” characters depict three distinct Jewish American images: the half-Jewish college student, Andrew Mandel; a politically conscious Jewish American soldier named Silver; and an Orthodox medical school student, David, who wears a yarmulke and enjoys cigarettes — he prays for the Pryors’ youngest son when he undergoes life-altering surgery in the Nov. 16 episode.

In one scene, Catholic mom Helen Pryor (Gail O’Grady) prays in a hospital chapel, with the “Dreams” camera then showing David (David Norona) also praying.

“Helen is on her knees crossing herself while a Jewish fellow is davening,” Prince told The Journal.

Prince said he specifically avoided typical male Jewish casting for the medical student — “glasses, curly hair” — and instead, “I went Sephardic and not Ashkenazic” while also depicting David’s imperfect, very human Judaism. “We’re saying, with the kippah, a religious man, a flawed, religious man who smokes.”

For assimilated student Andrew Mandel (Samuel Page), there has been no mention of his Jewish heritage as Prince for now focuses on the character’s prep school-handsome features and political leanings that portend a budding, Tom Hayden-like college radical whose Jewishness is overshadowed on TV by his romance with the Pryors’ high school-age daughter, Meg (Brittany Snow).

“I’m making him a totally assimilated Jew,” Prince said.

Later this season, the show’s oldest Pryor son, J.J., meets Silver, a Jewish lance corporal in J.J.’s Marine Corps unit in Vietnam. Prince said he wrote Silver as patriotic and raised by leftist Jewish parents — “Rosenberg socialists.”

In upcoming episodes, he said, Silver reads week-old,
mailed copies of The New York Times to learn about the war: “It is through
Silver that J.J. learns the politics of Vietnam.” For more on “American Dreams,”
visit

Kosher Sex


Talk about fiction: A show with four women who live in Manhattan and spend most of their time talking about men, eating and shopping — and none of them are Jewish? That all could change this season on HBO’s "Sex and the City," when one of the gals considers heading to temple.

In the beginning of season five, uber-WASP Charlotte York (Kirsten Davis) got back in the dating game, after her divorce from handsome mamma’s boy Dr. Trey MacDougal. By the end of the season, she found herself falling in love with her "just-sex" divorce lawyer Harry Goldenblatt (Evan Handler).

After the divorce was final, Charlotte proclaimed her love to Harry in the season closer. He told her he felt the same — but he could never marry her, because she isn’t Jewish.

As a result, Charlotte’s plot line in the show’s sixth and final season will focus on her contemplating converting to Judaism. Rabbi Minsch (Pierre Epstein) makes an appearance in the second episode.

"This season, she has to try to understand why it’s important to him that he marry a Jew — she’s hoping it’s negotiable — and whether she loves him enough to convert for him," said Cindy Chupack, the show’s co-executive producer and one of its writers.

Chupack, who is Jewish, said that Charlotte (the only member of the quartet to have walked down the aisle) was more likely for this story line than her friends: Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) or Samantha (Kim Catrall).

"Charlotte always had the most fairy-tale vision of love, and, when she married Trey, it was a ‘be careful what you wish for’ situation," Chupack said. "Last season, we loved the idea of putting someone in Charlotte’s path who was the opposite of what she thought she wanted. The problem … was not that Harry was Jewish, it was that he was loud, crass and hairy — every place but on his head."

Chupack is mum on if there is a chuppah in Charlotte’s future (producers have said there will be two weddings at the end of the season). All she will say is that "this is not a season to pass over."

The first 12 of 20 new episodes will air on HBO Sundays at 9 p.m., beginning June 22; the rest will air beginning in January 2004.

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