An especially tricky challenge and some excellent food—and some not. After Jill Davie, the only woman remaining, was eliminated, Aaron Sanchez was overheard speaking to Morou: “The women are gone," he warned. "Next they’ll be going after the brown people.” True? Find out that! and more! Will Knowlton kill the bug that crawled up his ass?! Will Ruhlman fix his hair?! Will the judges spontaneously break into Yvonne Elliman’s “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”?! Tonight at 9 on the Food Network.
UPDATE, MONDAY MORNING COMMENTS: Gosh the judges look like sour pusses up there. I assure you, the editing makes us seem especially harsh. I mean, I remember getting these long dangling lettuce leaves in Cosentino’s salad, which made it a little awkward to eat and seemed to reflect haste or laziness, but certainly it was a minor point. But my expression and the weight the producers gave it—you’d have thought I was asking if Chris been exposing himself in front of little girls. On the other hand, Andrew is every bit the menace he appears. And it was hard to get to know him off camera—he had a lot of handlers, so it was difficult to get any time with him.
I liked this episode because I got to see chefs’ personalities in how they chose ingredients for their colleague and it did show resourcefulness in the challenge.
Standout dishes. Symon was by far the best performance this week, and all four judges agreed with this. His berry drink was refreshing and delicious as we sat in the hot sun (he’s no idiot). The polenta took some skill—polenta needs a good forty minutes to cook; the first thirty of the chefs’ 60 minutes was spent getting enough heat; Donatella, a polenta snob, pronounced it outstanding. And his presentation, family style was good and appropriate, flavors and seasoning on the money. “Out of the park” as Alton said. I loved Sanchez’s escargot. The serving method was ingenious and the flavor was excellent. Besh’s food again was first rate, except for the soggy meat—it must have spent to much time steaming in its sassafras leaf.
The judging. Cranky Andrew. I got the feeling he had it in for Sanchez from the beginning. Maybe it was the cynical journalist going after the New York chef, I don’t know, but his dislike of Sanchez’s dishes seemed disproportionate.
But none of us disagreed about the three chefs left standing. Kaysen was the easy choice. It was the Morou/Sanchez decision. For me it came down to the fact that overall, Sanchez’s flavors and dishes had been more powerful and assured than Morou’s, which were only OK. I felt flavorwise in this competition, they were even. Morou’s plating looks good on camera and his one dish was indeed outstanding, but all in all, too fussy, dainty, and compartmentalized. So, given that it was a toss up with an equal balance of pros and cons on this challenge, I asked myself, at this point, who would I choose to cook for me next time?
Now here’s the thing nobody knew.
Alton said to Sanchez, who’d just squeaked by: “If Chef kaysen had salted his quail eggs and frog legs properly he would be standing here.”
Well, Kaysen DID salt his food. What he didn’t tell us, indeed what he only told me later that day as all were packing to go and he was heading to the airport, was this. The way the competition works is the chefs cook their food under those strict time constraints you see on the show. Food is then photographed and held. Camera’s are reset, and the chefs get to reheat and put their dishes together for tasting. This is the only way that each chef can be able to serve hot fresh food as he or she wishes to the judges, not food that’s been sitting around for a while, no unfair advantage given to someone who serves first.
That day was very hot and Kaysen stored his food in a tub on plenty of ice. It was then stored by the culinary crew. When Kaysen returned to his food, he found it submerged in ice water! That’s something that I would have taken into account in the judging. Salt quickly rushes out into water—he could have reseasoned the exterior but no wonder, it tasted under-seasoned. Such is the nature of culinary competition. But I’m sorry he didn’t say anything.
Good news for New Yorkers: Kaysen is taking over the kitchen of Café Boulud, Nov 12. My guess is that the kid is going to shine.
[Adam Roberts funny take on lasting impact of NICA on the chefs. And, btw, Adam, the dude really is THE Chairman--I've MET the guy. Seriously]