Right away, there was heat and friction in the kitchen when these three got down to cooking. Jen thought Fabio and Ryan were cocky. Fabio was having trouble concentrating because Jen and Ryan were chattering like jackhammers tearing up Broadway. I admit I loved the atmosphere. The energy was raw and edgy. All was creativity and chaos. Food flew everywhere, especially from Jen. The sound of kitchen equipment was pervasive, along with knives chopping ingredients on cutting boards, flames searing ingredients, and sauté pans clanging. It bordered on insanity, but the energy was addictive. It’s what I’ve known from a very young age, and I love all of it.
On to the Signature Dish Challenge: Fabio prepared Miso Glazed Chilean Sea Bass with Vermicelli Noodles and Lemongrass Shitake Broth. Although he was proud of his intense flavors, because of a careless mistake the broth was flavorless and barely passable. Now I tasted it in the pan, and it was amazing. He simply diluted it when straining the noodles into it -- a very big sign that he wasn’t ready for the details that come with the responsibility of a dinner party. To his credit the fish was properly cooked and seasoned well.
Ryan did something unusual. He made fish tacos that swam onto the plate without the tacos. How did he do it? By creating corn-nut foam. The tacos were served with a mango-papaya salsa, which was tasty. But not tasty enough to offset a BIG problem and a BIG mistake: the tacos were salty as seawater. Ryan didn’t taste his food as he was preparing it. At this point in the blog, I should regale you with tales of how I, a trained professional, taste my food at every step along the way, and I should finish with the phrase “do try this at home.” Instead, I’ll ‘fess up that when I was a very young chef, sometimes I didn’t always taste what I was cooking. Now I do, always. You’ll learn much faster how flavors come together and how to build layers of flavor when you taste as you cook.
Jen brought her Chicken Amore to the table, although a few seconds late. I forgave her tardiness (and the fact she made a huge smoky mess in my kitchen) after I tasted her dish. In a word: Spectacular. More words: The wonderfully flavorful chicken breasts were sautéed accompanied by spaghetti in a delicious red sauce. It’s a dish I have had a million times, and I know they say familiarity breed’s contempt, but not this time. Against all odds her dish was heart warming and delicious.
Having a great dinner party with friends is all about getting a nice bunch of people together, having a good laugh, a great time, and great food. The choices I make during the Signature Challenge affect my guests’ happiness at the party. Based on what I tasted and observed, I selected Jen and Ryan to serve my guests. Fabio showed some passion, but when it came down to the wire, he was surpassed on several levels. I just didn’t think he could do a dinner party that would be up to my standards. Jen, by the way, won the Signature Dish Challenge.