Don't Call it a Comeback

Gail Simmons says pig has been here and is here to stay.

Bravotv.com: Charlie Palmer was this week’s guest judge. Have you ever worked with him?
I do know him but I’ve never worked with him. His chef at Aureole, Christopher Lee, is a very good friend of mine. I’m very proud of him because he’s doing such an extraordinary job at the new Aureole, which is block from my office. He’s a Top Chef Master, and he’s a Food & Wine Best New Chef.

Bravotv.com: The Voltaggio brothers both had personal relationships with Charlie. What did you think of that?
I didn’t know that. I thought it was interesting and I wonder if their flavors were familiar to him because they worked with him for so long. It’s even more fascinating knowing how well they both did in the elimination challenge.

Bravotv.com: The chefs had to pair their food with the Alexia snacks. What did you think of that Quickfire?
It gets you thinking. Pairing is an important skill and pairing can mean a lot of things, not just with wine. It can be wine, liquor, sake, or just understanding how to balance flavors. It’s a hard thing to do and it takes a long time to cook in a way where you’re constantly thinking of all your surroundings and everything that goes into a dish, not just the main protein, the starch and the side. It’s thinking of all components, textures, and the entire experience, which is a valid lesson to learn.

Bravotv.com: Eli wins the Quickfire Challenge, and for the elimination they work on Charlie’s event, “Pigs and Pinot.” Do you go to this event?
It’s an event that Charlie does every year. This year Food & Wine got involved and our Editor in Chief Dana Cowin went out for it. It was actually filmed on my birthday and I had come home for the week.

Bravotv.com: Do you have a preference for Pinot?
I certainly do. Pinot Noir means a lot of things. It was sort of explained in the show, but a traditional, old world Pinot is very different from a California Pinot or an Oregon Pinot. Obviously they all use the same grape. But grown in different places that grape can taste vary a great deal. The circumstances in which it is grown and pressed and aged have a lot to do with it. A Pinot Noir is an incredibly versatile grape for pairing. It’s also a very sensitive, difficult grape to grow well. People think it’s a common varietal, but it’s delicate and takes a lot of coaxing under very specific circumstances. Growing and making really exceptional Pinot Noir is a very tricky thing to do, so it was exciting that we were able to highlight it on the show. We also got to show varieties from across the world. There was Pinot in this challenge from New Zealand to France to Oregon and beyond.


Bravotv.com: The chefs all had a different part of the pig to work with. Do you have a favorite?
That’s a mean question! I have so many answers. I love the belly, I love the butt, and the shoulder as well. I like a chop, but who doesn’t like a chop? It’s all good. It depends on who is cooking it and how well a job they do.

Bravotv.com: Pork is very popular right now. Do you think pork’s around to stay?
Pork is having a moment, but it’s been having a moment for a while now. I think it is around and you can’t really call it a trend anymore. It’s just entrenched in the culinary lexicon as a very chef-driven ingredient. In the last couple years the representation of pork has been elevated and I’m glad to see it. Not unlike Pinot, it is incredibly versatile. It’s a light meat and it’s easily paired with heavier wines or lighter wines. You can pair it with sweet or you can pair it with savory. The different parts can be cooked in so many ways that the possibilities are endless.

Bravotv.com: What did you think of this challenge?
There were no big twists or turns in this challenge, which is what I liked about it. I also noticed that it seemed for the first time this season that the producers chose to highlight a lot of the chef’testants personal issues in the house. I thought that was sort of interesting. It also showed both sides of those issues. It showed that clearly Robin is driving a lot of people crazy and I feel badly about that. In a way they’re sort of using her as a scapegoat. It seems they’re blowing off steam and looking for someone to blame. They're stressed out and tired and all that. This is the point in the competition where that always happens. They’re just starting to get burnt out and there’s a lot of pressure. That being said, she’s talking too much and she’s not conscious of it. She needs to adapt a bit more to her surroundings if she does not want to upset people.

Bravotv.com: Ash gets eliminated. In the last episode he made the whole speech about Michael at Judges’ Table.
Yes, that was a little crazy. The whole working together thing as artists… He gave Michael so much leeway but at the same time it begs the question, are you just saying that as a cop-out so you don’t have to take the lead and are less responsible for the end result?

Bravotv.com: One of the reasons Ash goes home is because he said he didn’t get to make what he wanted to. Charlie Palmer questioned this.
I think that’s why it was his time. It’s a very stressful competition and we hear what Ash said a lot. Every chef on every season has said they aren’t cooking their own style of their food at some point. They say that we haven’t seen what they can do yet as we have not given them a true chance to show all of what they are capable. While that may be true, in a real kitchen you’re not given that chance of 15 hours and an unlimited budget to do what you want either. If you make a mistake during service one night on the line you cannot use that excuse. We’re not looking for you to cook for us under the most perfect circumstances. The point is to see how you work under pressure, how you think on your feet, and how you react to stressful challenge (that is afgter all why they are called “challenges”). We want to see if you instinctively know and understand flavors. We’re never going to put you in a situation where you’re entirely comfortable. Even in the finale where we let the chefs cook what they want we always make sure that there’s something that keeps them on their toes. While I understand what Ash is saying, that’s not an explanation for a poor dish. Everyone’s on a level playing field. Everyone’s under the same constraints. You’re all in the same boat and some people do much better than others.

Bravotv.com: Anything else?
Just that next week is Restaurant Wars, which is always really intense. It will be interesting to see what happens next!

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