We launch into Duels with two really interesting chefs, who have a long history on Top Chef. Richard, the defending champion of Top Chef All-Stars, has everything to defend here and not much to gain versus Marcel. Marcel also competed in All-Stars without so much luck, so he's got everything to gain this time around. Marcel thinks he’s been a little misunderstood over the years on Top Chef, but in his own words, "Who cares, that gave me more air time." Hahaha, that’s Marcel for you!
I thought Marcel’s Fire and Ice Dessert (Round 1) was a really clever challenge, because the concept is something you can practice and master before heading into battle. Both chefs interpreted the challenge really differently. I thought Marcel’s dish was slightly better because of that beautiful coconut ice cream infused with Thai flavors, so it just won me over. Richard’s pineapple dish -- complete with a bunch of different foams, flavors, ice, and pop rocks -- just had too much on the plate for my liking. To me, it all melted into one and I didn’t get much distinction between the hot and cold. However, Richard ended up running away with the $10K for this challenge! This only put more fire under Marcel’s knife for Richard’s burger duel (Round 2). Again, I thought there wasn’t much in it -- Marcel and Richard both put up really good burgers, so I was happy to see them each bank 10 big ones.It’s incredible to watch Marcel win something, because he literally bounces up and down on the balls of his feet, jumping for joy like a puppy! Confidence is king with him, and he needed a confidence boost to walk into Round 3, which was a demanding 3-course duel. I loved my fellow diners, Chef Paul Liebrandt, Chef Homaro Cantu, and Chef Josiah Citron along with Gail and Wolfgang -- it was a rad table to be sitting at (blindfolded for the first course, mind you) and so interesting to listen to the chefs’ talk about how they use their different senses. I think as chefs we often get caught up with process and fiddly techniques, but what’s truly paramount is how it tastes, how it smells, how it looks, and how it feels. This brought me back to the very basics of cooking as a chef, and to share the experience with these inspiring and talented people by my side was truly special.
I thought both chefs did a stellar job with the first two courses in Round 3, but I’ve got to say, when we landed at dessert, Richard totally blew Marcel out of the water. Richard’s black forest cake was so creative, so smart, so delicious, and so visually appealing. On the other hand, Marcel’s dragon fruit coolate is the dessert you want to hoe into after a surf or a run. It was refreshing, vibrant, sweet, and good, but it just didn’t compare with what Richard put on the plate. Marcel got slightly "out-cooked" by Richard -- I say that not to take anything away from Marcel, because I think he is a really strong competitor. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a bit more of him...
Duel 1: check. Bring on next week’s battle!