Curtis on This Special Challenge
Curtis talks about how great it was to meet Mike and Antonia's families -- and to eat their delicious food.
There is really nice, natural banter between Mike and Antonia, which is probably due to the fact that they are actually cousins. They found out they were related while filming Top Chef. Isn't that a totally bizarre place to find this out? They even bicker like family.
Antonia's rice ball challenge was totally down her street and her absolute specialty. However, in my opinion, she almost messed it up due to aggressive seasoning. If there were three more grains of salt, it virtually would have been inedible, and she would have lost the challenge. But luckily for her she didn't, and the rest of the dish was constructed beautifully. The flavors were really on the mark.
Mike went the adventurous route and put a Middle Eastern spin on traditional rice balls by incorporating raisins, pine nuts, and a rich sauce. All in all, his dish was not quite as good in the end.
Mike was pretty damn cheeky with his challenge. He really tried to play on Antonia's weakness -- the way that family do! You could feel Antonia's frustration boiling over this. You bet there was tension in that kitchen. It took Mike about 10 minutes to complete the mise en place -- that guy had some speed under his knife that's for sure. Really nice of Mike to give Antonia the one fish that she clearly didn't want to work with -- evil haha. But a competition is a competition and you gotta be in it to win it, and that means playing a little dirty sometimes. So, that was a double low blow for Antonia -- not only did she have to work with mackerel but she also had to open up this crazy amount of seafood to no avail. You can tell there is a lot of love between them so it was kinda nice that they each walked away with 10K. Sharing the love a little -- way to go guys.
The duel was crazy fun. Watching all the family come together, seeing how proud they are of both chefs and gleaming with happiness was really cool. It was so nice to feel like we were part of that lovely, big Italian family -- even for that one night. The experience reinforced to me that food brings people together. It doesn't have to be fancy or difficult. It can be as simple as lovely, warm bread or a fresh berry dessert prepared by an auntie or a friend. The most important thing at the end of the day is for family to connect and make memories. Sharing simple, good food gives people the perfect excuse to gather together.
Both chefs cooked their hearts out and the food was truly delicious. Antonia's first course of seafood soup was intense and tasty. Everybody loved Mike's interpretation of the carbonara for the second course, but personally I thought Antonia's was slightly more flavorful. The nutty brown butter had this ridiculously good flavor to it. I serve raviolo as our signature dish at my restaurant Maude, so I'm a sucker for it, and Antonia's really hit the spot! Mike did a great job and again challenged himself by doing bucatini with King Crab.
Dessert was probably both of the chefs' weakest dishes. The cannoli was good, but not great, and Mike's basil panna cotta didn't set up the way I know he would have liked. But at the point, we had had such an incredible meal, who cares? You could probably tell from watching this episode that we were all really enjoying ourselves. I thought there wasn't much in this one, but I do think Antonia outcooked Mike by the slightest of margins. I'm super excited to see her go through to the finals.
As a final note, it was really rad watching Antonia's daughter be so proud of her momma. She was sitting there glowing as she talked about her food. It was such a special challenge! I also loved having guest-judge Michael Chiarello with us too. He holds a wealth of knowledge on Italian cuisine. If you haven't been to his restaurant Bottega in Napa, you really should. It's bloody delicious!