Hello, Nasty! (Don’t worry, I’m not being fresh, just a little Beastie Boys reference. I can’t help it.) While it would be easy to fill this entire post with memories of how having Ad-Rock join us for this episode was truly one of the most fun, memorable, inspiring days ever, I will try to contain myself to avoid scaring or boring you. But yes, spending the day with Ad-Rock was one of the best days ever. As great as you can imagine, plus plus. More on that in a second.
From start to finish, this episode was all about bending your mind and stretching as far as possible creatively in order to embrace and find a way to incorporate seemingly out-of-place and bizarre ingredients. Jordan Kahn and Adam Horovitz were for sure the perfect guest judges to encourage such experimentation.
Jordan Kahn was in the kitchen for the Quickfire. He is young, beyond-belief creative, talented, wacky, and wonderful. Like a really friendly mad scientist. His restaurant in Los Angeles, Red Medicine, has been the talk of the town since it opened and his desserts (and all of his dishes, actually) are architectural, sometimes garden-like masterpieces that don’t just look mindboggling, but taste wildly good in surprising and weirdly awesome ways.
So, it makes perfect sense that Jordan would challenge the chefs to use root vegetables in their desserts. Before now, I was not familiar with burdock root either… in case you share this embarrassing flaw, burdock is a kind of thistle, and its root is crip, sweet, pungent, and mildly harsh, most popular in Asia, and full of dietary fiber. It’s used in traditional medicine and macrobiotic nutrition. It’s a good thing the chefs were fighting not just for immunity, but $5000, too.Get it -- time’s up, roots down? A bit of foreshadowing that a Beastie Boy is about to appear! But first, poor Rebecca unburdened herself before God and country when she decides to say she “can’t cook to save her life.” Oh, dear. Chris messed up with an after-time garnish, which is tricky because the rules say it can only be temperature-sensitive, and he was just trying to avoid sogginess. No $5000 for you, Chris.
From my perspective, visiting the chefs at Elimination Challenges and at Judges’ Table, I hadn’t noticed until this episode the uncomfortable tension and incessant glaring and eye-rolling between Katzie and Sally. Jeez. But Sally won it with her visually alluring composition, fresh turmeric flavor and curried popcorn, and got not just the money but again, immunity.
And then, Ad-Rock!!
You can’t help but grin ear-to-ear watching the chefs react as it sinks in that there is an actual Beastie Boy in their kitchen. And that he is the guest judge for the Elimination Challenge, and that they’re going to be cooking for him, that he himself will be eating whatever they make. Bonkers!
Even the sinking realization, as the Beastie Boys pantry is rolled in, that they’ll have to invent desserts using decidedly un-dessert food mentioned in Beastie Boys songs such as Brass Monkey, canned ravioli, and chicken doesn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. It’s scary, but in a good way. I think Ad-Rock felt just a little bad laying such a crazy, hard challenge on them based on his songs. But just a little. He is so unassuming, joyful, and wickedly funny person that he’s contagious, and being around him made everyone happy.
And then, sabotage! Of course we had to find away to work another song title into the challenge, right? As if making dessert with two creepy, savory items weren’t hard enough in the first place. The usual suspects took the most pleasure in sabotaging their competitors, of course.It brought back memories when Matthew talked about wearing out Beastie Boys tapes, playing them so much. Those were the days. Remember what a bummer it was when tapes finally gave out, tore, melted, or unspooled? Remember riding around in your first-friend-to-get-a-license’s car, listening to Paul’s Boutique over and over and over? But I digress.
Orlando got wasted tasting his white rum so often, which seemed to take the edge off. And it was another moment of foreshadowing when Katzie said she was a real risk-taker, making French fries. The falafel really throws Rebecca, which isn’t surprising because if you’re not experienced with it, it would be one of the hardest pantry items to recreate and incorporate.
I loved learning a little bit about Chris and Matthew’s daughters and wives, and hearing Matthew’s adorable little girl on the phone! It reminded me the chefs all have whole other lives, responsibilities and personalities outside of this bubble in which they’re contained during the competition.
The venue for the challenge was extremely cool: Angel City Brewery’s Beer Garden, a big, downtown warehouse-y feeling space, which was hosting a street art exhibit at the time. The chefs got into the environment, encouraging diners to tag paper they’d arranged on their stations. They made it interactive and playful and everyone seemed to dig it. I will say, with all the crumbled papers, Chris’s station looked a little like a raccoon got loose on it.
We were shocked that Orlando bought his cookies. He bought cookies at the store, cookies that some nameless, faceless assembly line made. In a pastry chef competition. And then he was coy about it. That takes some nerve, to say the least.
Megan’s cake was crumbly and dry, and she realized what had happened and that it was less than ideal. Sally’s sticky pudding cake, on the other hand, was so moist and decadent, and the way she incorporated her pantry items was through contrast, letting us taste the chicken skin and the salt and the fat, but it worked so well. Katzie had this idea the whole time that she was really doing something out there and wacky and bold and risky and I appreciate her confidence, but she really just made French fries with a bunch of sauces. And as a diner, if you didn’t self-motivate and make an effort to sprinkle and pour all sorts of salts and sauces on your fries, which was overwhelming and annoying (and I am not a lazy diner -- I just don’t want to have to be at the front of a line of people, studying something to determine how to make the perfect bite), you got pretty boring tastes.
Rebecca was so giddy and cute with Ad-Rock, and when he signed her cast, I thought she was going to float away. She definitely will save it forever, and as I said, that experience made it like there was at least one good thing that came out of her fracturing her wrist.
Matthew’s dessert tasted like a Wonka-esque, Thanksgiving-in-one-bite situation, and I mean that in a good way. He was so nervous, but he was actually clever in incorporating his ingredients, and it paid off.
It’s cruel and torturous, but to call in the chefs with the worst dishes first is telling, because people make assumptions and get ahead of themselves, in good and bad ways. Surprise. But the most surprised chefs seemed to be those on the top, especially Matthew. It was that kind of party, and no one needed to stick anything in the mashed potatoes. Winner!
It was a super-duper-duper close call in deciding the least successful dessert. Katzie’s dish was the opposite of risky and was the least interesting or nuanced. Rebecca was just steamrolled by falafel, and her flavors just didn’t come out in a satisfying way. Megan’s dish was also very flawed, from the onions on the side to the bone-dry “pudding’ cake.Ultimately, we just couldn’t get past the pretty yucky flavors involved in Rebecca’s dish. It was the most difficult challenge, and while everyone was stuck with some awful ingredients, Rebecca, whose talent is clear and had been proven in challenges past, succumbed to falafel. But she still has that Ad-Rock cast.
For more sweet musings, please check out my column on CityUnlisted.com or follow me on Twitter @DKyrillos.