Episode 7’s Quickfire Challenge, in which the chefs were asked to perform basic mise-en-place tasks—chopping vegetables, separating egg yolks, and so on—at warp speed was pure eye candy. I was spellbound watching Rick Bayless’s lightning-fast egg beating and Suzanne Tracht’s Jedi-style oyster shucking.
But the best moment was observing the dueling onion choppers, Hubert Keller and Art Smith. Hubert was old-school French all the way, slicing the onion halves lengthwise and then crosswise to make perfect little cubes, while Art did a sort of “God Bless America” free-for-all—which worked just fine, and faster. That was a small triumph for cooks, like me, who don’t believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything.
The Quickfire Challenge was great entertainment, but the gloves really came off during the signature-dish swap. Kelly, Jay, Gael, and I had the advantage of having sampled, before the judging started, the original dishes prior to the chefs’ interpretations; that gave us an additional perspective when it came time for scoring.
Hubert’s dish, seared diver scallops on sea urchin–spiked mashed potatoes, was a pretty literal interpretation of Anita Lo’s original dish. Sure, they were some of the best scallops I’ve ever eaten—sweet and lusciously tender—but, honestly, the dish was fairly tentative as culinary reinventions go.
Anita’s interpretation of Hubert’s food, on the other hand, was an intellectual tour de force. She took what was essentially a lobster bisque—what Hubert called a “cappuccino”—and transformed it into a splashy yet delicious array of mini-dishes. The poached lobster on the warm, fluffy Southern biscuit comforted me to the core.
Michael Chiarello’s fig-stuffed rack of lamb was a take on Rick Bayless’s rack of lamb with black pasilla rub and mission figs. Michael so thoroughly diluted the essence of Rick’s Mexican-style cooking in his execution that he lost me. The sweetness of the figs overpowered the gaminess of the lamb, and the chickpea passatina, which had the texture of mealy baby food, just didn’t move me.
Thanks for your blog. It is always interesting to read the perspective of the judges. You make the food sound I good I really wish I could be there. Thanks again.
I really appreciate the description of the food. As viewers, we don't know the odor, taste and texture which food is all about. When you describe the unappealing traits of the food, it explains a lot of your judgement. You also sound like you know what you're talking about instead of just trying to be pretentious. Thank you.
Anita's lobster was "poached?" I understood that it was RAW. I've watced the episode time and again and all I can hear is "raw". That's where she lost me. Had they said "poached" then I wouldn't have been so turned off.
It's a shame that Suzanne plated so early. I had a feeling that was going to be a huge problem for her. I'm sure that the grouper was cooked well, but during the down time, it overcooked and the whole dish was cold. I agreed with the judges on that one. No one wants cold fish. Art got a huge gift from her because of that. His dish was nasty even on TV. Where was his thinking going? So many things he could have done with "chopped steak and eggs". Hey, you can get better at "Denny's".
I hope he stays a little longer only because he is so funny.
Thanks for your blog James.
TasteMatters - Anita Lo had raw lobster in the soup dish (on the left) and poached lobster knuckle on the biscuit.
Your comments, both on the show, and in your blog are entertaining and insightful. It seems like you all are so respectful of one another. How refreshing on a reality show.
I'm surprised that the critics made so much of the coldness of Suzanne Tracht's dish. I had assumed that in television food shows, a large number of the dishes are cold by the time they are served. It often appears that the chefs have the same deadline, yet their dishes are served one at a time. And with the practicalities of capturing the event on camera, I didn't think it would be possible to serve even the first dish piping hot.
Also, while I know we viewers don't get to taste the food, the lamb-hard-boiled-egg dish seems conceptually awful and unsophisticated. Art Smith seemed to admit to a weird problem working with eggs. And given your comment that the lamb wasn't even fully cooked, I am surprised this "master" chef is still on the show. Smith's errors seem more basic than Tracht's and I am wondering whether his TV-friendly personality, rather than his cooking, kept him alive.
Ok I may be jumping the gun-in fact I am-but seeing the previews for next week's show-the disrespect showed to chef Michael by Dale is shameful and to put him in the Masters episode is a gross display of his bad behavior. He should never come back to Bravo-no respect for his peers I want to crawl through the tv an strangle Dale!!