Soul food may be comfort food, but that’s not to say it isn’t inherently complex. That’s why Marcus Samuelson won such raves for his barbecued chicken with macaroni and cheese—the sweet-sour flavor combination, the soothing cheese sauce. These dishes are not easily mastered. You can’t just dash them off without knowing what you’re doing. If you ask me, Marcus overcomplicated things a bit with the coconut milk and capers and cranberries in the greens. Those were unnecessary flourishes, salvaged by the simple beauty of the other dishes on the plate.
Marcus wasn’t the only chef to overcomplicate things. Thierry’s dish was soulful: who doesn’t love succulent, fork-tender pork shoulder with a refreshing slaw (and his raw Brussels sprouts slaw was a real revelation). But the farro salad, the corn-and-onion accompaniment, the harissa—it was overkill. Same with Monica’s deconstructed shrimp and grits. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried the Lowcountry staple done the traditional way, as a heap of grits topped with saucy shrimp, but it’s one of the most satisfying dishes on earth, and each bite is a perfectly calibrated package. In Monica’s dish, the soul of it was stripped away because each element had to be eaten separately. (Had it all been served together, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed how undercooked the shrimp was.)
At one point during the judging process, Gail Simmons called into question whether Carmen’s oyster stew (which, for all intents and purposes, was a beautifully executed gumbo) qualified as “gourmet.” Of course it did. The reason it hit the spot so perfectly was that it wasn’t trying too hard. It wasn’t preening, or reinventing, or riffing. Frankly, I think the fact that the other chefs burned her yucca accompaniment was a good thing; it allowed us to focus on the exquisitely rich broth, the sweet brininess imparted by the oysters, the bright zap of the cilantro on top. It allowed us to appreciate the dish for what it was: honest-to-goodness, and inherently elegant, soul food.
I'm appalled and very offended by tonight's episode. I cannot believe Bravo or anyone else felt it was okay for David to make pickled watermelon rind as a soul food dish. The very racist, and stereotype of blacks and watermelon goes way back, and i'm sure you are all aware of it. David appears to me to be some type of hidden racist and he was able to showcase on Bravo tonight. Thank you Bravo for showing me your true views.
I am very sorry for your recent loss, my thoughts are with you. I wondered if the judges realized that Monica did the shelling of Carmen's oysters for her dish? It also looked as if the stew was left out overnight in the kitchen, not refrigerated. I feel that Monica deserved the win with Marcus because Carmen wouldn't have beat the time contraint if left with those oysters. Somehow I feel the judges made a mistake on this episode. I do know I am going to make Monica's grilled cheese straight away. She has real flare, passion and just because Carmen has a better portfolio that she deserved the break more than Monica. I hope to watch you more during the season, I trust your instinct.
Thanks for your blog James. It really helps to hear more detail about the dishes. Bravo, please spend more time on the food and less time on the supposedly suspenseful music before the results. Fast Forward is my best friend.
I appreciate your comments. You seem to have such a sensitive palate. You probably could taste salt from the sea air while walking along a beach! I'm curious if it's safe to eat undercooked shrimp. IS it safe to eat a stew that sat out (unrefrigerated) all night? I guess time will tell.
I enjoy top chef masters but this week when Carmen left her food overnight on a shelf and then went back and got it and won with it was unnerving. Wouldnt sausage and oysters have to be refrigerated overnight? In my world it would. I wouldnt eat it for anything and I dont believe having worked in restaurants that the health dept. would like that idea. Come on you are professionals?
Is no one going to address the significant food safety issues associated with Carmen's leaving her stew at room temperature for so long? Why was she even allowed to serve this, let alone win for a bacteria-laden, compromised dish? When something similar happened on Top Chef, there was no question that the food was not safe to consume...and it was thrown away. Am I the only voive of sanity who said "Eeeeeewwwwwwwww" when that showed that foil pan still sitting on the kitchen shelf hours later?
While I appreciate your comments and the banter between you and Jay, the overall feeling of the season so far is less satisfactory. The current crop of chefs seem less masterful and more generic. Most are unknown to the average viewers. And their skill set is lacking. Thierry had never made a grilled cheese sandwich! Carmen forgot her food! Geez. Isn't stew left out all night unsafe to eat? What about undercooked shrimp? No wonder you're so stingy with the points you give...
The food looked great! I would have loved to have tasted it.
Most of the chefs were fun to watch, but we were disappointed in Marcus though. His classless comment to Monica in the end about "the lesson" leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
I am a soul food eater and cooker, Carmen should not have been pick in top chef runner uppers, Although she forgot her stew and 2 cooks stepped in to help her generously I might add, I could make that dish from left-overs right in my kitchen. Even though I know the grit's meal was not dinner it was still more inviting as well the pork meal. One of those chefs should have been in the running. The chicken wings, collard greens and macaroni is soul soul food and I'm glad someone worthy got to make the competition for their charity and will be able to compete. I do love all the judges and think you are fair, but think of the average joes that go to the restaurants to partinize this great chef's.
I don't think the stew was left out overnight. They were cooking, then packed up to go to the venue. It was all the same day.
I had thought that too at first about leaving the stew overnight but actually if you watch the vid you'll notice that Monica is in the outfit that she wears for the elimination day in the background. The chefs might have been talking about the upcoming birthday bash but the video was of them leaving the Top Chef kitchen to the hotel for the event.
so glad TCM is back, and you too James!! one of the best shows on television, hands down (and how could it NOT be with such entertaining and knowledgeable judges?)
I was very disappointed to see Marcus win the round after showing himself to be classless with his non team player attitude refusing to help Carmen with the Yucca. I will not be routing for this clown. He doesn't belong in this crowd of masters regardless of how good his food is !!
James: I'm late in checking out the blogs for Season 2 so first off, it's great to have you and your blogs back in my universe. Secondly, I hope you and yours are holding up well with the recent losses you've had to endure. I found all of your stories such as how you would relay the food experiences to your mom very touching and I think it's safe to say she's upstairs right now proudly telling everyone how great of a son she has.
Soul Food!! It's much more than a sorta-bad '90's movie.
This episode inspired my lady and I to finally try the local Jamaican and Soul Food establishment, and we were not disappointed. The collard greens were the best I've ever tasted. The jerk chicken and jerk pork blew us away. The cornbread was so good we were tempted to just eat seventeen servings of that and call it a night. And for the first time, we tried curry GOAT. It was great! THANK YOU to "TCM" for inspiring us to try something new.
Marcus did what he had to do and I'm not going to rake him over the coals for not feeling the need to aid Carmen. It's a competition, and yes, it's a friendly competition but still a competition just the same. As another chef stated (I'm blanking on who actually said it), they're here for their charities, and the charity isn't named Carmen. With that said, I think her dish looked and sounded amazing and it was obviously fantastic because the diners loved it, and surely they had no knowledge of the issues she was having. I'm thinking I'll have to try making a yucca and bacon mash though...I had the yucca mash at a Cuban joint in Philadelphia not long ago and I loved it. Adding bacon to it? Hello, heaven!!
I agree with Donnaviewer. What kind of lesson did TCM just give to the world? Selfishness is the way to go! I understand it's a competition, but what I loved about last season on TCM is that the chefs recognized one another as professionals and that this competition was more like a friendly banter among them. After all, the winner is supposed to be charity. I'd hate to be the charity that Marcus picked when what he represents is the least charitable. It's actually kind of ironic. It seems charity has the least to do with giving to charity. It's a sad, sad day after all.
I'm reading the blogs late in the season but had to address PoohA's comment that pickled watermelon is racist. I'm from the South and am African American. It never occurred to me that making this dish was racist. I thought it was a spark of creativity that inspired David to try this, and kudos to him. Besides, American "soul food" is not just about African Americans though we have been the most vocal supporters of it as part of our heritage. It's also a regional thing, as well as socioeconomic. If Paula Deen pickles watermelon she's not being racist, but expressing part of her cultural heritage as a Southern woman. It's broader than just one particular ethnic group. It's a Southern thing. Every culture has it's soul food - culinary standards borne out of economic and/or social hardships.