Kelly Choi

Rick Bayless had Kelly at mole.

on Aug 20, 2009

Set in the hills of the Pacific Palisades, the Getty Villa is a modern day Mt. Olympus. Tall, sleek columns give entryway to grand pavilions anchored by a vast fountain, and outdoor courtyards are guarded by Greek and Roman figurines. Lovingly manicured bushes and flower gardens dot the ornately-tiled walkways. Busts of Artemides and Athena look on toward empty benches as if to beckon a visitor. This is a place where the Gods and Goddesses would surely like to play, and on this day, the site was the backdrop to where I revealed the final Herculean challenge to our Master chefs.

And what an emotional moment it was for me!

I don’t think anyone caught me blink-blink-blinking away the tears that welled up in my eyes when Michael, Rick, and Hubert walked down the steps in front of me. I felt like I had completed a lengthy journey along with these culinary virtuosos. Each chef had expressed
his cooking style and peerless technique while being gracious with their competitors. It was the perfect prerequisite for me to commission the Autobiography in Four Plates final challenge. Us diners were in for a meal that even Dionysus would revel in.


The First Food Memory

An eye-opening treat, it was, to watch and listen to Rick, Hubert, and Michael tell the stories of their childhoods. Rick’s separate closet of dating clothes, Hubert’s laundry day meals, and Michael’s pasta-making; their pasts were expressed through their food so beautifully here. And the dishes – BBQ quail, a duo of gnocchis, and the baeckeoffe – were such intimate portrayals of THEM. While I loved the tales behind Hubert and Michael’s plates, my favorite of the three
was Rick’s quail dish. Tangy ‘cue’d bird paired with juicy sweet watermelon cubes was clean and flavorful. I loved it.

Becoming a Chef

Two words: Black mole. Here’s where I think Rick captured the title. I admit I have an infatuation with black foods – squid ink, black caviar, truffles, and portobellos – and I have always had an obsession for mole sauce. Rick’s version was spectacular. Umami-loaded, rich and velvety, it coated the plate like a mink blanket and complemented the tuna and starchy sweet plaintain impeccably. The nut crunch on top of it all showed Rick’s sensitivity to texture, too. I don’t know if I can eat mole sauce again unless it’s made by Bayless.

First Restaurant Opening

Rick called his cochinita pibil sophisticated, and it certainly was. Taking what some people might consider unsavory animal bits – pig’s feet and atypical pig parts – then fashioning a cake out of that and setting it atop of creamy sunchoke puree and adding pickled red onion
was a genius creation. It stood out from Michael’s bone-laden rouget as well as Hubert’s lamb with garlic in the center. As for Hubert’s dish, I found my piece of thrice-blanched garlic to be pleasant, while the other diners claimed their garlic to be too sharp. Maybe it’s the Korean in me, but I liked that part.