When I was in third grade, my teacher was the dear Mrs. Bryant. She would reward us students with a handmade construction paper cut-out of a smiley face whenever we did something good. Come back from lunch hour and put our heads down on our desks quietly? That would earn us each a smiley. Get an A on a pop quiz? Great job! Mrs.
Bryant would come around and place two smileys onto our desks. At the end of each week, Mrs. Bryant would trade with us ten of our smileys for a Tootsie Pop. We all sure started loving Fridays, and even now, I still fancy those chocolate-flavored candies.
What does any of this have to do with the TC Masters Champions Round? Well, I felt like Mrs. Bryant. Every day! A hundred smileys each for our six master chefs, cuz baby, you did REAL good. And you know what? If anything, I felt perhaps even more like a Mother Hen, because I
found myself feeling very maternal toward Anita, Suzanne, Michael, Rick, Art, and Hubert (I don't have kids yet, but this is what it must feel like to be protective of your babies). My six culinary wizards had made it sooo far, and the level of cookery was getting better and
tastier. Children? I’ve got lots and lots more smileys to give out, so keep those knives busy.
Quickfire day, for me, was overwhelming. When the six-pack walked into the Masters Kitchen, I was utterly in awe of this incredibly diverse crew of cooks who were about to go head to head. And then ... surprise! Tom Colicchio saunters in to help execute the mise en place relay race, which was an absolute trip. I loved looking at the competitors' faces when someone unexpectedly revealed themselves. The only thing that I found striking during the Quickfire, which you didn’t see, was that when each master was chopping onions, shucking oysters, or completing their tasks, the kitchen was verrrry quiet. You probably couldn’t tell because of the music that was edited in, but I thought the team members would be cheering for each other during the relay. Not at all. Hardly a peep from anyone. Wow, I was thinking, how strange. I guess when masters are in da house concentrating, da house is silent.
So then I instructed the chefs to make their Signature Dishes for each other, and while they were all breaking bread and toasting and hanging out, guess where I was? With the critics, in the room next door, feasting on those same dishes! I wonder if even today those masters knew that Jay, Gael, James, and I were relishing their glorious cuisine, too. I will tell you that because these plates of food were the chef’s signatures, they were flat-out delicious and
expertly prepared. Flavors were nuanced, textures were varied, and wine pairings were meaningful. A hundred more smileys each for all of you. I particularly liked Rick’s lamb with pasilla chile sauce and figs. It was so savory and delectable that my fork took on a life
force of its own and began jumping from plate to plate in search of any leftover sauce. Yum! Anita’s sweet scallops, Art’s hearty grouper, Hubert’s delicate lobster cappuccino, and more and more food. Michael’s balsamic quail, and then, Suzanne’s steak and egg. Please keep this parade coming, we critics cried, because their offerings were so mouth-wateringly tantalizing.
As for the Elimination Challenge, our final dinner at that huge roundtable of critics and former Masters challengers was great fun, and also eye-opening. I can assure you that at the end of the day, food is food, and our reactions are as real and as spontaneous to it whether we are a 5-star chef or a 12-yr-old girl scout (first episode). People often comment to me, “Well, I don't know much about food, but I think ....” Don’t underestimate yourselves, I say. We are all critics. You know if you like the taste of something or not, and sometimes, that’s all you need to know. I think this small bit of knowledge has gotta be worth a smiley or two, wouldn't you agree?
P.S. Don’t forget to tweet me @KELLYCHOI and also post your comments here.
P.P.S. I also want to address the many questions regarding my wardrobe last episode, the one where Art Smith wins. My red dress in the Masters Kitchen was a Diane von Furstenburg design. The other top I wore during that show — the one with the circles all over it — I don’t
remember who created it. Bravo assigned a few awesome stylists to help dress the chefs, critics, and I during taping, and I am truly thankful for their good taste. A couple of dresses here and there were my own, but most of the nice threads, unfortunately, were not. Damn!