Vegetarian Wishes and Quinoa Dreams

Kelly Choi can't stop talking about Michael Chiarello's winning dish.

Michael Chiarello, you are under arrest for putting crack into your quinoa pasta dish.

How else do you explain the fact that I cannot stop jonesing your no dairy, no gluten, no soy, no fish, no meat, and somewhat typical-looking noodle creation that you prepared for Zoey Deschanel's luncheon? I mean, if all of that other stuff ISN'T in it, then what the hell IS?

Well, apparently, quite a lot. Because vegan can mean culinary blissfulness if you tap into your creativity and let fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds do their thing. Michael did just that.

I can still remember the components of the dish: Beige-hued quinoa strands topped with a bright salsa verde, swee,t and flavorful heirloom tomatoes, and zesty Calabrian chilis. Folded in was your divine pinenut gremolata, toasted garlic, and parsley all spritzed with preserved
meyer lemon. Some fruity Italian olive oil drizzled its way throughout the noodles, and the heap was topped with crunchy cracker bits (no wheat here) and a single fried basil leaf. I sheepishly confess that your plate of food appeared in my dreams that night, floating toward me on a ricotta cloud (dairy, yes!).

A master chef, Michael, you are, indeed.

Zoey and her posse loved that pasta course too, and if you had been at the front of the house with us, she might've followed through and given you that hug. The entire lunch was fantastic, both for the nature of the challenge with all of its limitations, as well as for what the flavor wizards produced for our meal.

It was a beautiful juxtaposition to the Quickfire, no?
Anita, Art, Hubert, Rick, and Michael had to fashion their ultimate burger accompanied by a side dish. I don't get to taste any of the Quickfires, but it shouldn't be a shocker when I tell you how so very much, more than ever before than in prior episodes, I wanted to chomp
into those fat, juicy discs of cow. Except for Anita's; my heart broke for her when the hungry guest judges commented how unsatisfied they were with her burger soup. It made me wonder, had Anita not paid attention to who her diners were? Three dudes expecting to chow down
on oversized red meat bombs would never be happy with a teensy bowl of burger bites swimming in cheesy liquid. Morgan, Spike, and Sang — all hamburger experts in their own rights — didn't hold back with their displeasure. Ouch.

Fast Forward to Critics' Table.

When our Q&A began, I didn't expect to feel so stifled and uncomfortable two hours later into the session. We critics began to get attached to the final Champions Round chefs without realizing just how much until the instant comes for me to dismiss someone. Left standing at the end were Anita and Art, and one of them was about to be canned. Art had been thrown into the icebox with his strawberry rice milk soup, reprimanded for not making his own ice cream. He didn't want to conjure something he wasn't well-rehearsed with, Art explained, for fear that his diners wouldn't experience a yummy meal. For Art, food is love, and bad food wouldn't be lovely.

And then Anita seemed to detach herself from those last moments, bruised by the critique of her oily eggplant and rigid lentils. Taste was personal, she had said, and Anita took her criticisms very personally.

When I announced the final scores and Anita realized she wasn't the one going home, she looked waaaay more surprised than Art himself. It was sad to see "Honeybear" Art dismissed, and he took my proclamation well. Everyone at Critics Table agreed that the kitchen wouldn't be the same without his baby brother charms, but we knew it had been a fair result.

How did you guys feel after the conclusion?

Don't forget to comment here, and tweet me, too: @KELLYCHOI. (I can't believe only TWO more episodes remain from this season!).

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