Curtis Stone would not have wanted to tackle the Maroon 5 Elimination Challenge.
This week’s Quickfire showed off some of the best and worst parts of being a chef. On the one hand, we gave them tons of amazing food to work with — from foie gras to beef tenderloin to caviar and truffles, every chef loves working with these indulgent ingredients. On the other hand, we put our poor chefs seriously under the gun by giving them just seven minutes to turn those ingredients into a fantastic dish. Now, let me tell you, that would have been a big enough challenge for a Quickfire, but to then have to be judged by your fellow chefs is really tough. While they all understood the pressure of making a great dish really quickly, they also have amazing palates, years of experience, awards and accolades, and they know what the food should taste like. I have no idea how Naomi pulled off her seared foie gras with chanterelle mushrooms and fried lady apples in that amount of time, but it was amazing. She was tough competition for Traci’s winning tenderloin beef carpaccio with truffle and maitake. Alex gave his own dish low marks, but his prawn ceviche with cumquat, hot chili and celery in blood orange vinaigrette was full of flavor.
I’ve got to tell you as a chef, I wouldn’t want this week’s Elimination Challenge. We threw our chefs the almost impossible challenge of creating a family style meal for five rock stars on a tour bus. There was no space, no time, and each musician wanted something completely different. The guys in Maroon 5 were fantastic guest judges, but they sure didn’t make it easy on our chefs, asking for everything from Mexican food to spanakopita to Thanksgiving dinner. When chefs plan a dinner menu, they take the time to make sure that all the dishes work off each other. No chance of that here. Time was tight and chefs know how to work with that. But cooking in an RV with only three weak burners and no counter space, if you don’t count the bed, was definitely a curveball. I’m a big guy and I’m pretty sure cooking alone in a bus would be impossible. It’s amazing that our chefs created such amazing food under those conditions.
Team Black almost seemed to laugh off the stress by kicking off their meal well with a strong margarita and Mary Sue’s diablo salsa and chips. And you would have thought Hugh had a full-service kitchen and days to prepare his tasty fennel, parmesan, and spinach spanakopita. Team Red unfortunately caved to the pressure. Celina made a fabulous farm-fresh corn soup and Alex’s enchilada with onion and seitan was surprisingly satisfying without any cheese, but overall, you could taste the duress these chefs were under.
It’s difficult to say goodbye to Alex. He deserves a huge round of applause for stepping up as a leader and serving four of his team’s dishes. But by taking on so much, he ended up sacrificing his own food. Throughout the competition, Alex has shown how creative and talented he is and I’ll definitely be stopping by Stratta the next time I’m in Vegas.