James Oseland

James Oseland shares his love for this week's 1960s classics.

on Apr 13, 2011

I’d like to start by saying something that means a lot to me: Hugh is back! His departure was perhaps one of the most difficult things I’ve witnessed over the course of three seasons of Top Chef Masters. Sure, John Sedlar will be missed—John, we hardly knew ye!—but Ruth, Curtis, Danielle, and I were uniformly elated to welcome Hugh back to the fold. He’s a talented, intelligent chef, and sending him home last week didn’t feel like the right thing to do (in spite of that salty scallop). Lo and behold, he proved his skill this week by acing not one but two preparations of beef Wellington, perhaps one of the all-time most challenging dishes to make.

The gorgeous Christina Hendricks introduced this week’s Elimination Challenge by telling the cheftestants that she disliked the food of the 1960s. Christina obviously has great taste in all sorts of things—a charming husband among them—but on this particular matter, I must disagree. In the 1960s, when I was a kid, my dad was an office-products salesman (he traveled the country selling Bic pens and desktop blotters), and wherever he was, he would stop at restaurants that I imagined were impossibly glamorous, serving food that I considered to be the absolute pinnacle of sophistication. Whenever Dad returned from a trip, he’d go right into the kitchen and duplicate the dishes he’d had at these restaurants: beef Stroganoff, grasshopper pie—foods that, to this day, I absolutely love.

But there was one 1960s creation to which my dad exposed me that stood out above all the others: Duck à l’orange was to me the ideal food and the very definition of high-end dining. So it was a bit disappointing that it was that dish that wound up sending a chef home on this week’s episode. Neither of Sue Zemanick’s versions was outstanding. Still, I’m not sure that it was a plate of food bad enough to go home over. Could Sue’s food have been better? Could it have been more flavorful? Could there have been a better differentiation between the original and the updated rendition? Yes, yes, and yes. Sue’s duck wasn’t terrific, but it was tasty.

Suvir’s veal Oscar, on the other hand, was like shoe leather. At the Critics’ Table, we learned that the chef had made the decision to deep-fry the meat after not snagging enough space on the stovetop. Politeness is a virtue, but if Sue’s dish hadn’t been such a disappointment, Suvir’s policy of nonintervention could have been a fatal mistake—he needed to push someone out of the way and gently sauté that veal!