I wish you could have been there when the kids came rushing into the room; they were curious and excited about this science fair. And they were hungry.
Cooking is chemistry –- we all know that. But this challenge gave the chefs a chance to demonstrate their science savvy –- and so much more. They also had an opportunity to show that they are still open to learning, how well they work with others, and whether they could walk that tightrope between pleasing a group of ravenous teenagers and a panel of picky critics. What amazed me was the huge gulf between the chefs who did well and those who did poorly.
Consider Hugh. This was the moment when we found out that he really does not play well with others. Teamed up with a smart scientist eager to strut his stuff, what does Hugh do? Turns him into a lowly prep cook. He’s not about to share the stage with anyone. He’s not about to admit that he has anything to learn. And even though we critics knew nothing of the little drama between the two men when we were standing at their station, we could absolutely taste it. This salad lacked passion. It was certainly not a salad that was going to wow a anyone –- least of all high school students –- and no one eating it would have any reason to wonder about emulsions. Hugh took the easy way out, and for sheer absence of curiosity he absolutely deserved to lose.
Mary Sue, on the other hand, went at this challenge with typical enthusiasm. She asked questions of her partner, used her expertise. And she knew exactly how to pull the students into her demonstration. She began by feeding them something that would excite them; nobody could eat those little churros without wanting more. I was doubly impressed because her assignment –- viscosity –- is so hard to demonstrate. If you doubt this, ask yourself what you would have done. it’d be hard to beat that race to the bottom of the petri dish.
You’d expect Floyd to do well –- after all, he’s Mr. Science, and he was clearly comfortable with his partner. But his demonstration of the Maillard reaction was –- as James would say –- a lightbulb moment. It was a really smart demonstration –- and really smart food. Both those dishes were both delicious. More please!
This native Southern Californian SO misses Ruth's restaurant critiques in the L.A. Times! Ruth was the absolutely spot on BEST!
I think the chef I most enjoyed watching this week was Floyd. His enthusiasm for every challenge, and the earnest way he relates his early cooking memories are endearing; as much as his regret that his father didn't live long enough to see him successful in his chosen career is heartfelt. He really embraced both the quickfire and the science fair challenges, and seemed to be having a ball. I really hope to see him rise to the top.
Chemists can be great cooks. They understand spices and what works well together. I was married to a brilliant chemist and his creations were novel and wonderful. It was plain to see that Hugh could care less about his chemist's input. He also didn't care that much about the diners either. I'm glad that pompous cook is out.