It’s been said that those who can’t do, teach. I say rubbish. Take this week’s Quickfire and Elimination Challenges, which asked our three remaining chefs, all unbelievably talented in their own right, to guide, instruct and educate. The result was beautiful food and students who were inspired and proud of their accomplishments.
The Quickfire was vintage Top Chef Masters. Instructing someone you can’t see (and can barely hear) to cook and plate a dish is intensely frustrating for the chef, but so fun to watch. Particularly when the students are the show’s judges. I expected Ruth to be amazing at this as she was famously a master of disguise as food critic for The New York Times, but James and Francis managed to hide their identities pretty well too. It was here that we saw the first hints of our chefs’ teaching styles. Lorena was patient and encouraging, Chris was methodical, and Kerry was demanding. What was interesting is how that style translated into the mystery partners' dishes. Lorena’s patience produced a deeply rich sauce, but cost her time to finish the pasta. Kerry coached Ruth to make a perfectly sautéed chicken, but it was remarkable to see how close Chris and James’ Prawns with Sautéed Celery, Thyme, Pine Nuts and Chili Threads turned out, in both taste and appearance.
This week’s Elimination Challenge was unbelievably rewarding. Walking into the kitchen you could feel this intense blend of nervousness and excitement from our six students. While they were all star pupils in the culinary arts program at the Southwest Career & Technical Academy, you couldn’t help but notice that the chance to cook with our talented chefs at this incredibly high level was blowing their minds. It was fantastic. It was equally great to see Lorena, Chris, and Kerry work with their kids. It’s worth noting that it had to be nerve-wracking to hand over your chance to make it to the finale to inexperienced teenagers just starting to learn to cook. But each of the chefs put that aside and focused on how to get the best dish out of the students, as much for the kids’ benefit as theirs.The chef’s teaching styles stayed the same as in the Quickfire, but the ultimate goal was different in this challenge. Chris seemed to want the kids to gain a deeper appreciation of food, where it comes from, how it tastes and how it contributes to a wider range of flavors. Lorena wanted her kids to understand what it feels like to love what you do, to have a passion and give it all you’ve got. Kerry, who interestingly also went to vocational school, had his sights set on success. He thought of his students as chefs, not kids, and consequently pushed them to perform to a level they didn’t even know they could achieve.
As for the dishes, they were all delicious, impressive, and reflected the spirit of our chefs. Chris’ Pork Loin with Hazelnut Brown Butter, Apples & Watercress was so elegant and simple; every element of the dish reflected the beauty of the other ingredients on the plate. That’s extremely difficult to achieve. While Ruth didn’t see Lorena’s Three Meat Lasagna and Arugula Salad as restaurant-worthy, I thought the family-style presentation showed how Lorena sees food as a way to connect people. But it was Kerry’s Florentine-Inspired Chicken with Orzo and Asparagus Ragout that blew us all away. Kerry’s exacting standards resulted in his students creating a dish so flavorful and professionally crafted that it could easily have been served in a fine restaurant.
At this stage, it’s ridiculously difficult to send anyone home. Saying goodbye to Lorena and her scrappy, never-say-die spirit was sad for all of us. All the best, Lorena! It was such a joy to have you on this season. Next up, the finale! With Chris and Kerry in the mix, it’s going to be quite a showdown.