The thought of eating Chris Cosentino’s food is, for me, an endlessly thrilling prospect. The thought of making that food, on the other hand — and working alongside him — was more nerve-wracking than I can articulate. I’m intensely perfectionistic. And while Ruth, Francis, and I didn’t know which chef we’d be paired with ahead of time, what we did know was that we’d be cooking on camera, and that our own successes and failures would be those of our to-be-determined chef partner. I’ll be honest: I didn’'t sleep the night before. At about 4:30 a.m. I sat up and made a promise to myself. Come what may, I thought, I was going to win.
I found out about three seconds before walking onto the set that I’d be paired with Chris, and as soon as I took my position at our station, the rest of the world fell away. I spent the minute or two before the starting bell familiarizing myself with the space -- checking out what knives were located where, figuring out how the heating element worked. So when the challenge began, I felt ready to face whatever Chris was going to throw at me.
Something about the construction of the space made it almost impossible for anyone to hear anything else, which made a tough situation even tougher. (It wasn't entirely helped by the Southern accent I adopted that Chris couldn’t place — at the producers' request, we disguised our voices, and I chose to pay homage to the rural Oklahoma town where I lived for two years as a kid.) Still, I felt throughout the challenge that I was in entirely safe hands. Chris is a natural teacher — a great gift, and one that I was not a little surprised to find in him. He has a calm, deliberate, very thoughtful way of conveying his ideas, with an amazing degree of insight to what it is that the student needs to hear in order to get the job done. At each step along the way, he made sure I right there with him: “Do you see the celery? Do you have the celery? Is it actually in your hands?” His patience paid off. Our final plates looked pretty great, if I do say so myself, and Chris won the challenge.
James, you make the show fun, positive, and interesting. You are fair to the chefs and give kind explanations that they usually agree with you on. I do not cook but understand cooking, food, and the critiques, on an intellectual basis. This show makes even me want to cook, although no one would want that! If the chefs could make me like escargot, lobster, shrimp (most fish), oriental flavors, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, beets, brussel sprouts, lima beans, and a long list of gag-inducing foods (without me secretly putting in a napkin) or covering my mouth to keep it in, I would have to say they are surprisingly successful!