When I watched this episode, I realized that the patience and clarity from which I benefitted during the Quickfire was on display times ten during the elimination challenge. While Chris’s team’s final plate of food wasn’t my favorite — I found the pork to be slightly overcooked, the hazelnuts not integrated enough into the flavors, and that poor, prematurely-plated salad was a shadow of its former self by the time it finally landed in front of me — it was evident that the students with whom he worked learned a tremendous amount at his side. During filming, the only interaction we had with these folks was during the moments when they presented their dish, and Chris’s team looked exhausted but exhilarated, bright-eyed with a renewed enthusiasm for cooking that was palpable all the way to the Critics' Table.
Kerry and Lorena took their own very different tactics with their student chefs. Kerry treated his as if they already had jobs at his restaurant: he expected perfection, and he expected it quickly. To my great admiration, these high school kids rose to the challenge, producing an elegant plate of food that included quite honestly the best creamed spinach I have ever had, bright and aromatic without the cloying heaviness that the dish so often has. It was the clear winning plate of food, further proof of Kerry’s role on the show as the king of quietly refined cuisine.
Lorena was Kerry’s diametric opposite. Where he pushed his team hard, she was perhaps too hands-off. The lasagna and salad she and her team created was extraordinary, without a doubt — it was my favorite dish of the three by a long shot, with an exhilarating complexity of flavor that was perfectly balanced by the bright arugula salad — but Lorena’s reluctance to reconceptualize her team’s original dish wound up hurting her. The challenge, after all, was to take the students’ creations and lift them up. Her lasagna was a thing of beauty, but both Kerry and Chris took more creative approaches, and as a result led their teams to areas of slightly higher elevation.
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!