Still, it was head and shoulders beyond Debbie's ultimately elimination-earning salad. We were given menus at the beginning of the meal, and what was promised as a Thai-style salad of Napa cabbage and green mango was in reality a plate of burned cabbage without any of the sweet-sour tang that a true Thai savory fruit salad ought to have. Debbie justified her decision to grill the greens by saying that the char added a necessary acidity to the cabbage, which to me was a baffling choice: why not add acidity with lime? The salad was even less successful when I considered it in context: as the first course of a sit-down meal at a beautiful, emotional wedding, it was a weird choice.
It was in Patricia's winning dish of mackerel with young coconut and chilies that I saw what I'd been hoping for from Debbie: a vivid, multifaceted bite of food that drew inspiration from an authentic cuisine (in this case kilawin tanigue, a Filipino ceviche), but was still very much individual to the chef. With a bright, clean herbal flavor punctuated by unexpected bursts of ginger from a genius, slightly subversive addition of finely chopped ginger candy, it set the gold standard for this episode, if not the entire season. My only disappointment in the dish was that, designed to be just a one-bite amuse bouche, I couldn't go back in for another mouthful. It was perfect for a wedding, perfect for this wedding, and a perfect showcase of the great things of which Patricia is capable. And it was a terrible, wonderful, frustrating flirtation — everything I want a bite of food to be.
James Oseland is the editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine.