Undone by Overthink

James Oseland examines Patricia Yeo's downfall.

Let's be frank: Patricia Yeo is a brilliant, sensitive, deeply skilled chef. She makes dishes of astonishing grace and confidence; I readied myself for something exquisite whenever it came time this season to taste one of her creations. There's a reason for my continually raised expectations of her: Patricia has great intellectual gifts; her knowledge of global cooking technique is astonishing. It's easy to find a chef with classical French or Italian training, and Patricia gets all that, but on this show, her breadth of knowledge when it comes to flavors and cooking styles ranging from Southeast Asia to the Middle East is second to none. 

Alas, her global perspective may have led to her undoing this week. The meal Patricia produced for our Diner en Blanc was a misfire, both in execution and in concept. This challenge had an austere structure, one that didn't necessarily call for food with any crazy twists or elements. The main goal? That each chef produce a wonderful, transportable meal that would survive a night in the fridge. Instead, Patricia was undone by overthink: inspired by the dinner's location at the Venetian hotel, she served a series of dishes inspired by Marco Polo's journey from Venice to China, a good story in the telling that failed to come together on the plate. As Ruth pointed out, none of the separate dishes' flavors spoke to each other. The salad was bitter and intense, with unappealing shards of dried whitebait. The chili jam on the bison was bright and flavorful, but the meat was a baffling choice: bison is already lean, and after a night of losing moisture out in the fridge, the dryish slices were unappealing. I had high hopes for her cauliflower and lentil dish — a take on classic Indian aloo gobi — but even that fell flat. Warm, it might have been good, but it was served so chilled that the colorful, flavorful emphasis it could have brought to the meal was lost, particularly against the wedges of tragically stale pita. I truly believe that if Patricia hadn't been distracted by her self-imposed Silk Road theme, and had just cooked the sort of food she herself wanted to eat, food that showed off her heart and soul and her brilliant intellect, she could have won this challenge. And instead, she was too damn clever for her own good.I loved Kerry's picnic, and was rooting for his late-season winning streak to continue this week. His lineup of cauliflower soup, pesto-orzo salad, and a pepper-laden chicken kebab put up a strong fight, but at the end of the day, it would have been hard for pretty much anything to beat Chris' incredible, incredible food. His beautiful spread was in diametric opposition to Patricia's fussy, over-thought meal: simple yet layered takes on swordfish, mushrooms, and pate that felt effortlessly beautiful, sensuous, complete, naturalistic. Chris's terrine was perfect, truly perfect — it could not have possibly been better. The marinated mushrooms were divine; the swordfish conserva was impeccable, its long olive-oil bath lending a great and satisfying lusciousness to the firm fish. For a picnic dinner, even a fancy one all dressed in white, this kind of simple yet passionate food, food that feels like it comes straight from the solar plexus, is precisely the kind of thing I want to eat.

 

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