James Oseland

James make a case for stepping out of one's comfort zone.

on Jul 31, 2013

The winning dish, Sang's rendition of fried shrimp and coleslaw, was inspired by a classic Burmese salad made with fermented tea leaves, one of my all-time favorite dishes. And my God, was this a joy to eat: the riot of flavors and textures, peanuts and fried garlic and cabbage and a spot-on, sweet-tart dressing, all melded in a beautiful way. The shrimp, its body poached and its head crisp-fried, brought it all together; the head in particular was revelatory, an ideal counterpoint in both flavor and texture to everything else on the plate. (Even Kathie Lee thought so, once we convinced her to take a bite.)

As for the dishes in the bottom three—well, they were the sorts of dishes I'm happy to have tried, but more for the story behind them than the actual experience. Odette, Jenn, and Sue's dishes all had certain components that were wonderful — Odette's strangely lovely pasta, Jenn's exquisite meatballs, Sue's well-balanced lobster roll and clever workaround with the subpar bread—but they all also faced serious issues in execution. Ultimately, despite Odette's almost inedible gummy fish balls and Sue's inconveniently sharp pieces of lobster shell, it was Jen's ungainly, inelegant (though, minus its bread, quite delicious) banh mi that wound up sending its creator home.

Jenn mentioned on the episode how much she dislikes having to deviate from classic recipes, which explains why she wouldn't ditch her terrible bread or try to create a more finessed take on the banh mi. But if this elimination proves anything, it's that (like Kathie Lee and the shrimp head, or me and that heart tartare) Jenn should have fought her way out of her comfort zone and at least given something new a try. It may not have saved her, but then again, maybe it could have. It doesn't hurt to try.

James Oseland is the editor-in-chief of Saveur.