Before we get into my thoughts on this week’s episode, it’s important to note one thing: It was my birthday. So, I’ll blame my extra enthusiasm for all things booze- and tongue-related on the day’s festive spirit. (Oh, and that shot of tequila…)
The truth is, I always get that excited about Mexican food. I live in L.A., after all, which means I glean as much comfort from a good street huarache as I do from my mom’s matzo ball soup. But it also means I can be tough to impress with just any ol’ taco. Lucky for me (and the chefs), it seems most of the Masters also know their way around the Mexican pantry and brought their A-game (if not their wrestling skills) to the Mayan Theater that day.
Jennifer’s astounding posole, Brian’s braised tongue (I do indeed love eating tongue—despite how it sounds), Douglas’ chorizo-corn fritter, and even David’s bizarre "flautadilla" (trademark pending!) all captured that unique, explosive interplay between heat, salt, tang, spice, and soulful umami that makes Mexican food the comfort cuisine of choice for so much of this country—and of course, the one to our south.
So, I couldn’t have been more surprised that Sang of all people—who, as an Angeleno, shares my deep love for Mexican flavors (if not ketchup)—was the one to just barely miss the mark. Avocado and a tortilla strip garnish does not a Mexican dish make, and unlike Brian’s tongue, which is normally an equally time-intensive preparation, Sang’s barbacoa wasn’t able to overcome the fact that the meat had to be rushed. I have no doubt that if his pork was allowed to simmer away in the back of an East L.A. storefront for a day or so, Sang wouldn’t have been the one going home. It’s technicality, but at this point in the competition, that’s all it takes.
On a separate note: while some of the judges and chefs were feeling titillated (and a little confused) by the androgynous burlesque routines and masked wrestling matches, I had something else lighting my fire that day—or actually, my candles: a certain blonde Aussie carrying out my birthday cake shortly before Critics' Table. To all you viewers: If you have the means to get Curtis Stone to serenade you on your special day and hand-deliver frosted confections, I highly recommend it.