No matter. Four went into the barn -- and one remained; put down like Old Yeller. The shock of the episode -- and one of the major jolts of the season -- was that Dale stepped up. BIG TIME. Everything finally went right this time for the man with the mohawk. I have to tell you, watching Dale pile cinnamon, ginger, huckleberries, red wine, blackberries, fresh MINT, radish sprouts, and pecans onto his elk (along with mention of pickled cauliflower), I thought he was gonna be tarred and feathered for sure. It seemed insane to me. Knowing Eric and his food, I thought he would surely reject this mash-up of ingredients as over-complicated and pretentious. Le Bernardin may be a three-star Michelin restaurant, but the food is in fact, pretty restrained and even austere. Letting the "ingredients speak for themselves" is something of a mission statement.
But complicated, I had forgotten, is not always bad. Sometimes, complicated is good. On the rare occasions when a brilliantly talented chef can bring a seemingly disparate or even unlikely combination of ingredients together -- in a sophisticated way -- the results can be ... wonderful. Not many can do this. It's a tightrope act -- and a risky one. Dale has fallen off that same tightrope many times.
But this time, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and extreme pressure, under the withering gaze of never-more-demanding judges and the cast of "Sleepless In The Saddle," Dale went the distance and emerged the winner. This, at a time, when the judging is -- as was pointed out -- all about hair-splitting. Any one of a hundred things could have gone wrong for Dale -- with as complicated an offering as his, the risks were amplified. And things DID go wrong. His onion goat cheese tart was a bad idea. It came out badly. Dale RECOGNIZED it was not good enough -- and in a superb demonstration of chefly judgment, not only came up with up a Plan B on the fly, but came up with a BETTER Plan B. In short? To use a baseball analogy: In a play-off game, Dale stepped up in the 9th inning and took a major chance by going for the long ball. He wasn't looking to get safely on base. He was there to win. And, indeed, he did. Last night. he did everything right.