Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain on elk, Aspen, and Eric Ripert.

on Sep 27, 2007

These are impressive accomplishments -- the best kind of American success story. With that as a back story, I'm guessing childhood for Hung was not a time when lollygagging around playing video games or watching cartoons was acceptable behavior. His whole family worked. Much, I'm guessing, was expected of a son. So if Hung comes off as overzealously competitive, or rude, insufficiently touchy-feely or unsympathetic to the "feelings" of his fellow contestants, I suggest examining the context. Ask yourself, compared to what? A wasted crawfish, some spilled truffle oil count for little compared to the things Hung's family must have lost along the way. But all that drive and ambition threatens to distract Hung from the Main Object. To -- above all -- please his customers. The judges' comments last night were a wake-up call. They're telling him outright that they think he's far and away the most technically accomplished of the lot. They're also telling him that they expect more. That they're surprised and disappointed that he hasn't hit them with his "roots" cuisine. All I can say is I hope (for his sake) that in the last episode, Hung has the opportunity to do just that: to do a take on a Vietnamese classic or two, to bring it all together on a plate -- his technique, his experience, his personal history, his ethnic and national "roots" -- and do it in a sincere way. THAT would be cooking with "heart" and "soul".

Casey undercooked her elk. End of story for her chances this week. But her sauce and seasonings -- her "flavor profiles" as chefs so enjoy calling it -- were yet again, recognizably excellent. It's no accident that one great chef after another respond to Casey's flavors so effusively. She's clearly gifted at making food that not only tastes good, but evokes in hardened professionals similar responses: a thesaurus of descriptives like "soul" and "heart" as discussed above. There is no doubt that she has what it takes to win the Big One next week. And I'd say, at this point, that she's a heavy favorite.