As esoteric as it seems, Ethiopian food is not all that out of place, especially in D.C. The largest Ethiopian population in the U.S. is based there, so it’s no surprise to see a traditional East African restaurant on what seems to be every other street corner. It’s also no surprise to see Marcus Samuelsson as the judge for this challenge. As far as I know he is the only multi-James Beard award-winning Ethiopian chef. He laid out some general concepts of the cuisine for the chefs to play with. Most ran with it and did stews seasoned with the Berbere spice. The three chefs who were in the bottom just didn’t seem to push those flavors far enough and also seemed to have a common thread of the food being a bit dry and not quite bold enough. I think the main reason that Tiffany took the win is because she embodied the flavors and ideas of Ethiopian food while putting it in her own context. The other chefs did a good job, but were a little too straightforward about it.
With the Elimination Challenges the chefs keep getting a pretty lucky draw. They are getting a reasonably loose context to cook their own food in. Having to pick one of nine countries to create a dish in is a pretty wide-open platform. Some of the chefs were able to adapt their style to this challenge pretty handily. I think with all of these countries the hard and true focus should be on doing something with your own touch and nothing that strives at too much authenticity. Serving food to the Ambassadors, as well as Culinary Ambassadors in the case of Jose Andres to Spain, means that if you go authentic you have to be totally spot-on.
I was surprised to see Kevin jump on India so quickly, having no experience with the cuisine as well as having the critical eye of Padma there, it was a pretty bold move. But I also think that he did exactly what he needed to do and produced comparable flavors. He was also smart to avoid what would be the kiss of death for most purists and miss use titles and names of dishes. Kelly produced a dish that, while it was a good interpretation of an Italian classic, it was really focused on a few local beautiful ingredients and as Tom pointed out it was really what made the dish shine. Tiffany was in her zone; she kept articulating her familiarity and comfort with doing “Tex-Mex” style food and she delivered. She took what is the idea of traditional tamales and made it her own; she really won on bold flavors and really solid technique. For Tiffany the double win this far into the competition is a huge ego boost. The chefs at this point are starting to really look around and see who is going to be there for the long haul, and if you pull off the double win at this late in the game, it's going to put a few of the others on their heels about her position in the house.