Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons gets down to business about the truffle.

on Dec 15, 2008

Four chefs remained after a very heated and messy wedding reception challenge. Harold, Tiffani, Lee Anne and Dave entered the kitchen for their ninth Top Chef adventure exhausted. Seeing their faces that morning, I knew they were running out of fuel.

I also had a suspicion that they would scoff at that day's Quickfire Challenge of creating an elevated dish inspired by the vast selection of snacks set before them. Not to be confused with their own "Junk Food Challenge" (heroically won by Chunk Le Funk in Episode 5), this was a test to decipher if they could create something delicious and innovative based on a familiar American snack food. It did not have to be junky at all. Once again, our resident purist Harold looked doubtful as he saddled up to the table, but in the end his was the winning dish because it really stretched the boundaries of the task. Instead of making even more snack food for us, he made a refined, well-conceived seviche, using popcorn as the featured garnish, as is popular in Ecuador. And he executed it perfectly. The other three other chefs quite literally produced high-end versions of the snack they chose. I must add here that they were all extremely tasty. In fact, they were hands-down the best dishes seen or tasted across any Quickfire Challenge to date.

I loved trying them all for their quirkiness and sense of humor. Even Dave's nachos, despite their appearance, were fun to eat and a little addictive. But he would definitely have to step it up if he was going to last much longer in the competition. What the cameras did not show was that since there was no immunity for this week's Quickfire Challenge winner, we instead awarded Harold his own personal bottle of the 2001 Schafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon that we introduced for the next Elimination. Not a bad deal. The challenge itself was straightforward enough. The contestants were asked to create a dish that would highlight the rare Perigord black truffle and pair well with this complex wine. Upon description of what this challenge entailed, everyone's mood suddenly shifted. For the four remaining chefs, the chance to cook with such coveted ingredients was music to their ears and the opportunity to travel to the heart of Napa Valley for the day was just what they needed.