Kevin’s dishes were just what we had come to expect from him: simple in presentation but elaborate in taste. His vegetarian dish of Roasted Beets & Carrots with Carrot Top Puree & San Andreas Cheese was striking to behold and had deceptively bold flavors for such a stark plate. His Grass-fed Brisket with Pumpkin Polenta & Marinated Root Vegetables was also a lovely idea. On top of the brisket lay a small, highly acidic pickled salad that lent a fabulous crunchy contrast to the rest of the plate. But the brisket was clearly undercooked and tougher than even he could argue it should be. That’s the thing about Kevin: He is so articulate and passionate about his food that he could make any flaw sound intentional. His knowledge, cooking methods and explanations are so interesting that it is easy to be swayed by them. In this case, however, we were not convinced.
We all agreed Bryan’s two dishes were the strongest overall and so he won the challenge (a fitting episode conclusion, considering his brother won the Quickfire, including a new Toyota Prius). His Goat Cheese Ravioli with Delicata Squash Puree & Bronze Fennel was subtle and so savory. It was the perfect harvest dish, combining plenty of earthy flavors and silky textures. It also showed off his pasta-dough-making skills. It could have benefited from a little more salt, but that was certainly not enough of a reason to dislike it in any way. His Fig-Glazed Short Ribs with Celeriac Puree, Wax Beans & Wild Arugula was almost as enchanting. Each element was cooked impeccably; the combination of ingredients was clever and cohesive. Our only small quandary was that we wished the figs he used for his glaze were more pronounced. Again, hardly a criticism, considering the balance the dish already demonstrated.
After tasting all this wonderful food, we felt that Jennifer’s dishes did not quite measure up. The concepts for both were excellent and I am confident that, given a few more hours or some off-camera time to work on them, she would make them winners. She simply fell short in a few areas of execution. The Chèvre Mousse with Honey Mushrooms, Braised Radishes & Basil was significantly oversalted. The duck breast in her Braised Duck Legs and Confit of Duck Breast with Squash Puree & Foie Gras Vinaigrette was a bit bland and dry. The braised legs had been chopped so finely that the meaty texture was lost, and the vinaigrette, although delicious, was in short supply.
I do not mean any disrespect to any other of the incredibly talented and creative people we have had as contestants over the years, but I believe without a doubt that Jennifer is by far the strongest female cook we have had on the show. Correction: She is by far one of the strongest cooks we have ever had on the show, period. Had this been any other season, I am sure she would have smoked them all (then sliced and served them to us in the most elegant fashion). She proved time and again, through the 26 challenges she faced, that she is a formidable force in the kitchen. I am inspired and awed by her. Most importantly, I am sincerely grateful I was able to get to know her just a little and taste of her wonderful food.