Gail Simmons

The judge describes New York as the "ultimate culinary mecca."

on Nov 11, 2008

I won't belabor the details of what I can only remember as one of the hottest days all summer (we had to break in between tasting every set of courses to cool down off- camera, for fear of practically passing out!). But I will tell you that in tasting the dishes prepared for us by the remaining 16 chefs, we discovered a few new and exciting flavor combinations ourselves. On the whole, the food we were served was really quite delicious. From Jamie's Deconstructed Greek Saladand Seared Black Bass to Jill'sJamaicanScallop Fritters, Hosea's Russian Trio of Smoked Fish, and Eugene's slam-dunk Indian Lamb, we were all pleasantly surprised at how creative they were, especially since a number of the chefs made it clear that the ethnic ingredients they used were unfamiliar to them until now.

The only true disappointments in terms one specific cuisine were the dishes from ourChinatown team. Both Patrick and Danny presented watered-down, uninspired dishes that did not do justice to the breadth of extraordinary Chinese food found in this city. When we tasted Patrick's Seared Salmon, Bok Choy and Black RiceNoodles, it was clear that his cooking did not measure up to that of his fellow contestants.

In contrast, Stefan's Middle Eastern Lamb Chops with Tabouli Salad and Beef Onion Skewer proved you don't have to be fluent in a given cuisine to understand the combinations of ingredients and techniques that make it work. His dish was modern in presentation but authentic in flavor, refined yet true to its roots ... just like New York itself.