Guest Judge

President of the James Beard Foundation answers our questions about "The Last Supper."

Feb 11, 2009 You obviously interact with legendary chefs all the time, but how was this experience special?
Yes, I’ve had the pleasure and honor to work with many of America’s greatest chefs on James Beard Foundation educational and fundraising projects and to meet even more of these culinary geniuses at our annual James Beard Awards, which are considered the “Grammys” or “Oscars” of the food industry. Just the thought of sharing a table, tasting, and judging alongside the professional palates of Jacques Pepin, Lidia Bastianich, Marcus Samuelson, Wylie Dufresne, and Tom, Padma, and Toby was daunting, fascinating and fun. I could only imagine how nervous and tense the final five Top Chef contenders were feeling no— and I felt sympathy and excitement for them. In most episodes, Padma introduces just one guest chef judge, who is often a James Beard Award winner. But tonight they were facing off before not one, not two but five multiple award-winners or nominees (including Tom), and me, the president of the Foundation. So I think I was feeling not only nervous for me, but also for them! Why did you choose the shrimp scampi as your last meal? What memories does it bring back for you?
When I was asked to pick “my last supper,” my first response was a comfort food: roast chicken, but Lidia had already made that selection. So I decided that if I were on death row, I’d also crave a last meal that would remind me of special times: dining out on romantic occasions (when I was younger and first dating my husband) and family holiday get-togethers. I’ve always loved shrimp, especially garlicky scampi versions. And I love tomatoes (in season, of course!) and especially relish the very country French buttery, garlicky and breaded tomato provencale. I also thought it would be an interesting challenge to see how the top chef contestant would create their version of shrimp scampi: a simple saute with garlic and butter or wine? Would he or she serve it plain, over rice or pasta? Would he or she serve it marinated and broiled (a favorite at-home recipe of mine is from Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet cookbook where the shrimp is marinated in lots of garlic, oil, herbs, and bread crumbs and then broiled). What did you like about the dish/What didn’t work for you?
Hosea’s scampi was done just right! The shrimp were garlicky without being overwhelming. I would have preferred it if he had served them over rice, not naked, but the flavor was perfect. The tomato provencale lacked the gusto I would have liked in the bread crumb topping, but it was flavorful and satisfying. I truly think he did a good job and even quipped, “I could go to heaven now.”