Shauna was convinced my list was too easy until I made her take the test blindfolded. We tested out some of the challenges ahead of time, and usually I'm the guinea pig. Like when I had to filet a fish blindfolded. That one never came to fruition due to legal putting the kibosh on the whole idea. Anyways, the ones that were missed most often were what I considered to be the most obvious ones: the caviar I found for $4.99 at room temperature in the condiment aisle vs. American sturgeon. The imitation crab vs. jumbo lump crabmeat. My scientist friend Dave says there's some kind of chemical in the imitation crabmeat that is both convincing as crab flavor but also addictive, kind of like MSG, or umami flavor. For me, not so much.
Most of them fared well. Antonia won immunity, however, which becomes a key point in the elimination. We worked with the Macy's Culinary Council (of which Ming Tsai is a part) on participating in their gala Meals on Wheels benefit, held at the Macy's in downtown Chicago. The event included a walk around tasting with over 20 local and national chefs and restaurateurs, followed by a multi-course dinner for 300 people in the Oak Room. I ended up having to do a bit of math regarding the seating arrangements, as each team was asked to create 80 portions of their first course, every table had a different number of guests, and the tables were divided by elements. I also met with the captains of the wait staff and each team to review how service would run. The primary challenge for each team, besides creating an outstanding plate of food, is to create a dish that will stand up to having 80 portions plated at once. This was one of Team Water's problems, though not it's biggest in my opinion.
There is an interesting division with teams, and it was apparent even to me that right away certain individuals would not fare well together. The idea of using the elements for inspiration was great and it forced some of our chefs to try to figure out the obvious, and the not-so-obvious. Just because your salmon is poached in a water bath does not automatically qualify it as a winning dish. Yes, the Blais charm is wearing off. And besides, hadn't we seen salmon and faux caviar in the last challenge? For the love of god, leave the tapioca alone. Shannon and I tasted a plate. It was akin to eating a fishy creamsicle. When you poach a fatty fish such as salmon sous vide at a low temperature, you end up with what could be interpreted as "meltingly tender" or " just mush". For those of you curious what he's using, that's an immersion recirculator, a piece of scientific lab equipment that keeps water in constant motion and at a constant temperature. It's a tool that has found its way into many professional kitchens as of late, and Richard brought his with him, though this was not the best application for the tool.