First, let me start by saying this episode was a monster, but in it I got one of the bigger thrills of my life. OK, Grant Achatz. I had the privilege of trailing at Trio in Evanston while he was the star chef there. Not only was it fascinating to watch him and his team work together, from conceptualizing an idea to refining existing dishes, but it is even more meaningful to me now to see his evolution as a chef. My meal at Trio may have been the best I have ever had (I distinctly remember each of the 24 courses of my Tour de Force tasting menu), and I have eaten at Alinea on three subsequent occasions, each time a completely different and fulfilling experience. It was an honor to have Chef Achatz join us amidst his busy schedule. Some of you may know he is a recent cancer survivor, having battled a life threatening rare form of mouth cancer. He is a hero and a giant in the culinary world for his courage and focus as he continued to work in his kitchen while receiving treatment for his condition. Thankfully he is in remission now and was able to join us for this very rockin' Thanksgiving episode.
The TC Cookbook/Swanson thing was a complicated challenge for us to figure out. I had to choose the recipes and then stock the fridge with plenty of the ingredients from each recipe, each labeled on it's own tray, and then also supplement the pantry with additional ingredients for when they went to go make soup (unbeknownst to the contestants). For the most part, most of the soups were very good. I was particularly a fan of Danny's Ham and Egg Soup, which was rich and thick like a stew with a soft poached egg in it, crunchy bread crouton like French Onion, and lots of ham and cheese in a rich, flavorful broth. Leah's White Asparagus Soup was very good (I can't believe she hates white asparagus) and we knew by letting her pick her team it would create an interesting dynamic amongst the contestants (The talented vs. the misfits? Well, apparently at least in Leah's mind).
The concert was in Rochester, which is a seven-hour drive from NYC. Most of the crew and the contestants were taken up in buses. Team Culinary, fully aware that we would be building an outdoor kitchen, had to drive a cube truck full of equipment and rentals that would be needed to make sure that the teams could pull this off. I sent Peder up to Rochester in the cube truck that morning (I had to stick around for the quickfire) and he went to the market to set up the Butterball display that evening. Louise and I got into Rochester, driving our mini van (or the party wagon, as we like to call it), late that evening and went to bed right away as we had to build the kitchen the next morning.