Lee Anne Wong

The Season 1 chef'testant gives her behind-the-scenes take on the season premiere.

on Nov 13, 2008

Then there's cabana boy. Ambitious, and very Miami. His rough start out of the gate surprised me because Jeff had cooked for me before in South Beach and it was really quite exceptional. Fabio suffers from terrible plating syndrome with this one, and there was really no relationship between the pork and the salad on his plate. Jill's jerk scallops were reminiscent of something you'd see at neighborhood chain restaurant, a little too big, and if there's such a thing: clunkily colorful. For me, it's like taking that all-popular-Top-Chef-go-to-ingredient (scallops) and ruining their delicate flavor by overcooking them and covering them in a bunch of crap. Radhika's dish was not only monotone in its brownish qualities but completely lacked texture and screamed for acid and salt. I suppose the Kentucky fried scallop medley won out in the end.

Leah's snapper on the other hand, was a perfect example of controlled, thoughtful cooking, with the right amount of restraint in the flavorings and garnishes. Melissa's steak was only Italian in the sense that it was the size of a family style platter you'd see at Carmines and was smothered in red sauce. Alex and Eugene used strikingly similar ingredients but Eugene's version with the masala sauce and raita made the cut and even impressed Ms. Lakshmi herself.

Far and away the most disappointing neighborhood showing was the dishes from the Chinatown knife pull. Not only did both of them do what I would consider "cliche bastardized Asian", but they did it quite unsuccessfully. Asia Market Corp. is a store that has aisles and aisles of fantastic Asian groceries, ranging from Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese, to Korean, Malaysian, and Filipino. There's a ton of super-fresh Asian produce out front, with variety far more exotic than bok choy. Choices like rice noodles and crispy wontons do not an Asian dish make. Daniel's creation was indeed a bad version of Wolfgang Puck's Signature Chinois Chicken Salad (which I happen to love, and I certainly do not consider this what I referred to earlier, as Wolfgang Puck is one of the founders of California fusion cuisine. It's the shabby imitators I revile.). It was edible though, if not soggy as it sat in a pool of soy vinaigrette (and a vinaigrette is not always an emulsion. There is such a thing as a broken vinaigrette. But what a stupid thing to argue over anyways.) I happen to love Daniel's energy by the way. Totally manic, but comedic at the same time. Nice guy.