Interestingly enough, while they were all intimidated and did quite a bit of complaining about how they would look like fools on TV and make a sham out of the very serious competition, it was Yukon Cornelius who griped the most, feeling that the competition was unfair to him, as his cuisine was rustic in style and out of the four, he was already at a disadvantage. We assured them that the most important factor in judging would be the quality and taste of their food. Presentation is always taken into account but if you make something beautiful that doesn’t taste good then you’re gonna lose anyway. Taste wins 100% of the time.
Kevin presented first. His presentation was indeed simple, but his lamb was perfectly cooked, and I do mean perfectly. The glazed beet and chard were tasty, though I wasn’t a fan of the asparagus and toast. All in all it was safe and well executed, though it didn’t seem like something that would take five hours to prepare (which is always in the judges’ heads ... what did you do with the time given to you?).
Mike Voltaggio was sick as a dog that day. I mean, he looked gray, like he was about to fall over any minute. I though his presentation was lovely, though odd that the salmon portion was not served as a whole piece but as individual portions. The salmon was also perfectly cooked but there were a few missteps after I had tasted the beauty plate: the texture of the cauliflower was off-putting and ruined the delicate pop of the caviar beads. And that cucumber cup (sigh) was just limp and under-seasoned, probably the worst thing I had had of his all season long. But it was evident where his time had gone, and his work was intricate and detailed, as usual.
Next came BV. As it came down to an hour I started to worry about Bryan. He was still running around and things were definitely not looking towards being finished, most importantly, his lamb crepinettes. He was still trying to form them with the caul fat and forcemeat when his clock hit 30 minutes. Caul fat takes quite a bit of time to cook off, and I knew he’d be cutting it close. In the end, Bryan’s gratin was good, if not a bit pedestrian, and his lamb was also well-cooked. But the crepinette — while I commend him for being the only one to braise the shank — the caul fat was not cooked out. Do you know what caul fat is? It’s the lacy layer of fat that surrounds the intestines of cows, sheep’s, and pigs. Properly utilized, it melts away into a delicious layer of translucent casing, usually used when making sausages, terrines, pates, and other wrapped meat delights. However, if it doesn’t cook out, well, you’ve all seen what half cooked animal fat looks like. Not something I want to eat. (Well, maybe just in the case of caul fat.)
Next came Eli. Eli made the fatal mistake of making his roulade/ballotine too big. He cooked it at low temperature in a water bath with the recirculator, but at low temp, with the time limit, it was too big and just absolutely and completely raw in the middle. Most plates came back with the meat barely touched. Beyond that, Eli came out looking pretty filthy, and put another nail in the coffin by plating with his hands, not the serving tools provided. Daniel Boulud watched this with a raised eyebrow. I saw it.
And lastly, Jen. Her salmon and caviar presentation was perfectly cooked. I found her sides to both be lacking in texture, but they were well executed. I think I remember wanting either a squeeze of lemon juice, or a tad more salt, but Jen is far and away the most technically proficient female chef we’ve ever had on the show.
Kevin’s angst was uncalled for, and he went home the winner! Onto finale!!!