Of course, cooking is all about taste. At the end of the day, nothing else matters. Presentation is fun and technique is usually the means to an end. But flavor is most important. No serious chef will argue this. It is simple fact.
So the palate test, although it's taken many a shape in our Top Chef world, is the most anticipated by the contestants. And the most feared perhaps! Win this one and it means more than any other Quickfire. Bottom out and it hurts the most. There's no team to blame. No guest judge to disagree with. Nothing at all to deflect the embarrassment.
This particular version had an odd fusion of Name that Tune and March Madness. The tournament style was very entertaining, but as a chef I felt this group got off a lot easier than past seasons. The sauces they tasted were classics and should have been easily recognizable to any professional diner, no less a chef. A heady fish soup and two of the most flavorful sauces in the history of all food in green curry and mole?
First off, those tastes should have registered like when someone asks you to say the alphabet. These are recipes that chefs, once they experience for the first time, run right to the bookshelf to demystify. Then to the kitchen to make firsthand.
The first time I tasted green curry and mole I absolutely had to know what made it taste that way. There wasn't an option; it was a mission. It's the same drive that got me to start playing with liquid nitrogen, or experimenting with any and all food additives listed on processed foods now. A chef has to know something ... about everything.