"By the people and for the people" is a great sentiment to found a government on, but it's not one to follow if your intention is to become the next Top Chef. When Tom, Padma, Ted, and Rick Bayless are deciding your fate, do yourself a favor and cook for them. All too often, the cheftestants get caught up in the theme of the challenge and forget it's the judges they need to impress with their superb cooking skill. The judges notice things that most mortals would easily forgive in any setting, much less a block party. (Incidentally, I am a big fan of block parties. They offer a free pass on so many levels. You can get away with drinking too much, eating a lot of horrific food that sits around in the sun for hours, and most importantly, you can wear your least fashionable, most ill-fitting clothes. A day of worry-free haberdashery is always fun.)
A soggy corn dog, a chicken-heavy Waldorf salad, and macaroni and cheese in which the Velveeta was used improperly (How do you improperly use cheese that isn't proper cheese to begin with?) are epic errors to the judges of a cooking competition. And, hello?? Why didn't anyone do anything Mexican in the Elimination Challenge??? Know your audience! When Ryan of the Red Team dismissed, offhand, the idea of cooking for the judges, and Zoi used the words "classic Americana," I knew their fate was sealed.
Rick Bayless and a handful of other chefs put Chicago on the culinary map. He is a very nice guy and very talented. It was nice to see him on Top Chef. He's done more to create national awareness of the wonders of Mexican food than just about anybody. How could you resist a taco challenge with Rick as the judge?
Tacos aren't as easy as they appear to be. As with any sandwich (yep, a taco is a lot like a sandwich), the perfect combination of cooked meat, raw vegetables, condiments, and other flavorings easily eludes us. And in this challenge, the taco had to be "elevated" to the echelon of fine dining. (I personally think that a great taco is already fine dining -- and there's a restaurant in New York City called La Esquina that proves it every day.) Lisa undercooked skirt steak, Erik's was a "train wreck," Ryan dared to use paper in his presentation ... you see, not easy stuff.