Tonight, Dale and Richard gave us one of the best performances I have ever seen in four seasons of Top Chef. Conceptually and technically, laughing in the face of a really tough challenge, their work could not have been better.
Think about it: What the hell would you cook to respond to the word "perplexed?"
Generally, when a dish is perplexing, as Jennifer's and Steph's was, here, that means it has failed. Confused, unharmonious, a train wreck -- these are not words you want applied to your cooking. Yet, Richard deployed the full powers of his wit and technique and came up with a way to play that word brilliantly, despite having immunity he could have easily chosen to coast on (or to try to take down Dale, one of his strongest competitors, too). Not Richard; always a chef. Where does it come from, the idea to take the most iconic symbol of vegetarianism, the ultimate rejection of the reddest red meat, and make it taste like its nemesis? How clever was it to grill beef fat to develop flavor, render it, and use it to impart a meaty essence to the quintessential anti-beef? Brilliant, nothing less. Meanwhile, hard on the heels of a great win last week, Dale is really finding his voice. That green curry was great; deeply complex, perfectly spiced, an excellent foil for steaky soy goodness.
Watching them work, you could see them trying to hide the energy -- they knew this was a great idea. This, friends, is what we judges are talking about. These guys could have taken the word "nauseating" and run with it.