Charles Dickens wrote of Washington D.C.: “It is sometimes called the City of Magnificent Distances, but it might with greater propriety be termed the City of Magnificent Intentions.” OK, I know he was thinking lofty – national governance, world affairs – he clearly wasn’t thinking ahead to our new group of cheftestants. But I also know that the quote would resonate with them. This is a determined group of chefs, and they’ve converged on our nation’s capital to win.
I myself was glad to learn that Season 7 would be in D.C. D.C. has given rise to terrific chefs such as my friend Jean-Louis Palladin, who succumbed to lung cancer in 2001, but who was a driving force behind cooking in America. It has also attracted others, such as José Andrés, Jeffrey Buben at Vidalia, and Cathal Armstrong at Restaurant Eve. And, on a more personal note, I was also glad that D.C. is an Acela-ride away from NYC, where my new baby and new restaurant both clamored for my attention on the days we weren’t shooting the show.
The chefs hit the ground running with a high stakes Quickfire Challenge. Coupling the fact that this was their very first challenge under time pressure with the fact that twenty thousand dollars was on the line made for some shaky hands trying to wield those knives. I’m quite sure that folks could have peeled potatoes and diced onions far more quickly and neatly than they did that day were they not under a double-whammy of pressure. In fact, you saw only one of three instances in which chefs cut themselves. (As a side note: I’m constantly amazed at the chefs who show up with dull knives! It’s ridiculous – sharpen the things before you arrive, please.) But this is the type of competition in which one benefits from being thrown right into the deep end of the pool: the sooner the chefs get used to performing under extreme pressure, the sooner they’ll start performing well under extreme pressure, cooking more closely to how they would in their own restaurant kitchens … which the four who made it to the end of the Quickfire Challenge and cooked for us all did very adeptly. When you consider that they were cooking with only basically chicken, potatoes, and onions, under a significant time constraint, on a low burner on a windy rooftop, the food was all surprisingly good. They all thought creatively on their feet and delivered good dishes. I remember thinking, “this bodes well for the season.”