As for our two salmons, I was surprised to find that Michael’s dish was ill-conceived and lacked direction. First of all, cauliflower is not a Mediterranean vegetable, and even though he made a couscous of it, it still tasted like cauliflower. And the idea of taking salmon and moving that to the Mediterranean struck me as a big mistake, as where his mistakes began. That fish just doesn’t swim in that sea. I’m not saying that you can’t take a food from one locale and apply it to another’s cuisine, but the flavors must lend themselves, and in the case of this dish, neither the cauliflower nor the salmon worked at all in the context of Mediterranean seasonings. Perhaps he was going for French-Mediterranean as opposed to true North-African-inspired Mediterranean – I don’t know. Furthermore, the tartare was interesting in theory but not well executed. Had the cucumber been hollowed out and filled with little jewels of well-seasoned salmon, it might have succeeded, but instead we were not happily surprised, with poorly seasoned salmon that had been rather unsuccessfully chopped up. Everything else was fine, good even, but the overall direction of the dish was not very cohesive.
Jen’s dish suffered from some sloppy cooking. The salmon wasn’t cut evenly. There are two parts to the filet – the top half is leaner and the bottom fattier – and if you mix and match them, they aren’t going to cook evenly. Also, Jen had chosen a technique that required very slow cooking, but the white proteins leaching out of the fish indicated that it just wasn’t cooked slowly enough. Other than that, her garnishes were very, very good. But it’s hard to get past the incorrectly cooked protein, given the extent of the error.
On the one hand, it seems Kevin won by default, as his slightly overcooked lamb was minor in scope compared with the errors in conception and execution of his fellow chefs. On the other hand, however, I believe that Kevin was the best choice anyway, both to win the challenge and to go on to compete for the spot at the next Bocuse d’Or, and here’s why: I don’t care how often Michael says that he cooks like Kevin on his days off – we know Kevin has great skills. They’re not even at question. While Kevin does not typically think of food along the lines that they do in the Bocuse d’Or, he has handled every challenge – this one included – extremely intelligently, ascertaining what the particular challenge called for, what its potential pitfalls might be (so he could sidestep them), and what might be both a clever and a truly delicious dish to present for that particular challenge. I think that though it’s not his normal inclination to cook as they do for the Bocuse d’Or, if given the time to prepare for the competition, Kevin would apply that same intelligence about food to that particular challenge and would rise to it not only ably but admirably. I think his food would be as precise and as intricate and well presented as anyone’s. If he succeeds in securing the slot at the competition, I believe he’ll get there. The overriding challenge is to make delicious food, and Kevin’s was more precisely cooked and had better flavor than the others, period.