I'm never part of judging the Quickfires, so I don't usually have a lot to say about them, but I particularly liked this week's challenge -- to create an entree from only five ingredients (excluding salt, pepper, sugar and oil), because I think it illustrates an important point about cooking that I learned from teaching cooking classes -- sometimes too many choices can distract and overwhelm, rather than inspire. When I limited my students to only three ingredients, it kept them from going all over the map, and seemed to free them up creatively. It's very tempting for cooks (especially here, in a competition setting) to want to dazzle us by loading the plate with numerous ingredients and a complicated presentation, but that can be a sign of immaturity. It takes self-confidence to select just a few great ingredients and cook them in a way that allows their very essence to emerge. I just returned from a great week in Venice with my son, where we had a few truly memorable meals. Some of the best dishes were composed with just a few beautiful ingredients, prepared very simply - roasted fish, risotto, pasta with a simple ragout of clams, tomatoes, and prosciutto, etc. What made the dishes great wasn't the number of ingredients on the plate but their freshness and skillful, confident preparation. It's pretty telling that Mark -- who left one of his five ingredients back at the Green City Market -- ended up winning the Quickfire challenge with his remaining four.
I was happy to see Wylie Dufresne join us at the Judges' table. Wylie is innovative, talented, and humble -- a great combination. (Congratulations, by the way, Wylie on getting 3 stars at wd~50 in The New York Times). We divided the chefs up into five teams -- Bears, Lions, Gorillas, Vultures, and Penguins, and sent them off to shop and cook hors d'oeuvres for 200 guests, using the key components of their respective animal's diet.