Marcel was quick to blame Michael for the fat in the deep fryer being too cool to cook onion rings. I give him credit for leaving them off the plate -- this showed confidence in his other components. His pork chop with mushroom sauce was good, if not memorable, but I would have liked to see Marcel shelve his natural petulance and roll with the problem he'd been handed. Kitchen equipment breaks down occasionally, and older equipment isn't always up to speed. It's a chef's job to adapt. Marcel's inability to let it go, coupled with his need to provoke his peers, could end up a real liability for him down the line. Cliff also went for comfort food, with a delicious mac n' cheese (about as comforting as comfort food gets) and fish sticks -- both items that immediately convey childhood. My only quibble (and it was a small one) is that I think the mac n' cheese would have been better baked to get that nice, crispy edge. But, overall, the dish was good and well prepared. Ilan's childhood memories were of corn in the summertime, and since it was in season, he turned it into a delicious side dish, adding layers of smoky, salty flavor with bacon.
Frank's dish of "mushrooms" on a hollowed bread stem, stuffed with mushroom duxelle, greens, and oven-roasted tomatoes, was a head-scratcher. I could see he was aiming for a whimsical toadstool tableau straight out of Alice in Wonderland. The problem was, Frank lacked the finesse to pull it off. Very few chefs have the true technical precision to make whimsy like that work and taste delicious. (My friend Thomas Keller comes to mind, with dishes like his Oysters and Pearls -- a savory pearl tapioca custard garnished with oysters and caviar.) Unfortunately, Frank's dish was a clunker. Now here's a bit of insider, only-in-the-blog info: The day of the Elimination Challenge, L.A. was basting in its own juices at a temperature of about 110 degrees and the fire station lacked air-conditioning. We were sweltering. Sam's decision to serve a summer fruit salad was a stroke of genius. Not only did he display impeccable knife skills and a confident use of fresh herbs, he showed true chef instincts by responding to his diner's environment. The dish had great flavor and was completely refreshing -- which, on a day like that, was its own form of comfort. Emily's surf & turf was, quite simply, inedible. Somehow she had managed to oversalt the dish to such an extent that we could barely choke down a bite. One of the first things every neophyte chef learns is the necessity of tasting their food as they go (using a clean spoon, NOT a finger). Emily insisted that she had tasted her dish, but either she forgot and didn't, or her taste buds are calibrated very differently than the rest of us. Elia's fish tacos with guacamole spoke of her Mexican childhood. They were tasty, and fun to eat. The guacamole did a good job of offsetting the heat of the salsa in the tacos.