The Quickfire challenge, while not granting immunity, was intended to be taken into consideration during judging of the Elimination Challenge. Sadly, it didn't happen that way.
The chefs were driven to Napa Valley to cook for some of the region's most important chefs and one outstanding vintner - John Shafer, father of my good friend, Doug Shafer. They were instructed to prepare a dish that highlighted black truffles and the amazing 2001 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet - a wine whose extraordinary flavors and limited allocation made it an instant collector's item when it first hit the market.
Each competitor received $250 for ingredients (a good sum, considering the wine and truffles were not part of the budget) and use of Copia's Julia Child kitchen - a state of the art facility named after one of my culinary heroes. Outside of Copia's kitchen is a magnificent herb and vegetable garden - itself a source of inspiration. Harold, Tiffani, Lee Anne and Dave wasted no time getting out there to pick ingredients which I was happy to see (some of my best cooking has been inspired by walking through gardens) and Harold, despite feeling lousy, was practically buoyant at the idea of cooking for chefs - no kids, socialites or junk food in sight.
A quick word about black truffles, fungal cousins of the wild mushroom, but a breed unto themselves; Black truffles are prized for their earthy, funky aroma and nutty flavor. They hail primarily from the southwest of France, and were traditionally sniffed out by pigs (lately harvesters have switched to dogs, since the pigs also liked to eat them.) The truffle's short growing season and arbitrary growth pattern makes it a highly prized ingredient that can run well over a thousand dollars a pound. Every chef I know loves to work with truffles. I love to shave them over simply prepared risotto or pasta, spoon black truffle- vinaigrette over rare steak, or store a truffle overnight in an airtight container with eggs for a New Years' breakfast with my family. The trick is not to overdo the dish or mask the aroma - let the truffle be the star of the show.
I stopped by the chef's house the night before we left for Napa and did my best to convey this without coming right out and saying it. I had actually shopped that day for ingredients with the plan of surprising the four of them with a home-cooked meal, but production nixed the idea at the eleventh hour; they felt doing so may have encouraged the chefs to jump in and help, possibly biasing my judgment the following day. Instead, we spent the evening chatting over a bottle of wine which gave me a chance to really appreciate each of these talented people.