That said, giving Stephen immunity did make for an interesting situation in our Elimination Challenge, which had our chefs prepare a multi-course dinner party in honor of Ted's upcoming book release. Tiffani wisely suggested that Stephen take responsibility for dessert because all of the chefs feel weakest in pastry, and he had the least to lose. I guess my presence in the kitchen was the inspiration Stephen needed to agree. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights, but he went ahead with it and acted like a team player. A bit of history: I met Ted Allen about four years ago at my own book party, so it was a thrill to help him with the debut of his own new book, The Food You Want to Eat. And despite my disagreement with his choice of Stephen in the Immunity Challenge, I'm a fan of him and his show. (OK...I've never watched his show. My wife made me write that.) But he was a fun and engaging guy, and it was great to have him on the panel with us.
But let's get back to the show's theme - pressure. I've been asked to prepare many dinners for guests' landmark events - marriage proposals, anniversaries, etc. It's flattering, but unnerving -- you aren't just making a meal...you're creating a memory. If anything goes wrong, the guest of honor will never just chalk it up to an 'off night.' Since professional chefs face that kind of pressure daily, we wanted our chefs to experience it for themselves. All the chefs were responsible for the ingredients of 'their' dish, and you could see their excitement at finally getting a chance to shine in their area of strength - even Stephen, who committed fully to his chocolate course.
Of course, the knife block changed all that.
When the chefs learned they would be preparing someone else's dish, you could feel the hostility and dismay coming off them in waves. I understood why - they had invested so much of themselves in the planning of their dishes. But I also feel that this was a real opportunity to assess the caliber of our players - talented chefs grow more creative in the face of adversity, not less. And while a real chef may not be happy about being thrown a curveball, they sure as hell can't have a meltdown because an entire kitchen is looking to them to figure it out.
Enter Miguel. He was reassigned Lee Anne's cheese course of fourme d'ambert, a creamy, dense cow's milk blue cheese, with a bright counterpoint of beet sorbet. In the bustle of his station, he accidentally dumped salt in the beet puree instead of sugar. Oops. First of all, this mistake tells me he must have picked up a cup of salt and dumped it into the saucepan, rather than using his hands. To an experienced cook, the difference between the feel of salt and the feel of sugar is palpable. Everyone has grabbed salt accidentally for sugar at one point or another, but if you're using all your senses, including touch, it's easy to stop yourself in time. (And before people start demanding I bring back Ken - it is appropriate, essential even, to use your hands during the cooking process. But hand to mouth and back again - not ok.) Faced with this mishap, Miguel started to unravel. He lacked the ability to regroup and assess.