Hung is out to win, no question about it. And with the exception of Hung, the chefs seemed daunted by the 20-minute time limit. In truth, this condition hews closely to the demands of a real restaurant. Chefs must prepare each dish while their guests wait, and few diners are willing to go longer than twenty minutes or so without food. Appetizers, of course, eat up some of the waiting time, but most people polish off an app in minutes; back in the kitchen, the chef knows he is racing against time. I actually think the chefs were more nervous about performing in front of a real New York City line crew; these are the people who are in the trenches every day, fighting their way up the classic kitchen hierarchy through dogged hard work and sheer talent. It probably wasn't hard to figure out what the line cooks at Le Cirque thought of our reality-TV contestants; no doubt they viewed them as a bunch of amateurs looking for a shortcut to the big time (no one said cooks were easygoing).
Of all of the chefs, Sara, who has spent the last few years making cheese, seemed the most thrown by her environment, casting about nervously for saute pans, garbage, dishwashing station, etc. Given her unfamiliarity with this kind of kitchen, she would have done well to take a minute to locate everything first before plunging in. She should have known that the sea bass -- which would have taken about six minutes to cook without the potatoes -- needed at least ten to cook correctly with them. She alluded to her filets being thicker than the others (when would she have seen the others' ingredients? She went last.) And she tried to pawn her failure off on a lack of classic French training, but I think that's a crock (more on this later); nothing about this dish is particularly French. It required solid cooking skills, a clear head, and common sense. Casey did a good job, applying her usual meticulous attention and good instincts to the dish (and using the mandolin helped with her less-than-ideal knife skills). Although the episode showed Sirio appreciating her dish the most, I could see by looking at it, that she, (as well as Brian,) didn't get the potatoes wrapped fully around the fish (they should have trimmed the filets to fit the potato slices). A small detail, but one that separates a good dish from a great one -- I'm sure this was discussed but didn't make it into the final edit; Sirio Maccioni hasn't made his reputation by not sweating the small stuff. And Dale pulled off everything but the most basic step of all -- seasoning. Without salt and pepper, the most beautifully prepared dish is going to taste like garbage.