Gail Simmons

The judge breaks down each course.

on Feb 27, 2013

We started with Kristen’s liver mousse and Brooke’s crispy pig ear salad. The chicken liver mousse that Kristen made was technically faultless. The mousse felt silky and velvety, although it was quite a big scoop… the presentation of Kristen’s was the only thing that I felt was slightly strange. The mousse was underneath all the frisee, so when I went to look for it, I couldn’t find the mousse, I had to dig through the lettuce for it a bit. But the flavor of hazelnut and prunes and chicken liver to me was sublime. Rich, with that nutty-toastiness from the hazelnuts, and the sweetness that cut through the fat from the prunes, and then that bright, dressed frisee just gave it a bit of freshness and bit of crunch. It was delicious.

Brooke’s dish was equally appealing. That six-minute egg was the most perfect it could possibly be; it was just set. The yolk wasn’t too runny, but it was loose enough to still create a little bit of a sauce. The chicory was so well-seasoned and so bright, and the pigs' ears were a fun, smart  and tasty addition. Mine weren’t as burnt as other people’s, but Emeril’s and Tom’s were significantly burnt, to the point where you could not overlook it. My issue with that plate was that the candied kumquat and apricot jam were with the egg, and the crispy pig ear and chicory were together in the salad, so the egg was totally separate from the pig ear on the plate. They just weren’t talking to each other as much as I wanted them to; they looked like two separately plated dishes. They ate well, so it’s not that it was wrong to separate them, but I didn’t know why she needed to do that. Why not place the egg right on top of the pig ears; so that when you cut through it, it dripped into the salad? Isn’t that’s what she wanted you to do anyway? I think when I asked her, she might have said it was do-it-yourself a little, but I don’t want it to be left up to me, I want it to be a fully-composed thought, orchestrated and controlled by the chef who made it. I was looking for a little more of a point of view. That’s why, for me, Kristen took the first course.

Second dish… both were incredible. But for me, Brooke absolutely won the scallop course. The scallops they were given were so pristine and fresh, they actually came in their shells, so part of the task was opening, cleaning, and preparing them, before you even could cook them, which was an enormous task, and both chefs did very, very well. But it did add a lot to the use of their time and their sous-chefs. The dishes were both brilliant, and I would be right at home in any of the finest restaurants in the country, I mean that truly. Kristen served hers raw, just slightly cured, with citrus and lavender, and she made a Meyer lemon and apple garnish. The contrast of its tartness with the sweetness of the scallop was really outstanding. Her preparation showcased the raw scallop’s beautiful texture. I really appreciated that she held back, and didn’t feel like she wasn’t doing enough by keeping it raw and clean. She presented us with flavors that were so fresh, bright and clean. For me though, there was something about Brooke's dish that proved why she is such an excellent chef. In the same way that she impressed us when she combined squid and sausage in the Anna Faris and Chris Pratt episode, or mussels and frogs legs on the ship -- Brooke can take very disparate ingredients and work with them in such a way that you can’t believe you’ve never eaten them in that combination before. That to me is just exceptional, and this scallop dish was another example of it. The scallop and salt-cod were a great combination. But then she added speck a healthy dose of mustard seed. Somehow they didn’t overpower anything, but instead balanced it all out.  The mustard gave her dish a tang which really elevated the richness of the salt-cod and contrasted with the sweetness of the scallop, and then she added romanesco – a cauliflower hybrid, that was just slightly charred, and served in perfect bites. Everything else on her dish was very soft in texture, and very muted in color, but the romanesco brought it all together. It was an unusual dish and the flavors really worked! it inspired me, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen or tasted before. Whereas I couldn’t help but feel with Kristen’s dish that, although beautiful, I’ve eaten it in some combination or variation before.