Best Episode Ever
Tom Colicchio liked what he saw going on behind the scenes.
"Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it." -Julia Child
I’ll be honest: when I watch an episode the week before it airs in order to write this blog (which is when I first see the edited final product), I am usually multitasking. I was there the first time, so I know what happened; I’m watching the completed episode with one eye to see which footage was selected and how it was edited, to see how the story of that week’s Quickfire and Elimination Challenges was ultimately told. I also see backstory elements I didn’t know about at the time the footage was shot, but, to be honest, I don’t really care about any of that.
This week, however, I found myself actually stopping whatever else I was doing to give the episode my full attention. In my humble opinion, this week’s episode was one of our best ever. Our guest judge Roy Choi’s story about being at a low point in his life and watching Emeril on television and about how that moment turned Roy’s life around was riveting. Seeing the footage of Roy telling his story with Emeril seated right next to him and watching Emeril so clearly moved (which I couldn’t really see from where I was seated at the time it occurred) is not something I will forget anytime soon.
At this stage of my life and career, it does make me smile to hear Roy say that he came to his decision to be a chef “late in life,” but, of course, given that he’s only about 30 or so, I suppose that 25 was actually “late in life.” I guess it’s all relative.
The backstories about what prompted our chefs to become chefs were compelling as well. People who have that “aha” moment early in life are lucky in the sense that they’re on track to be successful sooner than others. It is settling to know at 15 what you want to do with your life, as I did. You can go after it single-mindedly at a time in your life when it’s possible to do that; nothing gets in your way. It makes the journey that much faster and cleaner and easier.Perhaps it’s because the chefs were asked to get personal, or perhaps it’s because there were only three chefs left standing, who had all been through a lot together, but this episode was utterly devoid of all of that stupid back-biting, finger-wagging, snarky stuff that has been known to go down between chefs at times.
Instead, this episode showed the human side of what we do. Our industry is more about this than about any dog-eat-dog stuff -- it’s really about the journey chefs go on and the self-exploration they do in their attempt to put themselves into their food and to create something worth all of the effort, because what chefs do is hard. They put in a lot of hours and engage in seemingly endless repetition. For a very long time, I was in restaurants on every holiday and during every family wedding, missing every life event. Things are certainly easier for me now, but even so, the profession is not nearly as glamorous as it’s made out to be. I felt Josh’s sacrifice, being in Alaska when he ached to be with his wife at the birth of their new baby daughter. I know his two competitors did, too, and while the three never forgot that they were still competing against each other, they were very supportive of one another throughout this challenge as well. I thought this week’s episode did a great job of showing this and of featuring what motivates chefs to enter the field and to stick with it despite its formidable challenges.
And I thought the episode did a good job of highlighting the dishes that epitomized the moments that these three chefs chose their paths. In the end, we were handed an obvious and easy decision: we had one dish that was cooked without mistakes (I know that Wolfgang said his quail was a bit overcooked, but mine wasn’t), one that was slightly overseasoned, and one that was outright cooked improperly.
I cannot for the life of me understand what prompted Josh to make that foie gras torchon. I was shocked then, being there in person, and I’m shocked now, watching the episode. A foie gras torchon takes time, plain and simple: the foie gras should be soaked in milk or cold water to draw out the remaining blood. It should then be marinated for a day, then shaped and then poached. After this, it needs at least another full day, but preferably a couple of days, to ripen. I consider making a foie gras torchon a five-day process. I can see bringing that time frame down to two full days (though you’ll be sacrificing depth of flavor), but not a few hours. Josh set out to do something that he himself declared from the get-go was impossible to do, so why did he undertake it? It’s inexplicable to me. Frankly, had he simply done a beautiful sautee of foie gras with the braised pineapple and that cornmeal, and had he seasoned it all nicely, he would have been in the finale right now, because Sheldon’s overseasoned broth would have been the worse mistake. But Josh’s attempted torchon-that-could-never-be clearly beats out a slightly salty broth for Worst Mistake.
Frankly, I’m relieved that Sheldon didn’t have to be sent home, because it seems in the episode as though Sheldon got screwed up by following my advice, and I’d hate for people to mistakenly think that I’d said something that led to a chef being sent home. In actuality, I advised Sheldon not to put his fish up too early, but that should have had no bearing on his broth. I didn’t say anything about when and how to make broth, and not allowing it to reduce to the point of getting too salty is covered in Cooking 101. Also, by the way, with 20 minutes to go, Sheldon still cooked his fish too early. Luckily, it came out fine -- no comparison between his errors and Josh’s.
As I said, our decision was very easy here. And I think we’re set up for a great finale. If you haven’t already tuned in to Last Chance Kitchen, do… The winner steps out of LCK and straight into the finale.
With that, we’re off to Los Angeles.