In case you didn't pick up on my passionate ranting this episode, I love eggs! All kinds of eggs -- scrambled, poached, or over-easy; on toast, in soup or in baked goods; with pasta, salads or on their own -- as long as they are cooked well (by this I do not mean over-cooked, brown or rubbery -- yuck!). I truly believe an egg is the most versatile and nutritious ingredient in existence. High in protein, vitamins and minerals, with only about 5g of fat, each round, delicate piece of fresh perfection is packed with wholesome goodness.
Yes, eggs contain dietary cholesterol ... but unless you have existing high blood cholesterol, eating up to one egg a day can be very good for you. Personally, I eat as many as I can. My enthusiasm for well-cooked eggs even landed me the job as the F&W permanent Judge on Top Chef. I will get to
that story later....
Now, knowing my obsession for eggs, you can imagine how excited I was for this Elimination Challenge, even if it required us to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3am in order to be in Malibu for breakfast with Chef Raphael Lunetta and his surfing buddies. As soon as we arrived on that pristine stretch of California sand, we knew our exhaustion would be well worth all the sleep we had missed.
It clearly threw the remaining nine contestants for a loop when they realized they would be cooking over open flames on the beach, but in my opinion these difficult circumstances resulted in some of the most delicious food served thus far in the competition. It was honest, simple, nourishing, and best of all, every single chef cooked eggs! Usually this would count as unoriginal to the judges, but in the context of cooking a morning meal for hungry athletes it could not have been more appropriate.
The top dishes actually surprised me. I am usually not a fan of mixing salty and sweet flavors together for the first meal of the day. My tastes almost always lean towards the savory side and I often find syrupy breakfast food far too sweet. That being said, I absolutely loved Elia's Organic Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner Waffle with Ham, Cheese and Fried Eggs. It totally hit the spot for the surfers too. It was just the right size and incorporated every component you could possibly crave in the morning, but was healthful, lean and easy to eat on the go (brownie points for featuring organic ingredients). I believe she was truly thrilled to win!
Mia's Crab Cake Benedict with Mango Cream Sauce was extremely creative and full of flavor. Betty's Black Forest ham bundle was outstanding as well. We all loved how it looked and tasted -- well presented, perfectly cooked and convenient to eat outdoors. I will add that it was also fabulous to see a full line up of ladies as our top three in a challenge.
As elated as I was for our winners, I was equally disappointed in our bottom three chefs, Cliff, Sam and Frank. Their food was hardly inedible, but compared to the level of skill and thoughtfulness that went into the other chefs' dishes, these appeared disjointed and hastily thrown together. We know they are strong competitors, but for some reason cooking on the beach, without the comforts of a regular kitchen, totally disoriented them. Cooking eggs well is not an easy task to begin with, let alone under these conditions. But more importantly, each of them showed weakness when forced to re-think his strategy. Frank was especially frazzled when he realized he could not make the quiche he had planned, but that does excuse his seriously overcooked scramble. Although Frank is a talented, charismatic cook, he second-guessed his abilities when it mattered the most, and it cost him the game.
For those of you who care to read on...my egg anecdote is this: At my very first screen test for the show, Dave Serwatka, one of Bravo's resident programming gurus, asked me to tell him about a recent negative restaurant experience. I recounted how a few months before I had ordered an omelet at a neighborhood diner and had to send it back since it was terribly over cooked. When they brought it to me for the second time, and this time it was basically raw and equally inedible, I had an irrational moment of frustration and proceeded to break out in tears. Now let me assure you that I do not usually cry over bad food. It was clearly one of those mornings when I had woken up on the wrong side of the bed! Either way, it made for a dramatic tale at the interview.
Only after I started filming the first season of Top Chef did Dave let me know that it was in fact because of my deep-rooted passion for perfect eggs that they knew I was right for the job. Moral of the story: At times, perhaps crying over that spilled milk, so to speak, can work in your favor. And the rest, as they say, is history.