I was so tired during Judges' Table on this week's episode that I remembered we shot the show during LA's heat wave and pretty much shot it in real time. So other than a few hours to sleep and bathe, we had little time to do anything else. I woke up early to take the contestants and Chef Lunetta to the Farmers market and then we all woke up even earlier the next day to drive from downtown LA to Malibu to meet the surfers in the morning just after their workout.
The show has been a very interesting experience for me and I love doing it, but sometimes because we're shooting at events where we can't control the time, what gets cut is sleep and rest. I can tell you that I do have great sympathy for the contestants because none of us is getting very much sleep. The farmer's market gave them a sumptuous selection of beautiful, fresh ingredients with which to meet their Quickfire Challenge.
The corn in Mia's salad was luscious and sweet tasting, but like the guest judge, I too felt that she should have incorporated the heirloom tomato into the salad rather than drown it in a creamy sauce. This, remember, was in the height of summer in California, where both these ingredients are at their peak. Also, while I wasn't neccessarily so impressed by Marcel calling his watermelon a "steak" as our guest chef was, I have to tell you that that watermelon was probably the juiciest, sweetest, most fragrant piece of watermelon I have ever put in my mouth. The cool, velvet crunching sensation it made as it collapsed in my mouth was sheer ambrosia. And given the heat in our Top Chef kitchen, it was a welcome respite to have a raw challenge again.
I was so tired and my eyes burned from being open too long, but the minute I got out of the production van, all my sleepy irritability was washed away by the gorgeous sight of the roaring Pacific Ocean. It felt great to be there, especially that early when dawn had yet to break, and the air still had a considerable chill to it. After being in hot kitchens, restaurants, and food fairs, that shore was a sight for sore eyes. The sand felt cool and firm, the breeze woke me up and the excitement of seeing all those huge waves perked me and the rest of the gang right up. We couldn't wait for the chefs to arrive and see what awaited them. I love breakfast and I was very curious to see what everyone would come up with. I thought it said a lot about all the contestants that they pitched in and gave Mike some eggs at the beach. That spurt of goodwill was started by Betty. But how can you lose or forget a main component of your dish when so much is on the line? Mike seems to do better when the challenge to is make basic food. I have to say that Elia's dish was the best for me, hands down. It was delicious, sweet, savory, had the right proportions, and textures. It was warm, filling and satisfying, and felt like a guilty treat, not food that was good for you. It was really the best thing she's made thus far. Her mushroom soup from Thanksgiving was tasty, but unlike my co-judges, I didn't think it executed the "cutting edge" factor of the challenge at all. I did say so but that, like many things at Judges Table, didn't make it into the edit. But the three other judges thought it was good enough to win, and indeed it was a tasty mushroom soup.
I thought Marcel truly took the challenge and ran with with it. If he had poured the gravy on top of the roulade it would have cut down on the dryness, and if the proportion of his cranberry gelatin had been reduced, he probably would have won. All in all, in spite of the fatigue and long hours, this episode was one of my favorites, and as I sit here in cold, windy New York on a December night, I am longing for a bit of that sweltering summer heat.
For those who are interested to read more articles by Padma, please go to the press room on her website padmalakshmi.com, and click on articles by Padma Lakshmi.