OK, yacht episode. I wasn't around for the Quickfire because I was setting up for the yacht, but Shannon and I scoped out the market for the challenge. "Aisle style" is always fun and challenging. (I forgot who even won.) Some of you have suggested ramen noodle challenges and such. This is as close as it gets. Gas stations, vending machines...some will cry foul, but this was not all that bad. There was a stunning amount of great, everyday foods to work with, and I think it was Dale who got lucky by finding some random ingredient in his aisle (again, I have no episode to reference right now as I am on a plane back from Mexico. Talladega Nights is on -- Ha!).
By the way, guest judge Chef Michael Schwartz was great to work with. If you are ever in Miami, head to his restaurant, Michael's Genuine, for a great meal.
Anyway, production had looked at several yachts before deciding on one. The person I felt most sorry for was CJ. Galley kitchens are small, and chefs who crank it out on boats are decidedly miracle workers. The challenge itself was one of the easiest yet. Work together as a team and also as seven individuals to put forth a glamorous and sophisticated cocktail and hors d'oeuvre party for 60 plus guests. They had plenty of time, and I think even the budget, though small, was enough so they could create an impressive menu. I am constantly making hors d'oeuvre menus at The French Culinary Institute, so I felt comfortable with the amount of money we gave them.
We stocked the boat with an ample amount of equipment, tools, display platters, and small serving pieces. The yacht had really great appliances on board, including a braiser, a four-burner French top range, a double basket deep fryer, two Aalto-Shams, a convection oven, and a steam oven. Again, their challenge was budget and space.
We had a limited amount of crew on the boat once it sailed, though Shannon and our Culinary PA, Bianca, managed to make it on board as extras, which meant they got to party with the judges, guests, and Pure girls. No cocktails for me, though I put them to work on clean up once we docked. During the party I managed to taste all of the hors d'oeuvres. I cannot remember all of them, but I distinctly recall the smoked salmon on cucumber as very standard and unremarkable (maybe it was Hung's?). Even though Howie was eliminated, I found the fact that his mushroom tart and asparagus in puff pastry were hot and flaky as very appealing. I think Dale had created something nice like a little slider. I really did love Casey's beef tenderloin on a spoon. The flavors and textures were sophisticated and subtle, and the presentation was fitting for the sunset party.
I missed Judges' Table because I was busy setting up for the next challenge. I'm not sure how much I can reveal, as I don't know what has aired up until now. So whatever the reasons Howie was eliminated (I think I remember something about him volunteering to go home, I could be wrong), I have found him to be one of the more interesting and passionate players in this game. He's a got a great heart and a whole lot of talent. He may or may not need to work on his people skills, but I think his attitude was that of one who came in to win a competition. What I do like about this cast is the fact that they all understand they will continue to be successful long after Top Chef is over. I've had the opportunity to talk to Howie after the competition and he's not only really nice, but, above all, calls a spade a spade, and has no regrets.