Keep Rockin' That Lobster!
Ted Allen looks back on judging seafood.
In Maine, where the finest lobster in the world is found, messing with somebody else's lobster traps at sea entitles the owner of those traps to, um, shoot you. Legally. It's kind of like rustling cattle out west -- it is distinctly frowned upon. We've been going to Maine every summer for years, and we love the place. This past fourth of July, we went Down East again, hooking up with a gang of friends (Yo, Sean, Amy, Owen, and Fergus!) in a shingled beach cottage straight out of the LL Bean catalog. We enjoyed succulent orange bugs and seawater so cold it freezes your ankles solid. Brrrrr! Delightful. But this year -- while, of course, we paid for our lobster fair and square -- I steered clear of lobstermen.
That's because, as so many of you noted on the boards in recent days, in the last episode of TC, we at the Judges Table mistakenly repeated the myth that lobster is high in cholesterol. It is not. In fact, lobster meat has slightly LESS cholesterol than a skinless chicken breast. All apologies to America's hardworking lobstermen (and lobsterwomen), and for any confusion we may have caused those seeking to reduce cholesterol in their diet. (Note: Lobster dipped in butter IS high in cholesterol, natch). The subject came up, you'll recall, in the elimination challenge where the contestants were asked to reinterpret American comfort-food dishes in a healthier way -- specifically with lower cholesterol -- and serve those dishes to members of the fabulous Miami Elks Club.
Brian, who, at the time, also believed the myth that lobster was high in cholesterol, nonetheless chose to use it in his dish. We judges thought this was a bizarre decision, and we called him on it. Fortunately, this did not in any way affect the outcome -- Brian's dish was tasty, but not exceptional enough to have won the challenge. And I got out of Maine without being shot.
This incident raises a great point: Chefs really need to know their ingredients. What if a chef was challenged to serve dairy-free food to someone with serious food allergies, and mistakenly used a milk ingredient? Props also to our friends in the blogosphere for calling me on the Scotch Bonnet-slash-habanero issue in my last post (I can't slip anything past you guys)! You're right: technically they are not the same pepper, although they are from the same family and look similar. I do stand by my assertion that even a beginning cook should know that both peppers are really, really hot.
On to tonight's episode: My hat is off to the contestants for their performance in the Bombay Sapphire quickfire challenge! I love gin, whether Bombay, Tanquerey, Hendricks, or Plymouth, but as Hung noted, it is extremely difficult to pair food with any spirit, gin in particular.
In the elimination challenge, Joey really melted down in the kitchen. Curious strategy, revealing that much nervousness in front of your competitors; I was surprised. But here, again, the TC editors were throwing us a red herring, trying to keep us guessing about who would get eliminated! Dastardly editors! Overall, the dinner at Barton G's with the Chaine des Rotisseurs Dining Society was outstanding.
Brian, Lia, and Hung clearly worked together well as a team and as individuals, producing a trio of shrimp that everybody at the table found elegant, harmonious, and delicious. Brian's was my favorite. Clean, bright, and light. While Lia and Hung's dishes made for a pitch- perfect progression of flavor from delicate to lush. It was fun to see Lia's delight at winning the challenge. She was just beaming. It must be really cool to have Tom Collichio say he loves your food! Things were less harmonious with Howie, Joey, and Casey in tuna-land. Tuna tartare is not exactly cutting-edge, as Dale correctly pointed out, but it is something I really enjoy when it's executed well. But Casey's came up short.
The beef course was pretty good, although Sara N.'s butter-braised beef tenderloin with white truffle sauce, little carrot coins, and asparagus left some diners a bit bored. One Chaine member remarked that it was like something you'd get at Denny's. That's the kind of snarky remark that I find unnecessary in thoughtful, respectful food criticism, but that's just me. And then things really went south with the pineapple trio. Dale admitted that his dish was, as he put it, "a total disaster." Camille's pineapple upside down cake was unattractive and hard as a hockey puck (and why on earth would you use corn meal to make it? How, even?) Sara's panna cotta-turned semifreddo didn't work. But, ultimately, it was Camille who took the fall.
Now, the Chaine des Rotisseurs were interesting people with good palates, and it was a pleasure to munch with them. But, as a veteran of a certain Bravo show that occasionally dabbles in matters of fashion, I have to pose a question about their ceremonial drag: Should people wear sashes, medals, chains and ribbons to their dinner functions? If you're Jacques Chirac (or Jacques Papin): yes. If you're a 35-year-old Miami attorney? Robo-dork! Finally, a wet kiss to those TC editors for quoting me saying, "Dale, you fell on a really big sword," and then having Dale respond about how he's "versatile" and has the "balls" to try something new. Am I reading too much into this, or are you guys being cute with The Gays?