Go Sunshine State! What a thrill to see Chef Norman Van Aken. He is one of the original kings of the self-dubbed Florida "Mango Gang" - a terrific group of local South Florida chefs that includes Allen Susser, Mark Militello, Pascal Oudin, Doug Rodriquez, Robin Haas and Jonathon Eismann. They're known for focusing on local, indigenous ingredients as well as the stellar seafood that our state has to offer. Eating at Norman's restaurant in Coral Gables is always a thrill - one of his signature dishes, yucca stuffed shrimp, is a must. One Monday night, Chuck & I were dining there (the only night we can get out of our restaurant), and Wolfgang Puck was filming a segment in Norman's kitchen. Afterward, both Wolfgang and Norman came to our table to chat. I was blown away!
Sadly, his Coral Gables location has now closed, and the only Norman's restaurant is in Orlando, which is a bit too far for our Monday night soiree! However, I hear that he is opening a new branch in Key West, which will be a return to his roots, as Norman spent part of his early career at the legendary Louie's Backyard restaurant there. Since we travel down to the Keys at least two or three times a year, we really look forward to his opening there.
Quickfire Challenge - Florida Sunshine
What a great challenge. As soon as I saw those beautiful blood oranges on that citrus table, I was craving a blood orange Mojito - tall, cool, and refreshing. What an amazing table of locally grown citrus. I got a little nervous when I began to see all of those salads - "Beware of the Salad Curse" LOL! Unfortunately, I couldn't taste these dishes through my TV screen, but my favorite was Lia's. I love citrus and crab, the flavors naturally balance beautifully. Sadly, there was a little shell in the mix - oops! It's funny: most local laws state that if you chip a tooth on a shell or any natural component of a dish, you are not entitled to compensation (So you can call off your lawyer Padma...HA!).
However, a stone or other foreign matter is a different story.
I must say that I am quite impressed with Tre's clean plating style - it is impeccable. And
Hung...OMG...he is taking no prisoners.
Elimination Challenge - Upscale BBQ
Sara, Sara, Sara. Gloves, Gloves, Gloves. Oh, those raging Scotch Bonnets. They look so cute, but ouch. You're lucky it was only your hands that were burning! Hey now, I was thinking eyes, lips...Come on people, get your minds out of the... Stay with me. I still have to talk about the sausage... the seafood sausage, that is! Great idea for a BBQ, and a great way to eat healthy. CJ: salt packing the pineapple is way cool. Now you've got me salt baking every fruit in sight...thanks!
This episode has really opened my eyes as to how difficult judging can be. I was just as shocked as the cheftestents when Sandee was sent home (You go girl. Your dish sounded sensational, even if perhaps you should have been more generous with the lobster). The fellow contestants are usually good barometers as to who should go home, since they have the opportunity to taste each other's food. It can be hard for the chefs, as there are so many contradictions (i.e. 'you played it too safe' or 'you are too far outside the box'). And this brings us back, once again, to the difference between greater sins and rules. The choice, to me, was between the boring drumstick or the dried pork, since both were a matter of execution.
However, this time the rules won out. In the judges' opinions, they felt Sandee didn't so much BBQ as re-heat her food on the grill, and she was sent packing. An all around difficult decision. What won out, however, was the simple, straightforward, and elegant. The aforementioned seafood sausages were a great idea all around, from execution to service. I also really loved the way Brian sold his dish. Because when it comes down to it, we are all sales people. Sara's dish looked a lot like Bulgogi - a refreshing Korean dish of marinated beef, grilled at the diner's table, and served with romaine wraps and dipping sauces. Very inspired and I really wish I could have sampled that. Micah's lamb looked succulent, and cooking it with the Greek cheese was a stroke of genius. Perfect to tame the gaminess of the lamb and add a contrasting texture.
Congrats, Brian, on a well deserved victory. I cannot wait to recreate that sausage next Wednesday during my morning gig on "Cada Dia" on Telemundo. You can tune in to watch me at 8:35am eastern time. Hope you get a chance to catch it. Also, check out this week's Miami Spice webisode for my tequila flambeed shrimp and corn recipe, which will go great with those BBQs many of you will be preparing for the 4th of July. Until next week...stay tuned!