Me: "What do you like about cooking?"
Emmanuel (age 10): "Eating!" I got a real chuckle out of that.
When you boil it down, I guess the love of eating is what got all of us cooking in the first place!
I loved this week's show. I loved shooting it, and I loved watching it. Having kids in the kitchen brought out a warm, fun side of our chefs we don't often get to see and did what kids do to any situation -- they brightened it.
And while this week's Elimination Challenge may have seemed Draconian -- $10 to feed a family of four? And cooking healthily to boot? -- here are a couple facts to help put that in perspective:
•28 million Americans (almost 10% of the population) will rely on food stamps as a primary source of nutrition this year.
•A typical food stamp allotment in this country is $21 a person a week, which breaks down roughly to $1 per meal, or $4 per meal for a family of four.
Suddenly that $10 doesn't seem so bad, does it?
Especially when you consider that our chefs were driven to Whole Foods, a purveyor of high-quality ingredients, to do their shopping. The reality is that many mid- and low-income families live far from any place to buy healthy high-quality produce at affordable prices. Here in New York City, hundreds of thousands of residents live in neighborhoods with no supermarket, no green grocer, and no farmers' market. They are often forced to make do with what they can get at the corner grocery -- largely canned and boxed goods -- or fast food.This is especially upsetting once you learn that cooking from real ingredients like beans, whole grains, pasta, and protein sources like chicken, turkey, pork, and eggs costs a fraction of what it costs to buy prepared or frozen food. And with a bit of know-how, it can be done in the short time available to busy, working people.
Common Threads -- the organization that supplied us with kids -- understands this. Their mission is to use cooking to teach kids from some of Chicago's most underserved neighborhoods nutrition, well-being and cultural diversity. It feels good to know that this group of kids will be well equipped to feed their own hungry families good, healthy food one day, without breaking the bank.
I was glad to see that our chefs kept their grumbling to a minimum. It helped that they had the greatest group of sous-chefs in the history of this show.
By and large they did a good job with a few exceptions. Stephanie's dish was overly busy and featured a bizarre flavor combination -- peanut butter, tomato, and lemon juice. Just plain didn't work. Plus, the couscous was overcooked. That said, she did manage to introduce a nice variety of vegetables into her dish.
Mark's dish was way too sweet, and failed to live up to the parameters of the challenge. While sweet potatoes and squash are high in vitamins, he neutralized this by making a high-fat, coconut-based curry, and limiting himself to starchy vegetables.The edamame on Lisa's dish -- usually a kid favorite, and a good source of protein -- were undercooked, and the black beans were bland. I didn't mind that her beans came from a can -- she's correct that canned beans are a common household staple. But she should have tasted them and seasoned them according to her own palate. She may have intended to keep the beans under-seasoned as a foil to her roast chicken, but I don't agree with the logic that a flavorful component of a dish demands a bland counterpart. In fact, I actually think the contrast makes the plain part of the dish even blander.
In retrospect, I think the episode was cut in a way that made it seem we took the greatest issue with Stephanie's dish when in actuality, we debated long and hard about them all, and Mark's emerged as the least favorite of the bunch.
And speaking of Mark, I was genuinely surprised to hear that he thought I had some personal vendetta against him. He suggested that my evident dislike was the reason he found himself at the Judges' Table week after week. After all, it couldn't have been because of his food, right? For the record, and I'll say it again, while we're shooting, I never spend enough time with any of the chefs to form opinions about them personally. With my schedule I barely have time to keep track of the people I already know.
Sorry, Mark. It was the food.As for the top three chefs, I think they each did something great. Nikki made a healthy, tasty one-dish meal, which demonstrated an understanding of how a real family likes to eat (and clean up). Andrew served a Chicken Paillard that delighted everyone, including the adults. And Antonia put her own experience as a busy, working mother to use and created an appealing and healthful chicken and veggie stir-fry that had the kids licking the plate. I hope her daughter knows that she was the inspiration for that dish, and the reason her Mom knew just what to do.