Trust The Gorton's Fisherman?
Ted Allen on the downfall of frozen foods.
This, friends, is what I would call a Chef's Episode. The camaraderie of the Grrrl-Power trio. Tom commanding the kitchen ("You're killing me out here, Richard!")! No microwave rice, no catering, no teams. And a Quickfire that tested a fundamental and exceedingly difficult skill. It's not every day you see fear on Richard Blais's face.
Side note: Wouldn't it have been fun to watch Hung attack those rib-eyes?
But, of course, the story tonight was about a chef making an enormous and inexplicable mistake. A mistake involving very cold shellfish. Oh, Spike. You had this challenge in the palm of your hand -- or so it seemed. Your colleagues are gonna be breaking your balls about this for a long time. So I'll just do it once.
It was great to see Rick Tramanto grace the show. His soft-spoken demeanor belies his culinary reputation; his steakhouse, while excellent, is not even the brightest light in his portfolio. He and his former wife Gale Gand, who you saw a few episodes back, are national figures in fine dining. They made their haute-cuisine bones at Trio, a storied, five-star, avant-garde restaurant they created with Henry Adaniya, in the Chicago suburb of Evanston (a restaurant that would subsequently give the world Shawn McClain and Grant Achatz). They then went on to open Tru, just off Michigan Avenue, a temple of shimmering white curtains and wildly experimental cooking and presentation. I once had a tuna tartare there in a martini glass nestled in a fishbowl that contained a live goldfish. (He looked scared.)
So an issue that comes to my mind, and one that Spike unwisely and impertinently (if fairly) raised at Judges' Table, is this: Why *were* there giant bags of frozen scallops in Rick's walk-in? Perhaps he uses them in some kind if mousse, or other dish where the superior sweetness and texture of fresh shellfish isn't required?
I'm not going to ask Rick that question -- he clearly didn't like it. Besides, it's irrelevant. Sure, scallops freeze fairly well, as far as frozen food goes. But Spike's choice was fatal for at least three reasons. One, you can't smell frozen food; it is impossible to establish that those scallops were even fresh before they were chilled into a solid rock. Two, once they're frozen into aforementioned boulder, it is impossible to evaluate their shape, size, or condition until they're thawed -- which is to say, until it's too late. And most important, the matter of principle: Your dish can only be as good as your ingredients. In a high-stakes culinary competition, to choose anything but the freshest, perkiest goods the pantry had to offer was an error in judgment that deeply and truly boggles. Aside from that, Spike revealed a lack of confidence and creativity in hoping he could coast on the Tomahawk steak that won him the Quickfire.
In fairness to our scruffy, dastardly friend: He did do a helluva job breaking down that beef. Chef Tramonto calling his work "amazing" has to be a nice feather in the fedora.
And so, the legions of Lisa fans out there get to watch her man the stoves in Puerto Rico -- I can hear the teeth gnashing from here. (By the way, folks, remember that you're only seeing one side of her -- and it's a side that has been carefully culled by editors of a show that likes having a villain.)
I have to say, I appreciate the bold idea of her peanut-butter mashed potato. Maybe you'll like her better with her spiky new haircut? After this episode, I need an adult beverage. And you?
Join me for jalapeno-infused grapefruit margaritas -- easy recipe included -- at my other blog, on www.tedallen.net.