The first week is always the most difficult to write about because I'm just trying to remember names and put them with faces. I long for the competition to get smaller and to really get to know the contestants. What was obvious this season is how eclectic and diverse this cast is. And where better to showcase this ensemble than in the melting pot of the world, New York City. Eugene is from Hawaii, Radhika from India, Stefan from Germany by way of Finland and of course Fabio from Italy. Oh yeah, and let's not forget Daniel from Long Island or, as I like to call it, Strong Island.
On to the first Quickfire. This was particularly daunting because the loser was going home. As if it wasn't bad enough being sent home the first week, now they shake it up and send you home within the first ten minutes. Ouch. The apple challenge was one of those mundane tasks that you just know is brutal when under pressure. I don't think I'd be last, but I definitely would be struggling to peel 15 apples with no peeler. Furthermore, how embarrassing to lose on peeling apples.
Stefan, the peeling machine nails this one and gains immunity. We like him. He has a self-assured potential arrogance but he doesn't come close to some of the past seasons' egos. The second part of this challenge is the brunoise challenge. Now I'm sweating. I'm a chef, but my knife skills certainly aren't perfect. This was a nail-biter and I was panicking that someone would cut themselves during this speedy process. The bloody apples in the peeling challenge were enough. Our boy from Strong Island nailed this one by racing through the apples like a machine.
For the third part of this challenge, Leah, Radhika, Lauren and Patrick needed to create dishes to secure their spots. Lauren's was a cool apple salad with spinach, bacon and orange Supremes in a balsamic vinaigrette. Patrick showed up with what I thought was a boring and uninspired apple slaw. Yawn. Leah's seared scallops with an apple slaw was creative and interesting. It was something I would never think of, yet it sounded delicious. Radhika went with a pork dish playing on the classic pairing of pork and apples. Leah was deemed safe. Lauren, who had been talking a big game the whole way, was asked to leave. This made me sad because her husband was in Iraq. As if life isn't difficult enough for her. She and Patrick had just reconnected since culinary school and now they were parting again.
Now the elimination challenge. Each team chose a different neighborhood and had to cook something inspired by that neighborhood.
I need to comment on the emulsion debate between Daniel and Stefan. Stefan was right in that classic vinaigrette is not an emulsion, however a mustard vinaigrette is an emulsion because mustard is the emulsifier.
Stefan and Ariane prepared Middle Eastern food, because they had chosen Long Island City cuisine. This was an unfair competition since he is the one in this competition to beat. His lamb skewers with caramelized onions looked delicious, and even his lemony hummus description was mouth watering. He won by a landslide since she couldn't even cook Farro. Incidentally, this is such an easy grain to cook.
Patrick lost to Daniel since his Asian salmon dish was "uninspired" and frankly a snooze, not to mention his gummy noodles. Daniel's Chinese Chicken salad dish looked like a hot Cheesecake Factory mess, but at least it had Asian flavor. Carla, who seems a little kooky with her "spirit guidance," went up against Hosea and lost. They prepared Russian food and his trio of seafood was beautiful, and he looks like he has some serious talent. The pale, tall, bald guys have talent. Meanwhile, Carla made a fish cake on top of a potato latke, which in my book is also a cake. A cake on top of a cake?
In the Greek Astoria competition, Jamie beat Richard although her deconstructed salad looked a little boring. His lamb sliders looked delicious, but overcooking meat is an unforgivable sin. Jamie's the token "local, seasonal" chef with all of the lingo. She made it clear that she isn't very chatty in the kitchen when Richard tried to talk her up. I like him. He's fun and funny.
Jeff was the sleeper hit because I was positive he would lose to Fabio. The Italians know how to cook, Fabio was talking some game, and when Jeff was running around like a loon and didn't even finish, he seemed doomed to lose. Somehow, the flavors of his Latin dish a la Ozone Park were good enough to beat Fabio's underseasoned dish, regardless of it being a partially finished, thrown together plate. Jeff is cute and must be talented. He won't make that mistake twice.
Radhika doesn't seem like a fierce competitor since her only goal was to beat her opponent Jill. Radhika was in the bottom for the Quickfire. Unfortunately, Radhika's fish and rice were mushy and Jean Georges was underwhelmed.
Leah, the New Yorker who is familiar with Little Italy, prepared a beautiful seared snapper over Farro risotto and topped with mushrooms. It looked delicious, as did Melissa's seared ribeye. However, the ribeye was underseasoned. These kids don't use enough salt. I'm a salt person, so this is a mistake that I can't forgive either. Eugene, who I already adore, beat Alex, whose dish of lamp chops with spicy ragout and basmati was actually nice. Padma, who is Indian, told Eugene that he hit it out of the park and made a masala classic dish "curds and rice." The former dishwasher who had never had Indian food is no joke and certainly more difficult than some of the other ethnicities. Well done. I'm rooting for him. Gotta love the underdog.
Now to the judges table. Stefan nailed it again and even with immunity. He's playing to win.
As for the bottom, Ariane, who relies on "books to look at" to experience ethnic food and Patrick who wants to "share his passion with the world" are left. I really thought that Patrick should go because he is slow and not excited or exciting. He seemed to lack passion, which is what food is all about. Personally, however, I liked him better than Ariane who seems whiny. She keeps talking about being shy and being in the background, and this competition is fierce. She needs to pull herself up from her bootstraps. I'm not sure she can go the distance.
And Patrick went home. It would have happened sooner or later. It's OK. He's young and he has his whole career ahead of him. Bye sweet Patrick. The rainbow is broken.