I just returned from my belated and much anticipated honeymoon and am so happy to be back in time for the airing of this very special episode. Thanks so much to those who sent good wishes to my blog while I was gone. I really enjoyed reading all your kind messages and am so appreciative of your enthusiastic encouragement!
At first I was a little reluctant at the thought of having my shower, a truly personal celebration, on national television. But after giving it some thought, and knowing my wedding would be completely private and focused on just my soon-to-be husband and me, I realized this would be a great way of documenting such an important event in my life. Besides, I knew my girlfriends would love it. They have all been incredibly supportive of the show and this was the perfect way to give some of them a taste of just how fun and exciting working on Top Chef can be! Once the party began, I was so glad I had agreed to do it. We shot the episode in early August, just weeks before my actual wedding, and despite the few culinary disappointments you witnessed, it was in fact a really poignant evening and one I will remember for years to come. As you can imagine, getting so many of my girlfriends together in one room is not something that happens very often. We ate, drank, and laughed for hours and had the most wonderful time. Although marriage is of course about two people sharing the rest of their lives together, this shower enforced for me the importance of having the rock-solid foundation of close friends and family in starting such an extraordinary new adventure. OK, enough of the sappy stuff...let's get to the food.
I have a feeling many viewers will complain that this episode's Judges' Table was extremely harsh and critical. In watching the final cuts, I have to agree. But as Tom mentioned, this was not just anyone's party. We were not serving strangers at an event we would otherwise not attend. The diners here were not only my closest friends, but many were colleagues, personal mentors, and bosses, several of whom not only have expert palates, but are people Tom, Padma, and I admire. Selecting a winning and a losing dish from the evening's four courses was actually quite straightforward. Everyone at the table agreed that the "Something New" Team had made a number of serious errors, as if the dish had been created not by chefs, but by a group of high schoolers as a practical joke. Their new take on sushi was all over the map and we were given no direction on how to navigate it. There were so many disjointed components on that plate, it was obvious that questionable decisions had been made by each of the chefs who conceived it: Eugene's overcooked rice and cold tempura, Carla's ill-fated salad, Danny's renegade mushrooms, tasteless beef, oddly-paired peach barbecue sauce, and of course the yuzu sorbet, which we were specifically told to eat at the end of our meal, but which had completely melted by the time we attempted to do so. Choosing who would go home from this team was our initial concern. As soon as we started speaking with the team, we realized how little communication had occurred among them. We also discovered that Danny had no insight into the mistakes he had made. As much as I am all for people defending their food, Danny's inability to see how poorly executed their dish was made it clear that he would be leaving.
The "Something Old" Team's Heirloom Tomato Trio was simple, smart, and refreshing. I remember thinking that parts of it could have used more salt, specifically Stefan's terrine, but on the whole the trio rose to the challenge and succeeded as one cohesive vision. I definitely appreciated the thought behind the "Something Blue" Team's concept and am actually quite thankful they did not try to create a dish made up of blue-colored foods. There was nothing unpleasant about their Blue Corn Encrusted Chilean Sea Bass. It was cooked well enough and in fact many of my guests enjoyed it. The reason it was ranked at the bottom was only that, comparatively, two of the dishes were stronger and it was our task to rank them. The sea bass is not as interesting a dish and, although it tasted just fine, was void of much texture or color. Part of creating good food is giving your diners a complete sensory experience -all aspects, from taste to sight to mouth-feel (touch), must be taken into consideration. On the other hand, the "Something Borrowed" Team served a dish that was absolutely delicious. The flavors were creative and well-balanced, the textures were beautifully varied and each element was flawlessly cooked. The dish surprised us all - a bold ray of light in an otherwise lackluster meal. It was unanimous among both judges and guests that this was the winning dish of the night. As to whom we chose as the specific winner, although Jamie may have spearheaded the effort, as judges we only see the end result, and the star of that plate was without doubt Arian's Indian Spiced Lamb.
I will not appear on the next several episodes, as I took a break from taping after that fabulous evening to finish planning my wedding and finally get married (which by the way was pretty special too!). I promise that you will be in good hands and I will be back for the finale. In the meantime, I will try to answer some of your questions on this blog and promise that lots more good food and good drama lie ahead. Oh, one more update: so far married life is fantastic. I am one very lucky girl indeed!