The Holiday Spirit
Gail Simmons is a fan of Martha Stewart and one-pot wonders. Who knew?
This Quickfire was an absolute pleasure to watch. First off, who doesn't love Martha's formidable and spot-on critiques? Second, my favorite way to cook is all in one pot. Not only does it make for easy cleanup, but it also provides a canvas for creating lots of variations on a basic recipe, especially in the form of hearty soups and cozy stews that are perfect for this time of year. My personal favorite is a take on simple chicken soup, fortified with barley, lots of veggies, grated parmesan, and a handful of coarsely chopped fresh tarragon or dill. My (now official) mother-in-law taught me to make it many years ago and in winter months I love cooking big pots to freeze and reheat on days when I am too busy to cook. Martha seemed to enjoy the majority of dishes she tasted and I was quite proud of our cheftestants for showing her how creative they can be.
The food served at this week's Elimination Challenge appeared to be a different story entirely. What a serious disappointment to watch chef after chef fail in each of their attempts to impress the judges at amfAR's annual Christmas fundraising gala. I loved the idea of using the Twelve Days of Christmas as inspiration for each different dish but, as in the past, I was dumbfounded by what some of the chefs chose to cook. Eugene's Five Golden Rings of poisson cru with pineapple, coconut milk, and Yukon gold potatoes is one such example. Without having the chance to taste it, I could have guessed the layers of sweet ingredients would completely overpower most fish, if not made with an extremely delicate hand. This is why the traditional Tahitian dish is made with a fish like tuna, which has enough richness to stand up to the flavors. And of course I love deviled eggs as much as anyone (perhaps even more than most), but I would never have made them for this type of occasion on a professional cooking show as it showed a lack of innovation. Lucky for Ariane and her Six Geese a-Laying she had immunity and could not be put on the chopping block. In fact, luck was on the side of all our chefs in that the judges spared all of them this week, after getting a very serious talking to from Tom. I am not completely surprised by his warning to the chefs. Although some of what we have eaten up to this point has been wonderful, many of the contestants seem to be skating by, doing the least possible to keep them in the game, instead of aiming to produce the best results each time. If I had been a diner in their restaurant when much of this was served, I would certainly not have returned. It must have been pretty bad for everyone at the Judges' Table to have such universally negative reactions and literally come to an impasse about who should go home. I cannot help but be thankful I was not there to taste what was served. On another note, were you as touched as I was at how swiftly the chefs banded together to help both Hosea and Radhika after discovering their ingredients had gone bad from a night sitting in an open fridge? I found it fascinating that both Hosea's Eleven Pipers Piping (Smoked Pork Loin with Chipotle Mashed Potatoes, Braised Cabbage and Apple Jus), as well as Radhika's Partridge in a Pear Tree (Braised Duck Leg on Toasted Brioche with Pear Chutney) were two of the four most successful dishes of the evening. Their descriptions certainly appealed to me the most. At least in name alone, all their ingredients sounded balanced and extremely appetizing. They also appeared to be perfectly seasonal and appropriate to where they were served. Perhaps there is something to be said for teamwork after all. It cannot be a coincidence that the two dishes which benefited from the most collaboration were also two of the best. Just do not get too warm and fuzzy at the thought of everyone getting along. We must all remember that the whole purpose of this show is of course a competition. I assure you, the holiday spirit of helping and giving will not last long. There is food to be cooked, dishes to be tasted and, most of all, titles to be won!