Of course, cooking is all about taste. At the end of the day, nothing else matters. Presentation is fun and technique is usually the means to an end. But flavor is most important. No serious chef will argue this. It is simple fact.
So the palate test, although it's taken many a shape in our Top Chef world, is the most anticipated by the contestants. And the most feared perhaps! Win this one and it means more than any other Quickfire. Bottom out and it hurts the most. There's no team to blame. No guest judge to disagree with. Nothing at all to deflect the embarrassment.
This particular version had an odd fusion of Name that Tune and March Madness. The tournament style was very entertaining, but as a chef I felt this group got off a lot easier than past seasons. The sauces they tasted were classics and should have been easily recognizable to any professional diner, no less a chef. A heady fish soup and two of the most flavorful sauces in the history of all food in green curry and mole?
First off, those tastes should have registered like when someone asks you to say the alphabet. These are recipes that chefs, once they experience for the first time, run right to the bookshelf to demystify. Then to the kitchen to make firsthand.
The first time I tasted green curry and mole I absolutely had to know what made it taste that way. There wasn't an option; it was a mission. It's the same drive that got me to start playing with liquid nitrogen, or experimenting with any and all food additives listed on processed foods now. A chef has to know something ... about everything. I found it mind-boggling, that some of the chefs just cashed out and let the challenger name three or four ingredients?
I think I'll make some mole tomorrow. A great way to use some of that turkey you may have plucked in the freezer BTW.
Hosea wins the taste test. Like I said, it's the only Quickfire that really matters. It was our season's palate test, where my good friend, Antonia Lofaso, emerged as a serious competitor. Will it be the same for Hosea? Only time tell, will we? (thats Yoda).
I got some serious flashbacks when the chefs broke into a mass production small team challenge. These are the worst challenges IMHO. The team isn't large enough to sway to a natural leader. The team may randomly not contain a leader. Or the team may have too many leaders and become split.
This was very evident tonight.
With three obvious leaders on the "old" team, they made a wise decision in presenting a dish where each individual chef would be responsible clearly for their effort. I didn't like Stefan's dismissal of attempting sorbet. Although, I agree it's technically difficult and a risk for a large plating. It's also that exact philosophy that makes caterers boring. The girls on team "borrowed" nailed it. Using lamb on Top Chef is like gobbling up a cherry in Pac Man. Go find a lamb dish that hasn't done well in this competition. It's bonus points right away. It's a chef's meat. Vadouvan spice makes another appearance in what looked like a perfect carrot puree. And the raita? I loved it. Sometimes I think about rubbing it on myself in the shower. This team showed tremendous composure, natural collaboration in the name of flavor, and produced a dish that I would order in a restaurant. I don't find myself thinking like that usually.
On a side note... We are really starting to see a very unflattering side of Jaime. One guarantee you get from going on Top Chef is the opportunity to learn how to take criticism. Jamie is revealing that she is a sore loser and doesn't receive critique well. I had a guest tell me that her pickles were too vinegary the other day. I easily could have crossed my arms, told her she was an idiot and marched away. Instead, I listened and smiled politely. And then gently walked away and thought to myself that she was an idiot. A chef needs these tools to be successful. In this show, and well, in life.
"Blue" team gets a tough buzz word, and then doesn't get inspired; it's that simple.
And then we have, what Tom accurately identifies, as a conceptual nightmare. The "new" team. For the record, I would have enjoyed receiving this buzz word. It's almost a free pass to go super creative at this stage. Instead of new, they go with sushi. Now I'm sure, that even in the smallest of midwestern towns, sushi, is not new. Nor is salad in a wonton basket. Beef on a skewer. Or fried shrimp. I recently just played the Top Chef video game (where my silhouette gets PYKAG!!!). You'll have to play it yourself to truly get this. But New team's dish looked like the plated dishes in the game. It looked like what a plate might look like if you were hungry and marched down a buffet filling your plate with offerings from different dishes. It was a stuffed potato skin, and mozzarella stick away from being the sampler platter at a LT McSpiffs. Not even ranch dressing could have made this right. And let's face it, ranch dressing makes everything better.
And the worst. Listening to Danny say he loved the dish after both of his teammates and all the judges dogged it. This, my friends, is where you take responsibility for your actions and say you made an error. That you know it. That if you escape you will not make it again. Or. You can just basically tell a Michelin starred chef, a world-traveled gourmand, and the heartbeat of the most exciting and prestigous food magazine in our country that they don't know what they are talking about.
Tom wanted to let them all go. Yikes!