I thought tonight's episode was by far the best this season. It seems like the little kick in the butt from Tom at the end of the last episode really made the chefs realize that they need to step it up a bit. Great to see all of the talent finally shine through.
Right from the start with the Quickfire Challenge the chefs did some great looking dishes. The dessert challenges are always dreaded as most chefs in the competition do not specialize in this area but all in all they did very well. Not having sugar is a bit of a challenge but there are many other ways to sweeten which we were able to see in the various creations. Ariane chose to make whole wheat crepes and aside from the over-whipped cream I am sure it tasted fine; it just seemed to lack a bit of the creativity that the other chefs showed. Carla ran into a bit of a problem with her bananas so her dish was not what she hoped it would be. I was a little surprised since she has shown in the past that she has good pastry skills. Jamie went with a simple napoleon since she does not work with desserts much which was a smart way to go, however her cheese seemed to overpower the dish a bit.
Leah impressed the judges by going with a classic yet fun combination of strawberries and balsamic. I am a big fan of having a hint of vinegar in a dessert to balance out the sweetness. Jeff made a beautiful and healthy dessert with a baklava spring roll and freshly spun frozen yogurt. My fellow Chicagoan, Radhika, pulled through again with another Quickfire win. Not really sure what it feels like to have immunity but I am sure it was a huge weight lifted from her shoulders, especially when they are told that two chefs will be going home this week. Though it is great to be able to cook whatever you wish, sometimes it is hard to decide what direction to go when you have gotten so used to tight parameters. Picking one dish to represent your cooking can be a little tricky but it seemed for the most part that the chefs chose dishes that really showed who they are as chefs. Although it was a blind tasting, I would think that the judges, aside from Toby, could have guessed which dish belonged to which chef. I think having the chefs judge each other's food was a great twist. Although having the television in the back and having the chefs listen to each other's comments was the best part. Though judges table can be very harsh at times, this must have been even harder for the chefs to listen to. Toby Young may be even harsher than Anthony Bourdain. "Weapons of mass destruction" found in Rad's soup? Ouch. I am thinking that it really was a good time for her to have immunity or we may have seen her on the bottom. "Cat food" for Melissa's dish must have been hard to hear as well. I was a bit surprised when she decided to make fish tacos. It just does not seem like the direction to go in for one dish that needs to impress. Though it did represent who she is as a chef, I would assume she has some more unique dishes in her. Eugene puts out a beautiful plate but overcooking the fish was his downfall. On top of that he really threw everyone with his use of daikon with tomato basil sauce. Daikon is best when served raw when the texture and flavor can shine through and bring a refreshing layer of flavor to a dish.
The top three dishes all looked great and all included some of my favorite ingredients. Duck breast cooked properly is a beautiful thing and from Tom's comments it sounded like the cabbage was a great sweet and sour component to balance out the fatty richness of the duck. Ariane chose skate wing which is one of my favorite fish to work with. It is easy to overcook it since it is such a thin fillet and it seems she had no problem with this. I am a big fan of creamy puree topped with crisp fish and balanced with a savory fruit sauce. As for Jamie, she may do scallops a lot but she obviously works with them well. I absolutely love cooking scallops and love eating them when they are done right. The natural sweetness that caramelizes in the pan is a beautiful thing. Fennel is another of my top ingredients. It has such a delicate flavor that counterparts very well with the tart flavor of orange. It was great to see Jamie finally take one home as she does seem to be one of the most talented of the group.
Looking forward to seeing Hung on next week's show. Between him and the new judge Toby, there should be some interestingly harsh critiques.