What's in a Name?
Apparently everything. On a week off, Gail explains what Eggs Florentine really is and how Ron could have saved his dish.
Bravotv.com: First of all, you’re just back from the Emmys. How was that?
It was a blast. The support was amazing. Everyone from Debra Messing to Rex Lee from Entourage and the entire writing staff of Lost are huge fans and it was so incredible to get their support. I really felt like Top Chef was part of the action.
Bravotv.com: Even though you weren’t part of this episode, what did you think of the Quickfire?
I think it was an interesting challenge. It was obvious everyone was upset with Robin for winning. I understand that she might not be the strongest chef there, but when food tastes good and it’s presented in a clean way there’s something to be said for it. A lot of the contestants really fussed up that challenge and she kept it simple. When you do something simple and make it really good that counts too, and you can’t discredit her. I think her win had nothing to do with the fact that she had cancer. I was really disappointed that Eli brought that up, because I don’t think she was playing that card. She actually had a story to tell that made sense to her duo. She wasn’t judged on the story either; she was judged on the flavor of her food. The devil of getting cancer woke her up to take notice of what she was eating (i.e. the sugary sweet), so she tries to balance it with the angel by going for fresh salads instead. I was very proud of her. Some of the other chefs didn’t necessarily have reasoning for things being on their plates. Everyone’s going to be upset when someone who they think isn’t as good as they are wins. It’s a competition and they were just jealous.
Bravotv.com: Penn and Teller were the guest judges for the Elimination Challenge ...
They were awesome. I wish I had been there to meet them. I thought the challenge was smart too. This is an example of how understanding the challenge is the most important piece. Some people did it well and some people didn’t. I find deconstruction as a theme very relevant and very interesting right now because it’s a trend that fine dining chefs have been doing for quite some time. Avant garde, modern chefs in this country often take what is a simple dish, a well-known classic dish, and take it apart so it doesn’t look at all like what you’re accustomed to seeing. They then put it back together in a clever way so it may not look as it normally does, but all the flavor components when you taste it. It’s hard to do because it can’t be arbitrary. You can’t just pull everything out and then leave it on the plate. Deconstructed lasagna is not just putting the tomato sauce, béchamel, meat and pasta side-by-side. There needs to be a play on it, a cleverness and reason for them being deconstructed in the way they are. Some of our chefs' downfall was the fact that they didn’t figure out a smart way to do that.
Also, was it me or did nobody know what Eggs Florentine was? I think that’s really odd. Has the entire cast of Top Chef never eaten brunch before? It’s a very simple dish. An English muffin, sautéed spinach, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce. It’s a version of Eggs Benedict, subbing in spinach for ham. I’m a big egg person of course but I wouldn’t think of it as haute cuisine. It’s what you find on every brunch menu in the country. I’m really surprised at how people didn’t know what it was.
Sadly, it was clear from the start that Ron really didn’t know what he was doing. TO begin with, I don’t think he knew the clear definition of paella. But Toby didn’t either apparently, and that’s another story… his pronunciation? That was ridiculous. Come on, Toby! It’s not an English word. It’s a Spanish word. You’re speaking another language.
So, Ron not knowing how to make a true paella was the first problem. If you don’t know how to make the dish itself, how are you going to deconstruct it? I also don’t think he knew what it meant to deconstruct a dish. It doesn’t mean to change the components. It means to analyze and re-fabricate it in a way that makes sense to the diner when eating it. Kevin’s mole negro was also beautiful. What’s amazing about that dish is that mole is a Mexican sauce that has many ingredients, so to take it apart can be very difficult. The good news is that you have a lot of ingredients to choose from. On the other hand, not cluttering the plate and overwhelming the palate is very tricky. As luck would have it, he had done a similar dish in the challenge before. He was almost given a second chance. That was brilliant as we never have had that happen. It’s best known to have cocoa in it but it usually also has pumpkin seeds, and it’s a very complex sauce.
Michael’s Caesar salad also looked delicious. Both Kevin and Michael are chefs who deconstruct food on a regular basis. That’s their style of cooking, versus Ron who just is in a different league. Unfortunately Ash’s shepherd’s pie also was a mess. I would think it would be an easy dish to take apart as the original is just layers of meat, veg and mashed potatoes. But he chose not to plate his gummy potatoes, which became the problem. It would have been interesting to see if they would have really nailed him for bad potatoes, had he served them. Interestingly enough, the same goes for Laurine. The potato was her problem. She spent way too much time fussing and in the end it did in her fish and chips.
Bravotv.com: What did you think of Bryan replacing the pastrami with the tuna?
I didn’t mind. It’s hard to tell without tasting so I can’t really be the judge. The great thing about tuna is it has a very meaty texture and it’s a very fatty fish. If it was smoked the right way it could have worked. One of my favorite places in NYC, Zabar’s, sells smoked tuna. It’s delicious and it really does have that meaty flavor. I do see how classicists would be disturbed by it though. I just love all Rueben sandwiches!
Bravotv.com: What did you think of Michelle Bernstein as judge?
I thought Michelle Bernstein was radiant. She looks amazing. Something about her was so captivating. She’s a beautiful woman and she knows her stuff backwards and forward. This was a smart challenge for her to judge because her food is not hyper-modern but it is very intelligent and very clean. She doesn’t get caught up in all the fussiness. She was like a stingray, really able to hone in on the focus of each dish. She’s always super-smart!