In part two of the challenge, I asked the top four to do what every good cook, in every great cooking culture -- what talented home cooks, grandmothers, street food vendors, chefs, and hungry people struggling to make something delicious out of not very much -- have been doing since the beginning of time: make something delicious and enticing out of those pieces that the wealthy, the lazy, and the entitled often consign to the garbage. This is exactly what defines a good cook -- throughout history. And if you look at China, Brazil, Spain, Italy, France -- anywhere where people were compelled historically to make the most out of every little bit -- the ability to make the tough, the ugly, the bony, and scraggly into something loved, respected, and even revered --
is the fundamental engine of good cooking. In the annals of cooking, people learned to cook well -- more often than not -- because they had to. Those who understood this and who embraced this challenge, performed exceedingly well. And in the end, it was a tight, three-way race for immunity. Ironically, many of the dishes and preparations that have come to be known as "Nose to Tail" cooking, have been recognized over time as actually better than the easy stuff. The Chinese, for instance, the Portugese, and many other cultures have come to understand that the head of the fish is actually the best part. This was an opportunity to shine -- and to their credit, Mike Isabella, Richard, and Dale "got" it right away. Dale made a winning sashimi with the meat from along the fins with a brilliant sauce made from the fluke's liver. Also, a very tasty fish collar in bacon dashi. Mike Isabella did a pan-roasted fish belly with charred collar in olive oil, highlighting the different flavors and textures of the subtly different parts.
Richard made a schnitzel of cod belly. All three highlighted not just the flavors at hand, but the wonderfully different textures.
Marcel, as he has done so many times, put his considerable skills to work in the cause of his own brilliance -- and ignored what makes these elements so distinctive and wonderful. His dish was very, very tasty (and yes, I did taste the excellent broth), but rather than take advantage of the variety of textures at his disposal, he muscled the ingredients into submission, running them through a sieve and basically, turning them into mush. Good flavor. Texturally? Insipid. He missed, typically, the whole point: all those crispy, sticky, slippery, cartilaginous, buttery, meaty differences right beneath his nose. Dale, who seemed happiest with this challenge, demonstrated why: he took to it as if he'd been waiting his whole life. Richard and Mike made very fine, well thought-through dishes. But Dale's really creative, superior offering won him immunity. It was, as someone pointed out, however, a horse race.
And then, it was on to Restaurant Wars, everybody's favorite Elimination Challenge. I know I look forward to it. Here's an opportunity for the chefs to show us everything they've got -- all the qualities one looks for in a Top Chef: speed, skill, strength, creativity, smarts, maturity -- and leadership.
Dale, given the advantage of choosing the opposing team's captain, shrewdly (and at one stroke) rid himself of any possibility of having to work with his arch enemy -- and rolled a ticking time bomb straight into any team he might face by picking Marcel, notoriously the worst leader of the bunch, a man with truly awful -- some might say pathologically bad -- people skills.