This challenge had a very emotional component to it, and as you saw, our chefs embraced this and allowed themselves to “go there.” I think each one of them was teary at some point in this episode. Partly, this is because they were so tired by this point in the competition that their seeing a beloved family member released the waterworks. But there’s more to it than that. They were asked to tap into their childhood and create food memories by creating food, and they did so brilliantly. Picture Mike, who puts forth such bravado and swagger, and who jokes his way through challenge after challenge. It’s incredible to realize that this Italian-American never ever cooked Italian food professionally because it reminded him too much of his beloved grandmother and he didn’t want to constantly be reminded of how much he missed her. Cooking the food now was meaningful to him, and he embraced the opportunity to feel pain about missing her and to cook his dish in homage to her. Here, in action, is Carla’s theory about being able to “taste the Love in the dish.” I believe this is why Mike nailed the challenge and did his grandmother’s memory such justice. This is deep, deep stuff.
Given the level of cooking, coupled with the great emotional work they each did, how could we send any one of the chefs home? Normally, something in some dish somewhere stands out to all the judges as the flaw that breaks the camel’s back, that gets someone sent home. Here, while we mentioned that one element was a tad salty if eaten on its own, it wasn’t intended to be eaten on its own…and it worked within the larger dish. Etc. We were trying to seize on something to send someone home, but we just didn’t have enough grounds to penalize any one of the chefs for what they delivered that night. Everyone did an outstanding job and it was such a great evening that it was just unacceptable to send anyone home.
So it’ll be a longer finale… but it’ll be great. Stay tuned.