Before I write about this week’s Elimination Challenge, a word about last week’s elimination of Jen: Jamie and Jen were paired up to work on the dish that ultimately got Jen sent home. Jamie injured herself and a medic told her she needed stitches. We cannot send people home for being injured. It doesn’t matter whether someone else might have stayed and cooked; it was legitimate for Jamie to seek medical attention. Jen herself stated that Jamie’s absence did not negatively impact the outcome of the dish, and, in fact, at the end of the day, Jen made poor decisions that were ultimately what led to the spongeyness of the bacon and the blandness of the eggs. As for Antonia and Tiffany’s eggs being raw: they weren’t raw. No one was in danger of contracting salmonella at the museum that morning. Had they been, we would have reached a different conclusion. I had two eggs, and each was cooked perfectly, as were both Padma’s and Gail’s. Katie Lee’s might have been undercooked, but she herself felt that Jen’s execution of her dish was far worse than Antonia and Tiffany’s execution of theirs. It was a unanimous decision. It doesn’t matter that Jen is a stronger chef than some of those who remained. What matters is that she underperformed on that particular day, and in being consistent in our judging, objective, fair, and true to the competition, we had to send her home. I was upset to see Jen go –- I thought she would have stayed a lot longer. But if we’d kept her for that reason, we would have been guilty of skewing the judging.
This week’s was a very interesting Elimination Challenge. Unlike the challenge in Season 5, when we asked our chefs to recreate dishes from Le Bernardin, nobody was being asked here to recreate the dishes they’d eaten the night before at one of the four exciting New York restaurants featured in this week’s program. They were asked, rather, to create a dish inspired by the food they’d eaten.
It’s always fun to work with my colleagues on this show; this week was four times the fun, especially as we had the pleasure of seeing our cheftestants make their own marks on our four guest chefs’ signature styles. These four chefs have utterly different styles, yet they’re all here on this little 23-mile island, playing in the same sandbox, so to speak, and all accepted and appreciated for their unique contributions. That, to me, is one of the things that’s so exciting about this town, and one of the reasons that this was such a great challenge for our chefs to undertake here. Known for his whimsy, David Burke of Townhouse enjoys taking his food “out there” and over-the-top. But do not let the fun-factor cloud fool you: his food is also always exceptionally good … and very difficult to do. Michael White of Marea, on the other hand, is more straightforward with his Italian fare. And yet, as with David, one should not be fooled by the genre. Michael’s food has layers of flavor –- it is far more complex than standard Italian fare, with combinations not normally found in straight-up Italian meals. David Chang has several restaurants in his Momofuku Group –- our chefs ate at Ma Peche, where executive chef/co-owner Tien Ho presides over a French/Vietnamese menu. Ma Peche was a good choice for this challenge, as I think Ho’s food was probably the easiest from among David’s restaurants for our chefs to understand and work with. Wylie Dufresne’s avante-garde food at wd~50 was certainly the most difficult to parse and apply to the challenge. Wylie invents all the techniques he uses; he purposely does not use those of other chefs doing similar work. His work is quite cerebral and all based squarely in science. I don’t cook in that style, and I enjoy talking with Wylie about what he’s doing, but I admit that sometimes the chemistry behind it goes right over my head.