Bravotv.com: How was Dallas different from Austin?
Gail Simmons: So here we are in Dallas, and it has a totally different feel and vibe, especially this episode because we were in a very “schmancy” part of town. Dallas just felt like a much bigger, shinier city.
Many exciting things happened in Dallas when we were there. The first thing was that we were staying at the W Hotel across from the American Airlines Center. Well, we had a night off and a bunch of people from the crew and I -- about 10 of us -- went to see a Rihanna concert there. This was her infamous show this past summer when the stage caught on fire and we were all evacuated from the arena, in the middle of her show! There were fireworks as part of one song and the stage literally caught on fire, No one was injured, but it was really pretty amazing. So that is my first impression of Dallas.
While I was in Dallas, I had some really great meals, and went to an amazing gay cowboy bar one night with like 40 members of the crew where we learned the two-step.
Anyway, on to the episode: I got on a plane to Dallas instead of driving like the contestants did, but the one thing I remember everybody telling me after that Quickfire was that the field they were in was not supposed to look like that. It was not supposed to be a field of mud. They had scouted the location and made all the preparations and the morning they got there, someone, presumably the farmer, had plowed and tilled the land by accident and turned it into an entire field of mud. Yuck!
Bravotv.com: After a difficult Quickfire, we’re onto the Elimination!
GS: Yes! On to Highland Park Village. Another interesting note is that we got ready for that whole day in another house. There was a fourth house, a friend of one of the guests let us use her family’s home. I think it was her brother-in-law’s house that she uses sometimes, which was right in the neighborhood, to get ready. This house was incredible; it may not have been as big as the others but it had the most beautiful modern art – Damian Hearst, Koons, all the big guys. As I got a closer look at the house we realized there were all these pictures of George Michael with another man and a few really good-looking dogs. And then we found out that it was his and his partner’s house! I guess his partner is related to one of the girls that was on the show, and they’re from Dallas and this is their house. Let me tell you, George Michael has aged well. He was looking good.
Bravotv.com: I’ve never heard of a progressive dinner party before.
GS: It seemed like a fun idea. I had never attended one until that challenge though. I imagine you need a staff if you’re having one. If you’re at someone’s house having appetizers and your house is where the main course is supposed to be, it’s hard for you to be eating in one place and cooking in another. Which is why we had the chefs do it for us!
I think the funniest moment in the whole episode was when I jokingly asked, “Oh did you have like 700 people at your wedding?” and one of the ladies said, “Actually 1,200.” And she wasn’t joking!
Bravotv.com: “Who knows 1,200 people?”
GS: Right?!! I will say they were the sweetest people. We had a really nice day with them. Kim Whitman is the bomb. She was awesome. I loved her. She is smart as whip, and I really enjoyed talking with her.Bravotv.com: So let’s start with the appetizer house, which actually had the winning dish which was Paul’s, and Sarah’s, which was in the top as well.
GS: Yes, Paul’s was the winner because it had so much texture and he used ingredients that the diners didn’t know they liked, but when they tasted it they couldn’t help but fall in love with it. It was the right size for an appetizer. It was appropriate. What Paul said at the beginning I think was so right on: “Listen to the woman of the house.” You are catering an event for a dinner party, and especially a dinner party for a woman like Kim Whitman, who is very particular, entertains a lot, and is considered somewhat of an expert on the subject. Do what she says -- not too little and not too much. The guys will go along with it. And he was right in this instance. He did something that the ladies enjoyed because it had great vegetables, it was light, but it had some depth. The grilled prosciutto was delicious. It was the right size. It was easy to eat. It was absolutely delicious.
I loved Sarah’s artichokes too, and I really liked Lindsay’s salad, but we thought Paul’s just embodied what we asked them to do the most and was done with the most… finesse.
So then we went to the main course house. And the main courses were mostly disappointing. Beverly’s was pretty good. Nyesha wasn’t bad either, but a lot of them were just way too big, way too bulky and clumsy. If there was just one main course or two that would have been one thing, but no one scaled his/her dish to be appropriate for the venue and the challenge. Not a single one of them scaled back the size of their portion or the scope of what they were doing to accommodate for the fact that we were eating four or five main courses. Of course you want it to feel like a main course, but, especially Ty-Lor’s and Chuy’s, were mammoth. I mean they were bigger than massive. Bigger than Texas-sized portions even. And because they were so big, they felt sloppy and disproportionate to everything else. That was our first issue. Our other issue with Chuy’s was ultimately, exactly what Tom said, the dish just didn’t work. If you have to overcook the salmon to make the cheese work, then something in the basic concept of the dish should be reexamined. Salmon should not be cooked that way. It was totally dry, so it was really unappealing. And the goat cheese! I mean, goat cheese and salmon? When you think of cured, cold smoked salmon it could work. Maybe that’s what he was going for. But it was not successful with hot salmon at all. Not only did it not work from a flavor perspective and a texture perspective, but the goat cheese took on this mealy, sort of curdy consistency, which made it even more unappealing. It actually didn’t feel like the rest of the food I’d eaten from Chuy to date. So in the end, we felt that Chuy had to go. Chuy is awesome. He’s like a little ball of fire. He’s super high energy and really skilled. He is really young, and I know he’ll have a long, excellent career, but he made some bad decisions that night.
And just to touch on the desserts because well, that’s my sweet spot: I liked Dakota’s and I like Grayson’s. Edward’s was just mediocre. But Chris’ was exactly what we all said – overdone, no consistency, and no underlying thought to it. It felt like he just threw everything onto that plate without thinking it through. You don’t need 17 flavors. They don’t go together. There’s no dialogue.
Bravotv.com: It kind of reminded me two dishes from the past. Ilan’s “gluttonous” dish from Season 2, and Stefan’s finale dessert.
GS: Stefan’s dessert in the finale was better than this. It wasn’t good enough to win, but it was better than this.
And just one note about the other Chris and his appetizer cigar: I want to say that I do applaud him for taking a risk and trying to give us something new and innovative, but he got stuck in the trap that a lot of chefs get into when they are trying to push a modernist concept on a dish. There needs to be a purpose for it. I always say if it doesn’t make it taste better, if it doesn’t make it more efficient in the cooking process, or make it look more beautiful, why are you doing it? Do it not just for the sake of doing it. I think Chris got caught up in the idea of it and lost track of the challenge because of it. It did not fit any of the criteria that we asked for, and it was not appealing or enjoyable to eat at all. But I get his inspiration and appreciated that he challenged himself to do something different. He just was listening to what was in his own head instead of to our clients.