Season 9 has begun with a bang that ripped through the expectations of our 29 chefs, and after the smoke cleared only 16 were left standing, ready to cook (or at least to claim their bunk beds in the house.)
I, for one, was really glad we started off the season by having the chefs cook their way into the competition. It was a great exercise, because there are plenty of chefs who are really good at what they do but who just can’t compete like this. It doesn’t mean they’re not good, but this competition favors chefs who are quick on their feet, who make strong and supportable decisions swiftly, and who cook well under pressure. In seasons past, we had no way to ascertain that the sixteen chefs we’d selected were not only solid chefs but could compete well under the circumstances they’d be facing. So it was great to have a process of selecting our 16 chefs that would ensure that all 16 are capable of doing exactly that. Also, there are always opening jitters at the start of a new season. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve dispelled them, and our 16 are ready to go head to head.
What drama there was this week was clearly to be found in the bubble: Would there even be spaces left by the time we finished with the third team? (And we were prepared for the possibility that there wouldn’t be). And, once we determined that there were, in fact, two spaces left to fill, which of the six chefs would rise to the occasion and to the top?
Laurent’s scallop dish was terrible. Blunt, but true. The tartare looked gray and unappetizing, it was underseasoned, and I couldn’t understand plating the cold tartare with the seared scallop. The concept didn’t make sense, and the dish was poorly executed.
In Molly’s dish, the main attraction was completely overcooked. I’m sure some viewers will quibble over the fact that Molly was sent home for overcooked shrimp while Edward secured his jacket with duck that Hugh felt was overcooked. Let me head complaints off at the pass: There is a world of difference between completely overcooked and slightly overcooked. Molly overcooked a fish, a protein with no tolerance for overcooking, so it was completely destroyed. With Edward's duck, on the other hand, we faced a situation more akin to preparing meat medium versus medium rare, and Hugh’s assertion that the duck was overcooked was more a statement of personal preference. Unlike Molly’s shrimp, Edward's duck was not ruined. There were issues with every dish — we didn't have the option of choosing dishes with no issues whatsoever. We chose the strongest of the six, and they were in fact very good dishes, even with their minor flaws.
Andrew undermined his dish with the shrimp panna cotta and shavings. We have to judge the entire dish, and the good mussels were undermined by the panna cotta, bringing down the totality of his offering.
As for Janine, it was a shame that she shunted that watermelon garnish to the sideinstead of incorporating it into the dish in some way. Like Andrew, while components of the dish were good, the whole dish was diminished by that watermelon, because it bore no relationship at all to the rest of the dish.
Grayson’s dish showed imagination and an understanding of flavors that paid off.
And Edward’s dish was complex and had great flavor. Further, he managed to accomplish in a short period of time a lot of little things that made a great deal of sense, such as making a custard in that very short period of time. Unlike Andrew’s panna cotta, Edward’s custard lent to his dish. A lot of work went into all of the elements, and they blended to create a nuanced and strong dish.To address Edward’s comment about not wanting to be perceived as being an underdog because he had been on the bubble: Every challenge is judged on its own, without regard to what has come before. At the conclusion of this intensive cook-off, all sixteen chefs were completely even in our eyes, and, having seen them all perform adeptly under fire, we look forward to seeing what they’ll do in the unrelenting heat of the coming weeks.