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It's just so beautiful to watch these two contestants and competitors in their element. Two phenomenal chefs: Takashi super refined, very Japanese in his orientation and extremely respectful of both his opponent and the produce that he works with. David is kind of like the Nutty Professor; you never know what is going to come out of his mouth. Even his plating is very whimsical, playful, and lots of fun. He is a really awesome and super entertaining chef.
It was interesting to hear these guys talk about their long-standing friendship and how Takashi went to work for David Burke when he was at The River Café. They even lived together for a little bit too, which sounds like a total frat-house to me! Takashi was allocated a bedroom as part of his stage (staging is working unpaid at a restaurant -- much like an internship). It was great to watch two people who have such a history together (and probably know way too much about one another) to compete. On top of this, there is the dynamic that David was once Takashi's boss, albeit many, many moons ago.
Takashi, in his beautiful humble way, pretty much threw it out to David when he said "let's do something with eggs." David is really well known as the guy that cooks all sorts of weird, wacky and wonderful eggs, so Takashi put forward this challenge kind of in David's honor – a true gentlemen. Takashi's dish was beautiful, but David cooked something that I thought was slightly better and more delicious. However, I was out-voted and Takashi took the 10-grand! Truthfully there was nothing in it in my mind, so I was really happy with the result either way it went.
As you saw, for David's challenge, he tried to play to one of his strengths by challenging Takashi to Dungeness crab three-ways. I think David was hoping that Takashi's lack of experience with an east coast crab might give him the edge. They both cooked beautiful food and again there was nothing in this. These two were so evenly matched in the first two challenges. But I gave my vote to Takashi this time. It was a split decision amongst the judges (two-to-one), but truthfully it could have gone David's way.
With Andrew Zimmern as our guest judge for the day, the chefs knew something crazy was in store because Andrew is known as the "bizarre ingredients guy." We asked Andrew to bring three unusual and wonderful ingredients to the Duel. His choices: sea squirt, armadillo, and black sapote. The sea squirt was really strange and the armadillo should never be on any dining table in my opinion. It was odd seeing this rodent that wears armor, who in the past has been linked to leprosy, to now sitting down to actually eat it. Some days I absolutely love my job and some days and some dishes, well, it's all a little baffling!
Both chefs rose to the "bizarre challenge" and did an incredible job. David cooked more comfort food throughout the Duel -- that pie was so spot on and was followed by a true to form David Burke-style dessert. . .balloons, a chocolate sphere with gold dust, chocolate mousse with a butterfly on top. It was a wild extravagant dessert, that's Burkey for you. Takashi was a lot more refined and used the black sapote in a really pleasing way. He presented a type of dish that you would find in a Michelin star restaurant. Both showed off their character and had a lot of fun with the challenge.
I enjoyed meeting our guests The Gastronauts Ben Pauker and Curtiss Calleo. They have eaten some pretty wild stuff in their time, which led to interesting dinner table conversation. I had the pleasure of cooking for Ben and Curtiss later that night at my restaurant Maude. On our menu at the time was a progression of rabbit, some lamb tongue, sweet breads, wood sorrel, chai blossoms and nettles -- a few wild ingredients as well as some unusual cuts of meat, which is right up their alley.
All in all, it was a super fun challenge with Takashi taking all of the money and going straight into the finale. So big Chef CJ from last week is no longer the only one that has taken out the $20,000 and the Duel -- Takashi is in the same boat too! Congratulations to Takashi!!! It doesn't take anything away from David though because he is a brilliant chef -- and only lost by a hair, which is a real bummer for him. But he deserves all the great recognition he gets.
Thanks for an incredible night of food chefs and here's hoping armadillo isn't on next week's menu. Ha!