This was a really awesome, edge-of-your-seat duel and so, so different to the spirit of last week's warm and fuzzy Italian family feast. Tonight was a Finnish/American culinary stand off and my wife, Lindsay, was laughing basically the entire way through watching it. These two chefs, both with restaurants in LA, are pretty hysterical in their quirks from CJ being all tall and lanky and walking straight into the pillar on set to Stefan pretending to be pure evil. Let me tell you, he has plenty of nice bones in his body, he just likes to mask them to faze his opponents.
I loved the inspiration behind CJ's butt challenge: "Stefan you're an ass so we're doing a butt challenge," said in jest. . .sort of. Animal rumps have a lot of connective tissue, plenty of flavor and you guessed it -- fat -- so they're a really great part of the animal to cook. You guys didn't get to find out my preferred dish for this challenge as CJ received two votes straight off the bat. But I would have to agree with my fellow judges that CJ's dish was slightly more delicious. His morels were cooked perfectly and he really embraced the challenge by cooking with three different bird butts --quail, squab and chicken. However, I have to emphasize the tastiness of Stefan’s bisque broth. It had the perfect balance of heat and milkyness from the coconut and if the texture was just a little thinner and soupier, this dish would have hit new heights.
So far in the competition we haven't had a contestant run away with winning both chef challenges and the duel so CJ must be feeling pretty darn confident going into the final. It was really kind of difficult to judge the food put up in the duel because it was like comparing apples and oranges (I know everyone uses this old term but it's truly fitting in this circumstance). I was classically trained in European kitchens so I deeply appreciate the beauty, richness, technique, and artistry that went into each of Stefan's dishes, especially his galantine of pheasant and duck. I respect the way he remains true to his classic European style no matter the challenge thrown at him on Top Chef and Duels.
You could really feel that CJ loved the foraging challenge. It was like he struck a pot of gold. I mean, he's foraged with the pinnacle of foragers, René Redzepi (chef and co-owner of Noma), so you know he's going to be in his element. He brought earth to the plate in his presentation and flavor profiles. He probably exhibited a little less refined technique than Stefan but everything he put up was super delicious.
These two were suitably matched to battle each other -- Bravo sure knows what they're doing here because the bantering and bickering each week makes for extremely entertaining judging and viewing! Haha. It was pretty funny when CJ cut down Stefan's dish at the conclusion of the butt challenge in an attempt to get his own dish over the line. I think the words just came flying out of his mouth before he realized exactly what he was saying. The sheepish look he shot Stefan afterwards was priceless. Stefan was totally boiling up in the corner, but kept it classy and opted to refrain from slaying CJ's dish. Well played Stefan, well played.
All in all, I think there's a lot of love between these two hidden under plenty of layers of healthy and fierce competition. One of the beauties of the professional kitchen world is what happens in the kitchen stays there -- then you pack up your knives and have a beer together.
A really superb job by two incredible chefs and a delicious, delicious night of food.