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Gail on Her Job Versus Andrew Zimmern's

Gail debates the merits of armadillo and sea squirt, and talks about the amazing food she had from David and Takashi.

By Gail Simmons Super fun episode
Gail Simmons: Takashi and David Burke are obviously super talented and accomplished. And they have a long-standing friendship that I didn't know about until we shot the episode. When Takashi was training in New York he stayed at David's house, which is hilarious! The two of them are so fun and love cooking together. It was a really casual few days on set as even though they're both competitive, they were there to just have a good time. They're challenges went right for each other. . .
GS: In a way, they actually did the opposite -- for Takashi's egg challenge he didn't choose the egg because he thought David couldn't do it well. He knew that this was David's strength and so in a way he was challenging himself to see if he could out-David-Burke David Burke. David is known for his egg dishes -- usually egg custards that he puts back into their shells -- so I thought that was a great challenge. I'm also a huge egg fan, so was thrilled to taste what they had made. I was so impressed with both their dishes and just how much they were able to accomplish in 30 minutes.


All the food for the two mini duels was extraordinarily delicious, exciting, fun, and creative. I was extremely impressed with what they made. Takashi made an Udon and Hot Spring Egg dish with Natto, and a Chawanmushi in an Eggshell with Sea Urchins. Chawanmushi is a classic Japanese dish, it's an egg custard and he put sea urchins with it. It was a skillfully and beautifully made. Smooth and creamy, just quivering, just barely sat. It was pretty perfect actually. The chilled udon was amazing because it had such unusual textures, textures I think not everyone would love, specifically a bit of sliminess due to the natto, fermented soy bean, that takes on a slimy texture. I mean truly slimy. But when you put it with the udon noodles and the egg, which becomes a sauce that coats everything, it tastes delicious! It was cold and creamy, a little bit briny and really unusual.

David made two beautiful dishes too. First, a watercress flan, which was inside an egg shell, with bacon, mushrooms, and asparagus. It was really satisfying to eat the mushroom, egg, bacon, combination. You can't go wrong with that combo -- that's why it's so good for breakfast. It coats your stomach and is just totally cravable food. He did pile everything on top of each other so it wasn't the easiest to eat in a delicate little shell, but it was certainly flavorful. Then he made "fisherman’s toast" -- buttered toast with seaweed on top. It's something so simple that I couldn't believe I hadn't had it before. It's one of those dishes you look at are amazed that you aren't eating it every day. It's such an obviously amazing composition. Seaweed has a savory-ness that goes so well with warm toast and butter. I said that it reminded me of vegemite and it really did because it had that slight funkiness, which I felt paired so perfectly with David's flan.

Both great dishes, but two of the three of us decided that Takashi's were just marginally more interesting, marginally more creative and unusual. I was excited to see something I'd never seen before in Takashi's dishes and although David did a beautiful job, it was what he's already known for doing. He didn't seem to stretch as much as Takashi did. David's Challenge. . .
GS: David did a crab trio challenge, which seems very straightforward, but in fact in 30 minutes is hard to do with precision. Three individual dishes with crab is a lot. When we got back to the kitchen again, because the incredible skill these guys have, we all were blown away by the amount of detail and thought that went into their execution.

In this case, I chose David as the winner, although one of the three components of Takashi's dish was this beautiful miso soup that he did as a Japanese play on an American crab boil. It was miso soup but it had corn and potatoes -- everything a traditional crab boil would have -- with these beautiful pieces of crab, all in a savory Japanese miso broth. It was one of my favorite dishes of the entire episode. But the other dishes he served with it I thought were actually very simple and not as interesting as David's considering the challenge. The crab sunomono was fine, and the crab with cocktail sauce was also good, but very simple. I expected Takashi to do more.

David's food, on the other hand, was just wacky, in classic David style. There wasn't necessarily as much finesse to his plate as Takashi's, but the flavors in his trio were so magnificent, so creative. The pretzel crusted crab cake was unbelievable. It looked like he built a raft out of pretzels and stuffed it with crab. It was fun to eat, crunchy, and unexpected. The crunchy pretzels went so well with the crab, like you were eating crab dip with salty crackers. The beer soup was also out of left field. I've never had anything like it before. Hot beer is not something I would have thought I wanted to drink, but it had so much crab flavor that it worked somehow. And the spicy mango and crab salad was also totally flavorful and bright. So I chose David to win this challenge, but Curtis and Andrew felt otherwise. And again, Takashi took the $10,000. And then we went into the Duel.
GS: I was apprehensive about this Duel to say the least. They had to cook three ingredients I've never tasted before. I've seen armadillo certainly, but I've never tasted it. Sea squirts -- I mean, they're called sea squirts for goodness sake. They were the most bizarre creatures I’d ever seen. Fresh out of the sea. Andrew is a good friend of mine. We’ve been friends for years, we do a lot of work together, but this challenge made realize how different our jobs really are. His job is amazing, but what he has to taste in the course of a day is really a testament to his passion for all things edible (or at least partially edible). For now, I’m happy to stick to my job.


So, first they had to cook a course using sea squirt. I loved how different the two chefs' styles were right out of the gate. Takakshi tried to highlight the texture and flavor of raw sea squirt. He wrapped a spot prawn in it, almost like a little sushi roll. It was delicate and refined. David did sea scallop and sea squirt benedict, which was over-the-top fun. It was rich and hearty. But he chose to almost mask the sea squirt by putting a potato pancake underneath it and then chorizo and egg on top of it. As much as I probably enjoyed eating the benedict a little more and thought it had tons of flavor, it did not give you any clear idea of what the sea squirt was. In fact, if it had been removed, you probably wouldn't have missed it or known it would have ever been there.

The next course was armadillo. I will say right here for the record that armadillo is my least favorite meat. I'm certainly glad to have tried it but now I know. It falls in the category of unnecessary meat, unnecessary bang for your buck. I think part of my distain has to do with seeing it when they unveiled it to the chefs. It was still in its exoskeleton, all curled up with its face on the plate. It's quite an unsightly creature.

But again, I did love how both chefs chose to work with it and how differently the dishes were. Both of them stepped up and tried something new. Takashi made his armadillo three ways. He braised a piece in red wine and served it with a lovely pea custard, made armadillo sausage with bacon foam, and finally sautéed armadillo. It’s impressive that he had the time and skill to do all of that. It was an elegant plate of food and we were thoroughly able to understand the flavor of the armadillo through it because the distinct flavor carried through from one component to the next. Armadillo has a very strong flavor indeed. Andrew said it was like rabbit. It might be in terms of how you cook it, how lean it is, but the color of the meat is a deep, deep red and it has a very gamey flavor. I thought the most successful of Takashi's tastes was the armadillo sausage. They were a little bit chewy, but incredibly executed and inspired.

David's meat pie was fantastic. It was like a hunter's stew with a flaky crust, hearty, rustic and delicious. But because he chose to incorporate pigeon, cranberry, and so many other flavors, the armadillo itself was lost. Tasting Takashi's dish we now knew what armadillo tasted like. David's pie was not an armadillo dish per se, it was a dish of many meats, armadillo being jus one of them. If he took it out we may not have noticed.

Finally, dessert -- black sapote is an ingredient I now know I love. It’s such an interesting, fascinating fruit. I love that both chefs brought their pastry chefs there. I’m a Zac Young fan, obviously. Their styles were of course very different. Takashi used the sapote in many ways: sapote ice cream, saptoe cake, sapote rice pudding, sapote macaroon. All classic dessert preparations, incorporating the sapote. This made them taste so unique and allowed us to experience the sapote in many different forms. It has a rich dense flavor, a stickiness and a dark caramel flavor, which went well with all the different preparations. The rice pudding was my favorite. Because we are all so used to seeing that color associated with chocolate, every time we bit into it we realized it wasn’t chocolate at all, it was a surprising revelation.

David's golden sapote was totally decadent, with his signature chocolate butterfly and a fabulous brown butter sapote ice cream. The dish was intense -- it went well with the peanut butter mousse and had this deep caramel musk to it. There were so many different elements on his plate and I loved how outrageous it looked when it came to the table. My only criticism was that it was just too big. It overwhelmed us a bit.

All in all this was a really close duel every step of the way. I adore both these chefs. Although Takashi was our winner, David is absolutely a star in all of our minds. I love eating his food, I always will. I’ll always be a fan of Takashi's too. He's a genius! I'ts undeniable.

Next week: ROB ZOMBIE & FRIENDS!!!!

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