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I’m with the blogger who wished last July 29th’s show was twice as long so we could really see what the six competing master chefs are doing in the kitchen and not just the dramatic and revealing highlights: Art Smith drops half his sweet potato chile fries Antia Lo improvises classic American biscuits on the spot. Rick Bayless, and Michael Chiarello, each improvising on the other’s signature dish, both go Italian.
In 40 years as a restaurant critic, I’ve never spent as much time as I would like in kitchens during service. But when I did, it was always a revelation and informed my reviewing: Watching Girardet peeling apples during lunch in Lausanne. David Bouley improvising a chef’s tasting a la miunte. In the Côtes Basque kitchen with Jean Jacques Rachou and his huge crew. Long ago at Le Pavillion in the kitchen for a week trying to master Chef Clement Grangier’s quenelles de brochet.
Of course we judges don’t get to see scenes from the shopping and cooking before we taste and debate who wins. We do get to ask questions and the chefs get to defend their dish or do a mea culpa … but for me, it finally all comes down to the joy in the eating.
I have a crush on Hubert but that isn’t going to affect my tastebuds. His sea urchin sauce was a bit feeble – the sea taste blurred by cream. Sorry Hubert. The unabashed pleasure Rick gets in cooking and his charm comes across on camera as does Michael’s possibly too well-honed camera presence. They both can really cook and improvise. I especially loved Rick’s deliciously stuffed quail (and I managed not to say what I was thinking about the position of the bird’s legs. Guess there was no time to truss up.)
Anita can be so unassuming, it was a special joy to taste her bravura ode to lobster. And to see her face when she won.
I’ve been meaning to write that a lasting dividend of my stint on TCM was getting to meet and dine out with James Oseland and spending time with Kelly whom I knew from New York but just fleetingly. James is just as he seems on camera – sweet and smart and fussy in the best way and he is hopelessly addicted to ethnic exotica and would run off to Japan or Koreatown at the sign of a half hour break in taping.
Kelly’s role on camera doesn’t a clue to how funny and irreverent she is, how full of sass and what an amazingly hard worker she is. And contrary to the evidence of her Scarlett O’Hara waist, she prowls the caterer’s table and actually EATS. But apparently nothing goes to her thighs, it all goes to her brain. It would be easy to hate her for that superior metabolism alone if she wasn’t right there in the judges’ green room, no airs, no fuss, just dishing along with the rest of us.