This first episode brought six wonderful Masters to the TCM Kitchen: Susan, Jimmy, Jerry, Ana, Govind, and Tony.
When I presented the first task of choosing a pot with a colored apron hidden inside to begin our Quickfire Challenge, I could sense the Master chefs' apprehensions right away. Pairing up with another executive chef to work as a team is no easy feat, and they knew it. Would they get along? Would their cooking techniques meld? Would they fight? And God forbid, would they bicker in front of the cameras for all of the world to see? I can only imagine what thoughts were coarsing through their minds before I told them to meet me in Chinatown.
And oh boy, I was cracking up at the fact that I was to meet them at a gas station (surprise!) to relay the gist of their Quickfire: Cook your creations with ingredients from a quick stop! Waiting for the chefs to pull up in their SUVs, I was surely salivating from sheer anticipation of seeing the expressions on their faces when they figured out what they really had to do.
But Master cooks these guys are, and tasty food was what they presented to the band members of The Bravery.
How I wish I could’ve tasted Susan and Tony’s maple bread pudding (looked unctuous), sampled Jimmy and Govind’s Cheetos mac ‘n' cheese with Slim Jims (its orange color was electric), and bit into Jerry and Ana’s crispy rice cake with Clamesco sauce (high-end gas grub). After The Bravery had said their peace, Susan and Tony were leading in the scores.
As an aside, it was intriguing to me that Susan and Tony were paired up and somehow won the Quickfire, because their cooking styles couldn’t be more different. Susan with her spunk, that giant smile, and creativity that she embodies, both in her sweet, quirky demeanor and full-bodied cooking method is the flip side of Tony’s approach. Tony is Mr. Elegance, refined yet unforced, never missing a nuance and putting out gorgeous and beautiful-tasting food every time — quietly. Grace under fire, absolutely; no wonder he’s President Obama’s favorite chef.
On to the Elimination Challenge of creating a harmonious duo dish for our first-time daters!
This was a particularly hard challenge. To cook for the couples but also balance your food with your partner’s creation must’ve been dually difficult. After the chefs' entrees were presented and the critics and I had sampled all of them, two extraordinary dishes, to this day, linger in my taste memory.
First, Tony’s pasta with taleggio, mushrooms, and truffles. His silky blond blankets of pasta that sat in between young, tender cheese and savory ‘shrooms were completely heaven sent. It was a mille feuille of dreamy deliciousness! And his divinely bitter arugula salad, perfectly dressed with tangy vinaigrette that he paired the pasta was a surprising knockout.
The second dish that blew me away was Jerry’s duck breast. His duck may very well be the best duck I’ve ever had. Crispy skin accented with a subtle lavender rub, cooked to pink, juicy perfection sitting atop crunchy red cabbage with sweet pomegranate sauce and golden beets was a taste that I cannot forget. Jerry’s dish exploded with flavor, and to top it off, even visually, his plate tantalized. This dish rocked da house.
But alas, it wasn’t enough to rock da vote, at least among our critics. The cooking duo of Tony and Susan wooed everyone’s taste buds to secure their places in the Champions Round.
Did any of our first-time couples make it to second base? I couldn’t tell you. Culinarily, though, our maestro chefs scored home runs with us. And if this was any indication of the food to come in the final rounds, then all bases were loaded, a Grand Slam in the making.