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Canyon Cuisine

Curtis Stone explains why Takashi Yagihashi and Thierry Rautureau's dish was tops.

By Curtis Stone

How to Watch

Catch up on Top Chef Masters on Peacock or the Bravo App.

I always find it tough to describe one of those once-in-a-lifetime meals. Everything just resonates on a higher level. The food is amazing, of course. But it’s the spirit of the meal, played out in all five senses that collides to make for a truly extraordinary—and indescribable!—experience. I had one of those meals on this week’s episode. 

But before we get into that, another legendary experience—having the B52s Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider as guest judges in the salad bar Quickfire Challenge. Being veggies, these two had high standards for a satisfying salad. What our chefs pulled together in just eight minutes was truly amazing. Lorena took a huge risk firing up the grill, but her smoky Grilled Cauliflower with Lemon Vinaigrette elevated the salad bar to a whole new level.

No Simple Salads

One word our chefs used over and over during the Elimination Challenge was “honored.” It’s easy to understand why. Flying in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, you’re struck by the vastness of this breathtaking ancient land. It’s awesome in the true sense of that word. The Hualapai Tribe has such a gorgeous relationship with the land, seeing it not only as something of great beauty but as the source of materials they need for food, medicine and crafts. To have the chance to break bread with them on the reservation on the edge of the Grand Canyon was truly a privilege.I’ve cooked for indigenous people in the past. Whether it was for the Australian Aboriginals or the Berbers in North Africa, the key part is to be sensitive to the culture. Our chefs did an amazing job with this, using the foods of the Hualapai Tribe in creative, vibrant, and respectful ways that celebrated their cuisine. Patricia and Chris were superstars on this front. The Rabbit and It’s Bits, Acorn Squash & Agrodolce was a culinary feat that also showed reverence for the food. Takashi and Thierry, though, really captured the essence of the challenge by working together to create a dish that wowed both the critics and the Hualapai. Every part of the Grilled Venison and Banana Yucca Cake with Figs worked so seamlessly with every other part. Thierry played magician, making a truly magnificent cake out of an ingredient that he’d never so much as seen. And while it would have perhaps been too bitter on its own, it was a perfect complement to the rich complexity of Takashi’s venison. 

Not every plate worked so nicely together. Clark and Kerry’s Spiced Beef Filet & Corn with Sage Pistou & Chili Ragout felt like it was put together by two chefs that hadn’t communicated with each other. The textures were too similar, and Clark’s corn simply too bland. I felt for Clark. He had to play it down to try and balance Kerry’s bold flavoring.  But in the end, his dish was lacking. Best of luck back in Maine, Clark!

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