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Food is sexy. I realize I may be biased. As a chef, I find everything from salmon roe to russet potatoes pretty seductive. But there’s a reason some foods have been widely accepted as aphrodisiacs—they’re just undeniably luscious. The same could be said for Dita Von Teese, our guest judge for the Quickfire Challenge. Aside from the obvious, what really made her sexy was how much she loves food. Naturally I was a bit ruffled. What chef isn’t a total sucker for a girl who likes to eat?
At this point in the competition, the Elimination Challenge needs to be seriously challenging if it’s going to rattle any of these amazing chefs. This week’s challenge fit that bill. In the real world, a pop-up restaurant would take weeks of planning. And the chef would ideally serve food within his or her comfort zone. Our chefs had one day, and besides Patricia, little to no experience with Thai cuisine.
Proving that everything has an upside, our chefs got a crash course from the best. Lotus of Siam is arguably the best Thai restaurant in the U.S. Way off the strip, in a nowhere strip mall, this unassuming restaurant serves some of the most exciting Thai food I’ve eaten outside of Thailand. If you go, don’t miss the Issan Sausage, a grilled sour pork sausage. It’s outstanding.Unlike previous weeks, this Elimination Challenge created quite a bit of conflict in the kitchen. It makes sense. To completely run a restaurant, the chefs had to switch back into a 200-covers-on-a Saturday-night mode. All of these chefs are used to running the ship—from the kitchen. Lorena and Art were in a tough spot. Not only did they have to work the front of the house (and there aren’t a whole lot of chefs who can do that), they had to give up control of plating their own dishes. In the kitchen, Kerry seemed a bit overwhelmed expediting, but his Braised Pork Belly with Chinese Mustard Greens and Taro Root Puree was truly outstanding and a very close second for the win to Chris’ Sirloin Steak Larb Tartare.
Every kitchen moves to its own unique rhythm, which is set by the chef, the executive chef or chef de cuisine. It’s the critical hum that makes service if not flawless at least possible. In this case, our chefs seemed to be competing to control that rhythm, so egos were bruised, timing was off, and in Patricia’s case, food wasn’t prepared properly.
In the end, though, it was Art’s dish that didn’t meet the challenge. It was sad to see him go. Art’s love of food is matched only by his love of life. He’s a great spirit and he’s made some amazing dishes for us this season. Best of luck, Art!