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No Guts, No Glory

Hugh ponders the finale's classic chef vs. bravado chef and admits which dishes he wishes he could have made.

By Hugh Acheson

According to the purists, the best wrestling match ever, and I mean real professional wrestling (not that Olympic stuff), was “Nature Boy” Ric Flair vs Ricky, “the Dragon” Steamboat in 1989, to settle the NWA title. Long story short, Flair won and then got a beat down from his arch nemesis while walking to the locker room after the match. The essence of the bout was clear: two leotarded men faced off in the ring and one took more chances to win that title. Seize the day and all that.

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In our culinary cage match this evening we have the very classic Kerry (Curtis uses the line “classical trained, maestro of modern American cuisine”!!! Wowza.) versus the season favorite Chris “the Spirited Savant” Cosentino. Somebody was on happy drugs when they wrote Curtis’ lines. No exploding cage match here, just a simple four-course dinner for a bunch of sanctimonious paid yelpers. I think you call them dining critics.

We get the standard prideful moments for Kerry and Chris for getting this far. They look tired but these armies of one will be armies of two. Enter sous chefs, Manfred for Chris and Nick for Kerry. Let the games begin.

The challenge has the sentimentality thing entwined in it, which is not my thing. The courses have to relate to letters: a love letter, a letter of apology, a thank-you letter and a letter to yourself. The latter is the one that confuses me. Do people often write themselves letters of positive affirmation to themselves?

“Dear Hugh,

You are rocking a good hair day today. I want you to put this moment in a snuggly. Keep on keeping on.


P.S. Your fly is open.”

We are off to Whole Foods and only for Kerry, while Chris has decided to shop at the local butcher, Whole Foods and 99 Ranch, all of which have their own Yelp reviews if you care to whittle away a day reading the opines of people who claim to know a lot about butcher shops, organic food stores, and Asian grocers.

Kerry can’t find a lobster for his Korean stew. He’s going the crab and spot prawn route. Other than that he is focused on getting this all in the paper bags so he can get his prep on. At the cash register he is flummoxed by going over budget by a tiny amount. Smart Kerry grabs a prawn that costs .61 from the bag and is right on the money. You will notice that he just puts that prawn back in his pocket though and was later arrested by the Whole Foods security team. “Sir, SIR. Is that a prawn in your pocket?”

As a small independent butcher I would revel in the opportunity to serve Chris Cosentino. Giving him $600 to shop for piles of muscles and guts is like giving a nine-year old boy ten rolls of quarters at Chuck E. Cheese. Chris is taking much more time in this shopping excursion than Kerry but he’s proving pretty successful in his purchases of blood, foie, and unicorn tears. Remember, purveying is the first key to good cookin’.

Cosentino is still Euro shopping for a new apron and some rare Iguana esophagus, filling up that Lexus RX, the prescribed vehicle for chefs of a certain affluence. I drive a diesel Jetta but the pops-in-law used to have an RX for a whip and they are pretty sweet. But that automatic trunk door is just one more “convenience item” to make America lazy. Eventually Darwinism happens and our arms become just button pokers. Do not let this happen America. Not on my watch. That said, LEXUS GIVE ME A CAR.

Kerry is still working on his letters, which keep coming out as Dear Johns, confusing even Kerry. He doesn’t even know what he’s walking out on. Chris, being the more emotive soul in this gastro-joust, is much more nimble when it comes to expressing his feelings. Kerry keeps it all locked up. Express yourself Kerry, let go.

Prep. Kerry has the lead and seems in good shape. Chris finally shows up and is bragging on his purchases. He begins to make morcilla, or blood sausage. It can be a tricky thing, that morcilla, and we later see those links bursting at the seams. Can’t rush the sausage. Curtis drops by and sings “The Letter.” Have you all ever seen Joe Cocker do that song? Truly killer. Leon Russell is stoned to the gills but rockin out in his own special way and Joe is positively losing it. Amazeballs. I think I account for at least ¼ of those YouTube views. Cmon, it’s an Alex Chilton song. Enjoy.

Pack up prep and get some dinner but the surprise is that Curtis has invited the chefs to the suite life. The Cosmopolitan never hooked me up in that one, but their regular suites are purely amazing so no matter. One fine hotel.

This is like dinner with the blond bombshell is like an homage to Curtis’ original show where he picks up the ladies at the grocery store and shows them how to butter their toast. To make it more authentic I am going to dress up like Marco Pierre White and scream at him from across the suite. Google that my peeps. There is nothing like a crazed, screaming, British chef to lighten up a dinner party, just ask that other British chef, whose name rhymes with Gordon Ramsey. He’s built an Empire on it.

Fish, foie, and that’s it. The shortest tasting menu ever. Everyone seems happy though.

Dinner time for realz.

Chris’s menu:
Beef Heart Tartare, Foie Gras, and Puffed Beef Tendon
Scallop, Pancetta Piana and Sea Urchin
Trippa Napolitana
Blood Sausage, Poached Oysters, and Egg

Kerry’s menu:
Scallop and Spot Prawn "Koren Jjigae"
Flan of Sugar Snap Peas with Prosciutto, Morels, and Chervil
Branzino with Clam Ragout and Mustard Greens
Dry Aged "Cote de Boeuf," Short Ribs with Swiss Chard and Fennel Gratin

The fine table has some crazy big names of people who, with their keyboards, have blessed and cursed many restaurants. Oh critics.

Jane Goldman
Alan Richman
John Curtas
Alan Sytsma
Karen Brooks
Lesley Bargar Suter
the Oseland
Ruth Reichl
Krista Simmons
Francis Lam

We learn quickly that Alan Richman got laid a lot back in the day thanks to Julia Child’s cheese souflle, but never in New Orleans, cause EVERYBODY hates that guy in NOLA. Everybody. Google that too. Lots of googles tonight.

Kerry has made a spot prawn and scallop rendition of Jjigae, a dish he once wooed his wife. It’s an ode to her Korean heritage and the love letter part of his meal. Alan Richman says something and nobody listens. Lesley would let Kerry get to first base. Just then Kerry remembers he’s married.

Chris has put his heart on the plate with beef tartare with foie and puffed tendon. Looks good. Looks familiar. We serve something very similar at Empire State South in Atlanta. Come. I will feed you.

Second course. . .Chris is yelling at Manfred but you get the feeling that it’s more a matter of putting on a show than much ado otherwise. How do you apologize in food? Kerry does the pea, morels, ham thing. Chris tears up with his second course apology to his wife. Scallop with pancetta. Kerry is killing this. Have I underestimated Kerry’s mad skillz abilities through an entire season? I may have people, I may have. Chris’ dish gets mixed reviews. Chow Jane thinks it’s salty. Ruth thinks it’s sexy. Ruth is such a minx in spanx. Kerry double dipping with a big ladle. Third course from Chris is tripe Napolitana, an ode to Grandma. Looks good. Looks hot.

Kerry has an ode to his family and Cape Cod. It’s a branzino with clam ragout and mustard greens. Chow Jane likes Kerry’s dish

John Curtas continues the trend of men as critics being complete douchebags when he rails against Chris’ egg dish but don’t you worry, Lam has is playing contrarian and gives Chris’ dish a resounding thumbs up as a retort to the douchebag’s comments. We like Francis. I like the egg dish. Gutsy.

Kerry’s final dish looked a lot like a dish I would think through (we are very similar in style) and then not pull off as well as I would have liked to. How’s that for honesty? I think he probably feels the same way. It’s good but maybe not a winner winner chicken dinner.

This is kind of a matter of classic chef vs. bravado chef, which is a very interesting idea and one that we see a lot in the bizness. I am in the middle. I think there is room for both on the spectrum of restaurants and chefs that are sheer awesomeness.

Guts prevailed. $141000 for MJFox Foundation. We have a winner. Both gents should be very proud of how far they got.

Great season. Fun. Great cooking. Good peeps.

Top Chef premieres Nov 7. Watch me. Watch me. WATCH ME.

Until then follow me on Twitter: @hughacheson

This is a good conversation and one important to our restaurant landscape.

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