Talk about a polar episode of Masters. The day was more varied than Ramona Singer's mood swings! The scene started out with a cold, stove-free Quickfire, then the pendulum swayed all the way over to a heated teppanyaki battle, where the chefs were meant to master a theatrical Japanese style of flat top cooking that takes months, if not years, to learn.
The Masters were metaphorically hog tied by the challenge, which eliminated crucial details they have control over in their own kitchens: steady heat sources, the ability to taste and season, and a level of anonymity lent by the shroud of a single swinging silver door.
Not only were the Masters expected to cook in front of their diners, but there was an added anxiety of showmanship and style points. And quite frankly, it seemed like some cracked under pressure.
Just watching Chris' outburst over Art moving his mandolin made me uncomfortable. There is nothing more awkward than dining in a restaurant with an open kitchen that's run by a chef that's a “screamer,” as they're called in the industry. Customers don't want to see your beef unless it's medium rare and served with a side of mashed potatoes. We all deal with enough of that drama in our daily lives, and there's no need to put it on display in such closed quarters like Chris did. Dining out is supposed to be an indulgent, relaxing experience. And trust me, being on the receiving end of a chef's rant is no fun. I've been there. So whenever I'm in a restaurant with one of these “screamer” chefs that tee off on their line, my instinct is to run over and give them all a big hug.
I was so impressed by Art, who showed the utmost grace under fire. Even while his grit cakes fell apart under the flame and he was being barked at by Chris, he stayed cool as a julep. And he managed to bring that Southern belle flare to the teppan, which was just plain fun to watch. I wish I could have been on this episode to see and taste it in real time, and without actually trying the dishes it's impossible to comment on the flavors. What I can say is this: seasoning is everything. You could have the most fabulous dish on the planet, but without salt to coax out the subtle flavors, it could simply fall flat. Conversely, if something is grossly over seasoned, all you can taste is a mouthful of seawater. The only way to definitively balance between those two is to taste. Always taste. It's one of the fundamentals really, and one of the first things you learn in culinary training.
Now, as a modern etiquette columnist for New York mag, I agree with Kerry. The chefs shouldn't have just shoved a bunch of food in their mouth in front of the guests. That would indeed be indelicate. But in a competition like this, they could have easily dished up a small portion, turned away from their diners -- heck, even used each other as a block in a discreet way -- and taken a taste for seasoning.
Would that have saved Mark? I can't say. Again, I wasn't there. But from what the judges said, it seemed the real issue was that the simplicity of the dish fell flat. There's a trend in the culinary world right now to get really heady with food, deconstructing dishes, waving a magic wand, and turning them into a billowing cloud of wizard smoke, but the fact of the matter is that the simplest of dishes are the easiest to screw up. A Neapolitan pizza or a carne asada taco are so deceivingly straight forward, but if just one element is askew or a singular ingredient isn't perfect, you're done-zo. Sadly that's where Mark screwed up. But he was honest to himself as chef throughout the whole process, and I'm sure he will be Clark's number one fan moving on. I can't wait to get out to Arrows to see what the dynamic duo does on their home turf.