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Quality, Not Quantity

Ruth Reichl explains why she found the Quickfire more appealing than the Elimination Challenge.

By Ruth Reichl

I missed this elimination, but as I watched James doing push-ups by the pool, I have to say I felt I dodged a bullet.  

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Still, watching this episode I couldn’t help wondering why the Quickfire food looked so much more delicious than the Elimination Challenge dishes. Watching the Indigo Girls tasting Art’s pot pies and Takashi’s Japanese dishes and Lorena’s arepas I just got hungrier and hungrier. Patricia’s pho looked great, and Kerry’s elegant flan...

But the poolside dishes? Not all that appealing. They all struck me as fairly lackluster; the only one I really longed to taste was Chris’ watermelon and tuna bacon. It looked interesting and original (not to mention lovely), and while it obviously didn’t deliver on its promise, at least it had some.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is classic restaurant wisdom: banquet food -- dishes that are turned out in quantity -- are almost always less successful than food that’s created plate by plate. Making food for 150 limits both your possibilities and your creativity. Asked to make just two dishes -- even in as short a time as 45 minutes -- gives a chef a lot of room to turn around in. But there was something else at work here. In the Quickfire, the chefs all went back to their roots. The Elimination was another story, throwing each chef a curveball. Thierry suffered the most; he’s a wonderful, classically trained chef, and when he dialed it down to make a simple Croque Madame, he was at a loss. I’ll admit it made me very sad to get back and discover that Thierry was gone. He’s a great spirit, and when he left, some of the fun went with him.


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