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The Heart of the Matter

Ruth Reichl explains what sets Season 4's cheftestants apart from previous ones.

By Ruth Reichl


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Over the first few days it became clear that this season was going to be different. Call it the Las Vegas effect. Being together in that over-the-top wonderland provided a kind of camaraderie that was missing in previous years. Wandering around the hotel in the middle of the night we’d come upon one another in the casino, the restaurants, the bars. Then too, it was amazing to be staying in such ridiculous luxury. My room at the Cosmopolitan was bigger than the apartment that I live in, and waking up every morning to lights and music was strange and rather wonderful, a little dose of unreality.

Then the first challenge came, slamming us straight back to earth. Losing Missy at the outset was a terrible blow -- I was expecting her to be one of the last chefs standing. It was a serious injury and she was remarkably brave. There is something so bittersweet about watching her teammates trying to prepare Missy’s dish while she’s in the emergency room, but it offers insight into this season’s chefs: this crew has heart. 

At tasting time we sat down, in the midst of all that Las Vegas hoopla, sharing food with people dressed in the most amazing costumes. Until you get used to eating with almost naked men, it’s a little hard to concentrate.In the end, though, this first challenge was all about ingredients. Watching what went on behind the scenes, it’s clear that the wining team understood the most basic truth of cooking: ingredients count. When the Red Team sent Art off to round up authentic Mexican ingredients, they had already won.

When your challenge is to cook the food of a given region, the first requirement -- beyond talent, beyond tools, beyond time -- is to have the right spices and the most authentic ingredients. The Blue Team didn’t lose because they weren’t talented; they lost because without the right ingredients, they simply could not make Indian food. 



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