Bravotv.com: We start with a fun little ketchup Quickfire where Doug really tried to screw Sang over.
Gail Simmons: That’s Doug and Sang’s playfully competitive relationship, and Doug just wanted Sang to have a sense of humor about it. So, I think that it was really funny.
Bravotv.com: Any thoughts on ketchup in general and the dishes offered?
GS: I’m sort of indifferent to ketchup. I can understand why Sang hates it so much, but it’s so good on French fries. And sometimes mixed into meatloaf.
I love the idea that the winner of Battle of the Sous Chefs got to create their own Quickfire—that’s what the game is all about. I know all these chefs are really competitive -- Sang is probably the most competitive -- but it was all in good fun and all for charity. I think Doug totally embraced the challenge as something completely silly. He didn’t even win himself, so it just shows that he wasn’t in it for himself. Jen won, which was totally cool. Jen is on a serious roll.
Bravotv.com: Which takes us to the Elimination Challenge?
GS: I don’t know much about Mexican wrestling, but it was bizarre and amazing and spectacular and ludicrous all at the same time. Even with the burlesque unicorn dancers and wrestlers in chicken costumes, it was just a really good Mexican food challenge. And all about creating food for a larger audience. Overall, the food was actually excellent that day. They had very little time, and the chefs were very creative. I think it really showed what our Masters are made of.
GS: That was so hard, but a great twist. I believe Sang said it’s akin to swapping wives, and maybe it is! You choose your sous chef purposefully because they know you, they can read your mind, they know your style and your vision. So, having someone new, even if they’re a very confident cook, makes it very difficult. They’re still useful and helpful, but they’re also secretly rooting for someone else. Although, in Jen’s case Sang’s sous chef loved working with her and loved the dishes they made, and they won! So that’s how it goes. The irony is that of all the chefs that day, Jen won and Sang lost.
Bravotv.com: Let’s start with David’s “flautadilla.”
GS: It was a great idea, and he was trying to be clever, but I think his issue really lay in the way he served it. You ate the “flautadilla” and the sauce separately. You sort of dipped it a bit, but you really needed that sauce. Without it, the dish was dry. He called it a quesadilla, but we didn’t get any cheese. It just tasted like shrimp in a fried wrapper, and it wasn’t that interesting. His Veracruz fish was very good actually, but there was a bit of a heavy crust. We wanted something a little more creative from him.
Bravotv.com: Douglas had immunity so he made a cocktail and fritters.
GS: Douglas’ fritters were excellent. I loved every morsel of them. His Bloody Maria was lacking though. It was watery, it wasn’t that spicy. I wanted it to be chunkier, thicker, more special. If you’re going to “chef up” a Bloody Maria, make it great. If not, I’m happy to just go to my local Mexican place on Sunday for brunch and get a better one. But he had immunity and that was his choice.
Bravotv.com: On to Bryan.
GS: Bryan’s dishes were excellent. Bryan worked so hard on this challenge. His shrimp and chorizo with plantain and yellow corn porridge was a good dish, but we wanted it to have a little more flavor. Sitting next to his bold beef tongue dish, it felt overpowered. Now, Bryan’s chili masa dumplings–like gnocchi but made of masa—I thought was completely inspired. Braised beef tongue is really delicious, really authentic to Mexico. The way he presented it in his usual Bryan-style was innovative and modern, even though all those flavors rang true to traditional Mexican cooking. He presented it in a new and interesting way, and that’s what we were really impressed with, I thought he did a fantastic job. Bravotv.com: Ultimately, Jennifer won.
GS: Jennifer’s dishes were both really strong. Her ceviche was terrific. It was tart with lots of citrus, pineapple, mango, and the shrimp and scallops were exactly as you wanted them to be in a fresh ceviche, eaten on the beach in Mexico. It was light and a great counterpoint to her dark, deep pozole. Pozole is one of my favorite dishes. I make it all the time at home too. Hers was a truly excellent version—so layered and complex. It was amazing what she accomplished only four hours. That really shows a mastery of ingredients. And then she added this lovely slaw on top of it of shaved cabbage cilantro and queso fresco that gave it a little crunch and a little brightness. Perfect.
Bravotv.com: Unfortunately, Sang went home.
GS: I still can’t believe Sang was eliminated myself. Sang’s been a good friend of mine for a long time, so this was not easy for any of us. And we all know what a totally amazing genius of a cook he is. He’s so talented, he’s such an awesome guy, great restaurateur, really just a forward-thinking chef in all ways. His Thai-style shrimp cocktail just wasn’t Mexican—it was more Thai, which, to us, was completely odd. Why run the risk of bringing in those flavors? Yes, there are similar ingredients in that part of the world -- I get that--but as soon as you put something like fish sauce in a dish that’s Mexican, you really go in another direction. We couldn’t get over it. Perhaps if it had been the perfect shrimp cocktail, if it was so totally delicious and amazing, we would have felt otherwise. But it wasn’t the best shrimp cocktail I’ve ever had. And because of this overpowering and distinct Asian flavor, it felt disjointed from the challenge, from the location, and from what we’d asked him to do.
We all agreed that his pork barbacoa was oversalted. Whether that was him overcompensating for his concerns about it not being cooked on time, maybe a slightly heavy hand at the last minute, or just not tasting the meat throughout the process because it wasn’t cooked until the end, it’s hard to say. It was a smart idea, but it just didn’t follow through on its promise, and the pressure cookers failed him too, which is a risk you take trying to create a dish in three hours that usually takes many more. I’m sad about Sang’s elimination, but don’t forget that he did really well, raised a lot of money for his charity. I think he’s going home with his head held high. I will definitely be visiting him the next time I’m in LA, as I always do. Bravotv.com: How much do you think him switching Sous Chefs affected his food because, one of the dishes, the barbacoa, was literally one of his sous chef’s dishes?
GS: There’s no question it had some effect. That’s what happens when you’re thrown a twist, but it comes with the game. He was talking to his sous chef throughout though, and most of the prep was done the day before. The cooking of the barbacoa was not done in that one hour when he had Jen’s sous chef. The cooking process started much, much earlier, so you can’t blame the new sous chef. Although, I do think what happened is that they are all perfectionists and Sang is probably the biggest of them all. He is clearly a type A personality, and a micromanager as a chef because he likes things very specific and very much his way, and I think probably because of that, it was hard for him to use that one hour efficiently with a new sous chef. He probably spent too much time trying to explain his food and micromanage Jorel, rather than just getting to it. And that probably lost him a little time. He will be missed…sort of. ;-)