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Gail: "We Couldn't Excuse Neal"

Gail offers her perspective on David and Neal's working relationship. What did you think about Jen's return?
Gail Simmons: I thought it was great. It was a tough battle. Jen and Sue are both really strong chefs. I love them both, and I was proud of them both. They were both great contestants, great players in the game. But that day, Jennifer just did a little bit more, and her dish was just a little bit better. It was really 50-50 going in. I had no idea who would win, and I would have been happy either way. Jenn really did work hard to get there, so I was thrilled to see her back. Ali Larter! Nachos!
GS: That challenge was hilarious and actually very creative. The chefs did a great job. David Burke clearly had some issues.  I love nachos, but I don't eat them very often. I loved that Ali Larter was part of it. She's adorable. She just wrote a cookbook, which is cool too. On to the Elimination Challenge at Duke's in Malibu. What was it like meeting Gidget?
GS: I loved meeting Gidget, and we loved being out in Malibu, a great little road trip, out of central L.A.. It was a beautiful day. And, I think it was a just fun challenge to get the chefs out of their usual kitchen. Duke's was really cool -- it's got a lot of history, and Gidget obviously played a major role. She was awesome! I loved that they got their fish fresh off the truck, having just been caught, as it should be. Some of the teams definitely had more challenging issues than others.

Doug seemed to have luck on his side this episode. He won immunity, he got the first knife pull, and had his pick of fish. He did really well. Let's break down each person's dynamic. Doug worked with Jenn, and he said he's not used to playing second fiddle, but he really wanted Jenn to lead where the dish was going.
GS: When you're the chef, you're the boss. I don't think any of them are good at playing second fiddle. They all have their egos. They're all used to being in control. Letting someone else have control is a very hard thing for any chef to do, and Doug certainly is no exception. But, I was really glad to see that he had the insight in this situation to do that for Jennifer. It was the right thing to do. He was a gentleman about it, putting aside his ego -- still guiding, still working, helping, and contributing to the team -- and clearly that's what it was. Even though he said he stood back, that was still clearly a Douglas dish in a lot of ways -- it was Asian and the plating was in his style.

But he let Jennifer be in control in many ways. She had a say, which is really important. She had so much more to lose than he did. I remember thinking their dish was one of the most beautiful dishes I'd eaten all season. It had so much flavor. I love that they made it one, cohesive dish eaten from top to bottom, hot and cold in one plate. The broth was fantastic; Douglas really knows how to make his broths. The plum was a beautiful touch. It was a little bit sweet, a little bit sour, and really fresh. It gave a nice little crunch. This was a dish that would be a huge success on either of their restaurants' menus, considering how little time I had to create it. And the bottom dishes?
GS: It came down, in this case, to Sang versus Neal to see who was going home. Sang and Bryan had a great idea for a dish. I love that they wanted to make this subtle, sablefish connection with the idea of barbecue and smoke. Bryan's side of the plate was a much stronger dish in and of itself. You definitely got the traditional American barbecue with the cornbread and those smokey flavors the way he cooked the sablefish. You didn't get it the same way with Sang. He made a charred cucumber emulsion that was a really interesting idea for barbecue or smoke from the char, but that really was the only thing that connected it to the rest of the plate. I don't think it was enough in terms of the actual way he presented the fish. Also, the texture of the sablefish itself, because of the nature of raw sablefish, was slimy and mushy... I wish I had a better way to describe it. It tasted like wet paper that falls apart. The dashi that it was cured in wasn't strong enough to hold it together in terms of the theme and flavor. It just wasn't Sang's best work. I think it was one of those dishes where if he had time to work on it longer, and fine-tune it a little more, it definitely could have been a great dish. It just wasn't fully realized yet.

Neal and David had a stronger concept for their dish -- a Moroccan Spanish/Moorish theme. The flavors were great and certainly carried through -- we got the link between the two dishes. Again, David did way too many things; some of it was successful and some of it wasn't, but Neal's crudo was the real issue. The bass was served two different ways. He started slicing it and then, when he realized didn't have enough, he chopped up the rest to do a tartare and plated both. The crudo slices were hacked a bit. You saw it when Curtis picked it up with his fork. They were tough and sinewy because of it. The tartare was OK because he had chopped it. If he had chopped it all, and stuck to that decision, it would have made a lot more sense. But he was too late in the game when he realized this, I think. The dish suffered because of it. Where you surprised after watching the episode just how much Neal took on and decided to take a backseat to David, almost as his sous chef?
GS: I wasn't surprised by the way Neal acted in this case. He's worked with David before. Once someone's your boss, they're always your boss. I feel that way about people I work with in my life too. You fall into a rhythm with them because that's an established relationship. I supposed it was very hard for Neal to say to David, "I'm gonna take the lead," and push him aside. It's sort of a chef/cook thing in the kitchen, but also just as a person-to-person thing. Neal worked a ton on that dish and we did realize that, but we have to judge on the final dish that's presented to us. Knowing that Neal did the half of it with the uneven fish knife work, we couldn't excuse him. He made those choices and they all added up to what was on our plates. Were you surprised to see Bryan teach Sang how to pin his fish?
GS: Not at all. People have different experiences with different food and cooking styles. Chefs are constantly learning in a kitchen. People think, "Oh you're a chef; you should be able to do everything." That's not necessarily true. There are so many techniques out there that a chef takes from different cultures, from different places that they work, that they pick up along the way. They're all learning from each other at all time. Perhaps Bryan just knew a specific technique that he was showing Sang which was going to make it easier for him. It seemed Bryan had a way of separating the meat from the bone that was more efficient. It's always great to see that the chefs not above taking advice and suggestions from each other, which is really important. It's like anything -- the day you stop learning is the day you stop loving what you do. Anything else to add?
GS: Yeah! Next week gets cray-cray!

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