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Hugh Acheson: Missin' Place

Hugh Acheson describes the odd relationship between the Masters and the sous chefs.

By Hugh Acheson

I am renaming the Masters all “maestros.” It's my prerogative. I will talk about the strange relationships between the chefs and the sous chefs throughout my blogs, which actually are luckily, for the most part, not about subjugating anyone, but are laced with strangeness, coos, arm pats, some cuckolding, some ego bashing, and strange advice from all angles. 

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That said, the shit is about to hit the fan and we are going to lose two of these maestros today. First step is to swoop in and take over the mise en place challenge (impossible to pronounce if you are Australian) and cook with the prep created. Loser of this gets the door to hit them in the butt on the way out. Second is a real Elimination Challenge, creating an Asian spin on a American classic, with product sourced from the a huge Asian grocer, and presented at a night market venue, kind of like an Asian food stall city. 

As I write this, I am in the Atlanta airport surrounded by a group of school-aged children going to save the world after they eat at a restaurant popular in airports that has the letters TGI Friday’s in its name. From their t-shirts it is clear that they are going to Mexico to save a convert a cartel. I actually remember the Yucatan trip of my youth; though it was a very agnostic one, and we did not have matching t-shirts, where our teacher liaisons seemed more than content with us just drinking beer and having one helluva time as long as we made the bus in the morning and didn’t bother them with trivial things like our personal saftey. I was 15, and I seem to remember smoking peyote, but it could have been epazote for all I know. I was a bad child. Back on track Acheson -- get this show back on track. 

Sue Zemanick, lordy I love her, but she looks scared of this Quickfire replacement. Her eyes are as big as a terrified aye aye (which if you haven’t watched this video by Zee Frank you need to… top priority if you are wasting time in a cubicle right about now.)

Franklin doesn’t expect Vinson to let him down, but Vinson is still looking like he may cry or go postal. Franklin is a very supportive maestro and this support will help. It’s all going to turn out OK, Vinson. Vinson, put down that knife. 

They gave me a whistle. I am the wrong guy to give a whistle to. Annoying noisemakers and I have a great rapport. 

The sous chefs clunk through the pomegranate and the celery root, and when time comes to a close only a couple have gotten through the squid and onto the lamb. Sang’s mercenary, Ted, completes the lamb rack butchery and gives Sang immunity. Good sous chef, that one. 

The Maestros step in and get down to prep completion and cooking. What would you make with pomegranate, squid, celery root, and lamb? It’s kind of a culinary version of Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the other” with the squid playing the roll of the thing that doesn’t belong. When in doubt, fry it into delicious submission and use it as a textural component. That’s what most of them do. Except the winner who treats it with a little more grace. 

Franklin gives Vinson happy hugs and high-fives, which kind of feels like the parental speech, “It’s not whether you win or lose….” Neal has a more evil paternal stance and admonishes Jason with a wedgie. We all have different ways of leading. I’d be like, “Really? Really? OK, go to your corner.” Follow that up with an awkward chef to sous chef bear hug and then me breaking into angry tears and crawling into the corner. I like to keep them on edge. Evidently, a culinary school somewhere has taught chefs to hammer the heck out of lamb bones to trim the rack. It does work, but it is a very cacophonous environment. I wince. It’s nothing compared to the edited takes of me blowing on the whistle in an attempt to be heard a county away. Again, they gave me a whistle…. Never give me a whistle. 

In tasting we watch Bryan go from smile to frown in a nanosecond. We see Franklin do the “I have to pee” dance. We see Gail taste a lot of things with lamb, squid, celery root, and pomegranate, and given that strange quartet, she feels like they did a pretty fine job. 

Tops are Sang, Sue, and Jenn. Sue wins with her lamb loin and pistachio salad. She cries tears of joy. 

Bottoms are Lynn the Canadian, Odette the Italian, and Richard the Pan Latino. Lynn’s dish gets accused od acting much like a loveless 50-year old marriage: two things on a plate, sharing space but not speaking to each other. Odette’s dish is not the lamb that won her the last challenge. Richard gets lambasted (pun intended) for making a tartare that just wasn’t singing. 

Richard had a hard day, but nothing compared to his sous chef, who practically hacked off his thumb sometime earlier in the challenge. I think that hurdle and loss of time just put a damper on things for Team Sandoval. Alas, Richard, is sent to pack his knives and his sous is sent to get stitches. 

Onto the Elimination Challenge where, after shopping, their sous chefs will join their Maestros for an Asian twist on an American Classic. Before we really get into shopping we are introduced to Sang’s charity, Worldwide Orphans and the amazing story of his Dad opening orphanages secretly around the world. This is awesome and uplifting. Our family stories are more about finding out about the half-cousins we didn’t know we had type of thing. Not as uplifting but definitely riveting. 

Shopping is crazed. Franklin’s sedatives have run out, and he is wired like a man possessed. Odette is a little bit defensive, listing her accolades and awards, and then confessing she knows exactly nothing about any food related to any Asian culture. Hopefully Bene will provide some young sous-chef advisement to his Maestro. Maaarco… Poooooollo. 

Franklin gets a lot of air time running around looking for his cart, yelling at no one in particular. We foreshadow to Neal buttering up judges, but butter is not very common in Asian cookery. This is why he will finish in the middle… again. 

Sue explains that sous chef Nick is like her Little Pony. 

Bryan is kickin' it up a notch, which makes Emeril really mad, and Emeril buries Bryan in a trench of seasoning powder. The end. 

Not really -- this is not over until someone wins the night market challenge. I will remind you that Newmarket is very close to Night Market… and that Newmarket, Ontario is the home to Glass Tiger. Just sayin’. 

Oh, Kathie Lee Gifford is scared of some of the food: shrimp heads, chicken hearts, chicken feet, all this weird animal stuff that is not just simple and sensical. She is though, a delightful soul. I am wearing her 1994 Honduran skort, in pastel mauve, right now, but the travlers in Atlanta don’t seem to notice. It’s a hot little number. 

Bread is the albatross in this challenge. The baguettes are leaden, and Sue and Jenn are both battling this travesty. Sue hollows out the bread smartly and that lightens the bites for her lobster roll. 

Time is up, and tasting starts up. The judges, Gail, Francis, James, and Curtis, wander through with Kathie Lee. They eat. You will notice that James has some pretty hefty pre-conceived notions about all Asian food, cause, well, he’s like an encyclopedia of the stuff. I remember back in the day he dissed my Banh Mi as well. Life is too short to forgive and forget. He does tell KLG to “Come inside my body.” What? 

Chicken hearts, who doesn’t love chicken hearts…. evidently the Jonas Brothers are about to try them for the first time ever.

Tops are Doug with his exceptional dessert array, Sang with his shrimp and slaw, and Bryan with his killer broth. Sang wins. 

Bottoms are Odette with her fish ball, Sue with lobster shells, and Jenn with the bread that sank this challenge. Jenn loses. Too bad, cause she rules. If you ever are in PDX, go to Lincoln. She is one of the most talented and kind chefs around. 

Go watch Battle of the Sous Chefs to see what happens next!

Until next time. Follow me on the Twitter @hughacheson

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