If you watched the show last week, you know that I was unhappy about what all of the chefs put out -- vocally so. That talk I gave was meant to send a message. Clearly, the chefs got it. The food was, for the most part, much improved. It was much more imaginative, and the cooking of it was far better. It was all far more on par with what I expect from chefs competing on Top Chef, which shows me that these chefs are capable of rising to the challenge. Having stepped up their game, hopefully they will continue to keep it stepped up.
I was glad to see chefs tackling game, like elk. Elk, as with all game, is very lean. Game typically has fifty percent less fat than farm-raised meats, which is a double-edged sword: the leaner meat makes it a healthy choice, but one that’s tricky to cook. It should be kept rare, and it usually helps to wrap the meat in fatback or bacon or something to keep the outside moist, too.
It was clear to all the judges that of all the chefs who had flaws in conception and/or execution, it was Eliza who would be going home. Her elk was basically OK -- a little grainy, but OK -- but Eliza really got sent home for the whole dish. Biggest problem? Those carrots. They were a mystery to me. I just don’t know how a person could possibly try to make them the way she did. They were dry, cooked through yet somehow still hard, as though she were trying to make carrot leather. They were just terrible.
Contrast her dish with Brooke’s, which was really, really great. Talk about a risky dish -- on paper, that dish would make you ask, “WHY?”… and yet in actuality it was so good. Shellfish and meat do have a natural affinity for each other -- pork and shellfish are commonly seen together, and, in fact, I do a lot with that combination in my restaurants. Lamb was a somewhat unexpected selection for the meat, but it all just worked. The lamb wasn’t overly “lamby,” the rice was a great foil for the squid, the textures worked incredibly well together, and, all in all, everything was in balance. It was great to see Brooke go all out and show us her inventiveness as a chef.