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Brian and Travis' Dud Spuds

Gail reveals the most surprising element of all the potluck dishes.

By Gail Simmons Let’s start with the Quickfire.

Gail Simmons: I may not have been there, but I was super psyched that Kermit Ruffins was. He’s such a talented musician, loves food, is a great cook.

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It was a difficult Quickfire in that the person who won was the person who finished the dish, but not necessarily the person who really had the vision or worked the most on the dish. But it was just fun to see them all improvise and have to work off of each other so closely. It made you understand how dependent you are as a cook on other people’s work, and I think that’s the important lesson for all cooks. Working in a kitchen, you really do rely on each other so intimately. So the Elimination Challenge -- It was all about creating a cohesive potluck meal. Are you a potlucker?
GS: Yes, I definitely potluck. I’m a firm believer in asking for help at dinner parties. In fact, I went to a potluck last night with some girlfriends before I went to do on Watch What Happens Live. I don’t necessarily call it “potluck” every time; but I have dinner with friends at our houses all the time and we all bring something to contribute.

In the spirit of collaboration, we wanted the chefs to create menus that really worked off of this idea where everybody contributes a dish and makes one cohesive menu, which is the way many of these musicians eat together before they perform, but it’s also how musicians play together in a band. Again, it’s an important lesson on everyone contributing their part to make  greater whole that is all cohesive, tastes great together, and makes sense -- just like a great piece of jazz music.

I was really excited to be judging with Sue Zemanick. We’ve been friends for a long time. She was just on this past season of Top Chef Masters as well. She has always been a great tour guide and advisor, any time I’m in New Orleans, and this season was no different. She is an amazing cook and her restaurant, Gautreau’s, is one the most beautiful restaurants in New Orleans,  just love her. She actually knew a lot of the musicians, which was really cool. Let’s start at the top with the Green Team.

GS: There was a lot that I really liked about the Green Team’s dishes. It all felt like it went together. First of all, everything tasted great. The only major issue we had with this team was that Carrie’s “summer tiramisu” wasn’t really a tiramisu. It was misnamed. It was more of a trifle. It had certain elements of a tiramisu, but because it didn’t have coffee cocoa, it just wasn’t what you think of as a tiramisu at all. It was very beautiful though and felt summery, with the nectarines and pistachios – and great combination. And the dish worked well as a light dessert to the meal, so we certainly weren’t going to penalize it too much.Nina’s gnocchi was also excellent. She’s a wizard in the gnocchi department. But it was Stephanie’s fried artichokes that really stood out. They were presented well, they felt more elevated than your average potluck, and they were fried beautifully with the lemon and anchovy. So she was our winner! As an entire team effort, it felt like a really great pot luck meal from start to finish. The Blue Team found itself in the middle. 

GS: Yes, there were things we liked and things we didn’t like about the Blue Team. Everything actually tasted great -- it was bold and all worked well together, but not as cohesively as the Green Team. Justin’s grits and shrimp were very rich, not typical in a room full of very traditional New Orleans food lovers, so I think that took everyone by surprise a little bit. Louis’ pickled vegetables were great. I remember really liking Shirley and Sara’s braised beef in terms of flavor, but feeling that it was a little tough and chewy, it needed to be braised longer. And finally the Gray Team
GS: The Gray Team made a few things that we loved, and a few things we thought were mysterious and problematic. We really liked Brian and Travis’ fried chicken. I particularly thought it was an excellent potluck dish. It was cooked beautifully, with tons of flavor, and I loved the togarashi seasoning. It was smoking hot, temperature-wise, just as it should have been. Nicholas used red drum, a very traditional dish in that part of the country, a good local fish. Although it didn’t really stand out in any way. It was bland and not very memorable.

There were the caramel-glazed ribs that were really bold and tender, but as we all said, that rub was so thick and overpowering that it coated your mouth and stayed with you for a little longer than you wanted it to. But the most bizarre component of this dish wasn’t the ribs, it was the dehydrated potatoes. For some reason we didn’t catch that they were dehydrated potatoes when they announced the dish. And when we all went to eat it, no one knew what they were. They took on this strange, chewy texture, and it felt like a gimmicky technique that just was unnecessary. I don’t know what preparing them this way added to the dish in terms of making it better. I think if they had made a really great roasted potato that was creamy on the inside, deeply crispy on the outside, it would have gone a lot further in terms of success. Everyone was stumped by them. They kind of had a texture of a bean. Or even spätzle? We just couldn’t figure out the texture of them, what they were and what purpose they served. But I did like the peanut gremolata that went with it all.  

It was Patty’s dish that really fell short. It may have appeared as a cop-out to just single out that dish because it was too simple. But understand that I’m all for a great salad, and it’s not just that it was simple -- it was flavorless. She didn’t make great decisions in terms of her preparation. We now know that she forgot the chili threads, which would have added a lot of flavor and would have added another dimension to the dish for sure. There wasn’t enough goat cheese, so most bites didn’t have it, and you really needed that goat cheese to balance out the sweetness of the watermelon.  We didn’t taste any peppercorn, which is usually a very strong ingredient. And the tomatoes were not especially sweet or acidic, so it didn’t really add any balance to the sweet watermelon, either. It felt like it had been sitting out for a while as well. We wanted it be cold and refreshing on such a hot day and that’s not what we got unfortunately.It’s not the first time Patty has given us tomatoes that were less than desirable. I know she didn’t make the tomatoes herself, but you need to think of all these details when you’re up against much more complex and sophisticated food. If you’re going to make something simple, as we’ve said 100 times, it needs to be perfect because we are going to analyze it thoroughly. So, for better or worse, it was Patty’s time to go. She’s a lovely person and a super strong cook. I hope we see her again soon!

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