So far, I equate this season to a minor league hockey game, a mix of players who will rise up to the big leagues and some who are just barely filling in the uniform before finding another career. How apt that this mixed up brawl is taking place in Boston, home of the Bruins. Let the record show that I am a diehard Montreal Canadiens fan, and that, though early in this NHL season, the Habs are kicking butt.
So we are searching for a needle in a haystack, and it is a quest to find a leader, a charming soul who can compose food and articulate through culinary skills. Along the way we will also find the minor league tough guy, a skillset not so much in playing the game, but causing havoc along the way. We have found that character and his name is Aaron. Within the first minute of this episode he has said a line that will live on in my mind forever, as I guide my children through this world.
"I will cook you under the table, bitch."
It is a line so lacquered-up with misogyny, hatred, and utter insecurity that I am hoping it was a joke. But, if what he says is what he meant, then my advice to my kids, should they meet up with the Aarons of the world, is very simple: Do not make eye contact. Walk away. Do not engage.
James and Aaron have their morning patio chat about growing up on the wrong side of the tracks with Aaron letting loose another memorable line: "If my mom had the money to send me to CIA (Culinary Institute of America), I'd be Bobby Flay." It is a heartfelt, yet really cocky, statement. Modern day Oliver Twist shit.
As Aaron explains why he is misconstrued to the world, we watch chefs get dressed. Katsuji likes to wear a chef coat snugly, yet artfully, arranged over Ed Hardy dress shirts. It is like chef-by-day, and woosh, Vegas Casanova by night. Magic. This is how the only Japanese-Mexican-Kosher chef in the world sets the style trends for a new generation of Japanese-Mexican-Kosher chefs. For future blog posts this food genre will be shortened to "JaMexiKo." You have been warned.
Ming Tsai and Padma are in the kitchen and announce a sudden death Quickfire. But first Padma puts on a tattered blazer with elbow patches, comfy shoes, and a pocket protector, and plays a professor of the American Revolution. In 1773, the Boston Tea Party happened and this act steeped the brewing conflict. . .see what I did there?
Well, they have to create a dish highlighting tea.
Aaron's shorter arms fail to grab the yellowtail. He gets the monkfish cheeks instead, which he seems oddly confident with, given that he has never used them before. Adam has successfully grabbed the yellowtail with his long limbs, and some of Aaron's spite in the process.
Rebecca is making cake. This is crazy talk. Unless it's one of those microwave sponge cake things, which is a handy trick that should only be used once per season. She says she is a double threat with both savory and pastry skills, and then apologizes for possessing these superpowers, making the double threat seem less threatening.
Aaron starts bad mouthing the dated aspects of the food around him: "James is an '80s baby." AARON, JAMES IS THE ONLY HOPE YOU HAVE OF AN ALLY IN THE SHOW. I don't think I have ever seen someone yearn to be the cocksure villain with such wild abandon. And plus, do not denigrate the Swayze. If you grew up with Road House, you'd want a Patrick Swayze tattoo as well. Just because you went with the Slipknot tattoo on your back don't get all mean about it. Sheesh.
Ron Eyester, the Atlanta chef, has burned his duck breast and must start over with what feels like two seconds to go. Somehow he gets his duck cooked and that pairs with his chocolate tea mole.
They all run circles around the kitchen until Ming and Padma return to the kitchen to eat some tea-tillating vittles.
Melissa makes duck with oolong infused Jasmine rice. Ming likes it. Katsuji has made a very restrained dish of rice tea broth with tuna and pralines. He has hidden four other dishes inside this dish, because he can't help being busy. "Umami" says Ming.
Padma hates Ron's tea, which is very strange to say. Way to be objective. Luckily it looks good, so apart from Padma's hatred, it seems to be going over pretty well.
AARON FISH IS HAMMERED. He don't care. He is like a lost honey badger. Adam has made a te-viche. This angers me because I like being corny and he is stealing my thunder. They like his ceviche/teviche thing. They find it exotic.
James has made a trout with buerre blanc, and even Ming states that he hasn't had a buerre blanc in ten years. Man, buerre blancs are getting no love in this world anymore.
Rebecca made cake. Cake was her promised threat, and definitely not a double threat. More like a off-kilter whisper which would not alarm anyone.
Favs: Melissa, Gregory, and Ron. The winner is Gregory, and he is having an assured start to this season. He is definitely here to play, and he plays nice, with skill and class. Aaron? Aaron are you listening?
Bottoms: James, Aaron, Rebecca.
ELIMINATED: Aaron. He picks Katie to go tete-a-tete with in the "cook yourself back into the episode" part of the Quickfire. His reasoning for picking Katie is sound logic: "She is teaches at a cooking school, and I never went to skool." Discuss.
They tussle in a boiling water challenge and Aaron pulls out the win with his shrimp skin spring roll. He stays to make friends for a bit longer.
The Elimination Challenge is to cook at Fenway Park with ballpark ingredients, so they go shopping for peanuts and Cracker Jack. I do care if they ever come back.
Back to the prep cause I don't like to talk about the shopping. It is always fast and frenetic. That's about it.
Fenway Park is such a gem of a place. I took my 12 year old to see the Braves versus the Red Sox and it was amazing. Put it on the life list.
The chefs cook and talk baseball. Lots of memories for all of them. They pack up and head to the house before the ballpark fun tomorrow.
Gregory can touch his feet. He also talks about his downfall and his Phoenix rising. He is very likeable. This industry is fraught with addiction and we need to support those who have fought through that beast of a battle to win.
They are cooking in groups because the kitchens are tiny. Katie is freaking out. Aaron is egging her on.
The baseball diners are sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, superstar reliever Dennis Eckersly, Padma, Tom, Richard, and I. WE ARE SITTING ON THE DIRT AT FENWAY. It was very surreal. THAT IS DENNIS ECKERSLEY. Goose Gossage said these fine words about Dennis, one of the best pitchers ever to play the game: "He could hit a gnat in the butt with a pitch if he wanted to."
First crew is Aaron, Katie, and Ron. Aaron did a fancy pretzel dog. The kid does have skills beyond just getting under people's skins. Ron's popcorn soup was a clumpy mess with a fried fish ball in it. Tom tells Ron that he likes small balls. All in all, Ron's food was not so good today. Katie, oh Katie. She was an emotional time bomb that exploded with stories of her recently passed father and her complex mess up in the kitchen. But the funny thing is her food was truly delicious. Like really really great. And even better was the fact that Aaron could not stop dissing her food.
The other waves of food include Katsuji with a overwrought bread pudding and pork belly, James with a sautéed lobster cake that was bleak, and Adam with a wonderful watermelon curry showing off his time at Tabla back in the day. We had a sensational duck from Gregory that was a peanut focused dish, a soup from Melissa with just the right amount of pickled ramp to laser focus all of the flavors into unison, and a pork loin dish from Mei that had the saving grace of the best braised peanuts that I have ever had. Keriann presented under braised short rib, not her hoped for result, and Dougie gave us a scallop that sang with skill. Stacy made the hometown proud with another fine scallop, and I will note that Sportswriter Dan had NEVER HAD A SCALLOP BEFORE. AND HE LIVES IN BOSTON.
Stew room is a fun fun battle of the mouths with Katsuji and Aaron. Aaron continues to amaze me and I just hope that this man, who is sacrificing his career for us to laugh (at him), will continue to cook so-so food so I have things to write about.
Alas, doing yoga in the morning is good for your daytime prospects. Gregory wins.
Ron goes back to Atlanta. Back in Georgia, Ron is known by his pseudonym "the Angry Chef," for some writing he has done about the industry and his reactions to daily life in restaurants. He is actually a hilarious writer. Alas we never saw his angry side. We have our angry chef in the room and it ain't Ron. If anything brought Ron down it was that his soup had a La Brea tarpit-like consistency garnished with a baseball sized cod ball. I said codball.
Godspeed Ron. good luck in all things.
P.S. Eckersley has the best hair ever.