The dimensions of Fenway Park are the quirkiest and most challenging in all of baseball. Its right field foul pole is a short distance from home plate, and the wall around it is a very, very short distance from the ground. It's supplied many moments for outfielders to tumble notoriously into the stands knee cap first. It's deepest part in center field is very deep, and it's angular arrangement is a coffin of despair for hitters and fielders alike. There is almost no room, mere inches of foul territory down the foul lines behind the bases causing some interesting caroms and fan interference moments. And of course, there is the green monstah, towering high over left field, dented and battered, an obvious reminder of the first men and the wildlings who reside just over it. OK, it's not that wall. . .
What I'm saying is Fenway Park is difficult to defend. And that's what our contestants had to do tonight, what they have to do most nights.
Tom, Padma, Gail, and probably most of you will disagree with this. But playing defense is what the chefs should be doing at this stage in the competition. Winning is overrated. The main goal is to advance each round, not necessarily win. The only time you really have to win is the last game. In this regard, Top Chef is much more like English premier football or European soccer in general. The real exciting stuff happens at the bottom of the table, where teams get relegated, or, err, they pack their knives. But back to baseball. . .
Our bottom three chefs played bad defense, and pardon the cliche, but defense wins championships.
These challenges are harder than they sound. Prep for three hours, then one more at the ball park. But take away one hour for just basic acclimating -- setting up, finding your space, equipment, etc. Take away another hour for just basic kitchen work -- peeling and chopping, butchering, etc. And your left with two or so hours of actual cooking.
There are ways around this, or shortcuts to maximize your efforts. Whole Foods, for example, sells chopped vegetables. It takes some chefs time, and some never get it, but buying the same quality product, half prepped at the store will save you time, maybe save your ass. Making a sauce of reduced carrot juice, uh, dude, they sell fresh carrot juice. And butchers at Whole Foods will cut meat, usually (if your nice Aaron), exactly how you want it prepared. So if you are smart, it's possible, with a portioned short rib, some chopped mirepoix, and a bottle of red wine to get short ribs cooking in 10 minutes. If you are even smarter, and use a pressure cooker (which at this point is just silly not to! On any TV competition, anywhere! Really, listen, if you are reading this and plan on cooking in any environment where you won't have a lot of time, work on your pressure cooker game.) you can have your short ribs cooked in 30 minutes. But you have to know the game. Understand the stadium, and it's dimensions. Oh, that's Keriann knees first into the right field stands. That's a pesky pole.
Another great rule of defense. Don't give away your weakness. It's a typical classic Top Chef mistake. A chef throws themselves on their own sword exclaiming the issues and problems of a dish, before the judges actually comment. Every chef has their inner dialogue and knows what could be better, and I'd advise if you get called out on it, discuss it in earnest, but don't give away your signals, that's just bad strategy. Katie, of course, had a good solid tasting dish, but gets a visit to the mound for that. She's on a short leash perhaps. . .
Sometimes the difficulty is having too much stuff. Buying too much, thinking too much. Katsuji is a classic Top Chef personality in this way, and I can relate. Notice how he performed well in the Quickfire? I did too and it's simple. No time to out think yourself in a Quickfire. You cook, that's it. And although his dish at Fenway was another Facebook relationship status "it's complicated" Katsuji seems to absorb feedback well, but man don't we just hold our breathe when he's circling under a ball in the sun out there in center. The say hey kid, he is not.
And of course the opposite of defense, is offense, and the popcorn soup with a fried fish croquette was offensive. Top Chef isn't the time to whip out an R&D session. You don't step out on the mound in the playoffs and decide to work on a new pitch. My wife walked by me watching the episode when there was a screen shot of the soup and asked if it was a pool of hummus with a falafel. No, but that might have been a better idea. There are times at Fenway where the left fielder doesn't even move after a ball is belted over the Green Monster. They just know it's gone because they understand the dimensions. I was the left fielder tonight, and I knew that fishy fried baseball was gone right off the bat.
I do love Ron's commentary upon departure though. He talks about how his time on Top Chef has reignited a drive to cook, get back in there, away from the clipboards and phone calls and operations of a restaurant and back to just simply cooking. He's right, and that's a brilliance of this show that goes unnoticed. Go to his restaurants in Atlanta. Even if you don't get miniature sized entrees that kids these days in tatoos, skinny jeans and funky haircuts are into, you'll get good food, well prepared, and leave more than happy.
The third round is not the time to risk it all and go big or go home. I hate that saying. It's actually don't go big, so you don't go home. . .