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I want to start the blog for this episode by saying: how good does MC Hammer look?
I mean that guy has not aged a day! I want his elixir, he is awesome! I wasn't even in Oakland for the Quick Fire Challenge, so I'm not going to dwell on it, but I will tell you that I have a newfound love, or I'm re-in love with MC Hammer. I think we all are re-in love with MC Hammer. I loved him then and I love him now. Who knew he was so funny? And what a totally random challenge but, when in Rome, so to speak.
I think the elimination challenge of being given a place in time and history and having to cook inspired by it is incredibly interesting. It's a very heady, anthropological challenge, which is my bread and butter. It's the stuff I love, but I do understand as a chef that it is very difficult to feel in just a few short hours that you can master and cook a cuisine that is so ancient and steeped in history. I know that were definitely challenges for our chefs in this episode. But I absolutely loved seeing them in the library, I think that's a first for Top Chef. Good to know they all can read! I think they chose really rich eras for their dishes too. Some embraced the opportunities, and some weren't able to completely wrap their heads around it.
What you didn't really get a sense of as a viewer though, first of all, was how beautiful the venue was where we shot. It was an old bank building with just this one table of ten of us in the middle of a giant, marble, grand room. It was a totally opulent and stunning, which helped make us feel as if we really were back in time. The other thing you didn't get a sense of was how amazing my dress was! This is unfortunate for all of you because it was my favorite dress of the season, and we were behind a table the whole time! I am sure no one cares but me, but whatever. It rocked.
The chefs dining with us at the table were definitely the most accomplished and talented young chefs cooking today, in San Francisco or anywhere, which must have been very intimidating. I know the cheftestants were really excited to cook for them. It was such a great table of people, who had so much to say about the food, and you didn't get to hear most of it.
It was clear that the cheftestants were really inspired by the parameters they were given. We talked obviously about the three that were on top, Carl, Amar, and Kwame, but we also mentioned how much we like Isaac's Viking dish. There were a few components of it that were a bit clunky, like the walnuts on top of the beets, but his venison was so delicious. He really played to his strengths here and he showed us a genre of cooking through which he knew he could shine. Carl's Greek dish was fresh, light, and very delicate. His plating style allowed for so many layers of Mediterranean flavor and he really did a beautiful job of execution. As did Kwame. We were all a little bit worried about Kwame, we had heard from Tom and Jonathan about the mistake he had made during the walk through. It was a tough lesson for Kwame, but it gave him the opportunity to figure out what was wrong and fix it. That's exactly what the walkthrough is all about.
Amar just blew it out of the park. He chose France's Belle Époque, where he knew he could really show off his French technique. He took advantage of the challenge and used squab, foie gras, sweetbreads, truffles and beautiful tournée’d vegetables, a six sided knife cut which is almost football-shaped. It's a very classic French technique that you don't see very much anymore. We all learned to do it in culinary school, and it's sort of a rite of passage but then rarely use it again. So, it was great to see him call upon all those old-world skills. Which is partially why he won. Overall he made a delicious, decadent, beautiful plate of food.
And then there were the dishes that weren't as strong. Marjorie's food was tasty, but, again, we wanted more char, more flavor on her lamb and her paratha, which we talked about at length, was not made correctly. You could see when she was making it that she was under stress and it was not turning out the way she wanted. Jeremy has been so edited and elegant in his plating and that has always worked to his advantage, until this point. Although we obviously wanted the chefs to stay true to their own cooking styles, given the theme of the gold rush, it really felt like his dish was superficial and it didn't channel the flavors of the time and place. It can still be refined, but it needed to have more depth, more soul. Considering his dish was rooted in San Francisco at a time in more recent history that we know more about, we were all especially conscious of the food and had high expectations of what we wanted it to be. He just didn't deliver.
Finally, poor Karen who, I think, felt a little at a disadvantage from the start. She chose last and chose Japan which she seemed excited considering the significant Chinese influence there, but wasn't able to get out of her narrow lane. Here's a case where we know what you do every day in your own restaurant at this point. But (and I say this all the time) if we wanted you to cook the food you cook in your restaurant, we would've just gone to your restaurant and this would be a show about going to people's restaurants and having them cook for us, but that's not what Top Chef is. Getting out of your comfort zone and pushing past what you do every day, with a different set of limitations, is what we as of our chefs. She didn't do that here. Her noodles were fine, but the rest of the dish felt so heavily Chinese and so that it was as if she was calling it in, even if she didn't mean it that way. I have to say I am really sad to see Karen go. She spoke so eloquently, she has such great confidence, and her cooking was so strong. She should absolutely go out with her head held high. I know she will keep doing what she does best and I can't wait to eat her food again one day soon.