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On Meatloaf, Elks, And America

Ted Allen talks comfort food.


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Oh, Micah. Last week, we get Sara's admission that she had no idea Scotch Bonnets (a.k.a. habaneros) are the hottest peppers on the shelf -- something any amateur cook knows, let alone a professional. Now Micah reveals a lack of understanding of meatloaf -- a humble dish, but one with an important history. No, really!

My friends, meatloaf is Elvis! Meatloaf is ingenuity and spirit, the American housewife's answer to scarcity in times of war and poverty! Meatloaf is the culinary expression of Rosie-the-Riveter's determination -- she of the WWII posters with the woman holding a wrench, headlined, "We can do it!" Meatloaf is America! There is honor in meatloaf! At least, without the baked-on ketchup.

Yeah, I know Micah's from South Africa, but she's cooking in Florida, now. And failing to have a least some familiarity with our great nation's comfort-food classics is to come up short in your culinary literacy. Also, if Micah knew nothing about the dish, why did she choose it? (As an aside, I'm not even a chef, and I have a recipe for a meatloaf made with beef and pork, with a mushroom and walnut sauce, that is absolutely delicious. You're too thin! Here: try it yourself!) So meatloaf was Micah's undoing, as we all now know. It's for the best: it was pretty clear that she was having trouble with the competition -- hey, not every great chef is great under these conditions -- plus, she missed her young child. "I think I'm better off getting out of here now before it gets ugly," she opined -- and, indeed, the gloves are really starting to come off among the contestants.

As was pretty clear in tonight's episode, the judges were really underwhelmed by most of the contestants' work in the Elks Lodge comfort-food challenge, in which the chefs were charged with reinterpreting these old dishes with sophistication and lower cholesterol. What a great challenge -- and something that chefs do all the time, to great effect (Daniel Boulud's famous, fancy hamburger being a good example). I was amazed the chefs didn't have more fun with this one and bummed out that we, and the Elks' Club members, had to eat the results! Some of the chefs had good ideas. Hung -- who, it should be noted, works at one of the fanciest restaurants in the country -- showed a pretty good understanding of the essence of fried chicken with his sharp decision to give diners at least a teeny taste of super-crisped skin with the fat rendered off. Mmmm! CJ was also using his head (well, part of it) when he used flax seeds in the tuile he placed atop his otherwise not-so-delicious, very green dish. Putting flax seeds in your food daily reduces you cholesterol immediately and easily (note: it has to be *ground * flax seed in order to work.) My mom does it every day!

Didn't the producers did a good job of editing the episode to make it look like Dale was going down for using instant mashed potatoes and a pre-cooked chicken in his dish? Almost had me fooled! Under the right circumstances, that kind of thing can get you kicked off fast. But considering Dale's intelligent appraisal of the time constraints, and how much work he put into the dish overall, it wasn't a real factor. Damn, was that delicious! Howie's pork truly shined. Imaginatively conceived, and perfectly cooked medium-rare (which, it should be noted, freaked out some of the Elks Club members, but they were wrong). I was really pleased to see him win; he's clearly a real guy, a real leader in the kitchen, and a really thoughtful chef. And he has one of the most expressive faces I've ever seen on television; he looks like a cartoon character (and I mean that in a really good way)!

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