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Summer Soups And Barbecues

Padma Lakshmi spills on what went wrong in the BBQ challenge.

By Padma Lakshmi

After such an intense elimination challenge in the first episode, the Quickfire should have been a relief for the contestants with the focus on something more simple than wild game -- Florida citrus fruits; however, many of the chefs had some difficulty executing dishes of a high caliber.

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The standouts were CJ, Hung, and Tre. Hung's slow roasted sea bass with citrus crumble, watercress and radish salad was a creative play on the citrus theme with three different variations that worked really well together and that is why he won this challenge. I particularly liked Tre's dish of salmon served cold and hot. The variation of textures and flavors in Tre's dish were unique and his use of macadamia in the pesto gave it a richer, buttery flavor than the traditional pesto with pine nuts. This complimented the high fat content in the salmon.

Some other highlights that were unmentioned were Howie's vanilla butter poached lobster tail with blood orange citrus salad, as well as Brian's Alaskan halibut with pomegranate blood orange molasses, which was a beautiful dish. By contrast, one of the most disappointing dishes was Micah's avocado "soup," which was more like a runny guacamole. Chef Van Aken's remark about her dish was an understatement at best.

I don't really care for summer soups that have been turning up on menus these days. Chilled fruit soups, for example, are a real turnoff. I just have no desire to ever order them, preferring to leave the pureed fruit to Jamba Juice. Sara N. should have checked her ingredients before she began, as this is the number one rule in cooking: always prepare your ingredients, or mis en place, before starting the cooking process, especially in the case of a time-tight situation such as the Quickfire. Organization and forethought become crucial in a hot, crowded kitchen.

Sara N. lacked focus and this showed in her presentation to Chef Van Aken. Meanwhile, Casey's twist on the classic s'more was decadent and delicious. What you didn't see in the editing was that she incorporated citrus in the chocolate sauce in the s'more and orange and chocolate is a very classic, old school combination. But it's hard for a dessert to stand up to the might of a main course and that really was her big downfall.

I love summer barbecues so I was really looking forward to seeing what the chefs would come up with in this elimination challenge. I was impressed by Camille, Casey, and Micha's efforts since they made cohesive dishes that had a successful balance of complicated flavors, which is difficult to do in a BBQ setting. The prep work and timing was perhaps the "make or break" aspect of this challenge.

After the grills were fired up and the chefs got to work, I could see the confidence levels rise or fall. Hung and Brian seemed to be having a good time and looked at ease. Unfortunately, not all of the chefs had such an easy time at this challenge. Tre seemed to be struggling in balancing the salt and acidity with his peach glazed salmon. Why do salmon again for a BBQ challenge especially when you're from Texas?!?

Joey's drumsticks were tasty but they were really not groundbreaking or upscale enough to impress the judges or meet the challenge requirements. Sara N's Vietnamese BBQ beef lettuce wraps were delicious and compact which made them easy to eat. The crisp, fresh, cool crunch of lettuce complimented the spicy Asian chili sauce, which was doused over a perfectly grilled succulent piece of meat. It was indeed the perfect bite. Hung's dish was surprisingly simple compared to his previous feats, but I did love the watermelon and champagne spritzer. In fact, I went back for several shots of it.

Brian's Chino Latino seafood sausage was delicious, light and sophisticated. It was perfect for that audience of body conscious sun worshiping fashionistas. I loved how he combined so many types of delicate seafood, a high-end concept that really addressed the challenge.

Keeping in mind that champagne was being served, Brian's dish was the winner for me hands down. The chefs did a fantastic job overall and I can't say I disliked any of the dishes but the most disappointing performance was Sandee since she did not actually grill anything and sadly this cost her the competition. I was sorry to see Sandee go, she seemed to have a lot of heart and great enthusiasm and I believe had she had a little more experience as a chef and listened to the requirements of the challenge more, she wouldn't have risked serving something that wasn't actually grilled or barbecued. I am sure she will continue to be interesting to watch wherever she lands.

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