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Restaurant War One

Lee Anne Wong gives her take on what went wrong with restaurant wars.

By Lee Anne Wong


How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

I was thrilled to hear we got Daniel Boulud to judge this episode. If you haven't heard, besides being one of the greatest chefs in the world, Daniel was responsible for the super shammy gourmet burger, which started at $48 and could go as high as $200 (I think). I've eaten the DB burger many times. It's a juicy patty of premium ground sirloin, the center comprised of soft and tender braised short ribs and foie gras, studded with black truffles. It comes on a perfectly sized brioche bun, with fixings like tomato jam, lettuce, and onion. Salty herbed frites and aioli come on the side. While it has been less satisfying at various times, depending on who's cooking it in the kitchen, it's still one of those things you would never kick out of bed.

I used to be an honorary guest of a burger club (honorary and not a member because the club usually met at all hours, when I was working). Time Out magazine comes out with an issue every year that talks about the Top 100 burgers in NYC. Some friends of mine decided to put that list to the test, creating their own scorecards and everything. They met at least 3-4 times a week. While I love burgers, I can feel my arteries clogging every time I think of eating that many burgers in one week. I did manage to sit in on some pretty spectacular and a few very craptacular burgers. Things we judged: quality of meat and flavor, texture and juiciness, how appropriately cooked it was, the bun, the size, and the garnishes.

Either way, I was shocked at all of the seafood burgers. Brian admittedly took the same ingredients from the BBQ challenge and transformed his sausage into a burger. I always find it strange when contestants can't let go of a certain ingredient or dish, and repeat themselves. Just because there's a different judge doesn't mean you should make it again (small repertoire). I got to sample all of the camera plates, and I have to say that Howie's burger was delicious. Big gooey flavors, though the strength of the Taleggio did linger, but he was one of the only ones who made a real beef burger. Dale's tuna burger was also tasty (I love fried eggs on anything), but I found the truffle oil all over it overpowered the tuna. CJ had a very tasty shrimp burger. The wheel of citrus he added as garnish added not on moisture to each bite, but refreshing acidity.

We considered what sort of prize the quickfire winner should get for a while. When we decided that the winner should be able to pick his/her own team for Restaurant Wars, I thought it would throw an interesting dynamic into the rest of the contestants. It's like dodge you know where you stand with certain individuals. I remember "Restaurant Wars" like it was yesterday. One very entertaining episode. This time around, the contestants got a lot more money for food and decoration, and most importantly, they got to cook out of the Top Chef kitchen.

I was pleasantly stunned with how well each team decorated and set up their space. The food was another story. Dale and Brian took on front of the house and learned the hard way just how difficult this challenge was. Even with 2 servers on each team (in past seasons each team has only gotten one server) they had difficulty expediting orders and keeping their back waiter station organized. I say this because this may have been the one thing that angered me; part of service and running a successful restaurant is cleaning up.

As both teams cleared courses off their tables, they piled up the glassware and dishware on the floor in their back waiter station, which they shared. I got a call over walkie that production needed me and my team to go in and bus their waiter station while they were in the middle of service and clear all of their dirty dishes and glasses to the dishwashers (we had 4) in the TC kitchen.

I had given each team bus tubs. Neither Brian or Dale, nor any of their servers bussed their dirty wares to the kitchen. I almost flat out refused to do it, had it not become a safety issue because so many dishes were piled on the floor. I had to speak to both teams later during deliberation about the situation. Both Brian and Dale argued that they were too busy. I told them that every single time they and their waiters went back to the kitchen to get food, they should've had dirty dishes in their hands to give to the dishwashers. Two hands in, two hands out. I waited tables for over 10 years, I should know.

There were plenty of faults on both sides. I thought the food was hit or miss with both teams. Only Hung's tuna tartare was delicious, subtle and seasoned perfectly. I found the rest of that teams' menu to be heavy with the mushroom risotto and braised lamb shank. Brian's team had a slightly more appealing menu, but nothing that really knocked it out of the park. We gave them the opportunity to listen to their criticism, and do it all over again the next day.

I think "Restaurant Wars Part Deux" is great, which you will see next week. It's great because rarely in this game do you ever get the opportunity to go back and fix the mistakes you made the first time around. I actually don't have a copy of next week's episode, and I am on a plane to Mexico right now. My blog will be from memory, but either way I am looking forward to writing it. Til then.

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