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Giving is Fundamental

New York City Restaurant critic Andrea Strong lists some worthwhile chef-driven charities.

By Gail Simmons

Last night's episode ended with a full serving of anger and rage as Zoi was sent home for her sad unseasoned mushrooms, leaving Spike to get a strong talking to by her pissed-off girlfriend Jennifer. From where I sit, Zoi was more responsible for those 'shrooms tasting like little more than bland sponges than deep earthy fungi. I can understand Jennifer's need to protect her woman (who wouldn't do the same), but Zoi demonstrated with her pasta salad debacle earlier this season that she does have an issue with seasoning and it seems she does not like strong flavored foods as she so confidently asserted at Judges' Table.

How to Watch

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

Also getting in on the rumble in the stew room was Dale who seemed about to pummel Lisa, enraged with the green monster of envy because she won a trip for five nights to Italy for "cooking bacon." I think she did more than cook bacon, she had a technique that impressed Ming and Dale's quite a sore loser in my book. Be a professional, and not a petulant child. The Quote of the Show goes to Dale for his wining: "She made bacon and she gets to go to Italy! Are you f-ing kidding me? I'm bitter." Grow up Dale and try to understand that you're not the king of the universe. It seems from the rage and release in the stew room last night that Top Chef contestants are fraying at the edges and the heat of the competition is starting to singe their nerves. It's only gonna get hotter in the kitchen as the weeks progress. In any case, I was glad to see that Lisa, Dale and Stephanie eventually got their dish together and were able to pull off a winning plate for the Fire Team. Richard escaped by the skin of a fish, but leaving scales in fish is a huge no-no. And I completely agree with Tom about cooking salmon sous-vide; it's a technique that I think works better with meats. (In truth, I'm not a huge fan of the technique at all. I find it renders food too soft, and I prefer the old fashioned way, no vacuum-sealed bags, just fire and a good pan.) With fish, sous-vide cooking turns its flesh into mush. The Air team skated by unscathed, even though they didn't score the duck breasts and render the fat, which is also a basic cooking technique. It's interesting to note that the mistakes these contestants are making are truly Cooking 101 issues -- seasoning, rendering, de-scaling. Why are they faltering on these fundamentals? I don't get it.

What may have fallen by the wayside last night was the actual event the chefs were cooking for -- Chicago's Meals on Wheels Benefit. Meals on Wheels is just an incredible chef-driven charity that helps the elderly and disabled by delivering meals to their doorstep and along with them, a friendly face and a bit of conversation. Our chef and restaurant community is one of the most generous and charitable going. A few years ago I started a charity for Darfur and found an incredible groundswell of support for my cause in the restaurant community. We're into our third year now. And many years ago when I was an unhappy lawyer trying to make a transition into the world of food, I found a great community of restaurateurs and chefs to learn from and help me make my move when I started volunteering at Share Our Strength, one of our nation's leading anti-hunger organizations. If you've got some time and some inclination to volunteer or make a donation, here are just a few of the incredible chef-driven charities to donate to or get involved in:

Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation: A national organization that raises funds to end childhood hunger.

City Meals on Wheels (New York City Area): Provides meals to homebound elderly and disabled.

Chefs for Humanity: A culinary alliance of professionals and educators working in partnership with US and global organizations to provide nutrition education, hunger relief and emergency and humanitarian relief to reduce hunger across the world.

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