Bravotv.com: Do you want to talk a little bit about Jimmy Fallon, since you were just on his show this past Monday?
Gail Simmons: Jimmy's been a fan of the show for a long time. He's a fan of food and all things that are fun, and we all thought it would be a really iconic New York moment to get them on late-night TV at 30 Rock. Jimmy was the perfect candidate, he's always up for playing a game. So they went on his show and were the contestants on Cell Phone Shootout. All of his family had picked one of their favorite dishes to put into the Cell Phone Shootout, which would be options for his birthday lunch, which really was happening that week, and his whole family was there to celebrate with him. We thought it would be perfect if they all had to cook dishes based on his family's favorite foods. But there were some ringers in there, his father-in-law threw in beef tongue! Of course there were his favorite things too: Philly cheesesteak, hamburgers, chicken pot pie, all of those comfort foods that we love. It worked really well, and I think the chefs were excited to be part of it.
Bravotv.com: What do you think the key to being successful was with these dishes, since they were all very traditional, a lot of them American classic comfort foods?
GS: They certainly were, and the tricky thing about that is they come with such strong taste and sense memories. Everyone is very nostalgic and very protective of what they imagine those dishes to taste like. What we are always looking for in a challenge like this is a way for them to speak to that memory in a familiar way, but present them to us as a new and modern version. So if you stick to the really classic version, that's OK -- it just has to be really beautiful and really perfect. What we were most excited about were the people who could give us that food and still give us those great flavors, which are the reasons everyone loves the food to begin with, but put a twist on the dish so that it not only feels modern but gives us a sense of the chef personally.
There were a number of people who did that really well. Of the people that you didn't see in top three, I loved Mike Isabella's sausage and peppers. I thought he did a really great job with it. I was also a really big fan of Richard's ramen noodles. I think that what happens on the show is that people come to expect certain things from the chefs, but you can't penalize them if they don't deliver on it every time as long as their food is still good. I know Jimmy was expecting more from Richard. He wanted Richard to do everything with this modernist, crazy mad scientist tilt, but the truth is that's not fair, because Richard also wants to prove that he's a good technician and doesn't just do gimmick-y food. We would penalize him if he used liquid nitrogen with every dish he did. I thought he did a beautiful job with his ramen, but everyone was split over it, so he wasn't on the top or the bottom.Antonia, Carla, and Angelo gave us food which tasted so great, tasted just like the reason that we love it, but at the same time just a little bit different, which was exciting. Antonia managed to braise that tongue really well in a short amount of time in the pressure cooker, which tasted like an old-style Jewish deli sandwich. She had a really herbaceous, dilly cole slaw with caramelized onions, which gave it sweetness. Combined with the fattiness of the meat all on that pumpernickel bread, it gave us that familiarity, but it was done really well, really clean. She used the product the best that she could, and I think she did a really wonderful, creative job. The pulled pork looked sort of straightforward when we got it at the table, but the flavors Angelo used really put his stamp on them. The coffee and all-spice he used were not the average flavors you would use with pulled pork. These are all things that he was borrowing from other cuisines that aren't the traditional barbecued pulled pork in America, but they certainly went together in a really unexpected way. He put dill in it, which Tom thought was so unusual. What's interesting is dill is used a lot in Vietnamese cuisine with curry, fish, and really strong spices, and it worked well here too. It was kind of a little shout out to Angelo's training and the food that he's passionate about in Asia, with the coffee that gave it tons of depth and smokiness, mixed with the chipotle peppers. It all was really delicious.
And then of course Carla -- how could she not win? She had her heart set on doing a pot pie, and she nailed it. This was her challenge to lose, and she pulled it off so beautifully. She did a few things that gave her the edge over everyone else. First of all, she just made a great chicken potpie in the familiar way that we love it with pearl onions and carrots and that great gravy like texture and big pieces of beautiful chicken. Then there was this amazing dough that was golden brown and flaky and buttery on top, but she also took the time to put it on the bottom, which most of the time doesn't happen. Most
people will make the filling and then just take a piece of dough and put it on top to seal the pot and bake it, so you don't get that extra pie quality underneath. She took the time to do that, which was a huge bonus from Carla. It really won us over. If she hadn't done it, we wouldn't have penalized her, it was just one of those extra things that helps you understand what she's thinking and that she's really cooking for her audience. She likes to add these little touches which really make a difference. And then the beautiful pea salt that was so inspired was her little modern twist. Peas are always in pot pie -- they're my favorite part of a potpie actually. She took bright green peas, dehydrated them, mixed them with salt, and just put them on the edge so that if you got a little bite of them with the rest of the pie, you got that bright green pea flavor and a little added salt, which gave everything a kick. You could mix it together or you could eat it just sprinkled on top. It was a beautiful touch. She stole our hearts.
Bravotv.com: Not everyone fared as well. It was between Dale, Tiffany, and Fabio.
GS: For us, it was very straightforward why Fabio lost. Dale's dish was delicious but had way too much salt. It was a major thing, but when you're judging against other flaws, it's about who made the biggest mistake and who's tasted the worst that day. Dale's meat was delicious, the flavors were great, the cheese was good, and everything was well done. It was really spicy, which was fabulous, but he forgot to account for the fact that the pretzel roll he used had a layer of rock salt on it. Combined with the cheese and the meat, which were all over seasoned (because he was so worried about under seasoning) he just overcompensated. Otherwise the dish itself would have been good. Tiffany as well made a great dish if we had asked her for a variation on tortilla soup perhaps, or a southwestern chicken soup with noodles. Her mistake was that she strayed too far off that familiar path. There's that fine line between reinventing something, putting your stamp on it and straying so far off the mark that we can't recognize what it is anymore. The point of this challenge was to give the Fallon family the dishes they love, but in a new way, and her dish didn't resemble chicken and dumplings at all. The dumplings were small, there was no gravy, there was no richness to the dish. But again, it wasn't a bad dish in terms of the actual technique or flavor. It tasted good, and it was made well, it just wasn't at all what we wanted or what we were expecting, so we felt she couldn't win for that reason. But that was also why she didn't lose.It came down to Fabio, because at the end of the day, the question we ask is always: who made the worst food?Whose food failed to satisfy us and were we not able to enjoy? And that dish was Fabio's. He made a really dense burger. It wasn't juicy, it wasn't super flavorful, it was much more like a meatloaf that was overcooked. And then the cheese sauce situation.... As a chef you don't want to boss people around with instructions about how to eat your food, but you also don't want to give them too many choices, especially with a cheeseburger. You make a cheeseburger or you make a hamburger, and if you put the cheese on the side, you're not telling us what you want to make, you're not giving us confidence in your cooking. It confused us all. He also put the fries on the side, and Jimmy had asked for them to be on the sandwich. He was kind of vague about everything. There was no conviction in that burger. Plus, it just wasn't good. That cheese was, as Tom said, pretty gross. He used real cheddar, which is fine, but then he whisked it into a sauce and let it sit so that it coagulated and got grainy. The fat had separated in it, so it wasn't easy to spread. It had a terrible texture. At this level you should be able to make a good burger, no matter where you are from or what your training is.
Poor Fabio. We love Fabio! He's larger than life. He's an amazing contestant, and he's come so far, but this was his time.
Bravotv.com: Any advice for Carla? She's going to be on Fallon tomorrow night.
GS: I'm so proud she's going to be on Fallon. He's going to love her, because he loves to laugh, and so does she. Carla: Do your thing, be yourself, cook with love, and everyone will love whatever you do! Good luck!