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There's the Rub

Gail Simmons doesn't understand why Edward Lee was so hard on Sarah Grueneberg.

By Gail Simmons


How to Watch

Watch the Top Chef Season 21 premiere on Wednesday, March 20 at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock. Let’s talk quickly about the Quickfire. The chefs are presented with Modernist Cuisine. It seemed like everyone might immediately think of molecular gastronomy. What do you consider modernist cuisine?
Gail Simmons: Well it is molecular gastronomy, but the term molecular gastronomy isn’t really a term that people who actually practice it use anymore. Modernist cuisine is the umbrella term for using modern science and technology to make cooking more efficient and advanced. Modernist cuisine means many, many things. What Ty-lor did certainly employed modernist techniques. He used a chemical compound to convert olive oil into powder, which when it hits your mouth turns back into olive oil. That’s very much a modernist technique that plays on texture and how we perceive certain ingredients. It was very much what modernist cuisine is about -- exploring, pushing the boundaries of our traditional notions of how to cook, and employing more modern methods to make cooking better and new. Now the problem is that people get wrapped up in “molecular gastronomy” and they think it’s all about tricks and gimmicks, when in fact that’s the opposite of what people like Nathan Myhrvold will tell you. The purpose of employing these scientific techniques is not to trick you but to enhance the genre, to enhance the way we cook. There always needs to be a purpose behind it – either because it makes cooking more flavorful, more efficient, or so we can understand it better. That is also why some of the other dishes didn’t work. They relied too heavily on tricks, with no purpose to enhancing the dish. I felt bad for Chris Jones. 
GS: He did OK. He made an interesting dish, but I think also it’s good to be humbled by what you do. Even if you are an expert. He has a healthy ego, and he does what he does well, but you can’t take for granted that there are people who know more about it than you. Or that just because it’s what you do there isn't still room to learn. He was in the top. He just didn’t win because I think he got a little over-zealous and carried away. At the end of the day, again, the trick to winning any challenge, especially one like this is --- did you use the technique in a purposeful way – to enhance the experience of eating and cooking? And I think Ty-lor did. He gave us a really beautiful pairing of flavors in a very untraditional way that could only have been created through the use of this technique. I think it was the smarter dish. It didn’t need all the bells and On to the Elimination Challenge, and we’re finally eating barbecue. You mentioned that you’re partial to dry rub.
GS: I am, I am! That’s not to say I’m not going to eat sticky, gooey, saucy ribs too, but when I’m given the choice, I often enjoy a dry rub rib. But I’m Canadian, so I don’t really get a vote. No one in Texas would care what I have to think or say about barbecue! But that’s OK, It’s just my personal preference. There are so many different regionalities to barbecue. Every state, every city has its own flavors and methods. Had you eaten at The Salt Lick before this challenge?
GS: No! We actually got to eat there after a little bit when it cleared out. It was good. Very tasty. They were pioneers. So we’ll start with Paul’s team. They went away from traditional barbecue and did an Asian influence-d style. What did you think of their dishes?
GS: I loved that they went off and did something different, especially in Texas. It takes a lot of courage to cook barbecue for 300 Texans and not cook traditional Texas barbecue because it’s very ingrained in the way that they’ve grown up in that part of the country. But it wasn’t as if they didn’t use classic barbecue techniques – they absolutely did, and that’s what made the food so good. It was absolutely and completely Southern barbecue using low and slow cooking methods. No tricks. No funny business. It was just that they used a few new, Asian flavors that showed us a little bit more about their personalities, their skill, and their talents as chefs, which is always what we want to see. Look, if you do great traditional barbecue perfectly, that’s great. We’ll be happy for you and you won’t go home. But if you can show us great classic barbecue technique and ALSO give us something we’ve never had before, done well – you’re going to win every Next in the middle we have Sarah, Ty-lor, and Edward. The group dynamic was a little funky because Sarah went to the hospital. . .
GS: This was unfortunate. There were two things at play on their team. One was the fact that they weren’t communicating well to begin with, regardless of what happened with Sarah. I don’t really know what the issue was there, if Sarah and Ed just didn’t get along and Ty-lor was playing the peacemaker the whole time or what. And then, on top of it, Sarah got heat exhaustion which is very serious. I have to say I felt very terrible for our chefs in this challenge. What you don’t realize when you’re watching the show is that this episode was shot during the biggest drought in recent Texas history, which was sort of outrageous. I felt really guilty when I heard what we were making them do. It was over 100 degrees in the middle of the night and they cooked for like 20 hours straight! It could have been any of them, and it happened to be Sarah and that was really too bad. Obviously we take care of our chefs. There were medics on hand. There was lots of cold water. There was support if they needed it. We’re not leaving them out there to die in the desert. It was a very, very physically demanding challenge – and it still would have been if it was in the winter. But you put 100-degree heat on top of everything, with lack of sleep and possible dehydration... yikes! That said, I don’t know why Edward was so hard on her. I think that was unfair of him. As you can see, he’s a really competitive guy. I think he just wants to win. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, and he puts that on others too. They all tried to represent where they were from with their different styles. Do you think that was an issue?
GS: I don’t think that was the problem. It’s not like that made it harder to work together. I think there was a lack of communication from the start and I don’t think that was because they were doing different styles. I think it was just because they weren’t talking things through and perhaps didn’t share the same vision of what the end result should be. The end result could still have been great regardless of if it was Kentucky, Texas, and Kansas And then finally we have the bottom team with Beverly, Chris, and Chris, and ultimately Chris went home for the overly salty rub. . .
GS: There were a lot of problems with both team’s dishes. But certainly in terms of the "edibility", the enjoyment of the eating of the two dishes, we liked Chris’ team the least. There were a couple of reasons for that: It was unimaginative, number one, especially when you compare it to Paul, Grayson, and Lindsay’s food. Also, some of their food wasn’t cooked enough – the ribs were tough when you want them to be tender. Finally, the salt rub, which in the end we discussed and realized was the biggest offender because it made the ribs almost inedible. You didn’t want to chew it. If it had tasted great but been a little chewy, we probably could have gotten over it. But the combination of these chewy ribs and this really heavy-handed rub made it unpleasant all together – as seen by the terrible face I made when Tom made me taste it. That was such a big brother thing to do, by the way! My brothers used to do that to me all the time: “Taste this, it’s disgusting.”  So Chris Crary went home.
GS: Yes, our Malibu pretty boy. But he's a pretty boy who happens to be a really excellent chef. His restaurant at the Viceroy is outstanding. He’s a really talented, pretty humble guy, actually. He will be missed... 


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