My ranking of the top 25 big leaguers under the age of 25 is posted for Insiders, and I’m chatting today at 1 pm ET. We’ll also have a new Baseball Today show later today, with an interview with special guest Nate Silver as well.
No one’s really broken up by John leaving, partly because his personality had become a problem, but I think also because there’s some recognition that he had the ability to keep advancing – he was one of the few chefs here with any kind of vision, although I think in recent weeks he’d started to run out of inspiration and his dishes started to look more derivative. I’m really shocked the whole glasses-on-the-forehead thing hasn’t become a national fashion craze, though.
* Quickfire: Cook a dish emphasizing ginger in 15 minutes, judged by Wolfgang Puck. This morphs into an ad for Canada Dry … which I admit is my preferred ginger ale for mixing, actually. (I also like ginger beer, but they’re two different drinks.) Puck mentions a popular ginger creme brûlée dessert at his restaurant, which is right up my alley. My wife loathes ginger in all its forms, which I think is some sort of genetic defect on her end, but needless to say this was pretty close to the Quickfire of her nightmares.
* Kristen infuses ginger into ingredients using a pressurized CO2 canister, which most of us would recognize as a whipped cream dispenser. I have one very similar to this iSi model and love it, mostly because it avoids the mess of whipping cream with a hand mixer. Anyway, this kind of thing is why I think Kristen is a huge favorite to win – she’s operating on another plane from the rest of them, conceptually and technically. I was surprised she didn’t make the top three here, as Padma and Wolfgang liked her dish and praised her creativity.
* The bottom two were Sheldon for a stir-fried skirt steak with ginger and oranges that Wolfgang called “pedestrian Chinese food,” and Josh for a white chocolate ginger soup with peaches and tarragon that Wolfgang said was “underwhelming.” I like how Wolfgang asks for vocabulary help as if he hasn’t been here for 30 years. His English is good – I just think he likes messing with people.
* Top three are Brooke for a ginger caramel squid with fresh lime and chili powder; Lizzie for a cold watermelon-ginger soup with fresh mint, using ginger ale with pureed watermelon for the base; and Stefan for an ahi tartare with lemongrass ginger vinaigrette. Stefan butters up Wolfgang by switching to German, so apparently he’ll flirt with anyone. Brooke wins for her dish, something I’d expect to see on the menu of a fine-dining Vietnamese restaurant, assuming Americans would actually be willing to pay $10 for a Vietnamese entree.
* Elimination challenge: Restaurateur Danny Meyer is in the house for the setup to Restaurant Wars. Each chef must come up with a restaurant concept and make one dish that encapsulates it. There will be two winners, each getting $10K, and one chef sent home, so we’ll have 4 vs 3 in the actual Restaurant Wars episode next week.
* Meyer’s advice to the chefs: “Do it from your heart because you can’t fake soul.” How is that remotely useful advice? “Do it from your heart, not your spleen.” And is faking soul at all like faking the funk?
* Micah’s concept: raw foods. This is an obviously terrible idea – you’re going to build an entire menu around food that isn’t cooked on a competition that’s about cooking? Raw food quality is entirely about ingredients; if the fish isn’t incredibly fresh, you’re toast. He hits the market and finds no meat he can serve raw, which should have immediately led to a change in concept, but he’s determined to fail.
* Kristen’s comment “I need to show them I deserve to be here” was some serious unintentional comedy. I don’t think anyone’s questioning whether she’s still here on merit.
* Four of the eliminated chefs return to work as sous-chefs for the remaining eight, and Stefan picks Carla because “she is super fast and her butt is always cute.” Unless he’s going to slow-braise her butt with some red wine and figs, I don’t really see how that helps him.
* He then tells Tom that in “every Quickfire I’ve been sloppy seconds.” The man is incapable of discussing anything without resorting to at least one reference to sex. He then spills liquid all over a guest with yet another blender explosion.
* Brooke’s concept is “Unkosher” – traditional Jewish items expanded without the limitations of kosher requirements. Tom says “it’s like my mother-in-law’s Seder every year.”
* Josie says her croquettes aren’t done and that she wants to shoot herself in the head, although I think most of us would settle for her duct-taping herself on the mouth.
* Why is Gail judging this competition instead of Wolfgang? Gail doesn’t bother me like she does some viewers – although horizontal stripes are really not her friend – but is there any question whether Wolfgang would provide better insight into the food?
* To the dishes: Josh serves a seared ribeye on cauliflower purée with a red wine mushroom sauce and barley. Aside from the steak being slightly underseasoned, this goes over well with praise for its “earthy” flavors. It doesn’t seem particularly innovative to me, though. Is there anything here you couldn’t whip up at home?
* Lizzie does a mustard green canaderli (a central European dumpling also known as knödel, often made from leftover side starches) with fonduta and crispy speck. She’s going for northeastern Italian, a regional cuisine that draws heavily from Austrian, Hungarian, and Slovenian traditions because the area has changed hands so many times over the last few centuries. The flavor is great but the judges all agree it’s too heavy.
* Hat Guy Thierry is in the house as a guest.
* Sheldon serves a Filipino dish, sour tamarind soup with pork belly, shrimp, and snapper. This gets raves, I think because it’s got huge, bold flavors, and because (per Padma) he took a dish that’s usually ugly and made it elegant without losing its authenticity. This is one of those dishes I think future competitors should sit up and notice – there are successful formulas for winning challenges on this show, and they don’t change much over the years. But hey, go ahead and make yet another sloppy risotto. That’ll work too.
* Stefan does a “German-Thai” fusion thing with a lobster bisque with shrimp dumplings along with a dessert lollipop of Bavarian cream. I know this is shocking but the two don’t really play well together.
* Micah’s plate of raw fail has thick slices of four (I think) types of raw fish along with mizuna and raw vegetables, along with not enough of the vinaigrette over the top. This is a cold mess. There’s no cooking involved, no risk, and, per Danny Meyer, it offers no improvement over our palates’ raw-fish standard of good sushi.
* Kristen does an onsen egg (poached in the shell so the yolk just barely sets) with a Camembert mustard sauce and buttered radishes. Everyone says she nailed the eggs. She’s the only chef here who went really upscale, which is also something that tends to succeed here. She’s a lot like Michael Voltaggio without the tattoos and antisocial behavior.
* Josie is busy talking and not serving, again, which is really painful to watch. She serves a puerco asado with a black bean sauce and chorizo croquette. Judges are visibly annoyed at her act, and even more so when the pork proves to be flavorless and dry.
* Brooke does a matzo ball soup with duck confit and black rye bread. The duck broth is good but Gail says the matzo ball is “offensive to my people,” after which Tom suggests that she should have used the rye bread in the matzo. As someone who grew up outside of New York and loves rye bread in almost any application (I suppose bread pudding would be an exception, although I’m open-minded), I’d definitely eat this dish if she made that switch.
* Judges’ table: Kristen, Sheldon, and Josh are the top three, at which point it seems obvious that Kristen and Sheldon will win because they were way more creative than Josh, who’s here for execution. Sheldon gets the win on his 30th birthday, while Kristen is now up to $45K in winnings.
* The challenge now is to move right into Restaurant Wars, with less than 48 hours until judging. Their spaces are completely empty and they must pick their staffs now in stew room before they learn who’s been eliminated.
* Kristen takes Brooke, Lizzie, and Josie, in that order, while Sheldon takes Josh, Stefan, and Micah – that is, boys versus girls. I thought Kristen made one mistake here, taking Josie over Micah, because Josie seemed at least as likely to go home, if not more so, and because if Josie doesn’t get eliminated, then you have to work with her, which is probably worse than working with no one at all.
* The bottom three are, unsurprisingly, Micah, Josie, Lizzie. Micah tries to shift blame to the store for lacking the kind of meat he needed, which is a great way to dig your own hole a little deeper. Lizzie’s dumpling should have been cooked more, and was pretty heavy without any relief in it. Josie’s pork was bland, greasy, overcooked. Tom refers to the “Josie show” and I think he’d like to see it put on hiatus.
* Micah is eliminated, which I understand, since he had such a terrible concept, but I would have sent Josie home – her concept was no better, and she didn’t execute it either. I’m disappointed in Micah, though, because I thought he showed more upside in his concepts, but he ends up leaving primarily because his concept this week was so poor. This leaves Sheldon’s team one chef short for Restaurant Wars, which means they’ll probably have just two guys in the kitchen and one out front – although I assume they’re responsible for one fewer dish as a result.
* Last Chance Kitchen: Micah and CJ have to do a raw meat preparation. Micah’s dish looked really unappealing with a large triangular blob of duck breast tartare, placed on top of a bison carpaccio in part to hide the fact that he didn’t slice the latter item cleanly. CJ’s looked more appealing and he did something novel by pickling the duck skin and subcutaneous fat, which made it fairly obvious he’d win his sixth challenge in a row.
* Top three: I’ve still got Kristen, a big gap, and then Brooke, with a pretty big gap to everyone else at this point. Brooke’s concepts aren’t as out there as Kristen’s, but they’re fairly evenly matched on execution. Sheldon would be my pick for the third spot over Stefan, only because Sheldon’s shown more upside (albeit more downside too). Josie is the clear bottom once again and yet survives for another week, with Josh and Lizzie in spots 5 and 6.