I have a hard time starting in without giving a major spoiler right off the bat. But I'm not going to. And no, don't look down at the last paragraph. I know your kind. I am your kind. But see if you can actually pull out some willpower and read through my little rundown to get to the ta-da moment, OK?
I was looking forward to this episode ever since I saw that Hung (winner, season 3) was going to be there for judging. I really liked him, and especially respected his speed and agility with a knife. So when he came around to judge the cheftestants in the quickfire, I knew it would be good. They all had to cook with canned and boxed ingredients, not exactly what a chef would immediately reach for. Hard to get good flavor. Oh, and they had to do it in 15 minutes. Whew. They ran and scrambled and chopped and came up with a variety of interesting options. On the bottom of the pile were some waffles from Leah, a bruschetta from Jamie and a bean dip from Rahdika. In the winner's circle were Fabio, Stefan and Jeff. And, believe it or not, two of the top three had Spam in them. Can you believe it? I couldn't. Stefan came out on top with immunity for the elimination challenge, and he was immediately puffed up. (Which seemed natural of course, but he then followed up his victory by sniping with Jamie about the menu later, which saddened me... I have been liking him of late. Oh well.)
First a little background, so you can know just how yummy and wonderful tonight's episode was for me. I was watching Seth's basketball practice tonight and of course had my book along. (I can only watch a bunch of 12-year-olds with a basketball for so long, and his practices run at least 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours. Boggles my mind as well.) Anyway, I am reading The Reach of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, the third in his wonderful chef series... and I am in the part where he's talking about a chef who runs a fabulous farm-to-kitchen restaurant in Maine. I am in love with this idea, and was just thoroughly enjoying reading about the whole process and how idyllic it all sounds (and yes, a lot of work), and then here comes the elimination challenge tonight... to cook at Blue Hill restaurant on the properties of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. How fabulous is that?
Watching them walk the farm and pick produce and see the animals, I almost forgot that we had our first major fog day of 2009 here in Walla Walla, and many more will follow, apparently. It was sunny and warm and the produce was just beautiful. The only thing I was just on pins and needles thinking would happen--that they'd have to pick out their animal and then actually kill it--didn't happen.
But they did have to butcher to a large extent, and that's what completely undid two teams. When Seth (yes I had a little extra viewing help tonight, thank goodness there wasn't a ton of swearing!) and I saw the menus as they planned them out, the fact that Team Chicken had their protein in three courses seemed like overkill--cutlets, roasted legs AND a chicken soup. Why? Team Pork did two courses of protein, Team Lamb did one. I thought, with Ariane's history of meat-cooking, that Team Lamb would rock. Not so much.
Here are the menus:
Team Pork (Fabio, Jeff and Rahdika)
Roasted pork loin
Sausage ravioli with pesto
Fried green tomatoes (the saving grace of the team, apparently!)
Grilled corn salad with bacon
Team Chicken (Stefan, Carla and Jamie)
Lemon herb roasted chicken
Chicken ravioli soup
Nectarine-strawberry tartlet (top dessert, Carla's pastry rocks!)
Team Lamb (Hosea, Leah and Ariane)
Roasted duo of lamb (didn't see anything "duo" about it...)
Heirloom tomato salad
Rosemay and garlic mashed potatoes
Summer berry trifle
Can't you just taste the possibility in those menus? Yummy. And they ate outside, all the farmers and kitchen staff together, family style. It made me want so badly to have sunshine and picnics and fresh berries!
Alas, it was not all yummy... Team Chicken ended up taking the day, proving once again it's not what it looks like on paper, but how each dish is executed. Apparently both the pork and lamb were truly butchered, too much fat was taken off, and twice Chef Colicchio made his point about "If you can get meat on the bone, cook it on the bone. Better flavor." So that popped Team Chicken to the top, and Dan Barber, guest judge and chef at Blue Hill, declared them all winners. All the stress and tension between Stefan and Jamie that took place in the menu planning was gone (big surprise).
So to uncover who was the worst of the worst (Padma's comment was that any number of chefs could have been sent home tonight...), they grilled both Team Pork and Team Lamb. They picked apart the butchering, how the lamb loins were tied (made me quite proud of my string technique! Tenderloin for 70 later, and I was a pro back in the day...), the desserts, you name it. And at the end of the day, the lady who rose on her meat, fell on her meat (sword), if you will... Ariane packed her knives and went. (Can you see me doing the vindication dance? I'm doing it!). There were moments when I thought I had it all wrong and she might take the whole pie home, but somewhere deep down I just knew she didn't have it in her. And to lose it over meat seems rather ironic given that she rocked meat a number of times earlier... ah well.
Side note: So someone in the editing room must have gotten smacked around for the major Toby Young commenting from last week, as he was largely non-commenty until the judges table, and even then it was rather thin... other than his comment about having unprotected sex with pork. What? Huh? I think he makes up clever (sounding, to him) comments at home, and then tries to figure out where to pop up with them on the show. It just doesn't sound spontaneous, extemporaneous, however you want to say it. I'm kind of over him. He's funny, of course, but seems like he's funny for the sake of funny, rather than humorous. Fine line, he ain't walkin' it....
And then there were 8.