With Tre ousted last episode, it was an opportunity for the remaining seven chefs — who each have shown enough talent to win — to seize the front-runner role. Three of them (CJ, Casey and Sara) stepped up their game while two (Howie and Hung) served up a blue plate special of self-immolation with a soupcon of hypocrisy on the side.
Let’s start with the Quickfire Challenge where the chefs were asked to create a dish using items from only one aisle of the market, spending just $10. The winning Quickfire dish was Brian’s Spam concoction, which looked edible at best.
Was this challenge at all transferable to the real world? I understood the high-end frozen meal task, even the ice cream topping challenge. But what could they possibly have learned this week that could be used in a restaurant setting?
GALLO: Quickfire Elimination — this looked like desperation week. The producers are running out of money and whatever deal they had with Wild Oats ended because Whole Foods bought them out. This is one of those when you realize this is cable, not network television. Cook everything from one aisle? Absurd, especially when you consider one aisle has fruit drinks and the other has canned meats. And when it comes to feeding the fashion industry, isn’t anything beyond the standard three-course meal — Diet Coke, Caesar Salad, Marlboro Lights — gourmet?
LYFORD: The big Quickfire loser was Howie, who served, well, nothing. His standards are supposedly too high to work with canned fruit. Close on Howie’s heels was Hung with his ridiculous village of misfit ingredients (egg, whipped cream, cereal, leeks and potato). It was nauseating and looked like a kindergarten fingerpainting done by a not-particularly creative 5-year-old. He might have had more luck in the light bulb/paper towel/bar soap section of the store. I applaud potty-mouthed guest judge Michael Schwartz for his comment: “What the fuck is that? It looks like shit.” Of course in Hung’s petulant mind, he lost because Schwartz is “close minded.”
At this point in the competition, shouldn’t we be seeing more professionalism from the chefs? Or at least the ability to complete the challenges in an acceptable manner?
GALLO: Talented and temperamental often go hand-in-hand and Hung has had a freeze-dried chip with foam on his shoulder all season. Howie’s food has been complimented lately for being perfectly cooked; this was a ludicrous challenge. Still, he should have put his orange mess in the glass and covered it with fresh fruit and given it a name. Brian appeared to be mature throughout but I don’t know that I want to eat in his restaurant.
LYFORD: The Elimination Challenge was to cater an upscale cocktail party for Pure nightclub honoring up-and-coming Miami clothing designer Esteban Cortezar; and they had to do this on a yacht. As winner of the Quickfire, Brian got to pick a team leader and, of course, chose himself. Rather than go out on a limb and make decisions, Brian sort of let everyone make whatever they wanted and just divvied up the paltry $350 budget. The result was too many bland, ordinary hors d’oeuvres, the likes of which might be served at any suburban Tupperware party. Casey’s beef carpaccio, CJ’s shrimp and scallop sausage and Sara’s savory bread pudding were the notable standouts.
Phil, what would you have done differently with that budget and those guidelines?
GALLO: These chefs went the easy route, forgetting everybody’s truly favorite meal of the day, breakfast. Eggs, bacon, smoked salmon, pancakes — variations on any of the above. Inexpensive and you’re just providing a bite. They were criticized for having too many bread-oriented items — imagine pure protein on a spoon. Or a piece of endive. Greasy was the wrong way to go.
LYFORD: At judges’ panel, Padma, Tom, Schwartz and Food and Wine editor in chief Dana Cowin all reprimanded Hung for his salmon mousse piped onto cucumber slices. (I think I made those in 8th grade Home Ec). His defense that “it’s a classic” flies in the face of his constant whining about the judges’ lack of imagination. You can’t have it both ways, sweetheart.
Brian was dinged for his lousy leadership but stood by his decisions.
And Howie had a dramatic “You can’t fire me, I quit” moment, offering to withdraw after being reamed by each judge for his two contributions, which were below almost anyone’s standards.
Padma insisted it was the judges’ decision but ultimately Howie packed up his knives. Was the right person sent home? I say yes, but Hung has to be the next to go.
GALLO: In the credits, the first line notes that the judge s and producers consult with one another. While this year will not have the fire, freak-outs and confrontations of last season, it will be boiling in boredom if Casey, CJ and Brian make the final three. The show needs Sara for her approach and explanations; Hung’s a serious chef and a brat; and his obnoxiousness seems to bother CJ more than the others, which eggs on the competitive spirit. Hung has to stay, Brian has to go. Meanwhile, I’ll gladly eat wherever Howie is cooking.