I have said before that it is hard for me to watch episodes I was not part of and write about them, since I often feel like I am missing key information. But after watching this episode, I now realize that even when I am there, I rarely know most of what goes on backstage anyway. Thankfully, our judgments are based mostly on the food and not the maturity of the chefs (or in this case the lack thereof). We can judge only on what we actually see, taste and know to be true for ourselves, which I strongly believe is the fairest approach.
After seeing this past week's challenges, however, and the way Marcel was treated by his fellow contestants, I cannot help wishing their behavior in the kitchen played a bigger role in certain decisions. I understand Marcel can come across as affected and arrogant; granted, I have never had to work alongside him in a confined space. But there are few things less appropriate or acceptable in my books than picking on someone's private life and insulting their work in order to make yours look better, let alone ganging up on someone when they ask for your help. I was truly disappointed by many of our contestants this week and almost embarrassed for them too.
Perhaps they are under so much pressure at this point that they are resorting to insult to let off steam. Maybe that is why Ilan hit Marcel below the belt, so to speak, with his comments about cherries and low libido...and why Betty got so defensive when she thought Marcel was barking at her. From what I saw, Marcel was simply playing the game, as he believed it should be played; after all this is a competition to the bitter end. Based on what I saw of the food this week, everyone did an outstanding job. Our guests and judges were all very impressed.
I would have been happy to eat not only the chefs' dishes on the Color Quickfire Challenge but also at their Seven Deadly Sins Dinner. Only the best cooks are left in the competition and eliminating one of them becomes progressively more difficult for the judges as we head into each round. At this stage of the game, it is not about whose dish is the worst, but instead whose is the least best. Regardless, at the end of the day someone still has to go home. Betty is a fabulous woman. She has energy and talent to spare. Around the dinner table that night, her dish was the least sophisticated and simply did not hold up. Her skills are strong, but not polished enough to surpass the last six contestants she was up against.
Competition or not, her food is always tasty, playful and heart-felt. I hope I have the pleasure of one day eating it again. Read on for my answers to reader questions!
Thanks to all the bloggers who wrote in with their questions for me over the past few weeks. I have chosen a few to answer below. Happy New Year!
Q. As a food professional, how do you manage your weight?
A. As you can imagine, I am asked this question often. In truth, I believe a lot of it has to due with heredity. My father is a small, extraordinarily fit person and both my parents have passed on strong, healthy genes to me. But I wish that were the whole equation. Considering the amount of food I consume at work and play, I really have to be careful not to overindulge.
First off, I have learned to taste food instead of finishing everything on my plate. I try to eat fruit and vegetables as much as I can and avoid fast food. I only allow whole grains in my apartment, and I am very careful with what I eat when I'm not dining out. I live in New York and do not own a car so I am forced to walk everywhere, which I love. It also helps that my boyfriend and I motivate each other and both love the outdoors, running, hiking, skiing, etc. I make it a point to build exercise into my daily routine and hit the gym a few times a week, even if I am traveling, as that is the easiest time to slack on taking care of your health -- and I travel a lot. Staying active is a small price to pay for my job and it makes me feel great too!
Q. Did you ever critique any of Tom's restaurants before the show started; have you since? Will you in the future or will you recuse yourself?
A. Food & Wine is a national magazine and although we include a great deal of restaurant coverage around the country, we do not write "restaurant reviews" in the classic sense. I have written reviews in the past for other publications, but have never reviewed any of Tom's restaurants. Restaurant reviewing is a delicate undertaking and to be done fairly, must be anonymous and as objective as possible. I do not think I would be able to be either of these things at this point, as Tom and I work together so closely. However, several years ago, I worked for a top food critic who wrote an article on dry aged beef, in which Tom and his then new restaurant, Craft, were prominently featured. This was the first time Tom and I ever worked together and how I came to know him. I have always thought he was one of the country's great talents and love eating at his restaurants whenever I can -- for pleasure only.
Q. There is all this yapping about Padma's outfits on the show. What is your take on all this?
A. I have only read a little of the "yapping" about Padma's outfits and have to admit that it does not really bother me. Padma is a beautiful woman who is very comfortable in her own skin. I do not think what she chooses to wear detracts from the integrity of the show. I know some viewers were not pleased when she wore very short shorts to one of the Quickfire Challenges, but I assure you, if they had spent that week on our set during that heat wave in Los Angeles, they would be singing a different tune.
Q. I think you come into a coffee shop where I work in Park Slope, Brooklyn? What are your favorite places in New York to eat?
A. I live in Manhattan but have a few good friends in Park Slope so it is entirely possible that you saw me there. Whenever someone asks me what the best restaurants are in New York I have to admit there are so many opening everyday that I am never fully caught up, no matter how often I eat out. I do have a few local favorites though, which include (in no particular order): Franny's, Kasadela, City Bakery, Daisy May's BBQ, Tanoreen, Spicy & Tasty, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Westville, Bar Pitti, Hampton Chutney Company, Pearl Oyster Bar, Barrio Chino, Gobo, Omen and Public. For special occasions I love L'Impero, Daniel or Mas (farmhouse).
Q. What would be your choice of Quickfire if you could design them?
A. I believe the Quickfire is the most underestimated part of each episode. After all, if you can win it, you are safe from elimination and able to be more relaxed during the challenge that lies ahead. What many people, chefs included, do not realize about creating an epicurean magazine like Food & Wine is how difficult it is to style and photograph food properly to make it look beautiful, as well as how hard it can be to write a recipe well. I think it would be fun to design a Quickfire Challenge wherein we give the chefs thirty minutes to cook what they feel is the most attractive and appealing dish in their own repertoire and style it for a professional photographer to shoot. They would also have to write the recipe exactly as they executed it. The food would be judged not only on appearance but also on taste and recipe precision, i.e. how well it is written for viewers to replicate in their home kitchens. Then we, the judges, would actually test the recipes ourselves to see which one comes out best and looks like as good as its photo. I bet we would all be surprised at the results!