By Gail Simmons
February 23, 2012 at 07:01 AM EST
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As told to Nuzhat Naoreen.

I was hoping the contestants would think a little bit outside of the box and really dive into the [fire and ice] idea. We didn’t ask them to be super literal. Fire can mean many things, and so can ice. [Fire] can mean color, it can mean heat as in temperature, or heat as in spice, [and] ice can mean how something looks [or] the method with which you make it. Our chefs did well, the food was good but I was hoping they would all take a little more liberty with the interpretation than they actually did.

It’s funny, when we give [the chefs] too much direction and instruction they get mad because they just want to cook their own food and when we give them not enough and just let them have fun, sometimes they’re so used to the instruction that they get stuck in their own heads. In the end, we were all happy with the results. They all did very different things [and] they did some really creative things — we [had] just hoped they would go all out for the second-to-last episode of the season.

There were a lot of really difficult things about this challenge beyond the fire and ice stipulations. We had it in the Olympic Village. It’s really beautiful. [The event] was in an old salt factory but there was no kitchen, so they were plating in a make-shift kitchen at the back of the event space and it was freezing cold. It was one of the coldest nights. I had planned to wear a sleeveless dress and no tights and heels and [when] we got there, there was no way I could even take off my coat for the challenge. We were all wrapped up and bundled. It was freezing in there, which definitely affects the food. We try not to judge if the food is cold because of the production issues. It certainly made it more difficult for them to cook the food that they really, really wanted. But that’s ok. We want to challenge them. That’s the point.

It was bold [for Sarah to make pasta]. It was a short amount of time. She’s proven she’s a master when it comes to making fresh pasta and this specific format was really beautiful. It was this one beautiful piece of filled pasta with greens that had a ton of flavor, a lot of garlic. Then she did this spiced sformato on top of it so the flavor combination was really great. There was sort of a curry blend in the sformato [and the filling] was creamy and rich. The pasta was perfect. It was soft and melted right in your mouth.

My issue with the dish [is] that we were hoping for more fire. She put a little chili in but she went too soft with it. The sformato, as we said on the show, was more of a semi-sformato. It was frozen and that detracted a bit from the dish. When she placed [the sformato] on top of the pasta it made all the filling squirt out because you had to push down so hard to get through it. But the flavors themselves were beautiful and I think the dish was successful otherwise. Her cocktail was great too. We all really loved it, it was refreshing.

Paul’s dish was definitely the most complex. There were certainly a lot of complex and technical elements to the other two [dishes, but] I don’t think they were as successful in their execution. Padma had told him in the quickfire that [his dish had] too much [heat], so he went really light [in the challenge] and that disappointed us all. It’s a very delicate balance. You want chili and heat to be a flavor and when you put too much your mouth is on fire and you can’t taste anything. If you put too little there’s no point in it being there. With all of them I have to say I wanted more spice and more heat.

[Paul’s] dish was beautiful. The flavor combination was fantastic. I loved the lemon snow. I thought it lent so much to the dish and I also really liked his cocktail. I thought it was really refreshing and it paired really, really well, which was also an important component to the challenge, and that’s also why he won.

It’s interesting, when I first [tasted] Lindsay’s dish I actually really liked [it]. Then, when we started taking apart each component — because that’s what you have to do finalize whose [dish] is better — we realized that while each individual component was good [and] she didn’t make any mistakes, there wasn’t a lot of creativity. [Her dish] wasn’t as interesting as the other two, we didn’t feel she pushed herself in terms of the concept as much. There were also a lot of different things in the dish that didn’t necessarily go well together, even if they were individually well done. As a whole we didn’t think it completely came together. I thought [the tomato ice] was a really good idea, but she sort of put it separately and [it] didn’t serve a purpose in that way. So, the ice component of her dish was completely removed from everything else. It just felt like it was a bunch of disparate pieces instead of being a really cohesive plate of food. Her cocktail was certainly the least creative, the most ordinary. It was basically a Bloody Mary, which I can make myself at home. I can think of those flavors, they’re very common, classic flavors, whereas the other two contestants made cocktails that were interesting, especially paired to their dishes, and really creative. Not that her cocktail was what sent her home, but it all plays in. I really liked her celery root salad. I thought it was a little bit fiery. It was hotter than the other two. Unfortunately, in terms of choosing from the three, [Lindsay’s dish] was just the least interesting and overall the least compelling.

Lindsay is an amazingly talented young woman. She has come so far and she should be so proud. She really fought hard. She’s an incredibly strong person [and] a great chef. I know she’ll do well. Tonight just wasn’t her night.

You just never know at the start of the season how something is going to play out. I think [Sarah and Paul] are two of the best chefs without question. They’re very different — one is very refined Asian and one is very refined Italian. They both have incredible knowledge of the cuisine that they cook, they have a great sense of self and sense of style [and] they have both been trained by two of the best chefs in the country, so I think it’s going to be a pretty great showdown.

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Tom, Padma, and Gail tell the cheftestants to pack their knives and go.
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