First things first: Why was Padma wearing what looks like a motorcycle jacket made out of an oven mitt? She rocked that odd patchwork ensemble the entire episode, and it momentarily distracted me from Phillip’s endless references to his place inside the Los Angeles foodie world. I guess for that reason, I was glad for it.
At the beginning of the episode, Ludo Lefebvre, the super-French chef who calls himself the “Impresario of Pop-Up Dining,” was on hand to guest-judge the Elimination Challenge, which was all about breaking into four groups to create pop-up restaurants based on four major cuisines found in Los Angeles: Persian, Korean, Mexican, and vegan. Hmm, one of those four is not like the others.
Let’s start with Team Mexico. Chad and Jeremy were a deadly combination of big male egos from the moment they met with chef Ray Garcia — no one on the team, which also included Kwame and Wesley, had any questions for Ray about maximizing Mexican flavors. Chad and Jeremy talked about knowing how to cook in a Latin style, but they seemed to fall short when it came to going beyond their pre-existing impressions of what Mexican food was. Chad’s carrot asado with banana yogurt and carne seca didn’t strike any of the diners as Mexican, and a big hunk of carrot isn’t a good substitute for a protein. Jeremy’s grilled skirt steak and potato confit not only didn’t taste like Mexican food, it also didn’t taste bold. Wesley claimed that his orange and tomato stew contained chorizo, but everyone just tasted ground beef. The words “Hamburger Helper” were thrown around. Ouch. The only bright spot was Kwame’s raisin-glazed shrimp with masa porridge and avocado lime cream, which Ray called authentic.
Now to Team Korea. In my biased opinion, Korean food is the best food in the world, and even though I’m a New Yorker, I actually agree with Top Chef master Sang Yoon — L.A.’s Korean food is the best Korean food in America. Of the team, Giselle was the least assured of Korean flavors, wandering a market to ask a random Korean shopper how to fry chicken wings. Even though Giselle annoyed her teammates with her neuroses, her spicy drumettes with cucumber salad and cabbage turned out well. Karen achieved the most authentic taste with her grilled kalbi with nectarine kimchi, Jason got decent reviews for his chilled noodles in radish broth, and Carl’s cuttlefish with avocado did, as well.
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But the winning team was Team Persia, which visited Taste of Tehran for flavor pointers. Amar’s grilled heirloom carrots with cilantro pesto was almost TOO Persian, with its slightly overly strong cumin taste. Angelina’s fennel coriander-crusted chicken needed more seasoning. Isaac, despite a lot of doubt over whether he could cook Persian, did a good job with his lamb kofta, but his meat was too spicy, which isn’t exactly typical of the cuisine. Marjorie, though, pushed Team Persia to the winning slot with her yogurt mousse with pistachio sponge cake and saffron orange syrup. It was an impressive win because it must be hard to concoct an original dessert using flavors you’re not entirely familiar with.
Team Vegan did considerably less well and was named the losing team, despite Phillip’s overwhelming confidence. (How gauche did that photo of himself on the side of his restaurant look? By the way, “gauche” is such a Garret word.) Even though Phillip didn’t actually help his team with his veggie expertise, I really think Grayson dragged the team down with her attitude. Just yesterday, I was talking about how glad I was that Grayson’s back, but her lack of openness to cooking vegan was more grating than funny. She can’t just make a green bean salad that belongs next to a rubbery chicken cutlet on an airplane and get mad at the judges for not appreciating her simplicity. Phillip made a decent but fussy cauliflower dish called “Cauliflower, Cauliflower, Cauliflower,” but Renee, who I enjoyed watching so far, ended up going home for a mealy and pasty stuffed beet. Here’s hoping she shuts Garret up in Last Chance Kitchen.