As told to Nuzhat Naoreen
I thought the [contestants] did a great job [at the chili cook-off]. It was really fun. I love chili. Texas chili is very specific. I’d never been to a rodeo before, so it was great to be at an event like that.
Chili is very, very regional. It’s sort of like a bolognese in Italy. Everyone has their own very specific recipe. Every region within Texas and also across the Southwest makes their own type of chili and every chili is made differently, so sometimes it takes six hours, sometimes it takes 16. But to make a great chili you definitely need to give it time. You can’t rush the meat. You want to make it as tender as possible. You want to cook it on a low heat for a long period of time. The flavor of the meat [should be] in the actual stewing liquid itself.
You [also] don’t want it to just be one-note. It shouldn’t be all meat. It should have spices and it should have vegetables and other counterpoints so it tastes as complex as the cooking method it’s made with.
The contestants had a deadline [for the chili cook-off]. They had a lot more time than usual because that’s what chili requires. Cooking at home is difficult because [the chefs didn't] have the professional equipment that they’re used to, and they’re all vying for space in a very small kitchen with limited heat sources, so it really required them to be creative and work together in their teams to get the job done.
The chili con carne, which was the winning dish by the green team, was in our top of dishes. I personally loved the smoked brisket chili from the blue team a lot. I also thought that the red team did a great [braised] brisket chili. All the teams really were quite good. There wasn’t any huge failure. Even the chili mole, which was our least favorite, was not a terrible chili. A lot of people liked it. It’s just that when you judge it against the others, we thought it was a little muddled. The flavors weren’t as bright. It was heavy, it was a little flat. The others had more flavors and more interesting flavors. You want to be able to taste the meat, taste the heat, taste all the different elements of the chili when you take a spoonful, and we just think the other teams did a better job of that.
I think [the elimination round] went as well as it could have. The reason we did it was very specific. It wasn’t just to be a–holes. It really was because when you cook chili, it is such a complex, cohesive one-pot meal that it’s very hard to then differentiate what everyone’s jobs were. So, instead of going through and listening to them describe what they did, we decided, in order to keep the playing field fair, we’d give them one more chance. They cooked all together as a team for the chili, but in order to figure out who the right person was to go home, we had them cook individually.
They were exhausted. It was after midnight when we had them cook so they had been up for two days with very little sleep. I can’t even believe they managed to do anything. I know they were practically delusional from lack of sleep. That said, they were all equally exhausted and Beverly managed to put out a very beautiful plate of food, so we know that it’s possible. We weren’t asking them to create a multi-course meal for us, we just wanted them to use the flavors of their chili and give us something else interesting that showed their own point-of-view a little more clearly. Beverly did a beautiful job with her seared tuna. Nyesha’s was nice, but it was a little dry because she encrusted her shrimp with the Fritos and then didn’t really put enough sauce with it. We thought between her and Richie, his was the least successful, mostly because it was under-seasoned. Although he had some really great ideas, it didn’t really come together on the plate as a cohesive dish and it wasn’t as sophisticated as we had hoped in its execution.
[About that "bagel injury"... ]When I was 14, I was rushing out of my friend’s house to catch a bus and I wanted to take a bagel with me for the road. I very naively cut the bagel over the sink with a serrated knife in my hand and cut right through my finger. It wasn’t a large cut, but it was a very deep cut. Because of that, I have nerve damage in the top section of my index finger [on my left hand]. I’m right-handed so it doesn’t affect many things, but anytime I have do anything really precise with the index finger on my left hand, like turning a bottle cap, or turning a key in a door, or playing a chord on a guitar, it’s difficult for me. I will never, ever cut a bagel like that again.
Going forward, we break the contestants up a bit so they’re not working in teams, and we can really see their individual cooking styles. We move to Dallas, which is exciting. It has a whole other look and feel, and there are some pretty fancy people in Dallas that we may make them cook for.