As told to Nuzhat Naoreen:
I think [the quickfire] went well. It’s always good to see what fans are looking for. More and more people are using social media, and I’m sure if we can come up with more interesting ways to use it, we will. It was kind of hard to tell [who had the toughest ingredient]. Sriracha to me is not that difficult. We never told them how much [of the new ingredient] to use. They could have used the tiniest bit as long as it was in there. They could have used a drop, it wouldn’t have changed the dish. I don’t know why they got all bent out of shape, [as if they] had to use half the bottle [of Sriracha]. Again, I don’t think it’s necessarily difficult to incorporate stuff into a dish. It’s a matter of how much you use. There’s always a way to work it in.
It was fun having Patti LaBelle join us. We had a good time. We spent a couple of hours together and it was almost as if the idea of making a show was not even there. It was like [we were] at a dinner party. It’s neat to spend that kind of time with someone.
[The difficulty of the elimination challenge] all depends on how creative the [chefs] are and how they adapt. You can think about a dish that was important to you growing up, someone who taught you and what they cooked, and that can be a great starting off point. You can make that dish exactly the way it was taught to you or you can change it from there. You kind of have to take inspiration always, as opposed to doing something verbatim, and I think that’s what some of the contestants opted to do. When you see Grayson make steak and potatoes, it’s like, “All right, what’s so interesting about that?”
Looking at the dishes that were served, a lot of them were very, very good. Beverly’s dish was very good. Paul didn’t make the final 3, but his dish was very good. So we had some very good dishes, and all of a sudden you get a big steak and potato, and it’s like, how do you compare that? So you have the steak, you have the potatoes, what else can you incorporate into that to make it more of a dish, as opposed to just steak on a plate? These are some of the things that the chefs get stuck on. It’s like, “Well, I was told to do a dish from my childhood and this was it.” Well okay, but you have to move on from there. Also, one thing that you don’t see is that when the chefs are told it’s time to cook, we actually stop and then it takes about 20 minutes to actually go over the challenge. There’s a producer that comes out and goes through [the challenge] line by line, and on top of that, the [contestants] are allowed to ask questions. So, if [Grayson] was confused, she could have asked questions. She had plenty of time to ask questions.
I’m sure Beverly’s mother did not present her Korean short ribs the way she did. There’s no way. But that did not stop Beverly from saying, “This is what my mother made and I’m going to make it my own dish.” Same thing with Sarah; she said her mother made stuffed cabbage and her father made sausage. She could have easily put cabbage and sausage [on a plate], but she didn’t do that. She made a beautiful stuffed cabbage [with sausage], and it was really quite delicious. But you see how she made it her own and that’s always better.
Heather’s beef wasn’t cooked right. When you do a braised beef dish, you usually use a tougher cut of meat — the reason being that tougher cuts also tend to have a lot of collagen and connective tissue. When you braise something and cook it very, very slowly for a long time, it gets to a point where the collagen and connective tissues start to break down and it changes this dry piece of meat into this very rich dish. So if you take a leaner cut of meat like a rib eye, you shouldn’t have to braise it. There’s not a lot of collagen there so when you braise it, it just gets dry. She chose the wrong cut of meat and gave us a dish that was dried out and didn’t have a lot of flavor. You look at that dish, and technically, it was not very good. It wasn’t cooked right, it wasn’t appealing at all. Whereas Grayson’s [dish] was pretty straight forward and simple but cooked nicely. At the end of the day there were so many things wrong with [Heather’s] beef stroganoff dish.
A lot of these [elimination] decisions that we make we labor over for a long time. Obviously, you only get a condensed version of it because we only have 48 minutes for the whole show, but that was [one decision] that was talked about.
Hugh Acheson blogs ‘Top Chef: Texas’