The Next Iron Chef: In Vegas, Caswell bets it all on Gulf cuisine — and guesswhat happens
Welcome to Las Vegas, The Next Iron Chef fans! After an introductory vista of the behemoth new CityCenter (yes, even bigger than Houston's CityCentre, though not spelled as fancy) it's down to brass tacks.
The chefs head to the Bellagio pastry kitchen of Jean-Philippe Maury. The challenge? Use Maury's felicitous wedding cakes as "inspiration" for a wedding dessert, including chocolate as the secret ingredient.
Bryan Caswell narrates the overall sense of panic that ensues. "It's not my forte," he summarizes, adding that the two-hour time window allowed little room for error.
Caswell, Marco Canora and Ming Tsai all gravitate towards a tower of profiteroles, while Marc Forgione makes a messy peanut butter and chocolate parfait and Celina Tio makes a quartet of random chocolateness.
No one seems to really wow Maury, and Tsai's version of the croquembouche, the most successful of the trio, ekes out a modest but important win.
Next Alton Brown rolls in a trio of serving carts — the chefs will be modernizing and recreating the classic Vegas 24-hour buffet, creating two cold dishes and three hot plates in three hours.
This week the frenetic pace of the elimination challenge really hit home. With AT&T U-verse in a fight with the Food Channel I had to watch the show in a DVR-less office (I'm one of the 200,000 Houston households with U-verse), so even writing down the five dishes everyone was serving in their buffet in real time — no pause! — was a challenge. So, like the chefs, I might have made some slip-ups, but at least I don't have the chairman or the judges staring me down.
Caswell set off to show the judges a cross-section of Gulf cuisine, with a shrimp and fig salad that Arpaia pronounced mushy and a beef and grape salad she found marred by competing flavors. His baby back ribs with a peach tequila sauce were judged "fantastic" (before being dismissed as the culinary birthright of every Texan — I wish!), and a chili pork butt that was great, but obscured the flavor of the next dish, barbecue cracked crab.
Marc Forgione starts with a vegetable consumme the judges deem very flavorful, a perfectly-cooked leg of lamb that judge Simon Majumdar dubs "ruined by the competing flavors of the basil pesto crust and the chimichurri sauce. His raw salmon and classic prime rib are acceptable but his coconut curry-braised veal cut is vilified as way too salty — the cost of breaking in the pressure cooker.
Canora shouts and runs his ways through the challenge, but against all odds he finishes in time. His eggplant parmesan earns points from Donatella Arpaia just for not being terrible, and his other dishes — a veal cheek, something with seafood and another pork dish — all earn moderate praise, while Majumdar toasts his fruit salad just for containing pineapple and not being awful.
Tsai took the chefs on a tour of Asia for his buffet, with a smoked salmon and avocado parfait, a scallop ceviche that wowed the judges, middling lobster and dirty fried rice, a sweet and sour baby back ribs marred and mushi-fied by a the offensive pineapple, and an unbalanced ribeye pho that the judges found fatty and overwrought.
Tio chose to stick to her elevated classics, starting with a cauliflower soup the judges loved, a lobster shepherd's pie that Majumdar pronounced delicious, slow-roasted salmon and a "confused" garlic-cured duck.
With two eliminations in store, the judges seem conflicted about Caswell's hopes, as he served neither the best nor the worst dishes of the day and failed to "wow "them once again. But between Arpaia's distaste for Tio's white blandness, Forgione's offensively salted veal and Tsai's acid-free pho, it seems like anyone could be going home.
The judges declare Canora the victor, as he seemed to execute all his dishes the best with no major flaws. And when it's time to make the cuts, the first chef going home is... Bryan Caswell.
This sucks. As it turns out, the tie for fourth place means only Caswell gets the exit, and the double elimination will be saved for next week.
I am disappointed and bitter, but Caswell seems to take the news better. "I'm surprised I did as well as I did in this kind of competition, because I'm not the guy who usually gets it right the first time," he said. Bryan, you kept it classy and you made us all proud.
We're hearing Caswell's Stella Sola is planning a dinner of some of the food he served on the show. What dishes should be on it? We're voting for the updated openface turkey sandwich from week two and Bertie Bea's collard greens.
CultureMappers, were you surprised to see Caswell get the boot? Without him in the contest, who do you want to win?