What took us back to the consort’s boyhood home was a supposedly fun thing I’m not entirely sure I’d do again. I was lured up to be a judge for the local variation on Tin Chefs, and it was far more stressful than I’d anticipated. It’s one thing to sit in my little office and fire off digital darts. It’s quite another to have to contemplate shooting a dog in the head in front of a crowd. Luckily, the food was, overall, so impressive I didn’t have to either lie or be a total bitch. The closest I came was in saying Mae West might have been wrong in thinking too much of a good thing is never enough. And of course I only made it worse by saying one Course II would sell very well in Buffalo, where there seems to be a rule no diner is ever allowed to leave less than stuffed. As the chef who won pointed out, there’s no way he could produce a dish like that and make money (duck egg raviolo with sauce Choron and, and, and, and etc.)
Afterward I also pissed off the chef who didn’t win by saying he could open a restaurant serving what he had just cooked up for us judges. He contended he already does, but I strongly suspect his very good gastropub would have a tough time selling a savvy reinvention of floating islands, while a fresh start in the Wright/museum location would find huge demand for that retro dessert tweaked. His other dishes were also exceptional in showcasing the “secret ingredient,” which was duck eggs from Painted Meadow Farms: Course I featured a perfect deviled egg, a Scotch egg and a pickled egg paired with a little Bloody Mary. His II delivered the eggs baked over duck confit and shiitake mushrooms, teamed with toasts spread with chicken liver paté. (Try dunking those on camera, let alone slipping a bite to your consort in the audience.) Overall, Escoffier would have been proud.
But the chef who won seemed hellbent on dazzling, and he did, at least first and last. He, too, served up three twists to start: the yolk breaded and fried and laid over asparagus tips with tarragon vinaigrette to evoke sauce bearnaise when the fork broke the yolk and it spilled out, plus a little pig’s trotter brodo served in an eggshell to pour over the yolks to make a sort of egg-drop soup, and a Ramos gin fizz using the white. (These are, of course, Cliffsnotes — many adjectives and nouns have been omitted because flavors/details flew by in a blur.) His main may have been a letdown, but he came out swinging with his dessert: What arrived looking like a fried egg alongside a strip of bacon turned out to be a nice schmear of coconut meringue topped with a “yolk” of pineapple curd and accompanied by a chocolate biscotto. It really seemed and tasted like something you’d experience in France or London or, with luck, NYC. A near-skirmish broke out when I passed a taste over to Bob; some guy in the audience actually grabbed it to share.
But at least that was not as uncivil, apparently, as a previous competition at which one attendee reportedly got so hammered he staggered downstairs and puked in an office. And that made me wonder something the next night, when we were in Toronto watching the premiere of “Top Chef Canada” and amazed at how many repeated takes of the food were repeatedly shown. Come on, fools — shoot the audience.