As told to Nuzhat Naoreen
I flew in right at the end of [the rattlesnake quickfire]. I thought it was pretty cool that they gave them such an indigenous ingredient. A lot of things are going to be very Texas. So in that way I thought it was very interesting. I bet it took a lot of people by surprise. I’ve never even had rattlesnake. I would have been a little bit flummoxed by the challenge. All [the contestants] seemed to be pretty good at getting it done in time. Nobody seemed flabbergasted. I think the only thing that took them for a loop was the possible fact that the rattlesnake was still alive.
[During a challenge], you want to look at who your judge is and what his take on things would possibly be and meet those expectations. I think a lot of the time the contestants kind of overlook that. In this case it’s Johnny Hernandez. Johnny’s a restaurateur whose cooking is very Hispanic influenced and very nuanced. He kept saying he wanted the focus to be on the rattlesnake and that’s what Dakota, the winner, did in the end.
I’ve never been to a quinceañera. I was like, “Wow this is like the over the top Bar Mitzvah of Mexico.” It was quite the shindig. Everybody was very dolled up and very much ready to have a party. Blanca was awesome. She was really smart, but also willing to [share] her opinion and tell [the judges] what she thought of things. She was great to work with.
One team seemed to be, from the get-go, a little more organized than the [other]. This is what we do as chefs, we walk into a kitchen everyday and we allocate our strengths and look out for where the weaknesses are going to be and start ranking things in position of importance. It’s very much like in the ER. The [pink team] didn’t really do that. They didn’t really have a leader. They should have nominated somebody to be in charge and to facilitate. They really lacked that and in the end and it came back to haunt them. There was a lot of in-fighting and there was a lot of squabbling over things that were bought. Keith made that very sad decision to buy pre-cooked shrimp, which came back to haunt him. But you know, there were three other people around him, who were saying “Oh, just buy it,” who later were throwing Keith under the bus for buying frozen shrimp. It’s like, “You can’t do that. You were the one who told him to buy it.”
I have no idea [why Keith bought the cooked shrimp]. I think he was concerned about the time, but there are certain short cuts in the kitchen that chefs of this caliber should never take and he took it. This is a guy who up to this point, even through the quick fire, had been doing the most complex cooking out there. He had been doing plates with four different elements pretty much all the time and really trying to bring a lot of nuance and interesting stuff to the table. Then he makes an enchilada/burrito and buys frozen shrimp. It’s like, what was he thinking? Maybe his bed was too small and he wanted to move on and go home?
[His dish] was a clunker. Tom said the flavors were fine, but I think Tom was missing the point a little bit in the fact that what it was called was not what it was. This was a Hispanic food challenge in all essence and he missed the mark entirely. As other people were really trying to hit a mark of authenticity, he went for something easy. When you saw him dropping that deep thing of enchiladas on the steam table it’s like, “Wow, there’s got to be a better way. You should have thought about a better dish.”