I’ve got A LOT to say about last night’s episode, so listen up…
“Group Title Shot and Mystery Box #2” 2.21.11: Everyone is expecting baking in the mystery box…last season this was the cupcake challenge. We lift up the boxes and there is a stunning rack of lamb, pie crust, romesco cauliflower, creme fraische, cream, fresh fava beans, thai chilis, curry, granola, walnuts, and a bunch of herbs. I’m thrilled with the lamb. I cooked it for my signature dish and I am very comfortable with it as a protein. If I were at home, I’d Sous Vide that shit, but because of the flogging I’ve been getting for modernist techniques, I choose to pan roast it and show some traditional technique in this round.
I’ve never seen romesco cauliflower before, it looks like a prehistoric vegetable. I want to try making it into a cous-cous a la Ferran Adria. It dosen’t come out because I blanch it too long… I guess I’ll have to work on that technique at home. At the end of the hour, I put up a beautiful plate of lamb, fava/feta salad with mint and blood orange zest, curried cauliflower, and a reduction of port wine and blood orange juice. The plate looks worthy of the cover of a magazine.
Interesting note. I just re-rewatched the episode and when Chef Ramsay asks Chef Elliot what he would do with the mystery box ingredients, Graham replies, “I’d do a roasted lamb. And I’d do a little fava mint salad, some crumbled feta with it. And maybe a little romesco puree.” PRETTY FREAKIN’ CLOSE TO THE DISH I PLATED ABOVE!
After lunch on ice, we’re back on set for judging. We get just a few minutes to walk around and look at each other’s plates… I receive my usual praise from the cast. For the record, here are my dishes to date:
“Loco Moco” The ONE dish that got some love from the judges.
“Beer Can Chicken” -Grilled Potato Salad, Pickled Watermelon Rhind, homemade BBQ sauce.
“Trio of Salmon” Ramen with pan seared salmon. Poke with grilled white asparagus, jalepeno, grilled lemon, and salmon chicharon. Salmon Sous Vide with Fennel Fronds, served en croute with ricotta, pistachio, and mustard.
Deconstructed Nicoise inspired salad with grilled shrimp. Potato maxim, blanched haricot vert, torn olive, hard cooked egg yolk, olive oil powder, and watercress puree.
The judges are back…Again, the top three dishes are called. I am not one of them…It’s getting frustrating seeing my dishes that are both beautiful and delicious get passed up (or worse, berated) at judging.
Adrian ends up winning and gets whisked away for his advantage. I’m happy for Adrian and his win… He is the most worthy competitor here, an honest and humble dude that can seriously cook. Since his signature dish, I’ve wanted to go against him in the finals. Good to see him get some recognition.
After a quick break, Ramsay tells us all that tomorrow’s elimination test will be desserts – chemistry – precision. He tells us to think of coffee, nuts, chocolate, pineapple, and strawberry. He tells us to quit playing safe and go big, go bold, be innovative… time to start brainstorming.
In the evening, we are gathered outside of the set building all standing around the “MasterChef Bush” we’re shooting the title shots…there’s a lot of joking going on which is good for camera because people are smiling. This shot takes over half an hour – look at the camera, follow the camera, now don’t look at the camera, take a half step to your left, now take a quarter step to your right, lots of tweaking and re-shooting.
It’s the end of a long day- we’re all happy to go back to the hotel to study. Over the past week the library has become more like a dorm room, study sessions often involve cases of beer or in my case, Mesquite smoked Sailor Jerry and coke.
“Elimination Challenge” 2.22.11: Today’s theme: desserts. Ramsay reminds us that dessert is chemistry and precision. Although I don’t make a lot of desserts, I feel very comfortable with chemistry and precision. Adrian’s advantage for winning the mystery box is that he gets to pick one ingredient for himself and he gets to give everyone else a different ingredient. He picks nuts for himself and gives everyone else coffee. I am happy with coffee — it was one of my best brainstorms from the night before. Ramsay reminds us to take risks, play to win, and tell a story with our plates…”Your time starts… NOW”
After the race into the pantry, I see coffee with chickory: PERFECT! I want to do a dessert duo. I plan on making alginate spheres of coffee, and wrapping them in beignet dough… deep fried coffee and doughnuts. The second part of my duo will be a take on the Vietnamese classic, Cafe Su Da. I will make strong brewed chickory coffee into a pudding with Ultratex 8 and put it into a bowl with sweetened condensed milk on the bottom. I feel good about the plan.
As I start to cook, Graham and Joe come by my station and ask me what I’m up to. I explain and Graham says he gets it. Joe says, “Why don’t you just make us dessert!?” Graham says I better pull this off so we can convert Joe…no pressure.
Things are going well during cooking, so I decide to add a coffee-bourbon caramel sauce to the beignets. I put bourbon and whole coffee beans into an iSi to pressure infuse it. Then strain it and flambé it…I add some turbinado sugar and bring it to 260F. Cream, butter done.
I drop the coffee shperes into the calcium bath and they are working. I wrap one in dough and fry it… it comes out perfect, liquid coffee inside of a hot doughnut. I am amused by myself and excited that I have basically found a way to essentially deep fry water. The pudding comes out darker in color that I had imagined, and I debate on whether or not to put it on the plate… it makes the plate.
Standard procedure, lunch on ice while beauty shots are taken.
Judgement. Before my turn for judging, there are a few dishes with big flaws.
I bring my plate up and it dosen’t start well. Chef Ramsay’s making a big deal about me using Sodium Alginate…Blah, Blah, Blah…it’s seaweed! He takes a bite of the beignet and the coffee center is slightly overset, more like a jelly than the liquid center of my test fry.
I know immediately what has happened… I used a “standard” spherification technique where the alginate is mixed with the base liquid. One of the problems with this technique is that it needs to be served immediately. The alginate-calcium reaction that sets the outside of the sphere will continue even after it is removed from the calcium bath. To compound the problem, there wasn’t any bottled water available in the pantry so I brewed my coffee with tap water (which sometimes has traces of calcium). The trace calcium and the lunch break have led to my beautiful liquid center sphere turning into jello.
Chef Ramsay goes on to say that the filling is bitter… “It’s coffee and chickory, Chef… it’s going to be bitter” I respond. He says, “It’s REALLY bitter”. I tell him that I did a taste test and that I was happy with the balance of powdered sugar (drenched those things in that white dust), the bourbon caramel, and the bitter notes of coffee.
Graham comes up and tries the pudding. He thinks I thickened it with xanthan gum… he concludes that xanthan is the cause of the “Snotty” texture. I did NOT use xanthan gum– the pudding was made with Ultratex 8, which rarely goes snotty in texture. I don’t know how- but the texture seems different than when I plated it originally…wierd. In retrospect, I should NOT have plated the pudding.
Joe comes up next and gives a speech about how these “chemicals” are a disgrace to food. Hmmm… I think Dr. Myrvold has some good thoughts about that:
Apparently Joe does not agree with Dr. Myrvold… Rough. Although Joe is the roughest with me — very anti-modernist like John Mariani, it’s Graham’s comments that hurt the most. The clip that you will have undoubtedly seen, the one clip of me that I WISH was left in the editing room. It is when Graham says, “Things like this give what I do with food a bad name…” Ugh! I feel like I’ve let him down, the judge that I respect the most, I’ve let down. It feels awful. AWFUL.
I’m called up in the bottom three alongside Max’s burnt crepes and Jennie Kelley’s raw pie dough. I’m just hoping that the judges will appreciate the boldness in my plate and look past some flaws in execution… They don’t.
My time in MasterChef is done.
After I shake hands with the judges and thank them for the opportunity, I take off my apron and leave the kitchen. This is the first time they’ve gotten any real emotion from me.
What’s worse is that after I’m off set, the rest of the contestants defend me. Suzie tells Ramsay “There’s no way Alvin should go home now… He’s an amazing chef”. Flattering, maybe she’s alright after all.
Ben Starr talks to production and offers to give up his apron if I can stay in the competition, Ben is by far the most compassionate person and caring person on cast, I’ll miss him!
These are friends that I will have forever and memories that will last a lifetime. My MasterChef experience was a good one, and I wouldn’t have changed the way that I played the game– except for maybe reverse spherifying those coffee beignets.
At the end of the day I have a crystal clear vision of what the show is after: a spokesperson, a cook book that will sell, and a brand. I don’t fault them at all for that, but it was different than what I expected.
I know that Sally Homemaker and Joe Sixpack aren’t going to make coffee sphere filled doughnuts at home. But I showed up to cook the food that I cook at home… I will perfect those beignets! Now to see if I can get a table at “The Bazaar by Jose Andres“… If I leave LA without eating there, I’ll be more upset than I was about leaving MasterChef!
UPDATE: I got a table at the Bazaar… you can read about one of the most amazing meals of my life here. That meal was almost worth leaving the competiton… almost.
Chef Elliot and I had a great talk later… it really helped me feel better about him (although that sound bite still stings). He has invited me to his restraunt in Chicago. Not only did he invite me for dinner, but he’s also invited me to Stage (Apprentice) in his kitchen. I will definitely take him up on this offer.
I hope to be able to plan a culinary pilgrimage to the Mecca of modern American cuisine in the near future. If any readers out there can help with plane tickets, tickets to NEXT Restraunt, funds to dine at Alinea, or connections to any great restaurants in Chicago please contact me via the contact page.
More locally, in Houston I’ve been staging with Chef Jonathan Jones at El Xuco Xicana. While it’s not four star dining, it’s a kitchen that is focused on details and I’m learning a lot.
I’ve also lined up an opportunity to work in the kitchen at Brennan’s of Houston with Chef Danny Trace. Brennan’s is a New Orlean’s institution (where Banana’s foster was INVENTED) and I’m very excited about the opportunity to learn in that environment.
I’m very thankful to these local chefs for allowing me the flexibility to basically call them whenever I want to work. I’ve kept my day job so finding balance of days in the week to pay bills and remain challenged culinarily has been difficult to say the least.
In addition to all of this, I’ve launched “Eat. Drink. EXPERIENCE!” as a culinary service company. Currently I am offering in home catering for small parties, teaching, demonstrations, appearances, endorsements, product reviews, and I’ll try everything once. If you would like to Experience my cooking or passion for food, please visit the contact me page.
Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone that supported me in this journey. It has been truly flattering and humbling. This has been a life changing experience, and I assure you it’s not the end of my cooking.
I hope that you’ll continue to support my friends in their quest for MasterChef. Although Tracy, Adrian, and Ben are my personal favorites, ANY one of the remaining contestants could win it and are all deserving.
I’ll still be watching episodes and live tweeting (@AlvinSchultz) as a fan. And we’re still doing viewing parties (complete with some pretty amazing food) at SWAYE BAR in Houston. Come out and say Hi, 3730 Washington @ Yale.
Thanks again for your love and support… it means everything to me.