Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sugar Plum's Emily Wins Our Hearts And Palates...

If Not The Actual $25,000

Ultimate Recipe Showdown
Comfort Food Competition

This is the first time I've ever told you the outcome of a cooking competition at the beginning of a post. There's a reason for that. You have to read to the end to find out why, but, for right now, The Comfort Food face off featuring Emily is about to begin...

I’m so excited I can barely sit still.

I even have H(usband) watching, which, if you knew H, is pretty revolutionary. Guy strolls out with all kinds of hubbub in the background. We learn that OVER TEN THOUSAND recipes were submitted and looked at. Our little Emily made it to the TOP FOUR.

Diana, her first competitor, is a little annoying. Sorry, but she is. She’s small and scrappy and I don’t like her one bit. The next is swat team member Rick Massa. Guy better watch his step around him. I hate to say it, but I really like his dish. Rick says he went from cop to cook and that he’s here to win.

Em is just too cute as she introduces her Baked Butternut Four Cheese Farfalle with Sage. Wow, her hair looks great.

The last contestant, Michaela Rosenthal, looks like a pro as she introduces her recipe beautifully. She could be a tough competitor. She’s been in over a dozen cook-offs.

We see the four cooking. They have an hour and a half to do their first dish (out of two). Em cooks butternut squash in the microwave for speed.

(Oh, there’s just one tiny little picayune thing that I’m not happy with. Emily covers her butternut squash with plastic wrap, which is completely verboten in my kitchen. I don’t like melted plastic on my food. Even H notices. Hush, I say, she’s in a hurry.)

I’m not paying attention to anyone else, although Michaela says something I really agree with, which is that it’s very important to leave the vegetables sautéing as long as possible to fully develop their flavor.

They highlight Diana’s dish. They show her healthy lifestyle. She's lost a lot of weight. Whoo-Hoo. Let’s see more Emily.

One of the judges, Chef Michael Psilakis is impressed with Rick’s knife skills. They show Rick with guns. (Maybe they’re rifles…?) Scary. He WAS kind of hot when he was young. He’s nice, but he better not beat our Em. They show him barbecuing with fellow swat team members.

Judge and Family Circle Editor-In-Chief, Linda Fears , loves the idea of Emily adding butternut to mac and cheese. We see Emily’s kitchen (nice!)…Where’s Mom?...and a tiny glimpse of her town, plus the restaurant where she serves. Em is carrying a hundred cups, okay, maybe just twenty or so, but she is seriously awesome.

Rick appears to be burning his onions and the judges are worried that the blue cheese in his dish may be too strong.

Back to Emily. The judges are watching and are concerned that she’s using too much sage. They wish that the sage was going IN, not just ON the dish. Emily tells us the cheeses she is using are brie, gorgonzola, fontina and gruyere. What a cheesy deliciousness she’s whipping up!

Michaela wants her soup to be super smooth.

Rick takes his dish out of the oven before anyone else and Guy calls him Rambo Rick. Rick is worried that he’s finished too early and that it will cool too fast. The judges notice he looks stressed.

Times up! They all finished in time.

Diana is up first. She watches as Chef Psilakis cuts into the tortilla on top of her soup. Diana drones on and on as she’s given permission by Guy to give a play by play of the judges tasting her food. What was he thinking? She goes on for so long that Guy gets on his phone and then pretends to leave.

3rd judge Katherine Alford, the Food Network’s Test Kitchen Director, likes the dish. Chef Psilakis says it was a little difficult getting into, but it's good.

Rick is next. Katherine is worried about the blue cheese in the recipe, although she says it turns out to be a successful dish. Michael loves the smoky bacon flavor. Linda says she wants to make it for her family.

Emily comes out. Linda likes her butternut mac and cheese, but says the sage is a bit overwhelming. Guy asks Em if she is familiar with how sage changes when it's cooked. She says,"THAT’S why I need to go to culinary school." Good One!!!

Michael says, “I can’t TEACH you how to put a dish together and I can’t teach you how to love food. And THIS really shows both of those things. It’s incredible, seriously incredible, at that age, without any education (let’s not get crazy here, Michael) or training, to be able to put something like this together. You should be proud of yourself." RIGHT ON! Emily has a serious crush on Chef Michael.

Katherine loves Michaela’s soup, but thinks it’s too thick. Linda loves the heat of the jalapeño. Michael too. They announce the scores of the first round. The order is Rick, Diana, Michaela and Emily. Rats!

They go on immediately to the next dishes. I’m not even listening as I’m contemplating how Emily got robbed in the first round scores. The competition’s procedures are a bit obtuse. There’s a second round where they have to cook a dish in 30 minutes. Those apparently get judged the same way as in the first round. The person having the single highest score in either round wins, which could actually work to Emily’s advantage.

Em is making a Pumpernickel Pastrami Panini with Rosemary-Ale Jus. Wooee-Zowee! SHE’S the one going into the second round with all guns blazing, if you ask me.

Emily is disappointed with her first round scores. She says she needs a home run in this round, so she can win and go to culinary school.

I’m not watching anyone else particularly closely. Pumpkin and avocado are in Diana’s recipe. Rick is grilling bacon and puréeing tomatoes. He’s making soup and a sandwich. Guy doesn’t think he can finish in 30 minutes.

Emily gets to work on her panini. The judges are talking about how they all crave pastrami. She has to talk to Guy while she’s cooking. Leave her alone, so she can cook. Michaela is making fritters. That’s pretty brave.

Rick is worried about his cheese not melting.

They judges comment on Emily adding apples to the pastrami recipe.

Diana has nightmares about people eating burned food. She has a lot to concentrate on at once.

Michaela is very sure of herself. I like her. She’s not full of herself, just confident.

They trying to make it look like Emily burned a sandwich. Chef Psilakis is worried that Em won’t finish in time. “Just cut them and plate them, Emily”, he says. She does. They all finish. Rick says he thinks the Food Network clock runs faster than normal clocks.

Diana says she got worried when she smelled Em’s sandwich. Michaela and Rick agree. They think her dish looks amazing. Of course, it does, it’s EMILY’S!

Katherine doesn’t like the texture of Diana’s dish. Linda likes her avocado butter. Michael would have liked more herbs in the dish.

The judges taste Rick’s next. Linda gives Rick bonus points for the bacon in his grilled cheese AND tomato soup. She loves it. Katherine doesn’t like the bacon in both. Michael says this sandwich is equal to his mother’s grilled cheese, which is the highest praise.

Emily is next. She says she’s nervous because there is a really long pause, as the judges just eat and say nothing. Guy says it’s killing him. He really wants to go over there and taste her panini. He does!!!

Katherine says it’s a great sandwich. It’s very layered and very comforting, but she doesn’t think it has enough pastrami. Linda disagrees. She says it’s a perfect amount. Michael isn’t rapturous over the sandwich and the jus separately, but together, he says, it’s a different story. He loves it.

Katherine says she’s honored to be part of the start of Emily’s culinary career. Awww, Em is touched.

Michaela hopes they love her recipe. Linda says one side was crisper than the other. Katherine says this is Sunday breakfast for her and that she probably doesn’t need the lemon glaze. That’s funny, because Michaela says she usually leaves it off. Michael says the candied ginger is a rock star touch. He says it's astounding that a home cook made this in half an hour.

Rick says a swat call up would be easier than waiting for the scores.
The four contestants gather for the results. They kind of rush the whole thing. It’s mildly confusing. Oh, because Rick got the highest score in the first round, 96, THAT’S the number they have to beat. Diana doesn’t win and is excused with a score of 90.

Emily gets a 95 and is excused. It’s between Michaela and Rick. Michaela gets a 94. WHY did they send Emily off first? That doesn’t make sense. Rick wins. I don't care anymore. Some woman comes up and hugs him. I guess that’s his wife.

They show Guy and Katherine in Friday’s Test Kitchen with Rick’s first dish which will be featured on their menu. Then we see one outtake and it’s over…

Well, obviously, Emily was robbed. Rick is a nice guy, but she needs to go to culinary school more than he needs more guns…or whatever.

But I really hope what Emily takes away from this entire experience is the amazing competence she showed (which is NO surprise to Sugar Plum fans) and the esteem she was shown by seasoned food professionals. They were impressed!

Whatever the result, Emily showed her talent and, as Chef Psilakis remarked, this is BEFORE culinary school or any professional experience. Obviously, we’re in store for some great things from Emily. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Okay, time for a disclaimer. I WAS THERE for part of the taping. I saw her in action. I saw our Emily compete, which was truly thrilling. I sat next to Mom and was included in the special friends and family section, which meant that I had a superb view of everything going on.

It was also my first time inside the Food Network and, for a Food Network fanatic, every little detail was fascinating. I loved seeing Guy in the flesh. I loved the culinary assistants scampering around. I even loved the superbly professional audience wrangler. Incidentally, Guy appears to be EXACTLY as you would expect - a big, bold personality with WILD hair.

I was slated to watch the afternoon session. The only thing that went a bit awry was that the morning session ran longer than expected, so the afternoon taping started (and ended) later. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the final results were announced, BUT I did see the second recipes being prepared and judged.

This is what impressed me the most and I’m not sure it was adequately displayed in the final show: The judges were careful and deliberate and displayed such a high level of knowledge that I was blown away. They didn’t just look at and taste each dish quickly. They analyzed each component, the method of each recipe…they compared and contrasted them to other dishes in their memory. They studied the recipes. They watched the steps as the dishes were being put together. It was a tour de force of culinary expertise and very, VERY impressive.

I heard all the comments on Emily’s last dish, which were, of course, somewhat edited for the hour show. But, as I left, before the final scores were tallied, I was SURE Emily would win. And when I heard that she had lost by ONE point, I was soooooo disappointed, but also so proud that she had come that far.

One more postscript: that lunch that Emily and I shared at the Spice Market? That was AFTER the show had been taped. (How I longed to tell you all…) When I saw Bob and Danny in the restaurant, I MADE poor Emily stop them as they were leaving. And, proud friend that I am, I reminded Bob that Emily was one of the contestants on the URS and that she ALMOST won. He told her about the thousands of entries they had had and how well she had done. I have a feeling that that’s not the last the Food Network, or food fans in general, have heard from Emily.


Anonymous said...

I didn't like Diana, she was a tad annoying.

After the first round, I felt like the put Emily on just so they could say "oh, you're good, but you need to go to culinary school" or something. . .like they never intended her to win, just to have a little story. But then I knew she'd win round 2. If only she'd put a piece of bacon or two on that sandwich, she would've won, those bacon slut judges.

Catherine Wilkinson said...

You captured my sentiments, Sue! And you're right about Michaela...very confident (for a good reason...very talented), but very very nice and generous...she actually wrote me that SHE thought Em was robbed! I much prefer this season format over last (I was in "chicken" last year) and Guy is better by himself than with ol' what's his name! How fun that you got to go to the taping! Woo!
Emily has no worries, she's a star!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I remember after finding out about URS that it seemed like more than coincidence that you guys ran into FN folks at the restaurant.

I was so down in the dumps about Emily not winning. I wanted her to win that prize so badly. I have eaten at Psilakis's restaurant and I was excited that he was so kind to her, but now I feel like I never want to eat there again!

Lys said...

I just started reading Sugar Plum during the URS and, while I did enjoy Rick, I started to root for Emily as well. I do think that huge things are ahead for her - and soon.

Anonymous said...

So, what were your issues with Diana...seems you were more than a tad harsh. Seems to me, actually, she was the one doing best in front of the camera in terms of personality and confidence. Everyone on the show was so distinct and interesting, though! Maybe a little jealousy of the weight loss? Shame about the butter! Things happen in an alien kitchen.

I thought ALL the dishes looked great and ALL the contestants did well. Emily wasn't robbed-the judges chose the best dish to win!

I hope Emily does go to cooking school, though. She would be a benefit to the world of cooking.

Emily said...

I knew you were going to say that about the plastic wrap. I'm ashamed of myself.

I wondered if you were going to catch some of the other stuff I did. I used onion powder in the jus, and I thought you would say something about that.

This was a good review. I'm surprised at how they edited the show. They didn't show the audience at all, and not very much of the footage they shot in my home.

Thanks for coming to watch me in the competition.

Tracy said...

How cool that you were at the taping!

I was proud of Emily too, and so disappointed that she lost by one point. Maybe she should have added bacon to the mac & cheese.

I like Michaela too.

And I agree with Catherine -- this year's format is sooooo much better than last year's.

Anonymous said...

Emily, I noticed you used onion powder, only because I remember you commenting recently on one of Sue's posts about not liking to use it.

Sue said...

Hi Amy,
Yes, about Diana.

Being there, I thought exactly the same thing - Here’s the cute young budding cook…she doesn’t have to win…but the thing is they realized how good she was and she absolutely could have (and SHOULD HAVE) won. Yeah, the lack of bacon probably did her in.

BTW, your bacon remark was priceless.

Hola Catherine,
I wish I had known you last year. I would have blogged it up for you. That’s so nice about Michaela. I really like her.

Yes, Em is the best.

We WERE sneaky, weren’t we? Having lunch wasn’t a coincidence, but running into the FN folks completely was! It didn’t even occur to me that it was around the corner from the studio, but, of course, they’re probably there a lot.

And, yes, it IS such a drag that she didn’t win and if WE feel that way, think of poor Em.

Maybe it wasn’t HIS vote that made the difference. Since Emily loves him so much now, I have to think it was Katherine (who WAS really gracious), who thought Em’s sandwich needed more pastrami.

Hi Lys,
I think you’ll love her recipes. They are fantastic. Rick did do a good job too.

Hi Anon, (I mean Diana’s husband…actually you could be MY husband too. He had no problem with Diana.)
I would be willing to revisit my opinion of Diana if I had some new data, except that, remember, I saw her in the flesh. She wasn’t mean or nasty, but she was exactly what I said…annoying. And of course, I’m jealous, but that doesn’t stop me from loving adorable beautiful Emily.

Michaela won for well-placed, not insane, confidence. She was one cool customer. I liked Rick…a lot, but I saw the judges (not just what was shown on television) RAVE about Emily’s dish. And, for goodness sake, Guy stole half of Katherine’s sandwich, he was so entranced.

Don’t worry about the plastic wrap. You were in a hurry. Once a decade, it won’t hurt you. I didn’t even notice the onion powder and, obviously, that didn’t bother the judges.

I was thrilled and honored to be there. I just wish we had had a happy secret to be keeping all these months. But losing by one point is pretty awesome, just like you.

Adding bacon (to anything) seems to be the consensus of what it takes to win. It was soooooo fun to be there. I loved it.

Not only do you have a wonderful turn of phrase about bacon, you’re much more observant than I am. I noticed NO onion powder.