The Next Iron Chef 2011 Super Chefs simmered onward December 11 as the four remaining finalists tackled the concept of passion. While two hopefuls proved their culinary worth and advanced to the finale, Alex Guarnaschelli was eliminated following the Chairman's Challenge, and Michael Chiarello fell following the Secret Ingredient Showdown. Here's a full recap.
As the show opened, the finalists --Michael Chiarello, Elizabeth Falkner, Geoffrey Zakarian and Alex Guarnaschelli-- made their way to the Hamptons via boat. From his perch aboard a yacht, host Alton Brown welcomed them to Montauk. He revealed the theme of the week, passion, and revealed that they'd each have $500 and two hours to "forrage" for ingredients. They were then given two hours to create a three-course seafood-tasting menu at the Montauk Yacht Club for the usual judging panel plus twenty additional distinguished guests.
Chef Falkner, who won last week's Chairman's Challenge, was given an extra 15 minutes of shopping time as well as a ride to her first destination, and she took off. The others were off shortly thereafter, and each worried over having enough money to buy their goods but remained confident in their respective abilities to put passion on a plate.
Post-shopping, they re-joined Alton, who shared that two of them would get the boot by night's end, leaving just two to go head to head during the Next Iron Chef 2011 finale. When cook-time began, the chefs got to work at their outdoor stations. Chef Zakarian worked on a seabass salad, blackfish minute steak and scallop sausage sandwich, while Chef Chiarello's "passion through the ages" theme featured scallops with carrot capanada, tuna crudo and smoked fluke. Chef Guarnaschelli focused on color with her raw fluke dish, while Chef Falkner put a smoky spin on her sweet scallops.
As time ran low, the chefs stressed over finishing their menus as the guest watched from a distance. After time expired, Chef Guarnaschelli remarked that it was the "hardest thing I've ever done in my life."
After Alton explained the rules of the day to panelists Judy Joo, Michael Symon and Simon Majumdar, tasting began. Chef Guarnaschelli presented first. Dish number one, raw fluke and a strawberry cocktail, earned praise from Michael for the "crunchiness of the skin." Her smoked clam chowder with bacon was deemed too salty by Simon, but Judy disagreed. Judy did, however, call her lobster with poached eggs too rich.
Next to present was Chef Falkner with her three dishes. Michael loved her vichyssoise chowder and Simon licked his plate clean. Her second dish was less well-received, and her lobster cioppino drew praise from Michael but criticism from Simon.
Third to face the squad was Chef Zakarian, who explained that passion was all about his family. Judy appreciated his first dish, as did Michael. His blackfish minute steak was deemed "soft and succulent" by Judy, while his scallop sausage was praised for its texture, but not its plating.
Chef Chiarello finished up the critiques with his trio. Simon appreciated his tuna crudo, while his smoked fluke was praised by Michael for its "soft smokiness." His scallop, however, was called overcooked by Michael.
Following the tasting, the judges deliberated. Chefs Zakarian and Chiarello took highest praises, while Chefs Guarnaschelli and Falkner took the most criticism. Michael and Simon battled over which chef delivered the poorest results, but in the end, a decision was made. When the finalists returned for decision-time, Chef Zakarian was deemed the challenge winner and Chef Chiarello was sent to the Secret Ingredient Showdown. After a few tense moments, Alex Guarnaschelli was eliminated from the competition, leaving Chef Falkner to battle Chef Chiarello for a spot in the Next Iron Chef 2011 Super Chefs finale.
When Chefs Falkner and Chiarello joined Alton in Kitchen Stadium, both were ready to do battle in the 30-minute Secret Ingredient Showdown. When the curtain was lifted, Townhouse crackers and Entwine wine were revealed as the items of choice. They were required to create a delicious bite to top each of the three different types of cracker. Chef Chiarello got to work with cooking down his wine, while Chef Falkner planned to play on the different notes of the crackers. As time wound down, Chef Chiarello was confident that he'd win if he could get his plating completed, but Chef Falkner wasn't impressed with what he delivered.
First to present was Michael Chiarello with his goat cheese with cabernet caviar. Judy lamented not tasting the caviar more clearly, and Simon criticized the fish for a lack of flavor, but his sardine escabeche and chicken liver mousse fared better. Elizabeth Falkner followed with her shrimp and grits, which Michael appreciated and Simon praised for its perfectly cooked shrimp. Her chicken liver mousse was popular with Judy, while her lamb meatball with raita was Simon's favorite of the three.
Following the judges' deliberations, all three remaining contestants joined the panelists and Alton to learn the identity of the second finalist. Michael praised Chefs Falkner and Chiarello for presenting "six beautiful bites," but one had to go. Based on the criteria of flavor and integration of the secret ingredient, Michael Chiarello was eliminated from the competition. He said he was "disappointed" but that he'd done all he could do. Chefs Falkner and Zakarian stared one another down, ready to do battle in the finale. Chef Falkner vowed to "kill it," but Chef Zakarian said he'd take his adversary down.
Who will win The Next Iron Chef 2011 Super Chefs edition? Tune in to the Food Network on December 18 at 9 p.m. to find out if Elizabeth Falkner or Geoffrey Zakarian winds up on top.