If you missed Part I look Here
If you missed Part II look Here
A commercial break began. Now was the time to grab a beer. On a winter’s night, a winter warmer or a stout would have been appropriate. The show was too interesting to seek one of those out, though. I needed something that would keep me cognizant of the competition.
I chose an Anchor Lager out of San Francisco, California. You cannot beat a pre-Prohibition recipe when it comes to lager. I poured it into a shaker pint, and as the head settled, I heard a knocking on the front door.
I adjourned, my preliminary head-settling hearing with my beer and approached the door.
“United States Postal Service, Sir. It’s Jim, your mail carrier.”
Through the peephole I confirmed it was Jim.
I opened the door and there he was covered in snow. My Uncle Ted called it ‘God’s Dander.’ The postal blue of his parka and pants were blacked from the moisture of the snow.
“Greetings! I’ve got your package. Sign here please.”
He handed me a cardboard box to my left hand and with my right I made my mark on his touch screen tablet.
“Thanks. Say, Jim, what are you doing out in this weather working today.”
“You must never have heard our motto at the post office: through snow, rain, sleet, and hail.”
“Thanks for what you do, Jim.”
“No problem. Take care.”
I returned to the kitchen, and I poured the rest of the can of the Anchor lager into my shaker. I took a sip.
Anchor Lager is a full-flavored pale beer that has a biscuity taste and a sharp finish. Again, it is a pre-Prohibition recipe. They don’t make straw-colored lagers like they used to.
I opened my package and I found my T.C. Boyle short story collection that I ordered from Amazon entitled Without a Hero. I was at a crossroads.
“Book or TV?” I said aloud to an audience consisting only of myself and God. But God knew what I was about to do, before I made my choice.
“My apologies, Mr. Boyle.”
I ran with my beer glass back to the television where I had arrived just in time. The commercial had ended.
Pradeep was roasting his duck and preparing a sauce. The screen split, showing him in action and him seated still in his chef coat.
“I’m taking a big risk. I don’t have much time to roast the duck. That’s why it immediately entered the oven. This roast is going to have an incredible surprise to it. While it is cooking, my sauce can have the attention it deserves.”
The screen became one again and Pradeep was pictured sweating over his range.
The camera then turned to Brent Love, and again the screen split.
“I don’t use duck often. I grill, smoke, and fry: steaks, ribs, and pork shoulder all day long. My limited repertoire is hurting me today.” He frowned. “I’m going to fry the duck, and worry about the other stuff in a bit. I at least need to look like I’ve got the situation under control.”
I admire Brent’s courage, but it appears to me that he is being worn down each round. It is hard to say though as the culinary arts are not my area. Furthermore, I’ve never seen this show before, I’m not sure of how harshly they judge.
No matter what he made, it would surely be wrecked by Stokely’s deconstructive criticism. I was still wondering why Chondra Roberts was adjudicated to leave other than the fact that Stokely doesn’t like home cooks.
The camera turned to Samantha Karpice.
She looked calm in both screens.
“I’m going to oven roast the duck like Pradeep. I’m going to make this a savory dish and stay clear of the spicy side that my competitors seem to be favoring.
The screen rejoined from the split configuration it was in and Samantha could be seen cutting her plantains and putting them around her duck breast. She had a grace about her like I mentioned earlier.
She was very much the prima ballerina of the competition, yet she was in a chef coat, not a tutu, and she had no dance partner she was joined with, only a Damascus blade with her initials inscribed on it.
I had unfortunately jinxed her.
Judge Farrah Josi recognized this too.
“Sam cut herself.”
Stokely smirked smugly.
“Rookie mistake, Farrah. I imagine that’s why she didn’t get along with her boss.”
“MEDIC!” Farrah cried.
A paramedic in a red and blue golf shirt and khaki cargo pants appeared on camera. He bandaged Sam’s wound and made a swift exit.
Judge Gilbertez then appeared on camera.
“At least she remembered to ask for a bandage unlike other contestants in the past have done.”
“Indeed.” Thad said as the camera showed Karpice once more.
She had regained her stride and continued cutting the plantains and then she placed them into the hotel pan with the duck breast. She opened the oven, placed the product on the center rack. and shut the hatch.
Samantha turned to her cream cheese and chives.
“I’ll balance the savory out with a mild cooling sauce.”
She thickened the cream cheese with some butter and sprinkled in the chives in a saucepan on top of her range.
The camera turned to Thad.
“Chefs, you have ten minutes.”
He faced the camera.
“We’re a little thrown off tonight, ladies and gentlemen in TV Land. We’re going to have to go to a commercial break since we are slightly offset on our schedule. When you return to us, you’ll see the clock have seven minutes left for this round.”
This is the perfect time to heat up some leftovers. I left for the kitchen.
Once I heated up my leftover meatloaf, I sat down in front of the TV once more. Two seconds later, the show was back on.
Thad’s face was centered in the camera, this time not too close to his eyes like before.
“Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. We have six minutes and fifty-six seconds on the clock.”
The camera then turned to Marion Stokely.
“If I was actually in charge, Thad, they’d only get twenty-five minutes to cook. I could do it in less time.”
“I know you can, culinary goalkeeper of mine!”
The camera turned to Brent Love. He was panicked at the sight of his fried duck.
“Oh man, oh man, I sure hope this works.”
The confidence in his voice was completely absent as he plated his food at his station. His ego was a deflated balloon, halved by the weight and impact of this competition that had stretched his abilities and his imagination.
As he plated his last dish, he stepped back and the screen split.
“I hope it isn’t Waterloo for me today.”
The camera then turned to Samantha Karpice. She had already plated her sauce with the cream cheese and chives that was thickened. Then she heard her timer ring.
She opened her oven and stuck a thermometer in the now oven roasted duck breasts, all were done. She tried the plantain.
Her screen split.
“I know I’ve transformed the ingredients. Whether the chefs acknowledge that is up to them, but I know, and that’s what counts at this point.”
Samantha is confident and has self-awareness regarding her talent.
Thad’s voice was heard.
“Ninety seconds left, chefs! Plate your dish now.”
As the screen became one, the camera panned over to Pradeep N’Kinter who was now plating his duck breast and ladling a curry sauce out over the duck the breast and plantains. His screen split.
“I’m excited for the judges to try this. I know Samantha and I are advancing. I’m looking at Brent’s plate and I think he’s been out-maneuvered here.”
The camera turned over to his fried duck breast while Pradeep continued speaking.
“I think he used way too much breading.”
“Thirty seconds, Chefs!” Thad announced.
I agree with Pradeep. The breading appears dense. I have a good feeling that Samantha and Pradeep will advance and Brent Love will not withstand the heat of the crucible.
“I’m pleased they all finished before the very last minute.” Josi said.
“Agreed ! Only the good chefs are here right now, Farrah.” Judge Gilbertez’s words, though, were not acknowledged fondly by Stokely.
“We’ll see about that.”
“Time is up, step away from your stations, chefs. Servers, present to the judges.”
Thad looked at the judges and gave a thumbs up.
“Chef Brent, Chef Pradeep, and Chef Samantha, please approach the judging panel.”
Each of the contestants looks fearful as they walk up to the judging panel from their stations where orderlies dressed in the same chef coats as earlier carry the prepared dishes to the panel. The contestants saunter behind them slowly.
Chef Brent Love is on the right, in the center is Chef Samantha Karpice, and at the left is Chef Pradeep N’Kinter.
Thad stood in front of them.
“That concludes our entrée round, chefs. Best of luck to each of you.”
Thad pointed to Pradeep.
“Chef Pradeep, what is the entrée you have prepared for us today?”
The orderlies placed a plate with Pradeep’s dish in front of the three judges alongside silverware wrapped in a gold and purple cloth napkin.
“Judges, I prepared for you a spicy duck breast with a red curry sauce to dress it. With a couple of bites your palates should need some cleansing. To tame the flames, I included a cream cheese and plantain yogurt with a little chive.”
He paused and watched the judges taste their first bites.
“As you can see, you have hot and spicy paired with cooling and savory.”
“Interesting take on the product for your entree, Chef Pradeep. Judges, what are your thoughts?”
Thad’s inquiry was met by Gilbertez immediately.
“You are so right, Chef. You need the cooling effect of the yogurt. The duck breast is so spicy, but with the yogurt, it is balanced. My one problem is the plantains seemed to be misused in the yogurt. They do not mesh.”
Josi stepped into the conversation.
“I agree with my colleague. What we have here is a great meal! However, your error with the plantains marred it to the point of where I can’t touch my yogurt.”
The camera showed the small silver cup of yogurt still full.
“My apologies, Ma’am,” Pradeep nodded as his confidence collapsed into a barely stoic demeanor. His tone betrayed him.
“You are right to apologize, Chef.” Stokely pointed at him before continuing his criticism.
“The curry sauce and duck breast are out of this world. The plantains within the yogurt make me want to cry out in pain for the good farmers who grew them. You abused them.”
Pradeep seemed ready to weep. He stopped himself and decided to be proactive.
“Respectfully, Judge, I do use plantains in my restaurant occasionally and properly. How would you have used them?”
The camera turned to Stokely and he threw up his arms in surprise.
“If you wanted to learn something, you’d be better going back to school, Sonny! Maybe you shouldn’t be an executive chef, because you can’t handle or respect products provided to you. I hope your restaurant owner is watching, you young man.”
“I am the owner, Sir.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you, Chef Pradeep.” Thad interrupted a quarrel in infancy.
Thad turned to Samantha Karpice.
“Chef Samantha, please tell us about your entrée.”
“Thank you, Thad. Judges, I too oven roasted my duck breast, and I hope you enjoy a kaleidoscope of flavors. I’ll let the dish to the rest of my talking.”
She was probably as eloquent as Pradeep. Her tactic was appropriate, though.
Gilbertez’s face came in view after his exclamation.
“You transformed and correctly used all of the ingredients. Well done.”
“Thank you,” she replied.
Josi became visible again.
“I agree with my colleague. I have nothing to complain about.”
“Thank you as well, Judge.”
She seemed to be safe. All who was left to hear from was Stokely.
“You did a good job. If you won, what would you do with the prize money?”
“I would use it to buy my own food truck and start up my business.”
“What did you do before?”
“I was a chef at The Larch and Pine in…..”
“You worked for my pal, Billy Blane Kemp. And you didn’t get along with him. He must have seen something troublesome about you for you to not get along with him.”
Stokely seems to be focused on slander more than being a member of the show’s judiciary.
“Thank you, Chef Samantha.”
Once more, Thad, the host saves the day. Stokely seems to be looking for trouble. Although, he is the show’s ‘culinary goalkeeper’ it is apparent that there is no tact from him.
He is a strongman who seeks to torture with words. He is not critical, he is hypercritical. He is not provided constructive criticism; he is destroying the recipient with criticism.
“Last, but not least, Chef Brent Love. Chef, please show us your dish.”
Brent struggled to speak.
“I don’t work with game meats often. I decided to fry the duck breast and I made a sauce with the cream cheese, chives, and plantains. I even threw in some Rye bread for snacking with it.”
I fear for him. He is obviously going to be condemned like Chondra Roberts.
Gilbertez takes a bite, then Josi, and then Stokely.
Josi speaks first.
“The duck tastes okay. But presentation leaves a lot to be desired, Chef Brent.”
“I admit I fell short there, Judge.”
The camera turns to Gilbertez.
“I enjoy fried duck and you did a good job with the meat, but you featured the breading. This cornmeal you used to bread it was far too coarse. Use something else. I suggest…”
“It was so coarse. I wouldn’t have offered this to my dog. Do you serve food like this in your restaurant?”
“No, sir. I don’t deal with duck ever.”
“Practice makes perfect, Chef Brent. This is far from perfect, man.”
Stokely’s last comment was devastating. Love probably would be the one to go.
“Thank you, Chef Brent. Contestants, you can adjourn while the judges deliberate after our commercial break.”
I don’t have a DVR. I spent the commercial break finishing my leftover meatloaf and cracking open my second Anchor Lager.
The camera pointed at the contestants in a chamber adjacent to the arena where the competition was going on. Love was grimacing. Karpice and N’Kinter were talking.
“Sounds like he wasn’t a bad boss, he was just the wrong boss for you.”
“I never had that perspective before, Pradeep. Thanks for that. He was a good chef, but I just did not mesh well with him. Like Stokely he wants to be worshipped and not respected.”
“You’re on air, honey.”
“Oops!” Karpice giggled.
The screen now showed the judging panel.
“This was a harder decision, Thad.”
“We’ll spare you the details of it, Thad. We need to stay moving.”
Josi said this as the contestants entered the room.
The camera zoomed in on Thad’s eyes.
“Chefs, you have competed in the entrée and appetizer round. Now we get to see who remains in the Crucible for the final course.”
The camera zoomed out and Thad’s body turned towards the judges.
“Honorable Judges, please deliver this round’s verdict.”
Farrah Josi looked at Brent.
“Chef Brent, you did not survive the Crucible.”
Jets of flame roared. The plumes almost touched the ceiling at the rendering of the verdict. Josi continued speaking.
“Chef Brent, you did not have the appropriate technique or breading for this meal. This is why you did not survive the Crucible.”
“Thanks for the opportunity, Thad.”
He shook the hands of his fellow contributors and all of the judges with the exception of Stokely.
“Good luck, guys!”
Brent Love said this as he exited the arena through the portcullis. The camera turned to Thad.
“One round remains, and we have two contestants left to compete in the Crucible. Chef Samantha Karpice and Chef Pradeep N’Kinter return to your stations.”
As they strolled back to their kitchenettes, two orderlies returned with two crates. These were the last ingredients remaining in their battle. These were the last products they had to transform.
The camera turned to Thad briefly.
“Chefs, open your crates.”
The camera turned to the duo now competing for the grand prize of $20,000. They opened the crates before them.
“For the dessert round, you will have ricotta cheese, ligonberries, frozen crepes, and circus peanut candies.”
Samantha and Pradeep’s faces were blank.
This was going to be a challenge.
“Twenty minutes, chefs! The clock is ticking.”
Thad’s voice faded out over the jets of flame.