Sunday, June 10, 2012

Life Lessons Learned Watching Top Chef Masters, Season 3, Episode 2

A day late and a dollar short, I am just now catching up on Season 3 of Top Chef Masters as it is airing now in Canada. For some reason I get a sense of Zen every time I watch. I hope you enjoy...


In today's episode of Top Chef Masters, we began with the news that John Rivera Sedlar had to drop out of the competition, which turned out to be great news for Hugh Acheson who was asked to come back.

I agreed with host Curtis Stone when he said "Sometimes things happen for a reason."

I thought getting eliminated in the first round was far too early for Acheson and was thrilled to see him back.

In today's quick fire challenge the chefs were tasked with creating an original meatball dish in 30 minutes and in classic Top Chef Masters fashion, they had to grind their own meat!

The challenge was to be judged by Grammy winner Kelis who is also a professionally trained chef but who, from the get go, did not seem to be a fan favourite of all the chefs. It was apparent her opinion on some of the dishes was not entirely respected by all. Interestingly, this kind of sniping after a Quick Fire Challenge doesn't usually happen during non-Masters seasons of Top Chef.

Which brings me to my first life lesson: When we become so proficient at a task or a trade as to be considered a "Master" or an "Expert" it can become easy to discount the opinions of those we feel may have less knowledge - especially when being judged for our art, which in this case is the food. Better to take criticism for what it is, dissect it to see if it has any merit, take what is valuable, and throw away the rest without - and here is the key - letting our egos get tangled up in it. If we live our lives thinking only certain opinions are valid, we lose opportunities to improve.

But hot damn! Some of those meatballs looked good, and in the end John Currence's Vietnamese Meatball won the Quick Fire.

Onto the elimination challenge, where Mad Men star Christina Hendricks and her husband Geoffrey Arend were planning a cocktail party. The chefs were told they would be going back in time to one of the most iconic eras in American history; the 60's where they were asked to explore and recreate  some of the classic dishes of that time, like Beef Stroganoff, Devilled Eggs, and Ambrosia Salad, as appetizers.

Taking us to life lesson number 2. The most successful people are those who are constantly willing and creative enough to re-invent themselves - even when faced with insurmountable odds that we can't understand - like ambrosia salad, or grasshopper pie. When faced with these moments, we have two choices, we can stick with what we know best and refuse to change, or we can take everything we've learned in order to become something new.

When we do this, we take a chance, because sometimes that "something new" isn't exactly what we expected or hoped for.

In any case, the chefs forged on - and in a tiny kitchen where there was very little room, some got creative like Mary Sue Milliken, who tucked herself into a small corner on the floor in order to get plated. But others like Sue Zemanick and vegetarian Suvir Saran, were a less successful.

In essence, both let other chefs take precedence over what they were doing. Sue's strategy was to help everyone else get plated so that she would have enough space to get her own work done and Suvir was left with no other cooking option than a deep fryer.

Taking us to Life lesson number 3: Competition is a powerful teacher. In the heat of battle we learn the importance of putting ourselves first. Why? Because if we we don't someone will come along and rob us our spot, our space, or our chance. But when we are operating from a place of strength and conviction, working methodically to get our task done, it becomes easier, afterward, to lend a helping hand to others. The best competitors know, in the end, that they are really only competing with themselves and are able to creatively carve out space and options to face any task - like John Currence and his oysters.

When he looked into the camera and said "I'm glad I had a plan C," I was reminded of the importance of this in any situation - to think things all the way through ahead of time and create options. Having contingency plans can help calm the waters in even the choppiest circumstances.

In the end Mary Sue Milliken and her brilliant re-invention of Devilled Eggs won today's challenge and Sue Zemanick, who ran out of time because she was helping everyone else, was sent home.

You can't help but to feel badly for a chef when they're sent home - especially someone as kind as Sue but as Curtis Stone said at the outset, perhaps all things happen for a reason and I hope nothing but good things came to her after having this experience.

To read my other Food TV blogs and recaps please visit HERE.

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