Wow… wow! I just watched the episode and I’m actually still shaking -- even though I knew what happened.
What. A. Nail-Biter.
Okay, but before we get to The Craziest Challenge ever, let’s start at the beginning. The Mentor Challenge! A straightforward cook. No teammates. No theme. Just make your go-to weeknight dinner in 30 minutes, then present.
After episode 3’s somewhat over-intellectualized tofu ratatouille lasagna (I’m Chinese… and French… get it????), I decided to do something that spoke for itself.
My dad is famous for his ketchup shrimp, a sweet and savory dish that he makes for special occasions or just because. Don’t worry, it’s not just ketchup. It also features Worcestershire sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and loads of garlic and ginger. Ketchup shrimp ✅. (Stay tuned for this recipe.)
My husband is obsessed with mushrooms and I usually have some sort of mushroom in the fridge at all times. Roasted mushrooms ✅✅.
If I ever make rice or beans, I’ll usually make a big batch on Sunday and then make variations throughout the week. Brown rice with a sweet lap cheong sausage ✅✅✅.
Once I got to judging, I saw one empty seat. The guest judge was someone I knew very well… me.
Honestly, I didn’t really see this as part of the challenge. Maybe it was a survival tactic, maybe I was just being dense. I just started critiquing my presentation and food as if I were talking to a friend. I wasn’t thinking about PRESENTING, or a ticking timer, or the fact that I was sitting next to Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentiis.
In the end, that helped me. I was able to be myself and show my food knowledge without getting too self-conscious.
And… I won the challenge! Giada said my presentation was “organic and real” and Bobby said the dish was “homespun, but at the same time there’s a really great elegance and finesse to it”.
That was a huge deal to me because I had been in the bottom three the week before, and I felt like I had a lot to prove -- not just to Bobby, Giada, and the other finalists, but also to MYSELF. I needed to prove to myself that in this field of accomplished chefs and TV food personalities, I could also hold my own.
And then here’s where things get crazy. My Star Challenge advantage allowed me to pick who would sit alongside me on a judging panel. But… this wasn’t a team challenge, and we would all be judged individually.
What would your strategy be?
I did the first thing that came to mind: pick a team of strong players who would all elevate the conversation and each other. Judging on a panel requires a certain rhythm and chemistry and the best panels have an easy rapport. So I picked people I had worked with before and knew could deliver a dynamic, high-level conversation: Adam, Christian, and Palak.
Was it a risk to bring such strong competitors on my panel? Maybe! But remember at that point I didn’t know that I’d be pitted against any of them. I just knew that I wanted to be surrounded by people who jived with me and would push me to perform at my highest possible level.
In this challenge, we had to provide commentary while Bobby and Giada cooked, and then judge their dishes. Judging the judges is quite the awkward situation. You have to be critical, but at the same time, they’re the mentors. By definition, they know better than we do.
You start to second-guess yourself. Was the bread burnt? Yes... but if Giada did it, maybe it’s supposed to be that way?
Little did we know, but Bobby and Giada purposely made mistakes in their cooking, baiting us to say something. As Bobby said, “Whether you guys picked out those flaws -- and were willing to say it out loud -- will definitely play into our decision.”
Lucky for me, I was able to summon all my food description skills, and I was safe. Whew!
Then came the craziest thing that has happened this season: the bottom four had to cook their versions of Bobby and Giada’s dishes. If there are four words you don’t want to hear about your cooking challenge, they are: Sudden. Death. Thunderdome style.
I can only imagine what Adam, Palak, Harrison, and Amy were thinking as they were cooking. I just knew that I had seriously dodged a bullet. Challenges are hard enough, but add the stress of finding out you were in the bottom, having to reconceive your mentor’s dish, cooking like your life depends on it, and knowing that you have a 50% chance of being kicked off -- that’s enough to really mess with your head and throw you off your game.
Sadly, Adam and Harrison were eliminated. They were both super strong contenders, and it was at this moment that it clicked: at this stage, one small misstep could send you home.
Halfway through the season. No room for mistakes. Things are getting real. See you next week!
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