Cooking against clock just isn't this chef's style


POSTED: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

That didn't go well.

Hawaii chef Roy Yamaguchi competed in last week's episode of “;Top Chef Masters.”; He didn't win. OK, he came in last.

But that's pretty much what he expected, Yamaguchi said in a post-show interview in which he used the word “;terrible”; repeatedly.

“;I've never really been a fast thinker. I spend two, three, four, five hours just making a sauce. That's just what I do.”; So a competition in which he had two hours to think a complex dish completely through and prepare multiple servings—“;It's not my gig.”;

When did he know he was in trouble? “;Before I got there. I already knew it was going to be terrible. I knew I was headed for disaster.”;

The show aired last Wednesday—Yamaguchi's 53rd birthday, to add insult to injury—and repeats at 6 tonight on Bravo, just before a new episode. The winner was Art Smith, Oprah Winfrey's personal chef and the co-owner of restaurants TABLE fifty-two in Chicago and Art and Soul in Washington, D.C.

Despite his misgivings, Yamaguchi agreed to do the show for the simple reason that he needed to live up to his own advice: “;I always tell my staff, 'You need to step it up, you need to take on a challenge, you need to step out of the box.' I knew if I backed out my words would come back to haunt me.”;

The main competition had the chefs making a meal out of a mystery box of ingredients selected by another chef. Smith chose short ribs and mahimahi for Yamaguchi, plus a number of accompaniments.

The chefs were allowed to bring a few favorite ingredients to help them along, but Yamaguchi didn't bother. “;I just brought my knife.”; And even that turned on him. “;I cut my finger really bad. It was bleeding like crazy. ... I went through three Band-Aids.”;

He put together a “;surf and turf”; plate of kalbi and mahi crusted with lemongrass and ginger, with all sorts of garnishes and sauces. Looked good to me, but the judges said the two main elements didn't mesh. Smith won with a Southern-style plate of chicken (fried and smothered) and a tiny mango pie.

Yamaguchi allowed that he did have fun—once it was over and the four competitors finished off a bottle of vodka and three bottles of wine. In the midst of that camaraderie, he stood to face the judges. “;I was, like, 'Thank God it's finally over. I got off easy, and they didn't ridicule me that bad—so I'll take my stuff and leave.'”;

All the recipes from the “;Top Chef Masters”; competition can be found online at http://www.bravotv.com/foodies/recipes. Yamaguchi's recipe for his ribs and mahi is a long one, with a sauce, a vinaigrette, a soba noodle mix with a soy-mirin broth. But the basic kalbi formula is a pumped-up version of the Korean standard, and simple enough to do at home, even if you're not a master.

Short Rib Kalbi

4 slabs short ribs
» Marinade:
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fish sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons minced ginger
1-1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup mirin
1 tablespoon garlic chili sauce

Combine marinade ingredients in pot. Bring to boil, then let cool.

Marinate the short ribs 30 minutes, then grill.

Nutritional information unavailable.


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