Here we've been focusing on the perceived front runners -- Ming Tsai, perhaps, or Marc Forgione -- when chef Celina Tio crept on up and stole dual victories in the secret ingredients challenge and the chairman's challenge. To quote chef Tio: "Sweet!"
The secret ingredient challenge led to a philosophical debate -- take "American mother sauces," such as barbecue sauce, mayo and mustard, and transform them. But what does "transform" actually mean? Was it enough to take a liquid and turn it into a solid, as Tsai did, making a steak sauce gelatinous thing? Or did the ingredient need to be turned on its head? Chef Bryan Caswell made a consomme of sorts out of ketchup. Maybe competitors needed to do both.
Regardless, Tio nailed it. She was left with hot sauce and used it to make almond cakes with a hot sauce ricotta cheese and a hot sauce caramel. Even more amazing. Tio is averse to hot sauce and super spicy food. Her dish, though, was the nearly unanimous winner and paved the way for her to win the fair challenge. The competitors were sent out to the county fair and had to cook on the "outlaw grill" -- all 27 tons of it -- and transform fair food into something Iron Chef-worthy while dodging hazardous flame flare-ups.
There were creative moments. Forgione made a deep-fried root beer float (!) and a corn and cilantro snow cone. And there were some big flops. Chef Maneet Chauhan once again made a mealy something-or-other patty, and once again the judges told her to stop it. She was saved this week from elimination by chef Duskie Estes' abysmal dish, which included a messy-looking caramel apple -- what was transforming about that? -- and a fried strawberry pie that was undone on the inside (despite her claims to the contrary).
And with that, Estes was gone. Were you surprised by that? She started out so strong. But as A.B. tells us, this competition is as much about endurance as culinary finesse. In the end, slow and steady just may win the race.
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Photo: The victorious Celina Tio. Credit: Food Network