Around The World In 80 Plates
The world is a culinary battlefield for 12 of America’s most promising chefs as they go AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 PLATES in this new competition series. They will learn the local cultures, customs and cuisines, and must then survive a gauntlet of culinary challenges and face-off in a kitchen takeover where they will not just recreate, but reinvent, the menus, in some of the best restaurants including Wolfgang Puck’s ‘Red Seven.’
From picking the right teammates to playing up the best strategy to devising the perfect menu, the heat is on! Who will bring it, and who will burn? Every week, the losing team will vote off one of their own. The last chef standing will bag the grand prize of $150,000.
Hosted by TAKE HOME CHEF Curtis Stone and the first and only female Iron Chef Cat Cora, join the contestants as they put their best spatula forward.
Wednesdays at 10pm (9pm BKK/JKT), from 13 March
12 chefs begin the journey of a lifetime in London, England. On the Course, the chefs are immersed in the local food culture as they race in a pub crawl to win the Exceptional Ingredient. The tension rises quickly for one team as they unsuccessfully try and navigate the confusing streets of London. For the Takeover, the teams are sent to Gastropubs where they serve up authentic dishes to the British diners. Celebrity Chef, Nigella Lawson joins the locals in choosing a favorite restaurant.
The 11 remaining chefs are off to Lyon where the Course will take them through the Beaujolais countryside. For the Takeover, the teams run bistros and serve traditional Lyonnais dishes, but one chef outsmarts their fellow competitors by getting a traditional recipe from a local. Will the clever move pay off or will the chef go down in flames?
SOMETHING SMELLS FISHY
On the Course in Spain, the chefs' knife skills are tested when they work alongside local fishermen on the docks of Barcelona. As they settle into their journey, the competition starts to get fierce and the banter is not so friendly. Acclaimed chef Jose Andres joins the locals dining in one of the world’s best restaurants as the teams serve up Mediterranean cuisine.
IN AND OUT OF AFRICA
The chefs are off to Marrakech where the Course takes them on a perilous trip through the Medina. For the Takeover, the teams prepare a local favorite, tagine. The heat rises in the kitchen as one team claims they were sabotaged when ingredients go missing in the kitchen.
A TELL OF TWO VILLAS
In Florence, the Course starts with a scavenger hunt where the chefs get firsthand experience on the traditions of the local cuisine. With their new knowledge, they head to beautiful villas in the rolling hills of Tuscany to create Tuscan cuisine for the Takeover. One chef causes a disaster in the middle of the night and must confess to his fellow chefs.
The chefs shift gears and head north to Bologna where they tackle the local favorite, tortellini. Tempers flare between two chefs over past grievances and one of the contestants is intent on taking a teammate down.
Exotic Thai markets and muddy rice paddies overwhelm one contestant, throwing her off course. The chefs hit the Thai streets to convince skeptical locals that their food is authentic.
FEEDING THE DEMON
The adventure continues as the contestants are forced to face “The Demon Chef” in Hong Kong and his gastronomically innovative cuisine. A teammate’s lack of passion brings one contestant to a breaking point.
CRY FOR ME ARGENTINA
The chefs head South to take on the holy grail of South American cuisine: the Empanada. One chef nearly goes down in flames in the knockout battle to see who makes it to the final round while another’s plan to send a competitor packing backfires.
A WINNER COMES HOME
The final three chefs embark on the most important journey yet, the quest for ultimate victory. The contestants face their toughest critics yet, as the judges are a veritable who’s who of Los Angeles’ culinary community. It takes a trek from Southern to Northern hemispheres to determine who will win the final challenge.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Curtis’s passion for food was inspired as a boy by his mother’s baking and his grandmother’s famous fudge. Mid-way through business school, he left to don his first apron atthe Savoy Hotel in Melbourne and later at Café Royal, Mirabelle and the revered Quo Vadis in London under three-star Michelin genius Marco Pierre White.
Inspiring home cooks is Curtis’ vision as he works selectively with grocery stores to improve fresh produce offerings, devise recipe cards and help families think seasonally, shaping the nation and their shopping habits. Curtis’ philosophy is to cook as Mother Nature intended – buy local, seasonal and organic ingredients, keep recipes simple and allow the food to speak for itself.
Curtis lives in Los Angeles with partner Lindsay Price and their son Hudson, born in November 2011.
Cat Cora’s culinary aspirations began at an early age, and by 15, she had developed a business planfor her own restaurant. Cat attended The Culinary Institute of America, and went on to work with masters and Michelin-starred chefs including George Blanc of Vonnas and Roger Verge.
In 2005, she made television history on ‘Iron Chef America’ as the first and only female Iron Chef, and in November 2006 Bon Appetit Magazine bestowed her with their Teacher of the Year Award, which she says is the greatest recognition she could achieve as a chef.
Cat has restaurants at Macy's South Coast Plaza, San Francisco and Houston's airports and another at Walt Disney World.
Notes from Curtis Stone
Their Final Destination
We’ve reached the finale! What an amazing journey we’ve had. Ten countries in 44 days and at last we have our final two. Congratulations to Avery and Liz! This wasn’t an easy competition and getting to the finish line is quite an accomplishment.
But first, we had Uruguay. I’ve said it often in this blog: Nookie played this game like a pro. But while there were similarities to Survivor, this competition was at its heart about great food. I was so glad to see Avery choose Liz for her Los Angeles opponent. As she said, when it came to the final showdown, she wanted to go up against someone who would bring everything she had to the table and treat the food with integrity. That sure describes Liz.
I think the final challenge to make three dishes, inspired by their travels was perfect. I believe every chef should travel as much and as often as possible. It’s a beautiful way to learn and be inspired and expand your palate and sensibilities. Back in their own kitchens, chefs then can creatively integrate the foreign flavors into dishes that speak to all corners of the globe while also catering to the palate of their own culture. It’s how food evolves with respect and reverence.
Of course Avery and Liz had to cater to the palates of some seriously extraordinary chefs. Melisse’s two-star Michelin chef Josiah Citrin, James Beard winners Brendan Collins and Carolos Tomazos from Waterloo & City, and of course the legendary Wolfgang Puck, who has both designations under his belt.
Both Avery and Liz did an outstanding job. In the end, just four votes made the difference. Avery has been such a superstar throughout this competition and Liz has shown an incredible passion for food. A huge round of applause to Avery and all of our chefs. Your culinary journey around the world is only beginning.
The Final Four
We’ve reached the semi-finals of this culinary competition and the chefs’ strengths and weaknesses are on full display. Avery loves a culinary challenge—and she’s skilled enough to pull it off. Nookie, aka the master strategist, plays this competition like a high-stakes game of craps. Midwestern John is solid and steady, while Liz keeps her head down and ends up exceeding everyone’s expectations.
It’s not too surprising that Nookie won the exceptional ingredient again. It’s only shocking that it took him so long to think of selling the whole lot of empanadas to a vendor! What Nookie and Avery won was truly exceptional. Like so much of the Argentine culture, meat is prepared (and consumed) with incredible passion. Asado is the traditional dish of Argentina and asadors are revered for their ability to cook the perfect piece of meat. To have the chance to learn the secrets of an Argentine grill master is just unbelievable.
One of the beautiful things about Argentine meat is its simplicity. A touch of oil and a bit of salt and pepper is all a well-cooked slice of goat, lamb or beef needs. But getting that meat to be good enough to stand on its own is no easy task. Kudos to Avery for once again taking on the hardest job and really shining. Asadors are overwhelmingly male—and Argentine—so in addition to cooking an amazing goat, she broke a few stereotypes along the way. But it was Liz, with her unique combination of corn and chorizo empanadas. She took a chance and it really paid off.
On the disappointing side was Nookie’s skirt steak, which was overcooked. The chimichurri served on a hot plate didn’t help the dish either. As for John, he had good instincts. Argentine asados do include salads, but they’re usually a simple ensalada mixta (lettuce, tomato and onion) or potato salad. John’s Roasted Vegetables with Provolone Cheese & Eggplant Puree just didn’t fit.
At this point in the competition, it’s really difficult for any of these chefs to go home. They’ve come so far, learned so much and cooked some great food. Congratulations John for making it almost around the world. See you all in Uruguay.
The Future is Hong Kong
Hong Kong is pure energy. Every part of the city seems to be hurling into uncharted territory. So what keeps the intoxication from tipping into full-fledged drunkenness? A deeply rooted sense of history. Massive Buddha statues and food stalls rub elbows with state-of-the-art subway systems and sparkling skyscrapers.
The culinary scene in Hong Kong is no exception. The cigar-smoking Michelin chef Alvin Leung serves beautiful modern cuisine at Bo Innovation, while down the street a grandmother is selling some of the most amazing dim sum you’ll ever eat out of a food stall. The contrasts end up working together to give Hong Kong—and its cuisine—the feeling of being ground breaking and fully grounded at the same time.
All this to say that innovation is built on a strong foundation. And our chefs had to learn that on the fly this week. Not only did they need to create truly innovative food, they needed to satisfy locals with an understanding of the region’s complex flavors.
Food evolves. Think back when food presentation went vertical. Chefs were scrambling to create gravity-defying towers of protein; diners went wild. The same is going on with molecular gastronomy today. Whether they’re using agars and liquid nitrogen or sous vide techniques, chefs are changing what we think of food. Just look at how the Demon Chef’s tasting menu invigorated our chefs. They were practically skipping out the door of Bo Innovation.
But brilliant innovation isn’t in the nitrogen container. It’s understanding the food you’re working with enough that you can turn it on its head. I loved John’s enthusiasm for making lime snow, but in his excitement, he forgot that the whole plate needed to hang together. And more importantly, that snow melts when it hits a hot plate. Nicole had the opposite problem. Too insecure to try something new, her Smoked Duck with Green Tea and Squid Noodles was tasty but too boring and safe by comparison. Congratulations to Avery for striking the right balance of flavors and truly surprising presentation in the Mango Coulis, Ginger Cookie with Lemongrass-Coconut Sphere.
Best of luck, Nicole. For the rest of us, let’s go to South America!
Cheating in Chiang Mai
It’s an age-old question: Do cheaters really prosper? If tonight’s episode is any judge, sometimes they do.
For the record, I think what Nookie did was pretty revolting. As a chef and businessman, I can’t see how you’d justify undermining your integrity just to make a buck (or win a challenge). Is he right that the challenge was to make the most money? Yes. Was it to make the most money at any cost? I suppose that’s a personal choice, but I don’t think so.
With two dishes up for sale and double the seed money, John and Nookie had a significant advantage. It’s unlikely they had to water down the juice to win. In the end, they were 1,520 baht ahead of the white team, even with the 150 baht bonus from Chef McDang. At 30 baht a pop, the extra juice they sold wasn’t solely responsible for that win.
So I understand why Jenna was upset. What was interesting, though, was that she didn’t seem to have the same qualms when Avery was adding a little coconut water to their shavings in order to bump up the weight. Is it cheating? Sure. Was it about money? There was $10,000 on the line. Maybe her conscience would have kicked in if the white team had ended up winning the exceptional ingredient.
On the positive side, Nookie did learn one of the most important lessons of this competition during the rice-planting challenge: respect for where your food comes from. Planting and harvesting rice is truly excruciating work. Putting in just 20 rows was enough for him to realize what a shame it is to waste it.
Congratulations to Avery and Jenna for their green papaya salad. Chef McDang, a truly extraordinary chef, was so impressed that you mastered the intricate flavor profile of Thai food. But even that dish couldn’t save Jenna. Like Keven, Jenna’s personality ultimately did her in.
On to Hong Kong!
Full of Bologna
We all have egos. But chefs have big egos. So it’s not surprising that our chefs are grating on each other a bit. But in this industry we have to put personalities aside to get the job done. It was good to see Liz and Jenna put their differences on the back burner. Bologna definitely required teamwork.
I was so glad we were spending two weeks in Italy, because the chefs really got to see how two different regions can interpret their country’s food so differently. Where Tuscany represents farm-to-table, simple, rustic cooking, Bologna is—as Lyon is in France—the culinary center. Bologna is an eclectic city that treasures its history while simultaneously welcoming innovation and refinement.
It’s not an easy balance to master and our chefs clearly struggled to achieve the subtlety and craft of an entire Bolognese dish. Take the tortellini dishes served by both teams. John’s tortellini was perfectly sized and light, but served with Jenna’s broth, which was way too heavy-handed with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. The black team was exactly opposite. Avery has put some beautiful food on our table, but this week completely face-planted with tortellini that was too thick and gummy. Thankfully for her, Nookie’s broth was so flavorful.
Nicole dodged a very big bullet by having immunity. Her rib-eye medallions were so tough they were virtually inedible. It’s a shame to see Nick go; I was looking forward to tasting more of his creations. It’s no small praise when a fabulous chef like Paul Bartolotta says that the seasoning on Nick’s warm mushroom salad with arugula puree was spot on. I had a meal at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare in Las Vegas that was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. Bartolotta’s food effortlessly shows you just how extraordinary Bolognese cuisine can be.
Best of luck, Nick. See the rest of you in Thailand!
I don’t get too many chances to play the stern headmaster, but this week’s episode gave me more than enough opportunity. I was absolutely gobsmacked that the Black Team would waste the chance to cook Tuscan food with a woman who has been making these dishes for decades.
First and foremost, the Black Team just didn’t act like experienced chefs. Cooking is something we do with all five of our senses. While the language barrier with Nonna Nara made it more difficult to learn the recipes, it was by no means impossible. Watch her cook, take notes on the ingredients and techniques, and use that as the guide for your meal. Ask any linguist, the majority of communication is nonverbal. So make hand gestures, hold up ingredients, do whatever it takes to learn a thing or two. As crafty as Nookie has shown himself to be in this competition, he was surprisingly uncreative with Nonna Nara.
To make matters worse, the Black Team also wasted the chance to truly understand the beauty of Tuscan food. Simple, local and seasonal, Tuscan cuisine relies on the quality of ingredients and time-honored preparations. There are a number of places in the world where locals will appreciate innovation with their cuisine. Tuscany isn’t one of them. To learn a recipe from a grandma is to learn from a true master.
While the Black Team won, their guesswork with Tuscan cuisine kept them from really shining. Prosciutto is amazing, but it doesn’t belong in a vegetarian ribollita. Using wild boar in the gnocchi dish tapped into the region’s love of game meats, but the texture should have been ground finer. The Red Team had their share of missteps too. Remember, local ingredients are king in Italy. So while the Red Team’s grape granita was tasty, it didn’t make any sense to a Tuscan palate. Granitas come from Sicily, the hottest part of Italy. Tuscany is a cooler climate, so typical desserts like a Christmas Panaforte or Castagnaccio cake tend to be warmer and creamier.
Thankfully, we have more Italian culture and cuisine to enjoy next week. Good luck to Gary on his future adventures. For the rest of us, see you in Bologna!
Down in Africa
There are few places quite as beautifully dizzying as Morocco. The Medina is controlled chaos, complete with snake charmers and barrels of spices. It was amazing to watch our chefs leave their comfort zones entirely and embrace a culture and cuisine so foreign to their own.
While the Medina is a great place to get lost if you have the whole day to wander around, our chefs didn’t have that luxury. After all, there was $15,000—and the exceptional ingredient—on the line. Finding the Ben Boubker spice shop definitely required sharp street skills and each team used their wits (and noses) well.
Mint tea is a huge part of Moroccan culture. The tradition of elaborately pouring it in a thin stream is an honor and truly stunning to watch performed by a tea master. What our chefs lost in artistry they gained in speed. Congratulations to Nookie, Avery and John for winning the $15,000.
This episode found some of the chefs beginning to strategize and form alliances. Smart thinking for sure, but it didn’t get them very far this time around. It’s interesting that the one team that wasn’t conspiring and instead focused on being a team and making great food did the best. Chaz’s couscous with the roasted vegetables on the side was just weird and Nookie’s tagine was more like a stew. Nicole, Jenna and Liz, on the other hand, really accomplished the balance of flavors that makes Moroccan cuisine so special. The sweet rice with orange flower water for dessert was a nice touch.
The chef who stood out this episode was clearly Liz. It wasn’t easy to watch her struggle to pick who would go home. But in the end, Liz is a team player, so it wasn’t surprising that she would see Chaz’s fighting and complaining as a weakness.
See you in Italy!
Barcelona or Bust
This week brought our chefs to Barcelona, Spain, a city known for its rich and complex Catalan cuisine. Barcelona—and Spain, in general—is home to some of the best chefs in the world. But great food is not necessarily just the work of talented chefs. Some of the most talented people in the food industry are the fishermen and farmers who catch, cultivate and prep the food with a craftsman’s respect and skill. So it was great to start our chefs off at the Clock Tower at Port Vell. Seafood is such an important part of Catalan cuisine and it’s always amazing to see ingredients in their raw form. Even better was watching our chefs experience the often thankless task of fabricating the daily catch.
Some chefs struggled while others like Nookie clearly knew how to work a knife and just got down to business. The Red Team won the exceptional ingredient, red prawns, but the Black Team had the upper hand. Nookie had lived in Barcelona and Jenna is fluent in Spanish. I know which team I would rather be on. Chefs have egos (no big surprise there) and these chefs are in competition, so there’s bound to be frustration. But you can’t win without being a team player. We all know Keven doesn’t listen and Jenna gets under people’s skin. But she speaks multiple languages, which has made her a valuable asset to both her Lyon and Barcelona teams.
It was so incredible to sit at a table at Dos Cielos with José Andrés and twin brothers Sergio and Javier Torres. The new age of Spanish chefs is just taking the world by storm. (The 2012 tally of the 50 best restaurants in the world lists three Spanish restaurants in the top 10.) And Andrés is leading the charge of incredible Catalan chefs, a crew that includes the Torres brothers. Not only are they handsome devils, they’re truly chef’s chefs. They’re in the kitchen at Dos Cielos every night and the night I dined there, the food was outstanding.
When you’re cooking for this caliber of chef, you feel the pressure. So our young chefs were definitely sweating it out. The Red Team really missed an opportunity with their Merluza Crudo with Gambas Rojas. Red prawns are called the truffle of the sea. They are traditionally served whole and diners suck the juice out of the head, which is ridiculously sweet. It should have been the hero of this dish, but it was completely overshadowed by Chaz’ merluza. By scooping it out with a spoon, he lost all the texture of the fish, and it ended up a mushy mess. It was a big mistake. Quite frankly, he's lucky to still be around after serving a dish like that.
The Black Team, on the other hand, wowed everyone with their first course. Kudos to Nicole for her Trio of Tapas. Liz’s Bruléed Custard with Macerated Fruit didn’t turn out the way she intended, but the diners liked it. In the end that’s what matters in this competition—and as a chef. It’s critical to keep the diners happy. Whether critics love or hate your food makes no difference if there isn’t anyone filling the seats.
In the end, Keven’s personality did him in and Chaz dodged a bullet. Congratulations to Nookie for being the most valuable chef, he really earned it. See you in Africa!
Allons-y a Lyon!
After racing their way through London’s finest gastropubs, our contestants this week headed to gorgeous Lyon, France. I love Lyon. To me, it’s the gastronomic capital of France. Paris is indisputably one of the greatest cities in the world; it’s truly an international city. You can get every kind of food there from Thai to Ethiopian to traditional French. In Lyon, it’s all French.
And what amazing food it is. In Lyon, tradition is so important. Local chefs understand that the milk chosen to make a particular cheese, the bouquet in a glass of wine and the lightness of a quenelle all add up to the gastronomic experience.
So it seemed appropriate that in Lyon our chefs needed to amp up their culinary skills. The cheese and wine challenges both required a precise palate (or knowledge of probability statistics in Nookie’s case) and whipping up a four-course Lyonnais meal takes real talent. A big congratulations to Avery for her Pink Quenelle with Nantua Sauce and Nookie for his delicious Foie Gras with Onion Jam.
What I liked to see in this episode was that the chefs eliminated who they saw as the weakest chef and the one least likely to be a team player. It’s the honor of a kitchen to have a solid team from dishwasher to garde manger to expediter.
At the end of the day, I wish I had gotten to taste some of Sai’s Thai food. I’m sure it’s fantastic. However in this competition, we’re running around the world, diving into all different types of cuisines. The chefs need to have familiarity with so many different foods or at least be able to learn on their feet and cook outside their comfort zones.
On to Barcelona!
London on a Plate
There was something kind of perfect about kicking off Around the World in 80 Plates in London. Here were these 12 kids, who love food and cooking, chasing their dreams down cobblestone streets with the Thames in the background. I remember that.
I was 21 when I landed in London. I’d been traveling through Europe with my best mate when I decided I was going to work for legendary chef Marco Pierre White—no matter what it took. So I knocked on the door of the Grill Room at Café Royal and offered to work for free. Not exactly the same thing as downing a yard of beer as fast as humanly possible, but the spirit was the same. I didn’t know it then, but I’d spend the next 8 years getting my a** kicked in Marco’s kitchens.
I started out on the bottom rung of the culinary ladder, prepping mirepoix and washing lettuce (as well as my share of dishes and floor mats). I hustled for months before an opening came up for Sous Chef. And I didn’t get it. I was moaning on to the Executive Chef, who looked at me and said, “You w***er, you show up here when everyone else does. You leave when everyone else does. Why would Marco notice you? You’re just another prep cook.” From that day on, I showed up early and stayed late. I got my a** kicked even more. But in three months I was Sous Chef.
Keep in mind that food in the UK used to be seen as second-rate, particularly when compared to the cuisine of nearby heavy-hitters like France and Italy. Marco revolutionized food in London. His wealth of experience working for French chefs like the Roux brothers and Pierre Koffman helped transform traditional pub food like bangers and mash into something fanciful and refined. The idea of British food being nasty is now outdated. Thanks in part to Marco, gastropubs are teeming with dishes made from beautiful native grown, regional produce.
For me, London has always been a place of pleasure and pain. I was cooking this super high-end food, but sleeping on a mate’s sofa, too broke to get my own flat. Marco was racking up Michelin stars but also throwing plates at the line on a nightly basis. Even this visit was full of extremes, watching the 12 contestants literally sweat through the challenges while sitting at a table with London’s culinary goddess Nigella. But that’s the beauty of London. You get to enjoy the polar opposites and everything in between.
See you at the next stop!