Is it just me, or is the kitchen looking a little bare today? I guess it’s because we’re down to our final four contestants, making this penultimate episode of America’s Test Kitchen: The Next Generation, our semifinals!
Let’s get cooking.
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What’s our Task Challenge?
Actually, there isn’t going to be a Task Challenge today. Instead, the cooks will have to prove their mettle in one single major challenge: a three-course meal to be served in the iconic ATK TV studio.
Judging this challenge is the ATK dream team: Jack Bishop, Dan Souza, Elle Simone Scott, and returning judge Karen Akunowicz, who will be tasting each round and selecting one lucky winner. That winner will be taken on an exclusive food tour of Boston by the one and only Dan Souza. See what I mean by lucky?
Let’s get stuck in . . . our Challenge, then?
Marc, for one, is letting his frico flag fly in the kitchen, making a vegetarian meatball dish, while Garrett is refusing to choke in this challenge with their roasted artichoke and cioppino dishes.
Antoinette is making a North Carolina-inspired menu, capped off with a sweet potato pie ice cream that sounds ridiculously delectable. Finally, Robbie’s prawns, adobo short ribs and coconut cream crepe cake sound like a deliciously cohesive meal.
Coming into the final four, we’re neck-and-neck, and this truly is anyone’s game. But suddenly, Marc’s frico starts sticking to the parchment paper, and he’s forced to restart his appetizer, sending him back on his heels in this time-intensive challenge.
Course One: Appetizers
Robbie’s annatto butter prawns are first up, and they seriously impress Dan, with Elle saying that she believed it was Robbie’s best dish in the competition so far.
Marc’s celery, fennel, and radish salad follows, and unfortunately, Elle isn’t as impressed. Karen also admits that she was put off by how overdressed the salad is, and the rest of the judging panel agrees. Yikes; sorry Marc.
The first thing everyone has to say about Antoinette’s fried oysters is that they look almost too good to eat . . . with an emphasis on almost as they immediately dig into the dish that they describe as “exciting,” “surprising,” and “perfectly delicious,” if a little overly salty.
Garrett is the final cook to present their appetizer, and their roasted artichoke with garlic aioli is deemed a little overly intense, with the aioli overpowering the artichoke itself.
Course Two: Mains
It’s time for Robbie’s adobo short ribs, and I’m not going to lie: these look incredible—beautifully seared (with a kitchen torch, no less), and with the warm flavors of cinnamon and peppercorn. The judges seem to agree with me, as Dan describes them as “comforting” and “unctuous.”
If he has any hope of keeping his head above water in this challenge, we know that Marc has to step up his game a little, and he hopes that his meatless meatballs with vodka sauce (a recipe inspired by his husband) will do the trick. And so it does—the judges are seriously impressed with his homemade bread and earthy, hearty flavors.
Carolina-style filet mignon, anyone? Antoinette’s main dish is a comforting hug on a plate, even if a few of the elements stump the judges with a seemingly mismatched sauce and confusing accompaniments.
Finally, Garrett’s San Francisco cioppino, brimming with seafood, hits the table. While the scallops were cooked perfectly, the shrimp and cod are both overcooked, and the broth itself fell short with its flavors.
Did you save room for dessert?
I hope you did, because we’re down to the final course, and the last opportunity for the cooks to impress the judges and save themselves a spot in the Finale.
Robbie’s coconut crepe cake consists of not only 22 layers of crepes, but also 22 layers of cream, and this time-intensive dessert demanded every last ounce of his ample strength. Incredibly (and adorably) he serves each slice with a lit candle, and the judges are amazed and pleasantly surprised with this delicious morsel.
Flourless chocolate and cognac cloud cake. Is there anything that sounds more delicious? Marc hopes not as he delivers each slice to the judges. They decide that it’s a very “grown-up” bite that could be sweetened a little, and they’re just not sure that he hit the mark in this important challenge.
It’s all about chilly treats with Antoinette’s sweet potato pie ice cream, and the one thing that knocks the judges off their chairs is the pie crust that is strewn throughout the dessert itself. “Mic drop! Spoon drop!” Elle cries as she enjoys another spoonful.
Garrett’s Sichuan peppercorn poached pears with cardamom custard scream warm, comforting, holiday flavors, and seems like they’ll get the judges in a very holly, jolly mood. The idea turns out to be a little bit more jolly in theory than in practice, with the cook on the pear and the overuse of Sichuan peppercorns causing the panel to lay down their forks.
So who’s making it to the Finale?
With everybody delivering stellar dishes, it’s a tough decision to make. But it’s Robbie who is crowned the winner of the challenge, and is safe to not only make his way into the Finale, but also a foodie tour filled with Dan Souza’s favorite Boston bites.
Unfortunately, it’s not a huge surprise that Marc is sent home, after a meal that was clearly impressive but lacked a confident identity.
“It was surreal to hear my name called and have to take off my apron. I realize now that my dream is coming to an end. It’s heartbreaking and not what I thought would happen when I woke up this morning. But now I get to snuggle with my husband Ryan and our puppies, and I can’t wait to see what will happen next,” he says as he makes his way out of the test kitchen.