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The Food Network’s dynamic Extreme Chef revolves around three chefs who undergo torturous adventures while cooking under extreme circumstances in each episode. In the sneak peek episode last night, the chefs arrived in Landers, California, to find themselves in an Old West ghost town.
Executive Chef Kevin Meehan of Café Pinot in Los Angeles, Malibu Seaside Chef Gina Clarke and Executive Chef Paul Menta of Amigo’s Tortilla Bar in Key West were the willing participants in a game that stressed every muscle, challenged cooking styles and paired unlikely (and often unpleasant) ingredients.
In their first task, the chefs were directed to three wooden boxes from which they retrieved their proteins. Anyone who has ever watched Animal Planet, or knows anything about reptiles, would immediately recognize these crates as similar to those containing live creatures.
Inside the boxes the chefs found the rattlesnake meat for their dishes, meat which had been killed, skinned, and placed in a burlap sack. Unfortunately for the chefs, the burlap sack was placed in the midst of five non-venomous, but otherwise live snakes. All of the chefs rose to the occasion, including Chef Clarke, who Chef Menta had referred to as “Malibu Barbie” earlier in the show.
Rattlesnake is a stringy, gamey protein that host Marsh Mokhtari explained tastes more like pork than chicken. Chef Marco Canora of Hearth Restaurant and Terrior Wine Bars in New York City, who claimed an extra helping of culinary fame on Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, served as the judge for the rattlesnake challenge.
Chef Menta prepared a rattlesnake buco, which turned out to be an epic failure. Using a meat grinder, he included the bones of the rattlesnake in the mixture which he claimed would add flavor. It’s often wise to use bones in stews and other dishes where you need intense flavor fast, but for rattlesnake buco? Not so much. Chef Menta was shot down in judging when Chef Canora pulled several of the bones from his mouth and flicked them off of his fingers onto the ground.
Chef Clarke set out to prepare a rattlesnake Spanish frittata. Without a whisk, she used the handle of a spatula. As the eggs cooked at a snail’s pace, she switched gears and made a rattlesnake scramble. It didn’t impress Chef Menta who said for a show like Extreme Chef, scrambled eggs was a weak dish.
By the end of the first (what can only be described as “reward”) challenge, victory went to Chef Meehan, who prepared an inventive rattlesnake mille-feuille, which means a layered, composed dish, with a rattlesnake patty, whiskey-soaked French toast, topped with an egg sunny-side up. In winning, Chef Meehan won his choice of three knives for the next competition and the right to assign the other inferior knives to his competitors.
In the prophetic words of Judas Priest, if the chefs thought the worst was behind them in reaching through live snakes to retrieve the long (and creepy) skinned rattlesnake, they had another thing coming. The next challenge was exhausting to watch.
Judges for the second challenge included Chef Canora again as well as Time Magazine food writer Josh Ozersky. Twelve hungry cowboys would serve as the tasting group.
The chefs first had to procure all of their cookware from a chuck wagon. Sounds simple enough, but the chuck wagon was a long way from their cooking stations, and they had to transport all of the cooking materials in uber-heavy whiskey barrels. The chefs clearly struggled as they rolled the awkward barrels through muddy water hazards and over rocky tumbleweed terrain.
For the protein choices in the second challenge the chefs could choose between quail, buffalo brisket, and wild turkey leg. Chef Menta made it his priority to retrieve the quail. Chef Meehan grabbed the brisket, and Chef Clarke took the turkey leg.
With Chef Menta resorting to using turnips as stirring spoons and celery pieces for tongs, Chef Meehan used tin foil to create a makeshift pressure cooker for his brisket which he’d cut too large to cook quickly. To impress the judges, Chef Meehan also selected cactus which proved to be a challenge, especially after he sliced his thumb and required the attention of a medic. Chef Meehan braised his brisket in wine and added fresh herbs and potatoes.
Meanwhile, without enough cooking space to accommodate the giant wild turkey legs, Chef Clarke opted to pull the meat from the turkey bones and make turkey chili, which the judges would later call out as another safe choice. Chef Menta’s strategy was to use potatoes to line his pan under the quail to prevent them from cooking too quickly and drying out, a valiant effort that would fall flat at judging. Everyone suspected Chef Meehan had cut his buffalo brisket too large to become tender with the allotted time frame.
As if rolling barrels and cooking with limited materials weren’t enough, the chefs were told they would be required to make ice cream with some unlikely ingredients. The ingredients of the ice cream were encased in giant 50-pound blocks of ice which the chefs had to retrieve with railroad spikes. (Never mind that the chefs were working in a heat index of upwards of 100 degrees.)
Chef Clarke chose sweet potatoes and chili for her ice cream, while Chef Meehan picked corn and red pepper. Chef Menta selected black bean and corn for his ice cream. And to add insult to injury, in the next twist, the chefs’ hands were handcuffed for the remainder of the second challenge, which lasted for the remaining ten minutes of cooking time.
Chef Meehan received seasoning praise from Chef Canora, while judge Ozersky called it flavorful, but like a “Sahara sandstorm of dryness.” Chef Meehan’s corn and ancho chili ice cream went over well with both judges.
Chef Menta, with his mojo marinated quail stew wasn’t so fortunate. The cowboys said they missed the gamey flavor of the quail, and judge Ozersky said the flavors weren’t coherent. But Chef Canora praised Chef Menta’s use of black beans like chocolate chips in the ice cream. Judge Ozersky likened the main dish to “Chernobyl quail” and prison food, but praised the audacity Chef Menta displayed in trying to make a restaurant quality dish while handcuffed and with a pen knife.
The judges saved the most praise for Chef Clarke’s chipotle turkey chili with smoked paprika, saying it “retained moisture and that flavor permeated through the dish.” Both judges praised her decision to pull the meat from the turkey bone. The cowboys reflected statements from the first challenge that Chef Clarke’s dishes lacked an Extreme Chef level of creativity. Judge Ozersky went as far as saying Chef Clarke’s ice cream was “gratifying in an infantile way.”
At the end of the challenge, the judges and cowboys said Chef Gina took the easy route, and that Chef Menta made a noble effort, but that the quail was under seasoned and overcooked. It would be the last challenge of the episode for Chef Menta, leaving Chef Clarke and Chef Meehan to complete in the final challenge.
One task remained in this sneak peak episode of Extreme Chef. The prize: $10,000 and the title of “Extreme Chef” for this episode. The challenge: cook the perfect single bite to serve on a silver spoon. The catch: the chefs could only use miners' tools and hot coal, and they had to cut open hay bales to find their mandatory ingredients of watermelon, dandelion, pickled eggs and chicken. (Eww!) With both chefs perplexed as to what to cook, Chef Meehan quickly put his cast iron pans on the coals, which host Marsh Mokhtari praised as clever since they take a long time to heat.
Host Marsh pointed out that Chef Clarke overestimated the amount of time she had to cook, a statement that was echoed in her still rare chicken halfway through the challenge. Chef Meehan proceeded to grill his chicken over the coal, but he removed the skin, a mistake the judges were quick to notice.
Chef Clarke realized that her chicken wasn’t cooking quickly and devised the same plan for the second challenge as she had in the previous challenge. She removed the chicken from the fire and cut it into smaller pieces.
With the pickled eggs, Chef Meehan made a creative sauce gribiche by dicing the eggs and adding some smashed capers. Without the benefit of mayonnaise, he added some buttercream, serving it with his grilled chicken, watermelon and dandelions braised with beer, bacon and cabbage. The judges said it was a “meal in a spoon” and had “nice variations and flavors.”
Chef Clarke served a watermelon infused chicken with sautéed dandelion greens and pickled yolk. The judges said it was “seasoned well, but one dimensional, lacking the balance of acid and sweetness, but bright and summery” despite the arid, dusty surroundings.
Between the clean, fresh taste of Chef Clarke’s dish and Chef Meehan’s “culinary chops,” Chef Kevin Meehan walked away with the impressive title of “Extreme Chef” for this episode.
Stay tuned next week, when the chefs travel to Newhall, California, where they’ll choose from unmarked canned goods to prepare a meal in 30 minutes, knock on residents' doors to gather cooking materials from their pantries and cook a hot appetizer on the block of a car engine (and all of this in the midst of a torrential downpour).