"Tsai vs. Flay:
Battle Duck" - January 30
Editor's Note: What follows is a
televised-move-by-televised-move recap. Because a
sixty-minute battle, intro, and judgment has to be
edited into 45 minutes of airtime, not every move will
The Challenger: Ming
Tsai, a veteran of Chinese cuisine (and of Food Network
for that matter) in Dayton, Ohio, currently working out
of Boston. He has become an authority on the
mouthwatering things that can happen when East meets
West. He currently fronts "Simply Ming" on PBS. Check
your local listings. He challenges former Food Network
compatriot Bobby Flay, the de facto leader of the ICs.
Another match on equal terms. Gentlemen... prepare for
The Crib Sheet:
Dan Millacko & Neil Manacle, sous-chefs
Isaac Bancaco, sous-chef
The Theme Ingredient:
DUCK! With eggs and assorted innards.
The Rules: Each chef
must create a five-course meal, with each course
utilizing the theme ingredient, within 60 minutes. The
judges will score the dishes on a 20-point scale: 10
points taste, 5 points plating and presentation, 5
points creativity and use of ingredient. The chef who
best articulates the theme ingredient through his dishes
The words of
the Chairman's dear uncle.... "Allez cuisine!"
The Battle: We start
with both chefs getting their duck, ideal for both
schools of thought today. Flay starts on sweet potatoes,
while Tsai chops scallions, ginger, and oranges for a
stuffing. He's also have ... an air compressor of some
sort. And what does he do? Make Peking duck. The air is
used to separate the skin and the fat layers from the
meat. Flay, meanwhile, has Peking duck, sweet potatoes,
and chicken broth.
Tsai has rice wine vinegar
and molasses (not hoisin sauce) for a glaze. Flay is
preparing a honey-mustard-molasses concoction, also for
a duck glaze. Dan is chopping off breasts, filleting the
duck. The rare breasts are going to be used for a hash.
Tsai is using vanilla for a foie gras creme brulee,
while Flay has some eggs and lobster.
Tsai is drying the Peking
duck, while making his foie gras creme brulee. Flay
chops a jerk marinade (a wet rub). He'll have t o make
it intense for one hour's work. Tsai is throwing away
duck carcass, meanwhile. Hope dad isn't watching.
The Judges: Ted
Allen: culinary writer; food/wine expert on "Queer Eye
for the Straight Guy". "I think you and I have to
appreciate Ming Tsai's use of power tools in cooking."
Dr. Vishakha Desai: president, Asia Society. "I keep
thinking, 'My god, how are they going to do this in one
Jeffrey Steingarten: author, "It Must Have Been
Something I Ate"; culinary critic for Vogue magazine;
the resident Asako Kishi. "All of us have decided that
it would be impossible for these chefs to do justice to
duck, but these chefs are fooling us."
Back to Battle: The
ducks are scored and the Peking duck's dried and in the
convection oven. Flay has a green chile hollandaise.
Tsai: "I'M making green chile hollandaise!" Well, not
really, but both gentlemen are frying their duck. Flay's
Peking ducks are out of the water and decides to pair it
with lobster. Tsai also has the sweet potatoes for a
duck pot au feu with coconut milk in a pressure cooker.
Lots of time-savers today.
Flay is going with sweet potato and duck breasts while
Tsai is cooking a crepe. Neil is making grits. "Thirty
minutes have elapsed." So far with Flay, deep fried duck
and duck skewers. Tsai is still braising that duck stew.
Tsai is working on a chutney with apples, while Flay is
working pomegranates. Tsai is stuffing wontons with a
duck mixture. He's also working the chutney with apples,
ginger, cranberries, coomassie, and something that works
better with the cork off, cognac.
Flay is blending gyuzu and
honey with a citrus reduction. Gyuzu is very tart citrus
used in Japanese cooking, but it's very acidic. Flay
reappears with lobster. Sous-chef Isaac is using a wrap
with the duck, traditional in Thai cooking. Meanwhile
Bobby is making his trademark: blue-corn crepes. "Twenty
minutes to go." Flay takes his jerk-rubbed duck out.
Tsai is cooling is creme brulee in the blast cooler. The
grits now have the duck and lobster.
And plating begins with
Flay at 16:45 with the duck hash and the poached duck
eggs. Ming's duck breast is rubbed with tea, while we
get a clay pot out. Could be for a soup, with the rice
noodles out. Bobby Flay's Peking ducks are out. "Fifteen
minutes to go."
The green chile hollandaise
is over the poached eggs. Cast-iron casseroles are out
for the grits. Ming Tsai's duck is out at 11:45. "Plenty
of time!" Neil is making up a
mustard/mint/honey/pomegranate sauce for the grits and
the crispy duck. And the pressure cooker is whistling
while the rice-paper-wrapped duck/shrimp mousse on a
miso risotto is done! Tsai gets another bath for his
Peking duck in hot oil. Most of Tsai's dishes are plated
while he looks for the brulee burner and the chutney.
That's done. The jerk marinade duck is done. Final
plating is going on for presentation points. Taste no
longer a factor. A minute and counting left on the
clock. Both chefs are done.
three... two... one... Time's up" And Battle Duck is over!
Very beautiful, if I must say. Now
Judgment (Tsai): "I wanted to show different
cooking techniques for the duck. I really wanted to show
the versatility of duck." Dishes: Foie gras shumai
with tea-smoked duck breasts, wrapped duck breasts &
shrimp mousse on risotto, braised duck legs with sweet
potatoes, roasted Peking duck with duck leg crepe, foie
gras creme brulee.
The shumai was
"interesting" and "unusual". Ted calls Tsai's raison
d'etre on the risotto dish a success. Vishakha is
surprised by the braised duck dish and how soft it is.
Points for originality for the creme brulee.
Judgment (Flay): "I was a little nervous, because I
was going against Ming Tsai. We went to different
cultures. We went to the southwest. We went to the
Caribbean. We go to the American South, so come along!" Dishes:
duck breast skewers, duck & sweet potato hash with
poached duck egg, duck confit in a corn crepe, jerk
marinated duck breast, deep-fried duck with
Vishakha is reminded of the
Vietnamese in the skewers, but Jeffrey doesn't think
it's that good. Vishakha is surprised that the chiles
don't have heat. Ted is smacked by the habanero in the
confit, and Jeffrey likes it as well. Bobby admits to
not having enough time to marinate the duck, but it
still works. The 10 ingredients: lobster, scallops,
crawfish, pork tenderloins, duck, scallions, cilantro,
ginger, cream, and grits. Ted gets his crispy skin. "God
bless the American South." But Vishakha doesn't like the
And now, whose cuisine
reigns supreme? The verdict....
... 48-43 in favor of
Challenger Ming Tsai, handing the ICs their first loss
in Kitchen Stadium America. Until next time... I bid you good