"Laiskonis vs. Batali:
Battle Chocolate & Coconut" - February 13
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: One
of America's greatest pastry chefs and the top-rated
pastry chef per Bon Appetit Magazine, Michael Laiskonis.
According to show notes, he is "living proof that you
don't need a formal culinary education to kick butt in
the kitchen." The Chairman detects an air of confidence
as he calls out his warrior... Mario Batali.
Gentlemen... prepare for battle.
The Crib Sheet:
Anne Burrell & Mark Ladner, sous-chefs
Carlucci & Pichet Ong, sous-chefs
The Theme Ingredient:
A dual theme: with chocolate (professional grade
semi-sweet and white blocks and disks, cocoa beans,
cocoa powder, cocoa butter, ) and coconuts (pre-shredded
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: So we
have two themes and two different approaches as we start
the battle. While sous-chef Heather uses a giant knife
to cut her chocolate brick into chips, Batali is using a
drill to get inside a fresh coconut. Remember, go for
the monkey face.
Semi-educational moment #1:
coconut milk is a sterile liquid that was used during
WWII as an IV fluid.
About the battle: Michael:
"I think we both come to the table with certain
advantages and disadvantages. My training as a savory
chef has taught me to be more spontaneous as a pastry
chef." Mario: "Michael was a sous-chef before, so I'm
particularly frightened at the potential disastrous
results, being that I've never made great desserts
Mario is aiming to add some
Asian flavors as Laiskonis doesn't see a lot of theme
ingredients up on his side yet. Over with Anne, the
cocoa is meeting with flour and water. A dough? We'll
see. Michael has a marble slab out with some plastic
sheeting, meaning that chocolate will be melted and
tempered for a dish later. Added to the chocolate:
butter, vanilla, and cinnamon.
Mario has coconut milk in a
soup while Michael is tempering the chocolate (seating
crystals by aligning them on the cold marble. Hot
chocolate, cold marble. Get it? Good). His strategy:
keep it simple, elegant, and refined. Then we're going
with red mullet and some shellfish.
Meanwhile, Alton gets a
note from the Chairman: in this battle, the requirements
are three savory dishes and two desserts.
Heather is working on a
biscui (a twice baked ... well, biscuit). Michael; is
setting his chocolate sheet on the slab to cool and
harden, while Mark on Batali's side is playing with
potato slices, and filling ring moulds with fillo.
Michael is capping eggs on his side to preserve the
shape of the shell.
The Judges: Karine
Bakhoum: culinary consultant and founder of KB Network
Katrina Markoff: founder/CEO of Vosges Haut Chocolat.
Jeffrey Steingarten: author, "It Must Have Been
Something I Ate"; culinary critic for Vogue magazine;
the resident Asako Kishi.
Back to Battle: Duck
thighs are stuffed on Batali's side, while mullets are
scaled on Laiskonis' side. Anne is making chocolate
pasta, while Laiskonis is making creme brulee inside the
eggshells and a dredging of flour & cocoa powder for the
fish. And do I sense some frothed milk? That's why the
cappuccino machine is there. Back to the potatoes,
they're being sandwiched with truffles and taragon. On
another side, Anne is making chocolate pici. On the
other side, Laiskonis is using a full ancho chile for
his creme brulee mix while Pichet is cleaning shrimp and
Heather is working... cereal. "Thirty minutes have
Batali breaks out the foie
gras to score. Never been done before. Also, a black
truffle vinaigrette. Where's it all headed? Got me...
Next, scallops being sauteed with salt and pepper.
Semi-educational moment #2:
white chocolate... not chocolate at all. It contains no
cocoa powder. Only cocoa butter and sugar.
"Twenty minutes to go."
Anne's making churros with coconut milk while Michael is
preparing a diced prune dish. Batali's duck thighs are
done, but where will they go next? And then a fire.
Where that goes, I don't know either.
Pichet is making popcorn
for Laiskonis. "Fifteen minutes to go." And while Alton
is talking with the judges, Anne is making her churros,
Batali is searing scallops, and Heather was making white
Revisiting the sheet
chocolate, Laiskonis is battling fiercely, so it's back
to the blast freezer. Less than ten to go, and plating
has started. And we have mashed potatoes? That's on
Michael's side, but there's no coconut that we can see!
That may come back to hurt him.
"Five minutes to go." And
the sheet of chocolate is a bust, what to do about it.
Anne is getting deep-fried herself, and Mario is
rescuing her eyes with some eyewear. The fillo-nest is
going in top of some meat, and it looks to be Moroccan
in origin. Laiskonis' red mullet is going down now. The
pici is coupled with raw broccoli. That's plated. The
foie gras's done. "Three minutes to go." The milk
chocolate brulee's done. And we have sea salt? That's
going into the brulee as well. The churros are done.
Everything's coming into place into these last moments.
Looking at the mashed potatoes... and Laiskonis has a
sauce on it. We are down to...
three... two... one... Time's up" And Battle
Chocolate and Coconut is over! Laiskonis: "I'm
Judgment (Laiskonis): "I wanted to use
chocolate in all its forms, the coconut as well. I also
wanted to touch a few things historical, and wanted to
make everything pure, clean, & simple, and that the
portions were small." Dishes: poached prawns with
white chocolate sauce; coconut mashed potato with
chocolate ganache; cocoa-dusted red mullet; chocolate
biscuit & chocolate mousse dessert; white chocolate
truffle, chocolate creme brulee, & hot chocolate.
Karine though the poached
dish was surprising. Katrina likes the hint of coconut
in the potato. The fish dish had a "lovely flavor", but
it was hard to taste the chocolate. The biscuit was
going to have the tempered chocolate, but it didn't pan
out so well. The judges don't seem to mind.
Judgment (Batali): "Chocolate and coconut are things
that I used as a child, but very rarely use in reality
at this point." Dishes: coconut soup and scallop
with white chocolate puree, foie gras with cocoa
caponata, cocoa Tuscan pici, duck "bisteeya" with
coconut & chocolate, churros y chocolate.
The soup is an original,
never made before, and it goes over well with the
judges. Karine "feels the chocolate" in the foie gras.
Katrina likes the "bisteeya". Jeffrey, though he enjoys
the dishes, reams the other judges on not being harsh on
"the other guy".
And now, whose cuisine
reigns supreme? The verdict....
... 50-45 in favor of
Iron Chef Mario Batali. Just goes to show you that life
is like chocolate. "Without the bitterness, the
sweetness don't mean a thing." Until next time... I bid you good