When last we watched the Food Network’s Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell, Todd English was searching for a new executive chef for the New York City location of Olives. Burrell must really like Boston restaurateurs, because last night’s episode featured Kathy Sidell, founder of the Metropolitan Restaurant Group; she was looking for a new executive chef for MET Back Bay. The premise of the series is that Burrell swoops into a restaurant in need of a new chef and provides four promising (we’re using “promising” loosely) candidates. She and the restaurant owner put the candidates through a rigorous series of three tests, with one candidate getting eliminated after each test. The winner gets the job. The losers are dismissed with a solemn “This interview is over.” Not quite as catchy Trump’s “You’re fired,” but what can you do?
At first introduction, the contestants looked somewhat capable: David, a single dad, used to be an executive chef at a restaurant in the South, but he needed more time to raise his son, so he opened his own salumi business instead. Lisa was making great money as an ad sales executive but promptly left at 25 to go to culinary school; now she works for a high-end caterer in the Hamptons. Joshua, a Medford native and survivor of childhood leukemia, is currently executive chef at tiny Terramia in the North End. Won, a Cordon Bleu graduate, grew up spraying graffiti around Chicago and now manages corporate catering at a Whole Foods.
MET Back Bay features a selection of city-themed burgers (the Paris burger, for example, has brie, a fried egg, caramelized onion, and truffle mayo) and apparently sells half a million burgers a year, so the first test required contestants to create a signature city-themed burger with a starch side dish in 45 minutes. It was a close race as all contestants showed creativity and, for the most part, solid cooking skills, but David was eliminated for “serious time management issues” after he couldn’t finish frying eggs for his Barcelona burger (manchego, chorizo, smoked mayo, and other things that would have been delicious with an egg on top).
The next challenge tested candidates’ speed and consistency, because the MET Back Bay serves over 1200 guests per day. The candidates had to create a signature dish and make as many portions as possible in 45 minutes. Won and Josh conservatively made five servings, but both suffered from inconsistent doneness and presentation. Lisa went for 20 servings but ran out of time and knowingly served several portions of raw trout. Sidell was “deeply disappointed” in all of the performances, but in the end, Lisa’s ambition kept her safe as Josh was eliminated; it didn’t appear that he was ready to step up from a 40-seat restaurant to 225 seats.
In the final test, Won and Lisa each ran the restaurant for a night. Won started off rough and pulled through, while Lisa started strong and fell apart. Sidell and Burrell discussed the pros and cons of each: Won was inexperienced but showed raw talent and trainability; Lisa was slow but organized and unflappable. Organization won out as Sidell named Lisa the new executive chef of MET Back Bay. Welcome to Boston, Lisa! Here’s hoping her sirloin and brisket “London burger” (a BLT with cheddar and pickled onions) makes the menu.