Open Stove XXIV: Not Very Mexican At All

If life was fair, we’d all be living differently.

That’s what I would’ve told our contestants last night before they started cooking, had I had the chance. Partly because saying that and walking away would’ve been creepy, but mostly because it would’ve been rock-solid advice. If things remained consistent in our Open Stove events, then it would make sense that the theme of the 24th Open Stove, on May 5th, would be Mexican food. I mean, every time we’ve done a theme, it has been in congruence with the surrounding date, month, or season. For God’s sake, one team had been there only two months before, for an event near St. Patrick’s Day, and we threw Guinness and Irish whiskey at their faces.

So, of course, they’d anticipate a Mexican theme. But Jason Sheehan (the Open Stove ring leader) gets bored quickly, and last night, he didn’t even bat an eye when he shouted “Chinese-American fusion!” at the Mexican-ready and “I’ve only ever cooked French” teams.

Open Stove XXIV had the return of team Eddie & Jake from Open Stove XXII, but arranged in the opposite—instead of it being Team Laurel, this time it was Team Talula, headed by chef Kealan, and not the other way around. Before you get confused, Jake’s name is actually Kealan and, after a heart-wrenching story about how he was teased as a kid–getting called Caitlin by so many of his peers that he went by Jake instead–he explained how, now, he’s finally decided to own the family name again. Jason, of course, called him Caitlin all night.

Team Talula: Kealan (Jake) on the right, and Eddie on the left, doing some prep before the games begin.

Team Bistrot La Minette: Nich Bazich (left) and his sous for the night, Paul, also doing some prep work.

In keeping with the It’s-Totally-Gonna-Be-Mexican theme, Team Talula’s amuse bouche was a Mezcal Sunrise topped with a “sombrero” of shrimp ceviche on a blue corn tortilla tossed in shrimp powder, with a gummy worm at the bottom of the glass.

Team Bistrot’s amuse was a briny Chinqoteague oyster with celery and champagne gelee.

First Course Secret Ingredients

At this point, we now know that Jason’s plan was to do almost nothing Mexican. First course was to be Japanese-French fusion (in the favor of Team Bistrot), using nori, udon noodles, wasabi, and French wine.

Team Talula’s responded with a first course of delicate, slow-roasted halibut, raw and roasted radishes, charred ramps, udon noodles, all in a bath of a red and white wine wasabi fumet, topped with nori cracker.

Team Bistrot’s first course was a grilled wild shrimp, a roasted pine nut puree, cauliflower, beech mushrooms, poached noodles, and chile oil

Second Course Secret Ingredients

The second course’s secret ingredients were of the Chinese-American variety (favoring Team Talula): Cool Ranch Doritos, Jim Beam bourbon, Chinese Five-Spice powder, and god-awful off-brand plum and soy sauces.

When I mentioned Jason wanted almost nothing Mexican, I meant almost nothing. While both teams were flying around, assembling dishes out of these stupid ingredients they were in no way expecting, Jason was firing off Mexican-themed trivia questions to both teams for bonus points.

Team Talula’s second course was a skirt steak in a bourbon-plum jus, bourbon baby bok choy (bourbon baby!), and five-spice spring onions, topped with a herb-Doritos crunch.

Team Bistrot’s second course was Arctic Char en Papillote, with ramps, fiddleheads, stinging nettles, and pickled potatoes, also with an herb-Doritos crunch.

And last, but not least, dessert:

Team Bistrot made a simple buttermilk and vanilla semifreddo with a salt-roasted plum puree, and slivers of fresh plum.

And then there was one of my favorite things of the night–Team Talula’s Chambord sabayon. Done with his great-grandmother’s poundcake, it was full of macerated berries, and a little drizzle of olive oil. The diners described it like a grandmother’s hug. It was so good, that I forgot to get a picture of the finished product—and I hate myself for it.

In the end, one winner stood tall. This time (much like the last time), it was Team Talula’s Table. And here’s what it looks like when you win (and when you lose) at Open Stove.

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