This week on Recipe to Riches, things got a touch gritty. For the first time this season, the show’s usual rapid-fire montage of home cooks vying for a spot in the final three was cut with shaky, behind-the-scenes footage of them rushing about to prepare their dishes for the judges. Likewise, the competitors, normally a polite bunch, didn’t hold back, taking sarcastic potshots at each other’s dishes and replacing the usual optimistic sign-offs with bitter parting shots. Is Canada’s most polite reality program showing a little teeth? We sure hope so.
Vancouver’s Jackie Koh—with her self-described “strong personality” (code for diva)—was the closest thing Recipe has ever had to a villain. She stole precious extra seconds preparing her sweet and spicy empress meatballs for the judges, was intransigent in the kitchen and craftily psyched out fellow competitor Benjamin Greenberg, telling him his curry crab sticks were too salty (with their marriage of highbrow taste and lowbrow delivery, they nevertheless struck a chord with the judges). Despite Koh’s confidence (“I deserve to win”), she fell behind in the batch-up almost immediately when she slowed her team to a crawl juicing onions because she wasn’t satisfied with the onion juice provided by the show (we prefer fresh O.J. too). Unsurprisingly, she drove her mentor chef crazy in the process (her competitors had little difficulty producing the requisite 500 samples). Still, after jury-rigging an oven into a smoker, Koh pulled it off and advanced (Belén Welch’s quinoa cumin bites were judged too cheesy, and she was sent home). The marketing challenge that followed was a personality battle, with Koh going up against the shy, teddy-bearish Greenberg. His carnival food cart looked like it was set to net him the big prize, especially since Koh’s fan-wielding Korean dancers got stuck in traffic (they made it just in time to impress judge Tony Chapman). Both had spectacular audience response numbers at the challenge’s end (even though Koh’s numbers seem a bit cooked), but the meatballs, inevitably, won out. As Galen Weston wisely put it: “Canadians. Love. Meatballs.”
Best product that the judges passed on: surf-and-turfsicles
Best line: Greenberg on losing: “I’m angry at meatballs right now and I don’t want to look at one for a long time.”
The Triple “S”—that’s sweet, spicy and savoury—Korean meatballs looked innocuous enough out of the package, sort of like any other meatball. Unfortunately, they were much, much worse than most. On first bite, all anyone on our office panel could taste was the cloying, insubstantial sweetness. The meatballs had a distinct fast-foodiness to them, coming off as spicy, sweet and smoky, but without any real depth. They also oozed a disconcertingly bright orange oil. The sheer number of powders on the ingredient list had a certain irony to it, too, considering Koh almost lost the competition juicing onions: sure, onion and garlic powder are old-hat, but wine powder, apple powder, soy sauce powder? When we squashed a meatball with the flat of a knife, it released its oil, then slowly formed back into shape (one panelist noted that the texture was akin to wet sawdust). On the positive side, our panel noted that they’re “remarkably spherical,” even “eerily consistent.”
Suggested pairing: one of last week’s brownies. Those were pretty good.