Ok, so host Jesse Palmer didn’t exactly loosen up like we hoped he would last week. And sure, the show didn’t really get any less formulaic this time around (every episode does proceed the exact same way as the last, so what do you expect?). But, curmudgeons that we are, we have to admit that last night’s episode of Recipe to Riches, the entrée challenge, was probably the best. We had three compelling contestants, each of whom was pretty serious about their dish. And each of those dishes was in turn at least plausible as a winner. So this being the final challenge, it’s fair to say the show is going out on something like a high (if it comes back next year, however, the producers are going to have to learn how to mix things up a bit from episode to episode). After the jump, our regular recap and tasting panel.
This week’s winner was North Vancouver investment advisor and barbecue enthusiast Robert Luft, whose recipe was for a 15-hour smoked pulled pork. Or maybe a pork bun. Or perhaps it was a line of products with the frozen pulled pork as the anchor. This was never quite clear. On his way to victory, he first bested Montreal’s Scott Usheroff, who brought an off-the-bone braised lamb shank with some risotto-style orzo. Sadly for Usheroff, he cooks like most home cooks do: by feel. As his recipe started going south during the batch-up challenge, he began making all sorts of ad hoc additions, much to the consternation of his professional helper Maggie McKeown. The judges decided to turf him out for having a recipe that just wasn’t precise enough to be scaled up commercially, leaving Luft and Burnaby’s Eva Fong, an aspiring recipe developer. Fong’s lobster mac-and-cheese looked quite delicious (as do most lobster mac-and-cheeses); however, she made two unfortunate decisions during the marketing challenge. First, following the dubious advice of the experts at Quizative Marketing Group, she renamed her dish “Three-Cheese Pasta With Lobster” (with “Lobster” almost illegible on the packaging) because that was somehow more upmarket. Second, she decided to promote her product by setting up a pop-up restaurant in Metro Centre, which fell apart like so many restaurant-war challenges on Top Chef. So despite a somewhat dubious, cigar-smoking logo for his Bobby’s Slo and Low, Luft won the day, and perpetual guest judge Galen Weston Jr. couldn’t have been more excited, gushing that pulled pork is “one of the best protein trends out there.”
The first disappointment with this week’s winner was with the branding: instead of Bobby’s Slo and Low, we got Slow and Low Pulled Pork, with the usual Recipe to Riches cartoon on the front. And after we saw the judges repeatedly castigating Luft for not selling his pork as a topping that could just as easily go on nachos or fries as in a sandwich, the only serving suggestion in the PC version is, yes, on a bun. We also have to admit that out of the box, this was one of the least appetizing winners—the two logs of frozen pork resemble, to put it charitably, something you might feed your dog. And the meat itself? Heavily sauced and very sweet, with barely a trace of the promised 12-hour smoke. One eater pointed out that it didn’t taste that different from something you’d throw in a slow cooker in the morning, although another thought it would be a no-fuss way to throw together a quick appetizer if she were having carnivores over. For our tasting, we served the meat on mini-buns with a helping of coleslaw (both of which were procured from a local Metro—sorry Galen!). After looking at the box, one person made the astute observation that the meat sort of tasted like a cartoon. The telling detail: after their tasting portion, five panel members helped themselves to a second sandwich—made with only coleslaw and a bun. See how we put it all together in our box-to-plate gallery »
Starting December 7, viewers will have two days to cast their vote for their favourite Recipe to Riches dish at recipetoriches.ca. On December 14, Food Network Canada will air the finale special announcing the winner of the $250,000 grand prize.
(Images: Luft and homemade pulled pork, Food Network Canada; tasting images, Andrew D’Cruz)