On this week’s Knife Fight: it’s the prodigy versus the master, the chef versus the chef, the Friend Of Ilan Hall versus the Also Someone Who Once Met Ilan Hall. Anthony Strong (no relation) will take on his mentor, the legendary chef Charles Phan.

The secret ingredients are:

Burrata: fresh whole mozzarella shell with pureed mozzarella inside

Prickly pear: cactus fruit that nobody knows how to cook

After a coin toss to see who gets to pick what’s behind Door Number Two, Anthony chooses flying fish as his third ingredient. Wings! It’s got wings! And Charles has monkfish, which is ugly, but tasty.

One hour, at least two dishes, and they’re off!

Charles states that he does not cook with cheese, which seems both impossible and sad. I have written entire odes to cheese, most notably “Ode To Cheese: Get In My Belly, Please.” Meanwhile, Anthony has no idea what to do with flying fish so he falls back on his comfort food—pasta.

What could you possibly do with cheese, the tastiest of food groups, to make it far less tasty and bordering on inedible? Aside from pairing it with fish, of course. You could add bean curd and fermented tofu, like Charles is about to do.

Oh hi, prickly pear. What will the chefs do with you? INTO THE BLENDER!

knife fight esquire flying fish

The first dish is presented by Anthony, and it’s burrata with prickly per juice. I can’t even see what was cooked here, but whatever. The judges were pleased. Then, Charles puts out his burrata with fermented bean curd. I can’t imagine it’s delicious, but the judges ask for seconds. Hmm. Seconds. I did not know that was an option.

Anthony’s dough is too wet so he desperately adds more flour and hopes for the best. Over at Charles’s workstation, he’s making a peanut sauce with the prickly pear, and something about risotto. And Thai basil. Oh! He’s making a spring roll.

Mmm. The monkfish looks really good, braising in something that is caramelizing. Anthony’s pasta isn’t too shabby, either. But the flying fish is still confounding him just a little bit, and I can’t imagine serving a fish that I’ve never even tasted let alone cooked before.

It’s the last two dishes for Charles, and they are prickly pear spring roll with peanut sauce followed by clay pot monkfish with lemongrass and ginger. The spring rolls fall flat, but the monkfish is “the best dish of the night.” For Anthony’s second (and final) dish, it’s tagliarini with flying fish. The pasta is a hit, but nobody mentions the flying fish.

Well, it’s pretty clear to me, a person who tasted none of ‘em, whose dishes were better. But I’ll let the judges decide.

Um, what? Anthony wins? Why? For what? The judges asked for seconds from the other guy, and what was that whole “best dish of the night” thing? That’s just stupid.

I demand a recount!


Linda Sue Strong is the founder of entertainment blog TerribleTelevision.com and an occasional attorney. Her life has not yet been turned into a reality television show. Follow her at @themisslinda.

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