Confession: I've never won a competition. Ever. I'm not bitter, though. I'm actually happy, because I get to see things from the other side of the table, as a judge. Indeed, cook-offs and wine-tasting contests have become the biggest trend in the epicurean world. Ask any of the millions of people who watch Top Chef (that's me in the photo, second from the left, when I appeared on the show as a guest judge) or the hordes who come for the Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (taking place next month). Everyone wants to find out who or what is truly the best. In this issue we answer that question, with help from some very discerning critics.
F&W's very own Gail Simmons, a judge on Top Chef, rescues the catastrophically flawed dishes that pushed eight chef-testants out of the competition. Though Gail can't intervene on the show, she redeems some of those losing recipes here, teaching us how to make a high-rising soufflé, for instancethe dish that sank Carla Hall in the finale of Season 5.
Some of the toughest judges in the food world are chefs, since they critique their own cooking every day to improve it. We asked three Italian-food experts (F&W Best New Chefs Marc Vetri, Michael Schlow and Scott Conant) to taste pasta dishes created by our Test Kitchen and pick the ones they liked the most. And to find the most delicious new chicken dishes in the country, we invited top restaurant reviewers to nominate their favorites. I love chicken, but my family thinks it's super-boring; I needed some help. And I got it here.