In a recently aired episode from the first season of the chef competition reality program, Burrell presented the owners with four chef candidates.
Owners Greg and Marc Sherry have operated the The Old Homestead Steakouse for decades and the place dates back some 150 years. According to the Sherrys the place serves the four basic food groups: Beef, Beef, Beef and Beef.
What did they want in a new executive chef for a place that is a New York City landmark?
"Most of the people have been with us 30 or 40 years so we thought it was time to bring in someone fresh, someone who can motivate the kitchen a little bit and come up with some creative ideas."
All sounds great, right?
Except that creativity in the opinion of the Sherry brothers can't stray far from what is expected when beef is king of the dining room.
Anne Burrell always presents owners with four candidates, with two eliminated the same day depending on the results of quick tests lasting no more than an hour each.
Of the four job applicants for this particular job only one was a woman. Athena Palombi worked at what Burrell characterized as a high-end catering business in Napa Valley.
She was vying for the position alongside three veterans, one of which was known as a grill master for his time at Gibson's in Chicago.
The first cooking challenge required the chefs to take sides of beef and create a "signature cut" of steak with a sauce the restaurant could put on its menu.
Remember, creative ideas were demanded. Nonetheless, Palombi acknowledged that she realized the owners were, "...so uber-traditional" as she called them.
She chose to do something to cater to the ladies who come into the steakhouse, a smaller plate she called Skirt Steak Capama with a sauce of tomatoes and cinnamon.
"Is this an appetizer portion? Is this what you imagine?" she was asked as the owners dug into the dish to taste it.
"I think this would be a lunch portion," was her first reply. She was slammed back with this: "This is a little embarrassing to put this out there."
Surprisingly, Burrell stood up for her chef candidate, saying, "I would disagree with you. If I saw this on a lunch menu I'd be interested in that." Good for Anne.
Chef Palombi gave it one more try, which she probably should have begun with. "And we also wanted to cater to the women coming into the restaurant. Giving them something a bit smaller but equally as flavorful as larger portion dishes."
That just did not sell well. Despite that she made it through to the next round. The competitor eliminated had created a Tomahawk Steak portion that stood up a few feet n the air, even too big for the Sherrys.
Palombi didn't survive the next test however, as side dishes she created were deemed more at home in Napa than a steakhouse in Manhattan.
A quick look at the current menu on the restaurant's website demonstrates that size matters when it comes to steak. There is one 10 ounce portion of a filet but other than that the sizes for steak dishes run from 14 ounces to 24 ounces.
Image: The Old Homestead Steakhouse website