Is Chef Tomlin's new recipe adequate to tenderize a tough bird?

Jamie McDonald

The Ravens may be "too hungry to lose", but the Steelers are hoping the boys from Baltimore will be eating some crow on Thanksgiving...

I would scarcely call myself a Master Chef. I do like to cook, though, and like even the most experienced cooks, upon occasion I will discover the dish I had planned to serve for dinner isn't fit to eat. Whether this is a problem with the recipe or the execution is moot. I have to figure out a way to fix it.

Over the years I've found the best way is generally to start experimenting with whatever I've got in the kitchen to see if I can make sufficient improvements so it becomes fit for general consumption.

It doesn't always work. Some things just can't be fixed. But a surprisingly large number of potential disasters can be made into quite a reasonable meal, with the right amendments.

So I can sympathize with Mike Tomlin. He began training camp with what many thought was going to be a pretty tasty dish.

A new sous chef, Jack Bicknell, was working on the offensive line, and he was lucky enough to have what appeared to be top-quality ingredients for his part of the meal. Unlike previous years, when at least some of the components were almost past their sell-by date, and most of them were from the bargain bin, he had an expensive array of young linemen at his disposal. But Chef Bicknell, as it turned out, was no more able to coax a solid structure out of his prime cuts than his predecessors. Some of them weren't sufficiently well-aged. Some looked good but crumbled when he tried to use them.

So, like the prior offensive line coaches, Chef Bicknell found himself cobbling together an offensive line out of whatever was left lying around the kitchen.

Chef Dick LeBeau has long been revered as a wizard in the kitchen. It seemed he could take even the most unpromising ingredients and use his magic touch meld them into a magnificently choreographed feast for the senses.

But, just like Chef Bicknell, some of the prime cuts he had been relying upon for his creation were snatched away by the fickle finger of the Football Fates, just when the dish should have been ready to serve. Like any experienced chef, he was able to rearrange the platter to make it look full, but the holes became sadly evident when it was served.

Meanwhile, the whisper was going around the clubs: "The Steeler Grill just isn't the same. Chef LeBeau has lost touch with the latest trends, and his dishes are old and tired. Chef Haley's experiments haven't produced any better results than the once-scorned Chef Arians. And what about Tomlin? It looks as if all he did was serve up Bill Cowher's leftovers until the pantry was bare. He has clearly demonstrated he should never have been entrusted with the business."

But quietly, behind the scenes, Chef Tomlin was putting his finger into lots of pies. He and his offensive minions shook up the line, revamped it, and the schemes they had been practicing all summer were scrapped in favor of one they could actually successfully achieve. There were some growing pains as everyone adjusted to the new elements and new techniques, but in the past few weeks it looks as if it is going to turn out to be a success.

In the meantime, the rest of the offense has been thriving with the improvement in the trenchermen, and although the running game isn't anything like the old-style menu the Steelers used to serve, they seem to be concocting a melange which can keep up with the times.

Chef LeBeau, like the crafty veteran he is, found a way to use the hand he has been dealt to come up with dishes which look almost the same but are much more substantial than the meager fare of a few weeks before. He and his assistants, especially Chef Carnell Lake, have been on the ball, and the end results are starting to capture the attention of the critics.

A crucial component, easily overlooked, is Chef Smith's Special Teams. They didn't impress at first, have been found to have a savor all their own.

A recipe is, in the end, just a suggestion. There are any number of possible ways one can combine the ingredients called for, and sometimes a pinch of this and that and a tweak here and there can take the final result from pedestrian to polished.

The jury is still out on the shakeup at The Steeler Grill, but the early returns are promising.

A big test looms tonight. A bird for Thanksgiving is a tradition, but unfortunately this is a tough one. There's no time for a marinade—the turnaround time for this dish is all too brief.

Can Chef Tomlin serve up a beautifully roasted Raven, or like the unfortunate chef of yesteryear, is the bird going to get loose when the pie is opened? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

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