I’ve been called a lot of things in my day, including “wrong” on more than a few occasions. But, yikes, the sudden tsunami of anger that chef Jonathan Waxman spewed my way when he uttered that word after I told him that the steak in his tacos had been sliced too thick really threw me for a loop. Where was Jonathan’s inner Obi-Wan that night?
For the record, I don’t enjoy dishing out negative feedback. But critiquing the food on Top Chef Masters is precisely why Gael and Jay and I are there; it’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it. And even if Jonathan believes with all his heart that his steak was utter perfection, doesn’t he understand that when it comes to food, taste is ultimately subjective?
As it turned out, I wasn’t alone in my displeasure with Jonathan’s dish. Sure, the meat tasted fine (like a more sumptuous version of Mom’s London broil); the problem was that it arrived in ungainly slabs surrounded by a stale, cold, lifeless tortilla, which fissured like scorched earth the moment you folded it over. There was nothing tacolike about it. Had he put that steak on a crisp slice of grilled bruschetta or even right on a plate, with a drizzle of that gorgeous bordelaise sauce, it would have probably worked just fine. With a taco, you want a mouthful of, well, taco—not a chewy slab of rare beef. I’ve eaten countless tacos in my life, from homey Tex-Mex varieties to the real back-alley deal in Oaxaca. The food’s brilliance is in its down-to-earth deliciousness and its balance, qualities that were lost in Jonathan’s misfired version.
Jonathan is a great cook—one of the country’s best. But the fact is that he and most of the other chefs in this episode seemed stymied by the challenge. Even though they’d been handed a gift from the gods in the form of a Weber grill—a tool that’s engineered for producing exactly the kind of food people want to eat outdoors on a sunny afternoon—I feel that, for the most part, they didn’t comfortably embrace the concept of tailgate food.
I’m certainly no tailgating expert myself, but I have a pretty good idea of what I might crave if I found myself hanging out in a parking lot before the big game. I think we all know what I’m talking about here: hearty, satisfying noshes like burgers, shish kebabs, chili dogs, all washed down with a nice cold Budweiser. Nothing “wrong” with that—no pun intended. The difficulty with this challenge was that the chefs weren’t just tailgating; they were also cooking for a competition, so they weren’t about to serve plain old barbecued chicken or hot dogs. I get that.
I have no idea how the dish tasted but, as far as how to slice beef, you are just wrong. On a taco, or on a bun, or by itself, you want a thick cut, not a thin cut, of hearty beef. Please come to Texas and let us show you!
I have not been a fan of Jonathan Waxman ever since the first season of TC Masters - when he was in a challenge where the chefs all shopped for each other and he was the only chef in his group of four who did not choose the specialty (seafood) of the chef he was shopping for. It's like he was sabbotaging the guy on purpose, even though he claimed in a clip that top chefs would never dream of doing that. My impression of him is that he seems less talented than the other chefs but people seem to revere him, to some degree, based on his number of years in the business. I was never convinced that he should have "obi-wan" status in the first place. His reaction to your fair comment seemed to reveal more of his true nature.
James Oseland is the most bias judge ever. It shows this year as well as last year. Now that Chef Waxman has called him out, watch the scores that he gives Chef Waxman from here on out.
I've been watching the show since it started. I have to say that I'm am extremely disappointed in all the judging overall. I think that each of you need to rinse, take a big breath and then get off the gourmet high horse. As I watch and hear the opinion of "regular" people to the food, I'm thinking that most of the judges need to get back to basic food taste. I frankly, look for good, wholesome food. Of course, I cannot tell how the food taste by looking at it, but it seems the more simple the food, you worse score you give it. Think like the regular people who also taste like the food! Actually, it's kind of sad on your part.
I have no beef with your comment about Jonathan's tortilla; however, your comment that his steak should have been thinly sliced is off the mark. You even acknowledged in your blog that tailgaters want hearty food. For crying out loud, thinly sliced steak is not hearty; chunks or a little thicker strip is what REAL tailgaters want. You sir, are NO REAL tailgater.
Thought I'd enjoy Top-Chef Masters, but the food critics have been so bad, that the show is definitely not enjoyable. I've eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world and I especially think Oseland's comments are stupid, not to mention insulting to the real chefs. Not a show I'd recommend, nor will I be watching in the future.
Although we're not privy to the details, I get the feeling that these final 6 challenges are back to back rather than having space between them that got these fine chefs to where they are. It seems like the pressure of the competition just might be getting to the chefs who normally reign supreme in their own kitchens.
but this is an awesome group of chefs and it's a pleasure to watch each and every one of them rise to the occasion!
Threw you for a loop? More like hurt your giant ego LOL
The fact that the bottom two were those who had defended their food and not meekly admitted the judges were right, and among the top three were two about whom the judges had disliked many aspects of their dishes just shows that there was a lot of ego, rather than just straight food judging, involved in the judging on both sides this round.
Thank you for clarifying your reasons for your choice of words. Editing plays a big role in the reality show genre. Hence, the audience is left with sharp criticism and defensive retorts without knowing exactly why the interchange transpired. In Jonathan's response, he sort of treated this challenge as a throwaway: "It was the meat and that's about it..." For his chances to remain in the game, it almost was!
James, while I think you are very knowledgeable when it comes to food and how it should be prepared,I do think Jonathan was correct in getting a little testy with you.While I am sure you eat at some of the finest restaurants in the world, this was a tailgating party.A party, not a sit down white gloved dinner!Food doesn't have to be perfectly cut and neat as a pin.If it tastes good and is fun to eat, that's a winner to me!
Welcome back James. Nice to have you blogging again. I think that Jonathan did seem to bristle a little quickly. But, I think they just aren't used to being critiqued (sp?) at this stage of their game. I also think he seems worn out. It does take a lot of energy to do what these chefs are asked to do, imo. All of their quickfire dieshes looked absolutely delicious. I wanted to try them all!
You have probably earned your stripes eating at renowned establishments. But I wonder how many tailgate parties you and the other judges have attended. In my opinion your displeasure with one chief’s disagreement in your humble opinion made you just a bit prejudice which you carried over at the judgement table in the expression on your face and your score of his dish. Watching the chief interaction which is of coarse edited is very good. Looking at the overall judging lately starts to make me wonder if this show will continue to be worth watching.
James, I thought the meat was cut to thick and tasted fine. Now after you get called on your call, the meat is chewy slab of rare beef. Have some balls boy, trying to justify after the fact. You give him a 2, very petty.........
I have to defend Jonathan here. His dish was more of a fajita than a taco and the cutting was appropriate to the dish.
James, It seemed to me that you were overly-sensitive about Jonathan's objection to your criticism that his meat was sliced too thickly. Even judge Gail disagreed with your comment about the meat, saying it was sliced perfectly. I don't think any of you judges are used to be challenged so firmly and directly by a chef on the air, and this surprised you and took you aback. Many viewers have to wonder if the miserly score of 2 that you gave Jonathan was not a comeback for challenging your "authority" as a judge. Also, everyone agreed that Rick's food was delicious, and so what if it didn't all fit nicely into the pita pocket? This was a raucous tailgating party, not a formal dinner. I really don't think Rick should have been on the bottom 3. Very unfair!
Your coments about the Tex-Mex and Oaxaca tacos just made it clear to everyone that knows something about a taco that you are not at all acquainted with the food, just so you know carne asada tacos are suposed to be about the carne asada, hence th name and the importance of a thick and very good peace of meat, stale tortillas are not fun at all, but keep in mind that in México we consider the tortilla to be more of an edible tool to put amazing and almost infinite concoctions in our bodies, a stale tortilla does not kill a taco, perfectly cooked newyork steak sliced like proscuito does.
So as a general rule of thumb my dear friend, if you are making tacos out of a grill (carne asada) the pieces should be big, if you are making tacos out of flat top the filling can be somewhat chopped, if you are cooking out of a steamer the content in the tacos is alowed to be down to a mush.
And just so we are clear, carne asada tacos are not Oaxacan everyday fare, nor Tex-Mex (unless taco bell has a charcoil grils hiden in the back).
Hey - Maybe its just what we see on TV and don't see but it seems like the bottom 3 always get dumped on as if their dishes failed. With such great chefs I bet the food tasted fantastic - it just wasn't as good as the top 3 - that's all. I bet that taco was fabulous - I soo want to try it. I feel bad for such good chefs taking criticism in the way of "you did this wrong" when basically they should be "your creativity and execution didn't work as well as the top 3" And he did get upset and maybe it was sparked by previous criticism and he snapped but he's GOOD. He's probably better than you Jonathan, and in the masters part maybe stick to "your food didn't do it for me as well as this guy" instead of suggesting ways for the chefs to do better. after all they have little time to decide and come up with a plan for a situation they know little about. Nice of you to break out of your shell and take in the tailgating.
That's the rub on this show though, huh? As a viewer, who has tasted none of this, I'm more likely to think that the chefs know a good meal better than do the judges.
I am sorry James but I think Jonathan's reaction was spot on. It was tailgate food not a 5 star restaurant. I normally love watching you and hearing what you have to say, but I thought that you overreacted and you seemed like you were nitpicking.
Hello James, I was surprised at the tailgate challenge shish kabobs were not chosen to cook.They are simple yet impressive as well as delicious.I really enjoy listening to your comments as a judge!
I think this episode and all the fallout from it in regards to the Judges' Table and some of the comments already posted here for this blog are simply the result of the show making an error in judgement.
For something like Top Chef Masters, a tailgating challenge was just a bad idea. This works perfectly on TC, but here with some of the most celebrated chefs in the country, this just didn't work. Unfortunately, Tony was the one who took the fall for it since he couldn't grill pizza. I'd have preferred to have seen an elimination based on something a little more "Master-y" than that.
You can't win 'em all, and this is only the first TCM episode that I feel misfired both in the concept and in the execution. No worries. I'm sure next week will be back to form.
Keep telling it like it is, James! I for one really enjoy your comments and appreciate that you are always very careful to explain "why" you are saying what you are. I look forward to hearing you at Judges Table because I get the impression you do NOT dole out criticism arbitrarily and you're serious about trying to evaluate fairly and accurately. Love your personality, it makes me smile.
With all due respect, Mr. Oseland, there's a real possibility that you were, in fact, wrong. Just as there was more than one ref at that USC game, there's a reason there is more than one judge on TC. One person can't see the whole game from one angle. You missed that call. No big deal; that happens.
If I can take issue with another aspect of this, however, it is not so much the calls you make but the penalties you assign. By all means, call it as you see it, but don't hand the game to the other team. I see the same thing happening this season, albeit to a lesser extent, that I saw last one. You turn minor qualms into major differences in scores. I would hate to see you sink Chef Waxman the same way you did Ciarello.
No matter how thick the steak was sliced, Jonathan's steak was served with a cold corn tortilla. That is a mistake that can't be ignored.
I agree with L Arides. The judges on Top Chef Master are just not likable. They all come across as either snarky, in Oseland's case, or pretentious and petty. The judges on the regular Top Chef can give harsh criticism without coming across the way these three do. I enjoy watching the "Master Chefs" but I want to switch it off the minute the three judges come on.
I think all the judges on the show are way to much to stomach. Their "holier than thou" attitude is driving people away from watching the show. Let the public's vote be the determining factor. James and Gael are so wierd...who cares what they think!
I like the judges just fine. They're funny! Their comments are EDITED to mere minutes. To the "disgusted" viewer: the audience can't judge the food. "TV" doesn't mean "taste-a-vision". The viewers' would be judging the chefs based on personalities rather than the quality of the food. Like it or not, the judges have trained palates (& stomachs) and are better qualified to render their decisions.
I loved your look of consternation when Jonathan blew his cool. I suspect his crankiness was due to exhaustion. In addition, despite his lack of arrogance, it must have taken a considerable dose of "humble pie" for "One of the One Hundred Most Influential People in America" to be dissed for a taco. Especially by those who have never worked a restaurant line. I agree with you, though, that most of the contestants missed the mark conceptually. I thought pizza on a grill was a really bad idea. I was happy to see you mention the words "chili dog." My own chili is absolutely killer, and that is what this armchair quarterback would have done. Too bad they don't open the competition to Chef Mom.
I'm just another who also thinks you're wrong about Jonathan's steak. I was pleased that he stood up for himself even though I'm not really a fan of his.
I completely agree with Jonathan and was actually very impressed that he stood by his dish the way he did. Finally someone had the balls to stand up to some of your nit-picky and ridiculous criticism.
Aren't we being a tad dramatic here? A ''tsunami.'' Really?! Oh puhleeease! I am a food writer and have crossed your ostentatious path once, hoping to never again.
Maybe Jonathan's dish wasn't the best and other judges found "displeasure" with it but I found your 2 star rating for Jonathan to be retaliatory and childish. Grow Up!
He said "you're wrong" and you going into hysterics?
Wow. I thought you were overly dramatic and pedantic on the show; this is taking it into the ridiculous.
You need to check out The Approval Matrix of the latest New York Magazine. Seems lots of folks noticed your petulant and pretentious behavior. It's time to move on, James, and find a new show. Bravo Jonathan!
Face it you are a critic. What have ou ever done. As Twain said, pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue has never been build in honor of a critic. I love this show but my friends and I have given you a name, lunch money, you are the kid that got his lunch money taken from him by the rest of us
Do you ever notice that your scores are the lowest of the judges? And always contrary to what the guests think about the food. We know what your score is even before you taste the food - can tell by the sneer on your face. Critiquing has to include a subjective component, but it should not be the focus. Be a little less obvious and little more objective, James.