A number of people, including the chefs themselves, accused me of being grumpy during this week’s Quickfire. I watched it and wondered whether they had a point. Was I? Thinking back to when we filmed this it struck me that I might have been.
Anybody who whined about the Top Chef Masters gig, would deserve to be poked with the business end of cattle prod. It’s a huge privilege and an honour to be involved with this show. And hell, we even get paid. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its strains. The shooting days could be very long – certainly much longer than would ever be allowed in the UK – and the shoot itself is concentrated. I know those chefs, pushed into the deeper days of the competition round, feel it and I have no idea how the crew, working much longer days than us, manage. Still, there is a certain pressure on us as judges and I had some of my own. My newspaper, which craves my attention, was keeping me working all the time I was out there, and I had been filing features from Los Angeles on what were supposed to be my days off. Indeed I had worked flat out for a couple of weeks.
And then, on what was supposed to be my first real day off, I get a very early morning call. One of the Quickfire judges can’t make it, and I’m in. See you in 20 minutes. So was I grumpy? You know what? Possibly. Did this interfere with the way I looked at the dishes? Absolutely not. Sure, I might have been less bubbly and effusive. There might have been a little more piss and vinegar in my pronouncements, but at the end of the day – or the very beginning, which is when we shot this – the basic critical faculties still kick in. Rick’s octopus was tough. There wasn’t enough crab in Jonathan’s crab pasta. And the skin on Susan’s chicken was crisp. Put me through four days of sleep deprivation and a little light waterboarding and I’d still come up with the same answers. Would I say they were definitive answers? Absolutely not. We all know that James Oseland has a palate calibrated by the scientists who built the Large Hadron Collider for CERN. He might reach a different view. But both of us would be consistent. Grumpy or not.
If there was one thing guaranteed to lighten my mood, it was always when the Top Chef Masters team went out on location. For a Londoner, starved of sunlight, it was always a slight disappointment that we were locked for most of the time in the studio complex. And then all of a sudden we were going to the game, and what a remarkable operation it was. Nothing I have ever seen in England prepared me for this: the size, the vitality, the drama.