Bravotv.com: Were you surprised by the judges’ comments?
I was shocked to say the least. But not really. Two of the three judges were too young to have cared. Not that age matters. I am young too. But my father's illness, my own battle with obesity, and my work with the CIA and Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health has colored me for life, and I have learned some tough and ugly lessons at a very young age. One of the judges I knew would only worry about flavor and whatever would haunt them that moment. I missed having a judge that carried the weight of experience, humanity, and life with them. The Ruth Reichls, Gael Greenes and Arthur Schwartzs of food writing and criticism were missing. These are people that have lived, have failed, have been called out to task, critiqued, loved, hated and experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. They eat not just for their own palate's sake, but for others who unlike them, may have very different ways of dealing with food and life. I remember Ruth judging John Currence's Peanut Soup and finding it very spicy, not for herself, but for others. I know that Ruth can tolerate great amounts of heat, but as a critic, her call to duty is not just her own palate.
In the end, I feel the judges failed America and their own kind by rushing to judgement and doing what was easy and seemed appropriate. I also feel they failed every person struggling with obesity in this country, who has thus far been failed by all around them.
Obese people have very few role models in this world. Especially in the world where we find ourselves living today. Turn on the TV and you find shows sponsored by the very corporations that are the main culprits behind our nation being the fattest. Do we ever wonder why America has poor people that are fat whilst the poor of the world are emaciated? It is easy to eat cheaply and poorly and gain weight in the U.S. Potato chips are cheap and fruits and vegetables are expensive. So people of meager means really don't have a choice, do they? It became almost impossible to even find fresh fruits and vegetables in the poorest neighborhoods, hence the recent movement to make them available in inner city convenience stores, and the sprouting up of farmer's markets in inner cities that will accept food stamps.
How did we get this way? What can we change? What statements can we make?
I looked at this challenge as a way for me as a chef, who knew better to lead by example and I had hoped there would be just one judge on the judging table that would know better and act with a vision. Sadly, between the judges and even the host who claimed he knew one or two things about health and wellness, they failed the nation in this very deep and very layered and impossibly complicated debate on obesity, health and wellness. At least giving a dish that was clean of saturated fats, but full of flavor that one could learn to perhaps appreciate with some support -- they would have made a point for flavor over ease and comfort.