Francis Lam

Francis Lam describes his first experience at Judges' Table.

on Aug 8, 2012


No one’s ever accused me of being shy and retiring, but when my first seat at the Top Chef Masters table wasn’t just with James and Ruth, but with living-chef-legends Jonathan Obi-Wan Waxman, Mary Sue Milliken, Susan Feniger, and Rick Moonen, I did think, “Maybe it’s better to just listen and learn, little grasshopper.” Also: “What the hell do they need me here for? They got this locked down.” 

But there I was anyway, and it made me understand what a serious honor it was to be there. (At least until Waxman made some joke about stripteases, and I was like, “DAD, STOP.”) But honestly, I realized that I have to take what I say to the chefs seriously—I mean, voting on what you like or don’t like is easy, but, among this crowd, I think you have to earn your opinions. I owe it to the chefs to explain what I’m seeing, tasting, and thinking… and I owe it to you. 

So let’s start with the art of teppanyaki. The first thing, really, is to bring the show. Hamming it up while slinging food on a hot flat top was, I believe, the genius of Rocky Aoki, the Japanese American restaurateur who built the Benihana empire. So maybe it’s more traditional to 1960s New York than Japan, but look, you gotta bring the drama, and Kerry and Art are my heroes for getting airborne and flammable. I mean, if you’re not blowing up the spot when you’re on teppanyaki duty, if food isn’t flying and little girls aren’t crying and old men aren’t yelling, something’s not right.