Gail Simmons

Gail explains why she thinks Harold Dieterle deserves the Top Chef title

on Dec 15, 20080

Judging the meals dish for dish, it was very difficult to determine a winner. As Tom explained, Harold was more consistent overall, but Tiffani took greater risks, resulting in more innovative flavors. She took twice the amount of chances by cooking twice the amount of courses required, and we all applauded her ambition. But this decision also made her more vulnerable to criticism. I have always believed that the culinary world needs food conquistadors, people willing to see past the horizon to the next great flavor combination, technique or texture. It is those scientists and artists who move our industry forward by testing the boundaries and pushing the limits on how we think about food. But for every experiment that succeeds, there are usually many more that do not. A number of times in her meal one of the two dishes was much stronger than the other. Her Steamed Branzino with Ratatouille, for example, was delicate and flavorful, while its counterpart, the Crispy Branzino with Olive Pappardelle, was bland and overcooked. A Top Chef needs to know when to take those chances and when to showcase what she knows she is capable of executing perfectly. This was one of those moments.

Meanwhile, at Nobhill, Harold never strayed from his tried-and-true approach. Throughout the show we criticized Harold for his weakness in the front of the house. We discussed several times how connecting with customers is one aspect of being a chef that cannot be ignored. I found it fascinating that in this particular challenge Harold made his aversion to speaking at the table actually work to his advantage. Inadvertently, that he chose to hand-write menus, to avoid coming out of the kitchen between courses, drew attention to why menus were invented in the first place. We all had descriptions of each dish in front of us to refer to throughout the meal and did not have to waste any time listening to a long explanation of each course while the food got cold on our plates.

Overall, I found these two "last suppers" very telling of how both finalists preformed throughout the entire competition. Tiffani never sat on her laurels, always reached for the unexpected and excelled because of it, beginning with her signature Pumpkin Lasagna. Harold stuck to his straightforward treatment of food, letting the ingredients shine through classic combinations and refined skill. Sure, he played it safe at times but he also proved he knows when to use restraint, a lesson just as important as risk-taking in the kitchen, think Steamed Thai Snapper with Squash Sauce. He showed in this challenge, once and for all, his talent for giving customers what they want to eat, as well as what they want to drink with it. Lorraine agreed that his wine pairings were more appropriate and balanced than Tiffani's for each course. If I had to pick a favorite dish from Harold's menu it would have to be a tie between his Beef Duo and the foie gras and spaetzle from his squab. Both embodied his character and reminded me how talented he really is.


Tiffani deserved to get more grief for trying to cop Dave's dessert. Unless you guys edited some really important information out, that was a straight out lie. Also really stupid, as the tape was sure to prove her out.