Somewhere in a small village, a person pumps their fist in the air, wildly smirks and high fives their neighbor over the excitement of the catch. But it’s not a hunters' group from some remote, African tribe sneaking up on an unwitting prey. It’s a gathering of creatives, executives, and producers huddled in a small area that’s loaded with television monitors. A tent heavy with cables, wires, and headsets called Video Village.
Of course, I don’t know much about what happens there. I’ve seen it from a distance. Accidentally crossed its invisible border and heard tales of its legend. But it’s a bit like Oz, a mythical place. If you pull back the curtain, you won’t find a wizard pulling the strings, instead there are elves, magical ones.
Although its probably a more fitting metaphor to compare it to the offensive coordinators’ booth at a football game. It’s where the scheming happens. It’s where the plays get called. And all season long our contestants, the defense if you follow, have been chasing a sweep to the strong side of the formation. They’ve picked up a pattern. They’re smart. And cooking at Tom’s steakhouse is an obvious toss sweep right. Everyone can see it coming. So like any good, smart defense, they start to cheat that way. Preparing to cook meat. Envisioning what will be in the walk-in. Even communicating amongst themselves who will work with what cut. Like any good kitchen. Like any good team. But no one is watching the backside. No one is staying home. And here it comes...
In football, it’s called a reverse.
Those offensive coordinators have been setting up all game for this play. If you can imagine all of our contestants running as fast as they can, on ice, and then a whistle blows and they’re told to run in the opposite direction, you can imagine the physical scene. Some people fall hard, but get back up. Some barely maintain their balance, but still have to slow down and regain momentum. And some, slide away for good.
Mentally, that's what happened tonight.
Overpreparing, falling for routine, or trying to out-think production or yourself is a doomed game plan on Top Chef. I know all too well. Before packing my bags for Chicago, I researched all the events and celebrity chefs that were in town during our filming. I wisely deducted with absolute certainty that we would be cooking for Alice Waters at the Green City market where she was appearing a few days after our arrival. When the challenge was revealed to be at the market, I felt rather clever. I shopped while thinking about Alice, even deciding how I would introduce my dish to her. I envisioned it all. I was confident, as I am smarter then the average elf.
Then Wylie Dufresne walked in the door. Gulp!
In football that is called a triple reverse.
Great analogy! I think it was brilliant of the producers to set up the switcheroo. Personally I don't think any of the chefs, even Kevin, rose to the challenge. I did however really like the creativity Michael V displayed with his dish.
You ARE one clever man. The title of a cooking show for you could be, "The Clever Chef!". You are brighter than all of the current crop 'o cooks combined. With the exception of Michael V. and Kevin (albeit, whose dish I thought looked messy), the rest of the cast couldn't adjust very well. Mike I. was too clever for himself and was sent home!
Yes, the magical elves threw everyone for a loop this episode. Good analogy, but not your best blog. What did you think about everyone's individual dishes? I had to read your blog a second time, because I couldn't believe there were no Star Wars references..you know with our host being Natalie Portman and all. I sense a disturbance in the force.
Ate at Flip Burger for lunch today for the first time with co-workers. Loved the meal - portions & service were great. Will definitely be eating there again. Enjoy your insider take on all things Top Chef!
Richard, you are, indeed, a clever chef. Would have loved seeing you in this particular competition with the V bros. and Kevin. The vegetarian challenge was awesome and I was sorely disappointed in some of the results. Don't we all eat vegetarian at times? I expected better from many of them.
That was a great article Richard, I was giggling all the way through. You have a real knack for writing!
Hello Mr. Richard: Thanks for your blog. I just recently watched you and Eli in the Iron Chef America and thought you were great. Have you ever thought about competing in the Next Iron Chef?
Richard- I absolutely LOVE the malta ribs that you created during your Top Chef experience. I've made them several times, but my first attempt was the best... because I followed your proportions to the letter. Then, the recipe was removed from the bravotv website... oh, how my ribs have suffered. Any chance I could get a refresher?
Loved your blog...you have such a way of writing...such an art, so keep that in mind when and if you'll do a cookbook.
Smarter than the other elves, Richard (a typo, I hope!) I've been a fan(atic) watcher of TC since Day One. Even I know a few things every prospective TC contestant should learn.
1. Vegetarian options 2. Learn how to cook things that "are not what you do." 3. Read Tom Collichio's book, Think Like a Chef to get inside his head. 4. Master at least 10 desserts 5. Forget about cooking rice during a competition 6. Remember a chef's job is to nurture human beings and give them pleasure. Go for the "OMG! this is SO good!" visceral response rather than the intellectual "very interesting" one
Richard, I can't believe you didn't comment about the reunion dinner? Were you as uncomfortable to be there and witness the squirming in person as we were to view it? Did you smell bacon with a French accent? (Too Funny!)
Hello Richard, I can't believe that you didn't comment on the reunion dinner. What REALLY went on? How was the food prepared by the rest of the cast? What was Lisa like? Did the bacon have a French accent???
Sorry if this is off-topic. I don't know if you read this Richard but you recently performed at the Cooking & Entertaining Show at DC making liquid nitrogen frozen popcorn and I had a question.
Was the liquid nitrogen popping the corn? What exactly was it doing to the corn? I was in a seat too far away for a throw so I was a bit confused and couldn't quite tell what effect was supposed to be.
Otherwise I had a wonderful time watching you and Paula. Great show; I hope you go far in whatever you want to do whether that be performance cooking or restuaranting or both. And I also couldn't help but notice how much weight you have lost since Top Chef. Hope you read this!