Toby Young

Toby Young explains why he fought for a victory for Stefan.

on Feb 25, 2009

Tom countered that Hosea’s margin of victory in the third course was so much greater than Stefan’s margin of victory in the second that there was no need to bring in past performances — Hosea was the clear winner. And, in the end, Gail and Padma took the same view. They all thought that Stefan’s dessert was a big letdown — that his vanilla ice cream, chocolate mouse, and banana lollipop was precisely the kind of non-descript trio that you’d get at a catered event. It was wedding food, basically, and you can’t hope to win Top Chef by serving up something that is usually eaten under a marquee.

I didn’t hate Stefan’s dessert nearly as much as they did — it tasted pretty good to me, but, then again, I haven’t been to as many American weddings as them. On the other hand, venison is a very trendy protein in the UK right now so I’ve certainly had my fill of that. And I thought it was disappointing of Hosea not to at least attempt to cook something sweet. As Hubert Keller pointed out, being a great chef involves mastering a broad range of skills, including how to make desserts, and for that reason he preferred Stefan’s meal to Hosea’s.

But Tom made it plain that we couldn’t penalize the chefs for serving three savory courses since that was perfectly within the rules — and while I tried to argue that acknowledging Stefan’s range of skills would be rewarding him, rather than penalizing Hosea, that argument didn’t cut much ice with the other judges. Bottom line: Hosea cooked a marginally better meal than Stefan on the night and for that reason he was declared the winner.

Judging food is a very subjective business. There are a few basic parameters: There should be a mixture of textures on the plate, the bold flavours shouldn’t overwhelm the subtle ones, every ingredient has to be cooked just so, but beyond these it is not at all clear-cut. Sometimes arbitrary factors come into play: Did I want Stefan to win because, like me, he’s an obnoxious bald guy? — and you do your best to discount these. The fact is, neither Stefan nor Hosea made any obvious mistakes in the finale because they’re both good chefs. Either one would have made a worthy winner, and I accept the majority verdict. I have no doubt that Stefan will milk his second-place finish for at least as much as Hosea will get out of his victory. Good luck to them both.

For more about Toby, visit his Web site at www.tobyyoung.co.uk

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