Toby Young

Toby Young explains that sometimes even the judges are surprised by each challenge's outcome.

on Oct 8, 20090

This was the second time I got to see what this season’s crop of contestants could do and it gave me an opportunity to divide the sheep from the goats. Like the viewers, the judges are constantly handicapping the competition, trying to guess who’ll end up in the finale. Of course, we don’t always get it right. Last season, for instance, I thought Jeff would make it to the final four, but he was eliminated in Episode 10. By the same token, I hadn’t predicted that Carla would improve as much as she did over the course of the season. The great thing about Top Chef is how unpredictable it is.

In this episode, I was shocked that Michael Voltaggio was responsible for one of the weakest dishes. He was among the strongest contestants the previous week and, to be frank, I had earmarked him and his brother as potential finalists. Yet the pancetta-wrapped halibut with egg yolk ravioli that he and Ash came up with was not a success. The pancetta wasn’t crispy, the halibut was overcooked, and the egg yolk ravioli was glutinous and claggy. Nor could we really
blame Ash for any of this. His tribute to Michael during Judges' Table — “It’s like washing brushes for Picasso” — was a barbed compliment. After all, if all he’d been doing was washing brushes, then it was the artist we should be sending home, not his assistant.

Luckily for Michael, Ashley and Eli’s dish was even weaker. Their gnocchi was over-salted and the spot prawns were under-cooked. True, Ashley was only responsible for one of these failures — it was Eli who seasoned the dish — but her decision to serve gnocchi in the first place was questionable. On a warm, summer evening, the last thing you want to eat is a dumpling. Gnocci is a classic winter warmer and I can’t imagine the temperature in Vegas every dropping low enough to justify serving it.

Nevertheless, it was a tough call. Eli seemed genuinely surprised to find himself in the loser’s enclosure. For him to serve a dish as bad as that and not be aware of it is a bad sign. He plated most of the food so it was his responsibility to check the prawns were cooked. If he had done so, and sent them back to Ashley to spend a little more time on the grill, the two of them might not have found themselves in the bottom four. We came within a whisker of sending him
home instead of Ashley.

Before I sign off, I should point out how good Kevin and Jennifer’s BBQ kobe beef was, particularly Jennifer’s tomato and ginger broth, and Laurine and Bryan’s pan-roasted halibut on yellow corn cake. I’m not exaggerating when I say that both dishes were as good as the very best things we were served last season. This episode really brought home to me just how many great chefs we have on this season of the show.

20 comments
Sooz
Sooz

Toby - I've been a fan of TC forever and just wanted to let you know that I love your commentary! You have a way with words. I hope the show continues for a long time and that you stay on, at least occasionally.

Viewer
Viewer

This show is more political than based on how the food tastes.

JD
JD

RE: "Gnocci is a classic winter warmer and I can’t imagine the temperature in Vegas every dropping low enough to justify serving it."

It actually does snow in Vegas--not always, but it does get cold there. Also, Eli is the one who messed-up. He is also as unplesant and unprofessional as Mike I. Hope they both go home well before Robin.

dstracker
dstracker

Hi Toby-you may be harsh with the bad dishes, but when you like a dish, even the walls know about it! I'm glad Jennifer won, she earned it. I still think my final 4, Jennifer, Kevin and the brothers V and if that happens, I definatly wouldn't want to be in the judges shoes at that stage! I agree with those that say that Eli should have gone home. Ashley at least realized her mistakes, Eli, as usual, was oblivious to everything. He's got to go. Enough already! Seeing Michael V falter, reminds me that even the greatest chefs can have an off day. Top Chef Masters is proof of that. Thanks for you blog and for being you.

Viewer
Viewer

I agree that Ashley is no cutthroat enough. That probably comes from professionalism. In a real world kitchen you don't throw people under the bus. You have your teammates back.

mmc
mmc

It's always amazing to me when a cook or chef doesn't know when his food tastes good or bad.I love to cook and always have and I know when my food tastes great and especially when it doesn't.I don't know if it's worse to have undercooked prawns or oversalted gnocchi.Having said that I think Ashley is a talented lady with a good future and she is a great person.She should have put the blame on Eli but she didn't.He should remember her kindness to him and pass a kindness on to someone else as he goes on in life.I don't see anything wrong with serving gnochhi on a warm day....my family eats lasagna or raviolli or soup on a summers day. It's all what you're used to.

Lotsolaughs
Lotsolaughs

"He [Eli] plated most of the food so it was his responsibility to check the prawns were cooked."

???

I guess I don't know much about cooking, because I would have assumed that it was the person who actually did the cooking who was responsible for seeing that the item was cooked properly.

CR
CR

Wish you had sent Eli home instead of Ashley.

byrdieoh
byrdieoh

Hello you saucy Brit!! Love your comments on the show. There helpful as well as concise. I do have to tell you that Eli is always looks shocked and surprised if he's not in the top!!

Viewer
Viewer

At first I thought Ashley should go because of the salted gnocchi but reading judges blogs, it was Eli that over-salted. I got over this because it turns out it was the personality flaws of both Ashley and Eli that caused Ashley to be the one sent home. She couldn't (wouldn't?) step up and say Eli salted the gnocchi, and Eli didn't have the ethical strength to say he did the salting. For that I hope Eli is sent home next. Omission is equal to a lie in this situation.

craig
craig

Toby I am not familiar with your history in the food business outside of these shows, etc., I assume however as a food critic you are in some fashion knowledgeable about Keith Floyd.

In that regard I wish to offer my sincere condolences, my deepest empathy, my unyielding appreciation for the man who passed from our realm; an iconic figure in our business. I first discovered Mr. Floyd via a clip on the internet where he was a guest of MPW. Hence forth I discovered more of his works and truly appreciated his wit and saavy, the culinary world has lost a giant.

My utmost respect,

Craig T.

craig
craig

just a disclaimer - I really only got a quick glimpse of the situation, it may have actaully been a case of btu deprivement via gas line problems. From my experience growing up in the South years ago when propane was cheap (not like now) and delivery monthly at best, we had large submarine looking tanks to hold several hundred gallons of propane until the next refill. From my understanding that isn't the case anymore since gas is pretty much piped in and regulated nowadays by the gas company, thus I made the assumption (and you know what that means makes an ass out of U and ME lol) from what looked like the contestant fiddling with a power cord that the problem was electrical, assuming once again normal operations of gas supply. Not to say there couldn't have been a loose connection on the wok or its regulator since I wasn't there and if it(the wok) was powered by gas, so can't say for sure, I just got the impression it was electrically related since you usually don't have gas connectionas sitting around a house in different places.

@ MightyMouse - rereading your post I saw I misinterpreted your statement, you are basically correct that voltage(via I x V = W) where I = current, V = voltage, W = watts; caused a demand on I so that A exceeded the circuit breakers rating causing it to trip as I mentioned in my earlier post. Sorry for the misunderstanding. And I agree with your thoughts about the cook off that was on Tom's blog. :)

craig
craig

@ mighty mouse - being an electronics technician in trade I would just mention BTUs (british thermal units)are generally regarded in the States as a heat(usually) or cold rating often associated with gas (natural,propane, etc) using devices. Although interchangeable most electricians here deal with electricity in terms of watts(power), voltage(potential), and current(amps or less used joules). People who grill with gas but are otherwise unfamiliar with electrical terms may be confused. It was the cooking devices using too much electrical current which exceeded the power service circuit breakers amperage rating that caused the problem, causing the breakers to trip. With this in mind household electricity is AC or alternating current for those who may have wondered. See Tom I can help in the kitchen, so how about that commis spot? :)

craig
craig

Hello again Toby, thanks for your comments and insight.

I thought of a different perspective: what IF - Eli was trying to be strategic? Letting Ashley handle the majority of the work knowing if it failed she would have to shoulder the blame? Perhaps insofar as intentionally oversalting the dish? Maybe it is a stretch, but never underestimate the motives of people where the reward is based on one's self rather than groups. Just something to ponder.

On another topic, it can get that cold in Vegas, I lived there a short time years ago. Amazing it can be burning hot during the day and yet chilly cold at night. I have heard many desert areas are that way.

And one more thing, get MPW on Top Chef! I am constantly stunned with how so many things I see him say when I research him just hit home with me. I think he is amazing when he isn't being sarcastic and when he is I would love to see him putting these contestants in their place as a guest judge. I believe he would bring a whole new dimension to the American audience. Wish I had known of him years ago but back then I was taking on the world in my own way, and the thought of service as a occupation was the farthest thing from my mind.

confused
confused

Mr. Young , I truly appreciate your candor when critiquing the contestants . If I may I would like to make a suggestion that I believe would enhance not only the quality of your show , but also the integrity of it .This season ( 6 ) episode 9 I believe will be "Restaurant Wars " and it will take place in Chef Rick Moonen's Las Vegas restaurant .Chef Moonen has for a long time been a champion of Sustainable Fishing Practices , a very noble and logical approach to prevent over fishing and the subsequent destruction of our oceans . This season a Chilean Sea Bass was served on one episode , this fish is listed as " AVOID " due to the over fishing of the species , would it not be advantageous for Top Chef to list items not allowed to be used on the show , though available at the Whole Food Market ? I believe Eric Rupert has removed Chilean Sea Bass from his restaurants due to this alert . I feel if Top Chef would do the same and advertise it to the public it could be a win win for you and your show .Your thoughts sir .

Mighty Mouse
Mighty Mouse

Hi Toby, I love your funny allegorical comments on Top Chef. On your comments -- first off, I understand from Chef Lee Anne Wong's blogs, that she and the culinary team provide cooking equipment for the chefs. Shouldn't this be taken into account since the voltage required for a wok that produces a huge amount of BTUs caused an electrical problem for Michael V.'s dish? I call it his dish since Ash just did prep work. I wish your whisper of an idea to send Eli home was more of a shout. You are right, since he was plating, he should have given the prawns back to Ashley to cook longer, and after he put too much salt in the gnocchi, he should have rinsed and re-heated them. I love the idea a commenter came up with on the comments to Tom's blog -- that two-person teams should be judged as one unit. If they produce the best dish, they both win, and if they produce the worst, you have a cook-off to decide who goes home. This way it forces the people who are trying to undermine others to act like a chef. Ashley should not have gone home. It should have been Eli or Ash. Thanks Toby.

Jantina
Jantina

Awww... Toby, I think you're becoming an old softie. How quaint. BTW, your pronunciation of chorizo made me LOL.

Viewer
Viewer

Sad to read Eli was so close to elimination. Ashley not being cut-throat competitive, like Eli likely made all the difference in her getting it instead of Eli.

Cynt in the midwest
Cynt in the midwest

I've really enjoyed seeing you back on the show. I think you are hysterical and you also have good judgment.I think you take a lot of heat here and I for one think you are fine!

Mike Z.
Mike Z.

What kind of fire trap did you have these people living in? In a dramatic race to the final three, the cheftestant cook each other.