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Hello from Australia. I know a lot of you are experiencing record-breaking heat and humidity Stateside. Not to rub it in or anything, but it’s outright cold here. And beautiful. As I mentioned last week, though, I have less time than usual and have to be brief in my comments here.
If you know anything about my work as a chef and about my restaurants – or even if you’ve just read blogs from seasons past – you’ll know that I’m one of the original proponents of the slow-food, a.k.a. farm-to-table movement and a huge champion of the small farmer. So I was really looking forward to this week’s Elimination Challenge at Ayrshire Farm. Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, VA, is a historic farm dedicated to raising rare livestock humanely and heirloom produce organically and sustainably. They practice both crop and grazing rotation, and they plant in ways that intentionally create habitats that support beneficial insects and other wildlife while confusing and deterring undesirable ones, rendering pesticides redundant and unnecessary. Needless to say, the proteins and produce selections for the Elimination Challenge were gorgeous.
Our chefs were not told in advance what would greet them in the way of ingredients when they arrived at Ayrshire Farms. I don’t believe this to be the whopping challenge they made it out to be. As I’ve written about more than once, I visit my local Farmers’ Market throughout the week and determine dishes for that evening on the spot, based upon the produce and proteins that most call out to me as I pass through the market. The chefs at my various restaurants in other cities do the same and call me to discuss ideas based on what they’re finding. Our chefs knew that they’d be at a farm for this Elimination Challenge – I’m sure that they could well imagine the variety of proteins they’d be facing, and even, based on the season and region, which produce they might be given. And they could be confident that whatever they chose would pair well together, since “if it grows together, it goes together.”
Which is why I was surprised that Tim presented a dish that seemed to suggest a total lack of inspiration. It was neither here nor there. He seemed not to know what he wanted to create, and so he gave us a “non-dish.” You can’t go through the motions of cooking without a firm direction and believe that the outcome will be a dish. Rather, you must take the ingredients you’ve decided to use and must have in your mind’s eye a concept for a dish you wish to turn them into. The dish should honor the ingredients, feature them, and help them to shine. But it is by having just such a concept that you accomplish this. Tim gave us bland turnips and asparagus. The lack of vision outweighed the errors Amanda made with her soup and the poor choice of presentation Stephen made with his salad – at least each had a strong vision and committed her/himself to it.
I was not sure how to or where to post a general comment but I thought tonights episode was very hypocritical. Having the elimination challenge on an organic "humane" farm after having the chefs cooking and tearing apart live crabs for the quick fire. I know they are not mammals, and I am not a crazed PETA person or vegan but show some humanity in how these animals are used. If not then I guess I will have to continue to do what I did tonight. Which was leave the room and not watch your show and commercials!
I love the tone of the judging in this episode. You have classy judges who comment on the food in a serious and credible manner. Even the comments of the judges are high level, honest, but constructive. I learn alot from the comments of the jduges and it helps me in my own cooking. I will be much more careful when I cut my vegetables and also think about the quantity of ingrdients in my salad. Keep up the high level of judging. It elevates the show to an informative level...just not an entertaining level.
I noticed that a lot of the chefs smoked. Do you think this can create a problem with lack of seasoning?
What stuck out to me this week is you told them to be ONE team & they could NOT do that. I think they were to rapped up in who there parteners werethey couldn't put all in to the food! Until egos are put aside I think the food will keep coming second.
Tom, I am an avid viewer of Top Chef , I have watched and loved the show since the very beginning, the show and its format is among the best on TV, always a great deal of class , tonight however I was distressed at the fact that the chef's had to deal with live Blue Crabs , it was really uncomfortable for me to watch them being tossed into a big bowl and then chefs just grabbing them out actually tossing spices on one and then baking it alive , others were mindlessly cutting them in half while they were wriggling all over the counter, some were beating them over and over and others threw them in fry pans or boiling water , very disturbing . There must be a more humane way to kill these poor creatures BEFORE the show starts so that the audience does not have to witness that , it was very unsettling for me , I called my sister and she felt as I do that it was not neccessary to have them alive to have them fresh , we believe their demise should have been off screen immediately before the show and thus they would still maintain freshness . I do so love the show , just wanted to share my thoughts and hope not to see live things being slaughtered again on Top Chef. Thank you for all the great shows you have done and I think Eric is a great addition to the team, well done . Sincerely, Julie in Florida
I was disappointed in the way that the farm was used this season as compared to previous seasons, in which chefs learned about the farm and its production and were able to gather ingredients. Here, the farm was just a cold-weather backdrop with a set of ingredients provided. We were told "the farm is the first blah-de-blah," (I understand its significance, but this was how the message came across -- I'm sure not as intended), but saw nothing about it and didn't even hear what the people from the farm thought about the food. Lost opportunity -- very sad.
great idea for a challenge. I lived in chicago for years as a gm for restaurants. Charlie Trotters, Kieth Corn, Dom Jamagucci. I have some cred. There is a spice house called the spice house based out of Chicago. A quick fire may be paired with the spice and one dish with the spice incorperated. All done with one smell of the spice paired with a wine.
Great show! Kelly should have won since she broke two of the Top Chef's curses: making an add on dish and making a dessert. I really respect her as a chef. She felt strongly that a dessert was necessary and made one. Why didn't anyone in the group elect Ed to make the team decisions since he had nothing to lose. Kenny and Angelo were not going to give up. What is going on with Angelo and Tamesha? Is it to feed Angelo's ego by having the youngest an less experienced chef paired up with him?? I am a huge fan of Kennys so was happy he won. Would like to see Kenny and Kelly pair up as well as Ed and Tamesha or Ed and Tiffany. They would have the potential of knocking our socks off.
Dear Tom, First, thanks for your explanation of why Tim went home. I really thought Stephen was on his way but bland never wins. Your challenges this season have been really good. Loved the baby food. Babies like things that taste good too. The school lunch challenge was the best of all. We really need to help kids learn to eat well. I am glad you all focused on that and the cost factor. Well done! You picked a terrific city to cook in. I lived in the DC area for 39 years and loved it. You might want to consider Portland, OR for a future Top Chef. There are some great restaurants out here. Thanks for your usual great job of reporting. Have a great time in Australia.
Well Tom, You explained it pretty well, I do remember other farm challeges as being more inspiring, although I dont think they were working as teams-could Tims dish have something to do with who he was paired with? Outside of that since Bravo has a penchant for T-shirts, how about "SALT,PEPPER,PEACE", I'd buy it, hell I'd make it, but I'd like to give credit to Tim. Salt,Pepper,Peace
I found the juxtaposition of the humane farm with the 101-ways-to-torture-and-kill-an-animal to be kind of funny. It seemed like there was a conscious effort to grab every image of the crabs being cooked, boiled, beaten, and hacked alive. Was this done to enhance our appreciation for the farm?
Tom, thanks for the comments even while you are away. I have to say I love Top Chef, but this season for me is the worst ever. Watching the cheftestants trying to figure out the meal after the challenge was put to them was painful. There are no standouts and no compelling personalities in this season. I really have no desire to finish watching this season, sorry...
I will go back to watching the best season yet; season 6 (Las Vegas) that I downloaded from Amazon.
Tim seemed like a nice enough guy but he and Stephen have been on the bottom more than most. Tim 3 out of 5, Stephen 4 out of 5. Glad to see Kenny win the elimination if for no other reason than to see the disappointment on Angelo's face. And good for Ed with his quickfire win. But am I watching Top Chef or The Dating Game? I hope we don't have another Hosea and Leah situation. Angelo is so sneaky. His agenda is so obvious.
Margo: that's how chefs work with crabs. There really aren't alternative ways to do it. If you don't like it, you don't like crabs being eaten by human beings.
I thought this was a better episode, and for once the elimination challenge honestly seemed to let the best chefs do good work and the weaker chefs ended up exposed. That said, the bickering in the middle portion pretty much took all the fun out of it. The casting this season really created an unpleasant mix of people, and the editing for some reason is accentuating that.
Tom, Your restaurants are great; I've eaten in three of them. You are clearly a thoughtful, knowledgable chef and judge who tells it like it is.
But for the love of all that is holy, please stop saying "Honor the animal" when you're slaughtering it, cooking it, and eating it. Stop talking "humanity" after you show live crabs sent to their boiling death. Eat and wear meat if you want; it's your right, but please stop talking out of both sides of your mouth. Last night's quickfire was inhumane and unwatchable as your prideful pig episodes. Enough.
As a long time resident of Washington DC I was so very happy to hear that Top Chef was coming to my city. However, after watching the episodes I was very upset to find out that so far Top Chef has not in any way portrayed the District of Columbia I know and love. There is A LOT more to the District than Michelle O, the Federal Government and a bunch of Interns and Senators that don’t even claim residency here. All of these people are part time workers who will leave once their terms are completed. Put simply they are NOT DC.
It is very unfortunate you do not have anything showcasing DC and the local culture. In fact I have not even seen the local DC flag. You do know there is a whole city here that has nothing to do with the federal government and a farm out in the burbs right?
Good luck with future episodes. District Dweller…
I'm bored. More food. Less other stuff. I ONLY CARE ABOUT THE FOOD. The food seems to be featured less each season; I'm not sure there is enough left to satisfy my appetite. I do appreciate the recipes being posted. And I was stunned by the school cafeteria episode & Tom Colicchio'c comments; now I know what my next volunteer project will be.
I have a great idea for a chalenge. There is a spice house in Chicago, that is awsome. Have the chefs choose one spice and cook a meal and pair it with a wine!!!!! P.S. I have worked with Keith Corn(who passed away)-Don Yamagochi and Chrlie Trotter (he is an asshole)
Gordon Sinclaire would be a great guest judge. His restaurant closed and he resides in Florida. He is such a personality. With great respect Ally Wever Apollo Beach Fl
Tim seemed like a nice enough guy but he and Stephen have been on the bottom more than most. Tim 3 out of 5 and Stephen 4 out of 5. Glad to see Kenny win the elimination if for no other reason than to see the disappointment on Angelo's face. And good for Ed with his quickfire win. But am I watching Top Chef or The Dating Game? I hope we don't have another Hosea/Leah situation. Angelo is so sneaky but his agenda has become painfully obvious.
This season sucks! It's like a life or death competition. Top Chef used to be fun. I loved season 3,4,5. This season is dead serious. And the contestants are bullying each other, throwing each other under the bus. It's not about the love of cooking and food anymore. Not about the pride to be the best chef out there and compete against the best. It's about who can scheme the most to win the show! I'm missing the mutual respect and love of the profession, the creativity and fun, the goofing around from time to time, not taking everything dead serious and especially the heart to put out great dishes. This season is like a really bad soap opera. I really hope next season will be back to top chef roots and highlight the good sides of life again. And not this desperation to win the show. I mean last season was already highly competitive with the two brothers fighting it out. But this was still in a good way. This season is a disaster. Who wants to watch such a sullen show without heart?!
I cannot even believe what I saw tonight. Live crabs being hacked to death and even put into a hot oven alive???? The fact it was a quickfire added to the lack of thought and compassion toward sentient beings. There are studies which prove lobsters and crabs are indeed sentient, can feel pain, and even guide youngsters who need assistance. I had to look away and was sick to my stomach for the rest of the episode. I hope PETA brings the hammer down on you guys for this one. It was really shameful. I love your show and sincerely hope you show much more humanity about where your food comes from in the future.
Suzy H from Chicago
Hi Tom: I really enjoy "Top Chef". But yesterday, I caught a rerun from Season 1, and was bowled over by the complexity and refinement of the dishes created by those chefs for the dinner celebrating Ted Allen's book release. In contrast, current season chefs seem to be barely above "home cook" level. What do you think?
Tim seemed like a nice enough guy but he and Stephen have been on the bottom more than most. Tim 3 of 5 and Stephen 4 of 5. Glad to see Kenny win the elimination if for no other reason that to see the disappointment on Angelo's face. And good for Ed with his quickfire win. But am I watching Top Chef or The Dating Game? I hope we don't have another Hosea/Leah situation. Angelo is so sneaky that he's become painfully obvious.
C'mon, it's not like they were torturing the crabs. Cleaving, steaming and boiling are the most common ways to kill them. Let us know if there is a more humane way. Maybe next time they can anesthetize them first.
Andrea and Kelly deserved to win from a viewer's point of view, since we can't taste the product. At the beginning of the show I had Kenny and Angelo as front runners but I think these 2 gal's will do just fine. Iwas surprised Angelo suggested using the food that had dropped on the ground. Would he have done that if it had been his dish? I don't think so, great recovery though. It has taken me a few episodes to really get into this season, I guess you spoiled us last year with such great talent! I'm now pulling for Andrea and Kelly. Great show, great job! I miss Gail!
Oh, I know its too late this season but next year it would be nice to see the contestants cook with some of these devices you see on infomercials. The Nuwave oven, Reddisetgo and such. I know probably not possible since it may be promoting these products but it would be fun to see. I often wonder if they're cracked up to be what they say they are. I also miss the vending machine challenge.
I find it very uninspiring that a handful of these chefs continue to disappoint week after week. I can't understand how you can cook for 3 hours and the end result is a disgusting, sloppy and unattractive salad. How can you not cut veggies in a uniform manner, this far into your career as a "chef" and get away with it? Again, it's time to cut the fat. Ditch the people who can't cook and let's get down to business with those who can.
I have the hardest time getting my comments posted. This will be attempt #3!!!
Tim - sorry but no surprise there. Stephen - count your blessings but you're most likely next to PYK. Ed - good for you with the quickfire. You're in my top 3. Tamesha - watch your back. Kenny - you can be the alpha to my epsilon anyday. Angelo - UGH!!
Tom, I have to ask how much of that produce actually came from Ayrshire Farm. I know the growing seasons vary depending on what region of Virginia you're in, but I have to doubt there would be full-sized turnips, beets, eggplant, etc., coming out of the ground in early April.
Too bad you couldn't have done the exercise in humane farming beFORE those crabs were sprinkled with curry and baked alive. The theory that crustaceans can't feel pain has never been proven-- rather, it's been virtually debunked in the last year!
Also, I'll echo Mary's comment before me and suggest you consider Portland for a future season. Love Top Chef, even if this season does underwhelm a little.
Margo, I totally thought the same thing as I watched the episode. I am a vegetarian, not vegan, and I don't judge other people's choice to eat meat (I wouldn't watch the show if I did), however, I was annoyed with the way the crabs were used followed by the hypocrisy of the "humane" farm. It was a little too much to take. Tom, love the show, and I don't know who to root for yet. How about top chef Philadelphia?
Amazing how little cooperation there seems to be with this group as a whole so far. contrast that to last season's big group challenge at the Air Force Base--even type A personalities agreed since Jen had immunity it made sense to have a general outline of dishes and most seemed respectful of each other except for the nearly universal dislike of the cancer survivor chef--can't remember her name. The "Alpha Male" trash talk of Angelo and Kenny seems so silly to me--like two little boys trying to impress the others in the sandbox. IMO if you need to tell everyone around you that you are a leader and the Alpha Male, then you obviously are not one. And who says an Alpha Male is the best leader or chef anyway? Maybe I am nostalgic for last season's great talent, but it seems there are more chefs than usual this season that are in over their head. Tim seemed not self-aware --maybe he will learn something when he watches the show. I wonder when the episodes are edited? Are they done after each EC or is everything filmed and then edited with the final 4 already known to the editors so there is a narrative arc? Thank you for you blog--sometimes better than the actual show! I do miss Lee Ann's blog with all the behind the scene trivia that makes a show like this so enjoyable for the fans.
I agree with your assessment that this should not have been the big challenge that everyone made it out to be, had the egos been left at the door. It's really discouraging to watch this program in the hopes of learning great cooking secrets, or just to observe the wonderful dishes that can be produced at a moments notice, but then you have to put up with a couple of grownups acting like 4 year olds.
Angelo......quit acting like a punk. You're extremely talented. Let your talents win it for you. And if you lose to Kenny, that ain't such a failure. He too is extremely talented. Learn from each other and pass on your knowedge to your competitors. Make the whole industry better by just being there.
Every year Top Chef has to get at least one moron that can't play well with others. You don't see that behavior on Top Chef Masters. Those guys help each other.
Also, adding a temperment and personality like Eric to your program this year was genius. He can let someone know that they missed the mark without making them feel like a failure. You've got a great crew now.
And, one final thing..........Padma, you look marvelous!
Ugh! Some of these comments regarding the "inhumane" way of chucking a crab in a pot of boiling water is absurd. I didn't see anyone brutalizing the crabs let alone tearing apart live crabs. It's not like they were interrogating them to the death. Don't get me wrong, I can't tolerate an abused animal and couldn't stand idly by if an animal was in need, however, the food chain is what it is and I will kill a crab or a fish or a chicken or a pig if my family and I are hungry. It's not like meat eaters are dancing in the remains of the animal, these animals are serving a purpose. Man up.
This episode highlighted an "historic farm dedicated to raising rare livestock humanely..." What a shocking contrast to seeing the manner in which many of the live blue crabs were being dispatched.
I guess the irony was not lost on the show's production staff.
Hi, Tom! I love your show, of course, and I love to eat shellfish, especially crab and lobster. I'll pretty much try anything as long as it isn't a bug (have you seen all the bugs Andrew Zimmern eats? It's weird...) anyway, even I was squeamish as the blue crabs were killed like that. But I think it's okay-so often our food is already neatly packaged for us and these are professional chefs who deal with more "lively" ingredients from time to time, I think this episode, and people's uncomfortable reaction to it, serves to illustrate how far removed a lot of us are from where our food comes from. Your hamburger was once a cute little cow, that's how it goes. But these contestants all seem a little fearful to me, not quite as fun and full of personality like Marcel, Spike, Richard Blaise. But I don't care how they act or how many shellfish die, I'll love this show no matter what, keep on keeping on!
I have to agree with Margo and others above; the quickfire challenge was an idea that should have been killed in committee. Alive in the blender, alive in the oven, alive while their shells where being cracked. All in the quickfire time frame. It was crabageddon. This may be realistic, I don't know (desert boy, so...), but this season doesn't seem to be all that much about the food, so Bravo probably should have kept to presenting 'what's good on TV.' At least give them a quick knife to the brain or something. Following with a 'humane' farm just made it seem even more ridiculous.
On a more general note, I just have to say that this season is almost unwatchable. It was bound to be disappointing, given the high standards of last season, but still... While Top Chef can chart an overall rise in quality, and while not every season has been necessarily better than the previous, this one is just depressing. I think it's showing at the judges' tables as well. It almost seems like you guys are only going through it because it's in the contract. Praise is faint, while criticism is harsh and almost casual (I love Eric Ripert, but I don't think he's bringing the gravitas expected. and the panel is sorely missing the wit of someone like Bordain, Rayner, or, God forgive me, Toby Young). Given the offerings, I suppose that's understandable. That probably also explains why this season is so Reality TV-ish; what else is there to show? Hope you guys get the Emmy this year, because I have trouble believing you'll be nominated next time (though I'm holding high hopes for Just Desserts).
I usually really look forward to your show but tonite was a shocker. I live in Michigan and I've never had crab or ever attempted to cook it. I'm not a seafood person at all, but just watching how the poor things were chopped alive, boiled alive and even thrown into the oven alive was totally gross. I will never, ever be tempted to even try them at the nicest restaurant because of this episode. When I think of crabs now...... I shudder.
I wonder if Patrick O'connell knew he was eliminating someone from his same high school when they sent Tim home. In fact both received Acheivement Awards from Surrattsville High in Clinton MD in 2007.
I enjoyed the show last night, and was glad to see one of the chefs make a nice dessert. I think it is absolutely ridiculous that you do not require the chef's to make desserts in certain challenges...last night was the perfect example.
Most people who enjoy a nice meal out, like to end the meal with dessert. A fine dining/restaurant experience is not complete without it, and I think it should be a requirement for many of these challenges.
I could barely watch the quick fire because of the live crabs being hacked apart. I understand that you need to start with live crabs, just the way you start with live lobsters, but I had to turn off that portion.
I also agree with the comments that the contestants this season are mostly quite unpleasant and the cooking does not come anywhere close the level of the past couple of seasons.
Overall season 7 is a lot less fun to watch. Are you listening, producers?
I have to say if, as viewers, you feel that the preparation of shellfish to be eaten is inhumane, you probably shouldn't be watching a "cooking show". Seafood is routinely boiled or steamed.
I've been a viewer of Top Chef since it began and have truly appreciated the changes made to the show with each new season.
I'd like to suggest one additonal change for next season:
Have the bottom one or two cheftestents in quickfire challenges AUTOMATICALLY included in the group up for elimination in whatever 'big' challenge follows.
Quickfire challenges would become much more important to the cheftestents and each chef would be tested EVERY time on their skills as an individual chef.
~~~~~~~~~ Thanks for 'listening.' -Always, your Future Viewer.
I have a serious issue with last nights episode and challange where a Chef gets away with calling Vegetable Soup minestrone, My God every Italian in the show would have voted her off the planet let alone the show !!! Minestrone without pasta is VEGETABLE SOUP not Minestrone a chef that doesnt know the diference is not a chef, he or she is a Cook and a poor one at that. And dont get me started on giving kids wine during the School Lunch program !!
I have been watching TC for many seasons, but this episode left a bad taste in my mouth.
Why does the camera adore Angelo? Half the time it's on him -- sure he's easy on the eyes but he's so obnoxious it's actually a displeasure seeing him on screen.
Also, this episode's and the next seem to be set up to promote hostility between the chefs. In this episode, everyone's competing to grab the food they want to cook at the farm. It shouldn't be about who's the most outspoken aggressive person with grabby hands; it should be about who's the best chef. I don't look forward to the next episode where other chefs are critiquing each other, that's just plain mean.
Please bring the old Top Chef back! Amazing Race has Emmy awards, and it's more about the race than trying to make enemies with the other team. You never see clips of Amazing Race when they're resting at pit stops too -- I really dislike seeing the "personal side" of the contestants, especially when they're egging each other on and despising each other. Please bring it back to when it was finding the best chef, not creating drama.
It could not be more ironic for the chefs to wildly hack up, or slowly boil, living, breathing crabs--one chef even had to hold down the lid as the dying creature desperately tried to escape--and then retreat to a "HUMANE" farm to prepare the next meal. I was absolutely HORRIFIED by the disrespect on the July 14th show. Various chefs, including Tom, often speaks of the importance of respecting the food, so I wonder how he could condone such disgusting carnage? I know animals are killed by the millions for food, but where's the humanity? I saw none on Top Chef?
Bravo fan, I could not agree more with the assessment that the chefs this season don't have a lot of refinement or inspiration in their food. As someone else stated it is more like a soap opera with all the in fighting and over the top egos. I am not sure what these guys think is so great about their cooking cause I haven't seen it yet.
Andrea and Kelly seem to be the only people I would like to know personally. Last season, I wanted to be friends with some of the contestants. I guess we have to some bad with the good. I will keep holding out hope for next season.
I'll pile on a little bit with some of the criticism about the episode and the season. I'm a meat/fish eater but I agree with some of the other posters that the scenes with the crabs were a bit difficult to watch. Cleveing them in half or boiling them likely ends there suffering quickly, but putting them alive in an oven? Not sure about that one. In Germany, in order to obtain a fishing permit, you must demonstrate that you can, er, dispatch your catch quickly to minimize thier suffering. What made it worse was the contrast with the ethos of the farm you highlighted in the elimination challenge. I can't imagine they are too pleased with the first 10 minutes of the episode on which they were featured. More to follow...
Actually, there are more humane and less humane ways to kill crabs. Hacking at them nervously -- and inaccurately -- with a cleaver or baking them alive are definitely far less humane. Both were shown on this program.
I guess the part that disturbs me is that not all of chefs have worked with live crabs and the producers should know this. Either give them a quick lesson on how to do it right, or don't sacrifice live animals on TV.
I like blue crabs. I even cook them. But this was sad and needlessly disturbing.
Like some of the other viewers, I would have liked to see a little less bickering about the plan of attack and more footage of cooking or more information about Ayrshire Farm, specifically what makes it so special.
I'd also like to know when that was filmed. By the looks of the clothes and the comments, it appeared to be in the very early spring...almost too early for Tim's asparagus.
Angelo's crabs comment was funny to me, but it seems to be another in a trend with Alex's "hooker and 8-ball" comment of an attempt to get edgier. I'm imagining a parent putting the DVR on pause to have to explain to a kid what that meant.