Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio explains what the chefs misunderstood about this week's task, and more on "Pea-gate."

on Aug 4, 2010

In this challenge, a few chefs did do something more conventionally of the country they’d selected. Amanda did a traditional bouef bourguignon that didn’t ask her to think too hard or apply her own stamp. It wasn’t very good, and she’s lucky that three other dishes faired worse than hers, and she didn’t wind up in the bottom. On the other hand, Kelly did a fairly authentic dish as well, but she was bearing in mind the equipment restrictions when making her decision, and the dish itself was very, very good, so it was OK that she’d adhered so closely to the cooking of her selected country.  It’s when you try to do an authentic dish and don’t pull off the cooking that you’re not pulling off the authenticity. And as for Tiffany, she took the challenge to heart and went even farther, hitting the ball out of the park with her dish. It was not only true to the flavors and spirit of Mexican food but was absolutely delectable. It was fairly authentic without being dogmatic, it was prepared with enthusiasm and care, and it was as good as any Mexican dish I’ve ever had.

On the other end of the spectrum, Stephen went home this week because of his rice. Cooking rice properly is a pretty basic thing to do and he knew as well as anyone else that he’d overcooked it and presented us with mush. I’m not saying that he doesn’t know how to cook rice – I’m sure he does. But he didn’t do so this time. And at this stage of the game, if you don’t cook rice properly, you’ve got to go.

I can’t conclude without saying a word or two about last week’s pea incident. I was just cooking at a benefit and some folks there, fans of the show, came up to ask me about the incident. I know viewers are up in arms about it, assuming that information is being withheld from them (and usually assuming that the producers are covering up for Alex). But here’s the thing: I actually called the producers and asked about it, and they genuinely do not know what happened. This show is part competition, part “reality TV.” Had the cameras caught Ed making the actual puree that Alex used or Alex lifting Ed’s pea puree, believe me they would have been thrilled to air it – it would have “made great TV.” 

Viewers wrote in, indignantly insisting (as though they’re there and they know) that cameras catch every bit of what happens in the kitchen and have footage of every chef at every moment of the process, and asserting that therefore the producers must know what happened and decided to keep viewers in the dark. Not so at all. The fact of the matter is that typically, when the chefs in the kitchen are cooking, there are only two cameras in there. Not only would more cameras be in the way of the chefs, but they would also wind up appearing in the shots taken by the other cameras and thus being seen by the viewers throughout the program. With only two cameras and nine chefs (and, part of the time, myself) to cover, it is simply impossible to get footage of everything that happens in the kitchen. So folks who wrote in that surely there is definitive footage either incriminating or exculpating Alex are wrong. I checked in with the producers a second time today — the producers have gone over and over every minute of the footage, combing it for some indication of what happened … and it isn’t there. It hadn’t been captured by the cameras. If there were footage, the producers would have been excited to air it. I was busy monitoring all the chefs at that time, and while I vaguely registered at some point that Ed was looking for his puree, I was unaware that there was any controversy or issue around it. 

By the way, whichever contestant asserted last week that there’s no way Alex could have made so good a pea puree without having begun preparing it on their prep day was wrong. It takes twenty minutes tops to make a great pea puree. I’d dare people to compare one begun one day with one made entirely the next – there’s no reason that the one begun the day before would necessarily be any better.