Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio explains why the top dishes were so impressive and why Mattin wasn't the one to go home.

on Sep 9, 2009

At this stage of the game, we are fielding enough comments both from contestants and viewers about the fact that the three (and now, with Jessie’s loss in this week’s Quickfire Challenge, four) first chefs to go home were women that it seems worth a comment from yours truly.  And so, a note about casting: The casting directors of Top Chef always cast an equal number of male and female contestants, but this is a ratio not seen in the industry itself. There are not nearly as many women as men in the field. In past blogs I’ve delved into the inequities facing women in the workplace, so I won’t reiterate it all here. More men typically try out to be contestants on Top Chef, giving us a larger male talent pool to draw from. In no way does this mean that women are somehow deficient as chefs. It is simply a matter of the numbers. For those of you ready to flame away that four women were the first to leave the show, consider this: we judge every challenge on the food in front of us and the considerations of that particular challenge. The sexist and patronizing thing to do would be to give special consideration to anyone due to his/her gender.

And I think it makes no sense whatsoever to suggest that if the editors have chosen to include a sexist remark by a particular cheftestant in a given season this means that Top Chef condones sexism. All it does is highlight the sexism of that particular chef.  If anything, it reflects well on the editors of the show, who have chosen to reveal an individual’s true colors rather than shield him from the censure of viewers.

This week’s is one Quickfire Challenge I can comment on, since I was actually there. As it featured the snail, let me take the opportunity to note that while there is such thing as a sea snail, it is a minor subclass of the species — generally, snails are not sea creatures. They can be found on land. Their meal of choice is grape leaves, and they are often found in vineyards, which might explain why they became a commonly used protein in France. The snails we presented to the chefs were live. However, to cook a live snail requires a lengthy purging process that the chefs wouldn’t have time to do. They were given snails that had been precooked, and just needed to be seasoned while being finished. This leveled the playing field, so that those chefs who had never before worked with snails weren’t put at that much of a disadvantage.  

Many of the dishes the chefs made weren’t even mentioned. For example, Michael V. made a lasagna of sorts with pasta and snails that was really good, but not given air time. Also not on air was our encouragement of the chefs not to make the traditional garlic-butter-snails dish. In general, a lot of the dishes succeeded. Kevin’s bacon jam was so good that while I have never before used any of the dishes that have come out of these challenges, I went home after shooting the season and immediately began working on a bacon jam – I worked it into a soft-shell crab dish that was on my Tom: Tuesday Dinner menu.

Harsh as it is to send an extra person home in a given episode, I like the idea of upping the stakes by throwing in a Quickfire Challenge in which someone will be eliminated, in addition to those in which someone will win money. These challenges keep the chefs on their feet and creating great dishes, as opposed to their saying, simply, “Well, I can’t be sent home for a Quickfire, so I just need to play it safe.” And I appreciated that rather than simply naming the worst dish and sending home the chef who created it, we identified the bottom three dishes and had the chefs who made them go right back into the kitchen and keep inventing. Working in restaurants, there are times when a bad dish goes out, and you can’t stop and bemoan the fact … you must just move on to the next, as these three chefs did. I believe that it was Jesse’s time to go. Looking back now over this season thus far, Jesse was consistently in the bottom of the Elimination Challenges, and while she may be a talented chef, competition isn’t for everyone – it doesn’t always bring out one’s best.