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.
You are so right Tom, I could not believe he lied and Ashley held her tongue (awesome for her). Thanks
Thank you for your blog -- I love your point of view. Yes it's disappointing to see the women doing so poorly, but you're right about the odds. If there were true equality in the field then the balance would surely shift.
Top Chef is best when it's really focused on the food. I learn so much from you and the judges. I wish we could spend more time with the cheftestants as they conceptualize and execute their dishes. Perhaps in the future you will figure out a practical way to do that.
I am glad for Kevin that he got to eat with the great chefs, but I wonder if he might not have loved to have cooked for them and get some of the best advice/comment in the world. My family is routing for him.
This season's chefs seems so smart and accomplished. It is fun watching them. It seems so much more professional in the kitchen too. I am enjoying the season more than in seasons past.
Glad to see you know that Michael I. is not leading (or even contributing greatly) on the dishes. He seems to be riding coat tails. I would like to see him on his own. I am hoping to see his work and style.
Are the brothers really so cold to each other, or is editing playing to conflict? As a mother I wish for more affection between them.
Thanks for this season. The class and professionalism are shining through. We watched Top Chef Masters, and one of my sons mentioned that he wished Top Chef was more like that. This season steps up.
Wow! What a season so far. I'm not a chef but even I know the importance of cooking for these chefs. I think I would have passed out at the table trying to present the dishes. This was one of my favorite episodes.
Another great blog, and another great episode. This show tops itself time and time again. I think "The Amazing Race" has slipped in the minds of those who vote for Emmys and I have a really good feeling that the first show to finally win that Best Reality Program award besides the "Race" is going to be "Top Chef". I really do.
Mattin actually was given some airtime this week! Which told me immediately that he was going to be in the bottom of the pack. I thought he was going home, but then after Ashley's virtual "screw it" at the Judges Table, I figured it would be her. This was the first elimination that surprised me this season, I didn't see it coming. That meat must have REALLY been bad. As for Jesse earlier...well, as I said already, Hector's elimination was the first one to surprise me this season.
I am really enjoying this season. Not a lot of bickering and under-the-bus-throwing and silly "drama." I am amazed at the knowledge of those young chefs, who cook with ingredients and techniques that I have never heard of. Whether their dish of the day was delicious or not, they seem to know their stuff, and I can only admire them all for that. I have to say that Kevin is my favorite, and I hope he keeps it up for the win.
I just found out like two days ago that Top Chef had started. Flipping through channels was zomg Jeff Lewis, new season and then a new season Top Chef commercial.
Happy to catch the episode tonight. I know this has nothing to do with this blog entry, but I was so happy with Chicago and the tailgate. I was like, I suggested that, don't know if that is where you got the idea, or they got the idea, but still happy with it.
Had to be epic to be by legendary athletes eating fabulous food. Honestly, it would be awesome to be at a Bears game eating ribs with Tom Colicchio and the Fridge.
Either way liked the challenge tonight. I think right off the bat watching the first episode I have seen this season... I like Kevin and his chances.
Thanks for the insight, Tom. Seems to me that everyone at home can tell the ladies are not as strong as the men. I don't know if I have ever seen such a large divide as in this season, with the noteable exception of Jen. It was definitely Jess' time to go. Love the new quickfire setup...it DOES keep them from copping out and saying, "Oh well, as long as I am not the worst, I am safe." Keeps the show edgy.
I have watched every season of Top Chef, and I have never felt that a chef was cut due to race, color, or orientation. I think it might behoove some viewers as well as some contestants that the whole point of the show is that at the end only one chef will win. That being said I must say I am truly impressed by the skill and artistry displayed by this season's contestants, and I look forward to the show every week. Thanks for keeping the show interesting and current.
First of all I love this show. I make sure to watch it every week. I look forward to your comments while you are judging. Very enlightening. I can almost feel like I am there with you and the other judges.
Next season why don't you have some MOM's judge the food along with you, gail and padma? (Instead of a famous chef.) I would find this very interesting. Would the chefs cook up to their standards or would they just not care about what they were making because we are not considered real chefs. You would be surprised (because we do watch your show) what some of us can "whip-up" in our kitchens.
Looking forward to watching you next week.
You know what would be awesome? If you or Gail or one of the producers could ask Padma not to get banged up before you have to go and judge these poor bastards.
It's pretty funny watching these professionals answering some drunk woman's sauced-up questions about their food and intentions.
Just a thought, kick it around the old production meeting, see if gets some legs.
I never pass up an opportunity to order snails as an appitizer whenever they're offered as a menu item. Most of the time, I find they are just a delivery vehicle for garlic and butter (not that there's anything wrong with that), but occassionally, I've been delighted with the inventiveness of the chef in their preparation. It has become one of the ways I decide what restaurants are worth going to a second time. As a result, I loved this Quickfire. Forget about $15 grand, a chance to meet and dine with Joel Robuchon is an amazing prize.
Interesting. Making someone go home for losing the quickfire was excellent as I believe it really resulted in better dishes as there were so many that did not have a lot of experience with snails. I was glad to see Jesse go. She is such a downer, which I consider worse than even pompous, back stabbing, lying people who take the credit of other people's work.
I hope that Ashley got a pep talk for Mattin's treatment. She seems demoralized and some of it seems to be bad luck. Also, it is too bad that past actions and lying do not count, especially lying which can really ruin the working relationship of any organization and makes a person unfit to be a Top Chef in my opinion.
"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." So maybe the casting directors should cast the female contestants in the same ratio?
I was so amazingly thrilled that Chef Joho appeared in this week's episode (I had been disappointed that he didn't appear in the Chicago season). Everest in Chicago is hands down my favorite restaurant in the country, and every year when I go to that city to work the National Restaurant Association show, dinner there is how I get paid! I'll have to try to get to all of the restaurants of the other great chefs at that table to compare to be fair (including yours, of course). I really love how this show doesn't just introduce contestants and cooking techniques, but also exposes the audience to such wonderful master chefs.
Tom, VERY WELL SAID! I truly appreciate you touching on each element of tonight episode. It said to me that you truly do appreciate the viewers & want us to understand everything that goes into these challenges. I was also pleased to know that you knew about Mattin's "changing of reality". I also appreciate the explainations of different terms & techniques; as many of us who love to cook, don't necessarily know all of the verbages that go along with a formal cooking education. Thank you for caring about us as much as we care about all of you on the show! Susan Gilbertson Bloomington, IL
Another nicely written piece Tom,
So far the people who have left have had the worst dishes. Man or woman doesn't matter. When I started in the 70's most women who cooked worked in institutional food or domestic. It's a very hard world in a kitchen and it is not all prim and proper like an office. the money isn't that good and the benefits stink. You have to love it.
I can't believe they did a gravy instead of a veloute. When I was a very young cook in the school of hard knocks. i asked the old Swiss chef I was working for what was the difference between a sauce and gravy. Gravy is generally made with the fat of the protein you are serving and sauces are not. Bacon with a chicken veloute? Snail blt?
I guess I am very lucky to have worked with the likes of Roland Henin, Capi Pence and others and never going to school.
It surprises me these days when I talk to young cooks who paid thousands of dollars to go to culinary school and they don't even know he basics like the mother sauces. 4 originally and now five.
Tom, there will be people posting complaining about the women being bumped and sure some will complain about lesbians being bumped too.
Great episode, and very informative blog. It's good to read some insights on the quickfire as well as the elimination challenge. I bet Kevin would have won every challenge by default if he added bacon jam to anything
I wasn't thrilled that Mike Isabella was on the winning team... all he freaking did was follow the other guys instructions. Bryan is the one who created the deconstructed bearnaise before and Mike even said, "he was following his lead on this". Can this guy cook anything on his own merit? I'm hoping that the last three chefs are the two brothers, mike and bryan, and kevin. I love kevin and hope he wins... I find his food interesting .. and I want to know how to make Bacon Jam!!! :)
Beautifully stated, thank you Tom. We, the viewers, only know what we see, and your on-site observations, are very appreciated.
This episode was so intimidating and stressful to watch. I was on edge the entire time. The level of talent this year is incredible. The top are obvious...the 'V' brothers, Kevin and Jen. The bottom, also obvious.
What I love about Top Chef is it's integrity. I'm loving every minute of it. And you, Chef, make the show.
Thanks for the insight on the top dishes chef. I saw the panel eat the noodle on the first, but there was no comment on it and did not know what to make of its presence.
On the trout, it was just so ambiguous that I let it pass and enjoyed the presentation.
It is nice to know that the pantry was stocked with these sorts of items to allow for playfulness despite it being a "classic" challenge. Thanks again.
Tom, As usual your comments are spot on. Although I wasn't surprised, I wonder why Jessie was sent home when she was up against a soup, which I could never consider an Amuse unless it was served one spoonful at a time.
Love your insights, Tom! There is only so much the producers can show us in 60 minutes. Thank you for taking the time to fill in the blanks.
I would first like to write that this competition is not sexist in any way. The women eliminated deserved to be, based on their food, not on gender. It was only a matter of time for poor Jesse, and Hector sabatoged his team and embarrased his teammate in front of the greatest cheffs in the world. How sad. On a lighter note, this episode reminded me of my favorite movie this summer: "Julia and Julie", which is all about French cuisine. Keep up the great work!
Tom, As usual, your explantion added to tonight's episode. Obviously, the ladies need to step up their game. Jen has and she is in the top four. Thank you also for explaning why Mattin did not get sent home. This was a really good show. I learned alot about French cooking and have a lot more respect it.
Chef Colicchio, I so enjoyed blog this week; very comprehensive and totally fair. Just wanted to say that this week's challenges were very entertaining and informative to watch. Thanks for a great season thus far!
It was interesting that Hector was sent home for a beef dish since his Challenge 1 dish of smoked steak rib eye was not well received either. At the table, Wolfgang Puck made a comment along the lines that his approach should be avoided in this country. I wonder if Hector has a different sensibility towards beef than U.S./French cuisine.
I do know that some of my friends (including some Latin Americans and some Anglos too) report queasiness when viewing rare or medium rare meat. I wonder Hector would be in that group also...even though classical French training dictates that rare/medium rare is the desired goal for that cut of meat (it certainly is for me).
the women that packed their knives and went home, they just didnt stand up to the talent and skills that some of the other chefs have. I think Jennifer will be the last girl standing,as for Robin looks as though she hasnt a clue, looking forward to the next show
While I that it is "nice" to keep the female to male ratio 50:50 at the start. I can not believe the females you choose were the best.
Mattin threw Ashley under the 18 wheeler when he said he wanted to use the asaragus when in fact he had a hissy at thought that she would use asparagus. What a weasle. Hope he goes soon This is the best and most talented season so far.
Michael I really should have given more credit for the de-constructed sauce to Bryan than he did. He was also not confident with the sauce as his comments were "we should have made the classic bernaise" before plating. While I appreciate his being self taught he brings with him a lack of humility. My top selections so far are Bryan V, Jenn and Michael V. I hope that get to the finals.
Have to agree with Gail's comment on last night's show that no other season of Top Chef could have produced such overall quality in a meal at this point of the competition.
Is it too early to predict a Final Four of Brian and Michael V., Jen and Kevin? From what they've shown so far, this would be the strongest Final Four in the show's history.
An amazing episode.. Top Chef really outdid themselves assembling the Who's Who of french cuisine panel of judges. I haven't enjoyed a season of Top Chef this much since Season 3. If I were Kevin though, I would love to have had the opportunity to prepare a no-holds barred, anything goes, once in a life time entree for the panel.. And then get to eat with them. It is quickly becoming apparent, that aside from some form of major idiocy, the top 4 should be the Brothers V., Kevin, and Jen. Of course, this is Top Chef and anything can change the status quo (ie. Trey being eliminated in Season 3, or Sam not making the finals in Season 2). I can't wait to watch the next episode.
Tom, you are what John McEnroe is to Tennis commentating! Although I can get bored with other Bravo reality competitions (and former Bravo shows), I am glued to Top Chef season after season!
Tom, as others have posted, your blog(s) regarding the episodes are definitely eye-openers. Only 4 shows in and one can already tell that the quality and expertise of these chefs is head-over-heels above prior season!
How amazing to be able to cook for such renowned master chefs and for these young chefs to step up to the plate and do a fabulous job! It will be nice if this season's chefs actually act and behave as grown-up professionals (although Mattin has already proven to be a liar) and just cook!
We all have our personal favs and mine will continue to be the brothers, Jen, Kevin and Ash. I like Michael I but am not sure if he is 'true' Top Chef material. It would be great to see a finale with the brothers!!
Looking forward to the remaining episodes and your weekly blogs!
I'm wondering... when Kevin went back to the "waiting room" before Judges' Table, he was asked about the French chefs' reactions to the six dishes. He responded in a non-committal manner (giving no clues to the contestants). Was he instructed to be this vague by you or the producers?
I don't know if you are involved in this type of decision, but when is Top Chef going to take place in Atlanta? I think it's time.
This has been my favorite Top Chef to date. I have agreed with all of the eliminations based on the comments that we, the viewers, are privy to. I also like the way the contestents are interacting with each other. The drama revolves around the cooking, they are respectful of each other and focusing on their own syles and abilities. I don't see the "blame game" played. Ashley showed a great deal of class by holding her tongue, must have been difficult for her. She did let Mattin take the lead based on his confidence of french cooking, a move that I thought, at the time, was smart. Hope this seaon keeps going in this direction.
This was an awesome blog. It's so great to know that you KNEW THE WHOLE TIME that Michael Isabella wasn't in charge of that sauce! (I was jumping up and down at home, hollering at the TV when he started to take credit for it.) I've eaten at Volt and it was classic Bryan Voltaggio. Michael Isabella started off the season SO cocky... this is going to be very humbling for him.
As to the Voltaggio brothers, GO BRYAN! Hometown boy can COOK! Do you think it's tense at Thanksgiving time in Mama Voltaggio's house? Gads, I think I would want to show up just as they were getting the food on the table. Too much tension.
Gonna go make my next reservation at Volt now. Thanks again for the great commentary! - Frederick, MD
Wonderful blog. Here is a simile. Your comments are like the seasoning and the show is the protein. Adding your blog really brings out the viewer's understanding of the show. I wish I had opportunities to try so much of this food and eat at great restaurants. Thanks for the glimpse.
The top 4 chefs this season are truly among the most talented you've had on the series to date and it is very clear that the folks who have been sent home are not in the same class as chefs, although I am sure they are all wonderful cooks on their own turf. Competition is not for everyone. I love Michael V's restaurant in Frederick and I am glad he's holding up well. I agree that Top Chef Masters showed that the sniping doesn't add all that much to your show. The chef's can be be collegial and still compete hard and still be hungry to win. Last season was an example of the worst of what your show can be, in my opinion. This season is an example of what the best possibilities are.
Respect for Ashley for not throwing Mattin under the bus? You said it yourself on the show--she wasn't acting on some kind of principle, she just shut down--probably after being called out for a lousy panna cotta and an uninspired escargot dish.
Maybe the real reason she didn't speak up was because she was afraid Mattin would say, "Hey, if you thought making asparagus veloute was the way to go, then you should have stood up for yourself and done it--just don't call yourself a chef if you don't have the self-confidence to lead."
Ashley reminds me of Lisa from season 4, just without the talent.
Tom - Love you! Excellent posts. Your articulate insights enhance the experience of the show. This was one of the best shows and have raised the bar for Top Chef and all other cooking shows.
I agree with many of the others about casting based on talent not gender. To keep the integrity of the show, the producers need to rethink the male/female 50/50 casting split. Although this season is great, it could have been even better if more deserving, talented people were cast increasing the level of competition even more.
Let's be real...they are casting 50/50 for sexual drama and conflict. This is truly a reality show that has been dramatic on its own merits and doesn't need the distraction of male/female tension. There'd be more drama that viewers want to see if there were stronger competitors. If I want male/female drama, I'll watch NYC Prep or Miami Social.
Viewer, I have been wondering also about the brothers seeming indifference to each other. I am hoping it is editing. Great challenge, Top Chef. This was a great show in what seems to be, so far, an exceptional season. Keep it up.
Tom, thanks for your thoughtful comments, as always. I must say, "respect for the ingredient," and certainly the protein one is using, has always been emphasized at Top Chef judging. Tom, I remember when you got so angry last season at Ariane at Blue Hill Farm for butchering her meat so badly (similar Hector), and I thought, whoa, Tom is pretty darn passionate about this. Then I had some Alaskan King Crab (from the Bering Sea) that was prepared horribly, and after watching Deadliest Catch and how those guys risk their lives for *my dinner,* I totally understood your anger. I was livid!
Keep up the good feedback!
I was appalled at Mattin's lie at Judge's Table. If the judges had known Mattin was lying, would he have been sent home?