Tom Colicchio

Tom's take on the group's animosity toward Marcel.

on Jan 3, 2007

The real surprise for me and the others was Michael's "envy" dish. His idea of presenting two ingredients on a plate with one that could be "envious" of another was nothing short of brilliant. When he ran it by me in the kitchen I had doubts about whether he could pull it off, but he definitely did; the fish was cooked perfectly, the lemon-thyme beurre blanc was simple and offset the fish beautifully, and the presentation was tight and skillful. My first reaction was that Michael -- who was taking heavy-duty painkillers after an emergency wisdom tooth extraction -- should cook on Vicodin more often (just kidding, spare me the hate mail). But when I thought about it, I realized that Michael has no doubt spent the last few weeks watching and listening to the cooks around him. He's been picking up good habits and learning that there is a lot more out there than the food he'd been exposed to in the past. I think of this in terms of a basketball metaphor -- a minor player on the team is bound to improve more among stronger players, rather than among people at his own level. And while I would never advocate a professional chef cooking on any kind of drug, in Michael's case, he was a bit out of it from the dental work and medication, which may have helped him escape the petty Marcel-baiting that seemed to bog down some of the others, especially Ilan. Which leads me to my final thought: Now that we're down to only seven chefs, the tension and stress levels are rising. This is to be expected, but it seems to be playing out especially in the group's growing antagonism towards Marcel.

Marcel is the kind of guy who has probably pissed people off his whole life -- dating back to the playground -- without really understanding why or how. Faced with people's negative reactions he lashes back in even more annoying ways, creating a cycle. Under ordinary circumstances, the others may have been willing to brush off Marcel's irritating behavior, but with little sleep and mounting pressure, they're regressing instead into a group of petty sixth-graders. This reached a head for me when I saw the group decide not to serve his dish during the dinner party (Elia was the lone dissenter in this). I replayed the episode to see what Marcel had done to spark this little mob mentality, and realized he hadn't done much, other than speak forcefully. Obviously, the group was primed to be angry with him over the slightest infraction. I wanted to see some leadership -- someone who would step up and say, "Marcel may be the most annoying guy in the world, but the show must go on. Let's put our heads down and get this meal over with." Imagine if a restaurant line came to a screeching halt every time some cook pissed off another? Trust me; it would be the end of restaurant dining as we know it.