Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio on the 500 calorie challenge. Oh, and that cheeto amuse bouche.

on Nov 8, 2006

Suzanne Goin, of L.A.'s acclaimed Lucques and A.O.C., knows a thing or two about rules (her extensive training includes stints at Ma Maison, Chez Panisse and Paris' Arpege, among others), but also about breaking them. She aims to use almost exclusively local and organic ingredients and uses them in innovative, detailed ways that meld rustic and refined. She's also a straight-shooter who says what she's thinking at all times. In other words, the perfect guest judge. I noticed that the smartest chefs went for items as close to their natural state as possible -- eggs, carrots, bananas, salad. Some of the chefs just dove in, stoic but determined. A few actually found it fun. Mike -- not our most creative thinker to begin with -- basically threw his hands in the air and gave up before he even started. Most of the chefs came up with clever and delicious amuses -- particularly Frank's ham and cheese quiche and Cliff's vegetarian loaf. (Mia's dessert was nice, but wasn't an amuse-bouche.) Alone among them, Michael's lackluster Cheeto stuck into a candy bar was a joke. I was glad to see Suzanne take him to task for his attitude. Mike acted contrite, saying he had hit a blank when faced with the vending machine, but we had videotape of him acknowledging beforehand that he didn't really give a damn (bad move, Mike). Increasingly, Michael is showing that he is in over his head.

The Elimination Challenge was based on dietary rules. The chefs were asked to create a meal -- entree, side dish and dessert -- under 500 calories, to serve to young people at a weight loss camp. Here is an example of where rules are more than just creative guidelines -- some of the kids had medical reasons for their low-calorie diet, and the camp was trusting us to abide by the limit for the well-being of their charges. The chefs were divided into four teams and assigned nutritionists to help them develop recipes that met these constraints. Interestingly, Marcel and Betty ended up together on the Black Team. I was happy to see that they put their differences aside and behaved professionally when the time came to do the work.