Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio dishes on Ted Allen's book party.

on Dec 15, 2008

Ted felt Dave was so preoccupied with respecting Andrea's original vision that he failed to inject any of himself into his work. This is characteristic of Dave's caring nature, but his lack of solid technique and his emotional wobbliness could definitely undercut his chance at winning. I've yet to meet the guests willing to pay good money to help a chef through his personal issues. Sorry, really is about the food.

The chefs with the most experience handled the challenge calmly and found a way to make it their own. Lee Anne was a case in point: She took Tiffani's concept of duck, gnocchi and figs and ran with it: She roasted the breast, made a confit of the leg (confit is the French term for 'preserve' - here a duck leg is cured in a combination of salt and duck fat) and served them with fig compote-stuffed gnocchi. The dish was decadent but nicely balanced. Even though Tiffani's concept wasn't really Lee Anne's style, she had the technique and versatility to pull it off.

Tiffani also put her unique, confident stamp on Harold's beef dish by introducing flavorful fois gras fat into the bordelaise sauce rather than the typical bone marrow. The dish, "Beef a la Harold" was delicious and well executed.

I was impressed with Stephen's decision to team up with Harold on their two dishes. Since he had immunity, and Harold poses a real threat to him winning, Stephen could have left Harold to struggle alone through the complicated dessert course. But Stephen's own pride wouldn't allow him to abandon his idea, so the two worked together and emerged with not one, but two great dishes. Gail felt that Harold's chocolate creme was too rich, but I was impressed that he tackled a dish with a high degree of difficulty, despite a lack of dessert training, rather than opting to create a less-risky chocolate preparation.

The dinner party came off well and Ted was pleased. But it was clear to us that certain dishes were inspired - excellent even. Others weren't. And we caught a whiff of the dynamics in the kitchen. When it came time to judge, Ted took Andrea to task for letting her philosophy of food override her ability to wow people, which is what a chef needs to do. And we came down hard on Miguel for letting his nerves get a hold of him; his lack of composure could have potentially derailed the entire meal.

Part of being a chef is accepting that sometimes you have to fire people, often for the greater good of the organization. Is it more important to be liked or to be great? We all try for both, but it isn't always possible. That's why I put the question of who should go home to Tiffani, Lee Anne, and Stephen - I wanted to see how they would decide if this meal had come from their own kitchen. Lee Anne tried to stick up for Miguel (while not denying his meltdown). Tiffani was clear that he should go - but there's been some bad blood between them for a while. Stephen made the point that Miguel may have messed this challenge up, but overall he is stronger than some others in the group.

At the end of the day we made our decision not according to kitchen heroics or hysterics, but by the food. Despite Miguel's panic, he turned out a decent, if uninspired, dish. Andrea, on the other hand, failed to execute hers well and lacked the ideas and technique to turn it into something special. In short, she had 'checked out' and it showed. When the cameras were off, Andrea confessed that she hadn't come to Top Chef to win, but rather to make an impact on how people eat. My answer to her was: if you hadn't won an immunity challenge and stepped up your game to get to this point, how much of an impact could you have ultimately hoped to make? Winning - ambition - isn't such a bad thing when you have a message to convey. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe she's just too darn nice, but Andrea just didn't want it badly enough.

And for the record - I ran into Miguel recently here in New York City and guess what? He remembered the name of the cheese.