Tom Colicchio

The judges switch it up with a blind tasting. And Tom sheds light on what to expect from new judge Toby Young.

on Jan 7, 2009

People think that I have a hand in the weekly Elimination Challenges. I generally don't, but this week was the exception to that rule. With Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli as guest judge, there would have been some sort of pastry challenge, but in light of my locker-room pep talk to the cheftestants last week, the other producers and I decided to scrap it and, instead, to implement a challenge that would accomplish two things:

The chefs had started this Season on good footing, cooking well in the first episode, but they seemed to be struggling after that. So the first thing we wanted was to give them a chance to cook whatever they wished with no restraints from us, to just lay it all out there. Second, whenever we criticized their food, this season's chefs tended to have looks on their faces that said that they thought we were just out of our minds. So we wanted them to taste each other's food and learn firsthand where the judge's comments were coming from.

And I'm pleased to be able to say that overall the dishes were better. As I've said before, the contestants tend to get bogged down in what the challenge is, to over-think it, and to forget that the point is to make great food. Here, the challenge was simply to make great food. Jeff's dish had nice components, all very good, but it seemed like amuses on a plate as opposed to a cohering dish. Radhika's soup was a bit overspiced, but I thought it was good. Fabio was getting a little overconfident. He should most certainly have checked his lamb; he would have had time to make it perfect. His pasta was great, the ravioli filling and mushroom sauce were all really good. Toby's analogy to British stars cast in a film in supporting roles and upstaging the lead actors was very apt for Hosea's dish. His vegetables were great, but the halibut was overcooked. And Jamie's dish was great. There's no rule that says she can't continue to make scallops, and her frequent decision to use them probably had a lot to do with the offerings available at Whole Foods Market while we were shooting the season. I thought the chefs' personalities came through; I thought their limitations did, too.