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

Meanwhile, blind or otherwise, all of the judges were in accord about the two weakest dishes.

Interestingly, they were the weakest for opposite reasons, both involving creativity in cooking. Unlike last week's challenge, this one was not the producers' attempt to be creative but, rather, an open invitation to the chefs to be so; the contestants could not have had a greater opportunity to show us who they were as chefs. And Melissa gave us fish tacos. I stand by what I said at the Judges' Table.

Eugene, on the other hand, went in the other direction and was being creative for creativity's own sake. It would take a far more skilled and experienced chef than Eugene to find a way to make daikon meld well with basil and tomato. OK, he wanted to use it in lieu of a noodle - great. But that doesn't mean it can just be substituted for pasta. It still tastes radishy. I'm not saying not to try unconventional pairings. A dish by Pierre Garnier with duck breast, clams, and truffle comes to mind, for example, that was delicious. But that's because Garnier is both talented and seasoned enough to pull it off. Eugene is getting too far ahead of himself. He's not yet far enough along to connect those dots effectively. If he wanted to use basil, perhaps the daikon could have stood in for a rice noodle in a Thai-inspired dish. But what was nice to see was his willingness to take risks and push the envelope.

In general, I was glad to see the chefs step up their game this week and put more of themselves into their work. This week marked the midpoint of the season. Roughly half of the chefs are left, and now that they've tasted and judged each others' foods, let's see if that affects how they move forward from here...