Here's some of the things the producers of Top Chef don't tell us: Who should win. Who should go home. Who to keep for the sake of drama. Here's the thing they told us this week: Pick the five best Quickfire chefs, so that the other five can cook Thanksgiving dinner for them. I know I'm going to get blamed for this flagrant break with custom. But hell, as long as the producers weren't telling me which five to pick, I was OK with it. Clearly, though, the losing five were not.
She was unhappy at being in the lesser category -- equal parts humiliation and true disenchantment with me as a judge. It's funny -- taste is a very subjective thing. While I appreciated that Elia's family mixed fruit and meat flavors at their traditional holiday celebrations in Mexico, to my palate the meat hash, though tasty enough, didn't mesh well at all with the ambrosia salad that Elia lumped beside it on the plate. What I learned, though, was that Elia could handle losing the challenge (buffered somewhat by being one of five) but she couldn't handle losing faith in someone she had respected. She had tasted Cliff's dish and found the flavors wanting, and couldn't fathom that I disagreed (for the record, Cliff's dish didn't blow my mind, but it was better than the five that lost). Elia's disillusionment colored everything from that moment on -- she lost all motivation to compete. Later she asked me to justify my decision, which I was happy to do. Only when Elia came to see that I had truly chosen based on my personal palate -- which differs widely from hers -- was her equilibrium restored so she could focus on the task at hand.