Tom Colicchio

Tom's take on what makes a good Thanksgiving.

on Nov 22, 2006

Betty pretty much ruled that out by cleaving to a traditional concept presented in the traditional way -- turkey and all the trimmings -- and the others never questioned it. In his frustration, Marcel took on the main course, figuring that if he couldn't rescue the entire meal from mediocrity, he was at least going to put his stamp on the entree. In order to start working, he had to deal with the pigsty the male chefs have been calling home, which resembled a frat house after hell week. Marcel dumped everything in his path into a pile, thus whipping Frank (who was clearly egged on by the other guys) into an overheated froth. Drama, drama, drama. Clearly, Marcel could have gone about things in a less irritating way. But to threaten him with violence because he messed with your toiletries? (Quick tip, Frank: As a top chef, threatening your staff with physical harm can get you brought up on charges. You might want to work on your anger management skills.) But let's get back to the food. Michael's dish -- a twice-baked potato with shrimp, a parsnip/potato puree, and corn with cheese. Each of these was decent enough (the baked potato was actually delicious), but cutting edge? Why? Because they were three beige items on the plate? Because he had doubled (or tripled) up on starches? If violating the rules of Cooking 101 is cutting edge, than I suppose Michael's course fits the bill. But one needs to know the rules in order to break them, and it has to be done with a certain knowing panache; Michael served his dish up without even a hint of irony and it was clear that he was cooking based on some indistinct notion of "starchy side dish," without giving the actual mandate -- cutting edge cooking -- a second thought.

Carlos' dish was even worse -- mesclun greens that could have come from a bag, dotted with roast vegetables, burnt onions, chipotle peppers and queso fresco. Now, I have nothing against salad. I have enjoyed delicious salads, and have prepared them on occasion. But given the chance to show off, to express myself, to do something cutting edge -- I wouldn't pick a salad. Carlos' choice to go with it (or rather his failure to stand up and challenge the arbitrary inclusion of a salad course) was less about winning than it was about falling safely somewhere in the middle. His tepid execution of the salad only confirmed this. It showed us that Carlos lacks the killer instinct -- the desire to win, to rock people's worlds -- that sets apart a top chef.