Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio talks about the twists the chefs faced in the first part of the finale.

on Feb 18, 2009

I was really surprised at how consistently well Carla had been doing in the competition for a while. And, as you saw, her performance in this week's challenge continued that trend. Her oyster stew, which she made with a base of potato, cream, bacon, and oyster that she then strained, and which she garnished with an individually poached oyster, was truly well done, especially given that she poached the oysters to order.  Furthermore, her savory beignet, also fried to order, was incredibly tasty. It's very impressive that she made both of her dishes to order and pulled off such terrific dishes. It's even more impressive that she did so with a huge smile on her face all night long. She was having a great time, and her food was really, really good (yeah, that's the technical term we chefs use for it: "really, really good." What can I say?  It was.)

So it came down to the elimination of Stefan or Fabio: Stefan's beignet was very good — playful, light, and well-executed. His gumbo over grits was predominantly a grits dish. It was good, but not exciting. As for Fabio, by making a cacciuco, in which the sofrito acts much the way the holy trinity does in Cajun cooking, Fabio found the common ground between Italian and Cajun food. It's not exactly like a roux, but the way that dish is flavored and layered, with onions, carrots, celery, leek, and olive oil cooked for a long time, it's very close. But Fabio's lacked a little flavor. His muffuletta, his pasta, his macque choux, all were just OK. Plus, his food wasn't hot when he served it to us, despite his having made a big deal of needing us to wait while he made it especially for us. Fabio's winning personality just couldn't win him a spot in the finale; Stefan's overall performance was stronger, despite his seeming insouciance.  Fabio was very gracious in defeat, though, and I will share with you that the following morning, I had a chance to spend a little time with Fabio, and I  learned that he has a lot of exciting developments happening professionally. This is a man who by the age of thirty had run and sold several successful restaurants in Italy, come to the U.S. and created great opportunity for himself. Without spilling the beans prematurely, I'll say only that we all have not heard the last from Fabio …

Nor, despite the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, have we heard the last from New Orleans. I am proud to say that chefs played a leading role in getting the city back on its feet, not only by helping our colleagues get their restaurants back up and running to help bring tourism back, but through countless charitable events and other volunteer efforts on behalf of the city. And it is coming back, thank goodness, albeit slowly. Anyone reading this who is interested in continuing the critical efforts to rebuild the ravaged Lower Ninth Ward can make contributions to Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation: