Tom Colicchio

Did Otto steal the lychees? Tom looks into the case.

on Oct 25, 2006

Team Vietnam had an advantage in that Josie had worked in a Vietnamese restaurant. She naturally fell into a leadership role, and her knowledge of the cuisine served as an important anchor as the team formed their plan. And while Michael eventually had an issue with Josie's authority on the project (she had a problem with his sloppy knife skills, and rightfully so), the group came together and immediately got to work. The resulting food wasn't perfect, but it was solid and good. Ultimately it was Team Vietnam's overall organization and professionalism that carried them through. They also understood the value of presentation and hospitality. They put affable Betty up front, serving a delicious cucumber and aloe refresher, and she turned out to be a huge asset to the team by connecting with guests and making them feel welcome. Team Korea, on the other hand, started out with a more lackadaisical approach. They opted not to follow anyone's lead, which meant that decisions and planning took a long time. Elia in particular was frustrated at the team's raucous tone and the absence of any direction in the planning. Now let me just say that I've done my share of partying over the years. Chefs are known for their healthy appetites for fun, but the best ones pull it together when the time comes to get serious. Unfortunately, Team Korea seemed hung-over and disorganized right from the start -- a pretty big breach of professionalism.

And then there was the lychee debacle. A case of lychees were loaded onto the bottom rung of Team Korea's cart in the store. When their items were rung up, the team was over their spending limit and some things were returned to the shelves. The cashier never spotted the lychees, and so they made it out of the store with the other ingredients. Without question the lychees would have pushed the team over their budget and would have had to be returned if spotted. It appeared that Otto knew this, because he mentioned it to his teammates as they were loading the car. When the others learned of this breach, they resolved not to use the lychees in the challenge. When I learned of it, I pressed Otto to explain. He acknowledged that allowing the team to make off with a free ingredient showed poor judgment "in the heat of battle." He agreed to return the lychees to the store. Unfortunately, this put Team Korea down a chef as they scrambled to complete their dishes, and their early disorganization came back to haunt them. They opted for a few traditional items -- spicy braised pork, kimchee, sticky rice and lotus chips. I was skeptical about their ability to brine the kimchee in the limited time available, and yet they pulled it off -- it was refreshingly acidic and tasty. Judge Ming Tsai agreed that their kimchee worked, as well as their braised pork. Unfortunately, their rice wasn't great. But the team's real problem was dessert.