Tom Colicchio

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

on Oct 25, 2006

Marisa, a professional dessert chef, opted to make a panna cotta -- an odd choice, given that it is a classic Italian cream-based dessert you'd be hard-pressed to find in Korea (they compensated for this by flavoring it with Jasmine tea.). But the real issue was that her proportions were off and she used way too much gelatin in the recipe. Panna Cotta should be smooth, creamy and delicate. Hers was rubbery and hard. On both concept and execution the dessert was a failure. Our decision was clear -- the winner was Team Vietnam. When we brought Team Korea to the judge's table, Marisa quickly blamed Otto's ethical lapse for throwing the team off, because she knew her neck was on the block. Elia, who had also worked on dessert, felt the same. The men, on the other hand, were reluctant to slam Otto because they all knew that his indiscretion with the lychees wasn't the full story behind their loss. When the chefs left the judge's table, Ming Tsai, Gail, Padma and I sat and debated. Which was the bigger issue -- Otto's willingness to score free ingredients, or Marisa's poor execution of dessert?

While we thought that what Otto did fell short of actual stealing, it was clear that there was a moment where he knew the lychees weren't paid for and was willing to use them to his team's advantage. At the judge's table I had one question for Otto: Would he have used the lychees if he could have gotten away with it? Rather than answer, Otto made the decision to leave the competition. I think all good people lapse on occasion, and a competitive headspace can unfortunately get in the way of ethical thinking. Overall, Otto was a good guy, but he made a poor choice. He redeemed himself by bowing out, and saved Marisa in the process.