I think I can safely speak not only for myself for also for most or all of us involved with the shooting of this episode when I say that it was a humbling and moving experience. Here in the States, we’re so used to tuning in here and there to our 15 minutes of war coverage on CNN and then resuming our normal day-to-day activities that it’s been easy to become inured to it. Our men and women in uniform, however, live with the realities of our being at war every day.
We had an opportunity to really spend some time with the people we were cooking for at Nellis Air Force Base — some about to be deployed, some just returning, as well as their family members, and we were able to hear firsthand about how their experiences were affecting them. Whether pilots or crew servicing the equipment, they put their lives on the line for us and endure ongoing and traumatic stress and often horror, and their families in turn undergo great strain and hardship. Michael Voltaggio summed it up beautifully when he said that our work is about hospitality. Food is hospitable in its truest sense; it’s a way of taking care of people. Here, we were able to do something caretaking for people who put themselves in harm’s way, who see things they shouldn’t see and undergo experiences no person should ever have to undergo, and the contestants were really touched by their having the opportunity to make this meal and show caring for and appreciation towards the people we cooked for that day. It was an honor to feel we could make a little difference for people who do so much for us all.
Our chefs handled the challenge very well. The decision to place Jennifer in the role of Executive Chef was a smart one, and she played the role expertly. In past seasons, the contestants who stepped into that role for various challenges never really fully inhabited the position, but Jennifer did, and the other chefs saw that she handled her responsibilities fairly and strongly, with professionalism and without ego. They realized that they were being well managed, and they never questioned her authority. Jennifer was concerned about ensuring that every chef create the best dish possible and she kept the kitchen running smoothly and well. For example, she was not unduly harsh with Hector when she reminded him to stay focused: other chefs awaited their turn with the equipment he was using, and she needed to keep him on schedule. She did a great job.
This challenge was less about creativity and more about basic cooking done well. With the winning dish, the idea of taking the smoked slab of bacon and braising it was a good one – it coaxed out the flavors beautifully. And what’s so creative about bread pudding? Nothing. But even if a tad dry, the bread pudding was intensely flavorful and satisfying. It was a good version of bread pudding. Similarly, the potato salad was fairly conventional, but it was very well done.
On the other hand, while Preeti and Michael Isabella recognized that the challenge was not about innovation, they failed to execute their dishes well. Unlike the bread pudding or the potato salad I just cited, Preeti’s pasta salad wasn’t professionally done. It’s as though she and Laurine trolled the Internet for a run-of-the-mill pasta salad recipe, and then put little effort into ensuring that its flavors and textures worked well. It was bland. But Preeti, unlike Laurine, failed to recognize it as such. Michael, on the other hand, knew full well that his dish was lackluster. He said right at the onset (incorrectly, as he would subsequently learn) that he would not be judged on the dish, and so he treated it as a throwaway. And that’s what we got. And that’s why he was back in the bottom three. If there’s a dish on your restaurant menu that you consider a throwaway dish, you’d better believe that that’s the dish your reviewer is going to lock onto and decimate you for in print, online, on air, for posterity. I hope we’ve saved Michael from that experience, angry as he was while at the Judges' Table.
I think that given the nature of the challenge, the episode was fairly self-explanatory, and there isn’t much more to say about the dishes. In this third episode, we see that the level of cooking and professionalism in general is head and shoulders above prior seasons. Preeti was right in saying in her exit interview that this season is far tougher than seasons past. It’s fitting that chefs of this caliber had the honor of cooking for Top Guns.
One final word or three about last week’s blog, for all who seemed to feel that not only Ashley but I should not have discussed same-sex marriage on what is first and foremost a cooking show (and blog). The chefs who participate are real people with real lives who, as one person posted last week, “don’t cook in a vacuum.” Ashley was entitled to have an emotional response to the circumstances of the challenge, even if I disagreed with her implication that it should not have been a Top Chef challenge. In my blog, I comment each week on the events of the show. Last week, I gave my views on same-sex marriage in order to then comment on Ashley’s remarks. Had I not put my remarks about her dismay into the larger context of my views on same-sex marriage, people would wrongly have assumed that I was not a proponent and would have blasted me for it. Thus I proffered my views in last week’s blog so that I would not have to clarify and defend them in this week’s. You’ll notice that I didn’t voice them on air in the episode, which, yes, is a cooking show. I put them in my blog, where I am afforded a soapbox, and where I have the prerogative of waxing on about whatever aspects of the show I consider important. And I do consider this important. If what I wrote reaches a couple of thousand people, great … and if it moves even one of those people to achieve even a slightly different understanding of someone else’s situation, extra great. It may or may not, but I’m glad to have the forum in which to try.
Have a great week, all.
I so appreciate your blog and the time you give us. I've been a big fan of Top Chef since the very first episode and I still love tuning in every week! But I do have a question that has been hovering in my mind for a while, and if you get a chance for a shout out, that would be awesome (just in terms of understanding the judging process).
While I totally agree with tonight's decision, I'm torn how I feel about the occasional attempts of judges appearing to ask contestants to turn on each other. Now, I've worked for tv, so I understand that we don't see anything because of editing. So based only on what I see: Is it right to ask one chef to throw another under the bus? On the one hand, I can see that you are seeking out who has fight, gumption, spirit, etc. At the same time, I always tend to admire it when chefs don't "tattle" on the other. FYI, in a way tonight answers that question -- from what I could tell tonight, while neither chef betrayed the other, it didn't appear that Preeti fought for it either. So maybe tonight there was a method in your madness, but this hasn't always appeared to be the case. I would enjoy your perspective on that from a judging standpoint.
Thank you so much for what you (and everyone else on the show) has taught this somewhat haphazard foodie and cook! :-)
Jennifer C for the win! Out of all episodes of Top Chef from all seasons, she was easily the best chef in charge of a kitchen. Methodical, very fair and she was diplomatic when interacting w/ the other chefs. She seems very calm and composed. I would be extremely surprised to see her lose her temper during this season.
I've watched and enjoyed many, many episodes over the years but tonight's was probably one of the best. It was great to see your chefs cook for the Air Force - and it was even better to hear their comments and see how much they enjoyed it. You were able to keep the show about the food and the troops and not the politics. I'm guessing your editors were quite busy. The food - especially the barbeque and potato salad and *bacon* looked great!
This season, so far, is light years above last season. Well done!
yep, that's exactly what we need, corporate USA doing an extended commercial for the military, particularly an arm of the military that is already a commercial. The brain dead, "gosh dern, I just love to support our troops" drivel given the massive issues with the US invasion/destruction of Iraq, the ongoing disaster of Afghanistan, is ghastly. Sure, the US troops face horrors, unfortunately these pale compared to those inflicted on the populations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, tying the Thunderbirds to "sacrifice" is specious, they are an advertising arm of the air force. I really found the theme of this show appalling, notwithstanding the efforts of the chefs. You see this all the time, bring in the troops, support the troops, throw critical thought out the window, salute the flag and then sell us a cooking show. And the judge's table comments were typically silly, inconsistent and uncharitable.
I love the show, and I love Tom. I hate the pop up ads in the corner that take a quarter of the screen and distract from the show. I really wish this was on another network so we didn't have to put up with that. Are the rest of Bravo's shows so bad they need to stick ads over the faces of the stars of their good one? Please, stop.
Just watched the show, which was almost as fun as hosting you. It was truly a privilege to have you honor our Nellis Airmen and their families, and I appreciate the sentiments in your blog. For all of us, the meal was fabulous--and we got lots of good-natured but jealous ribbing from friends, family members, and fellow Airmen ... you should have seen the hungry comments about barbecue and potato salad on my sister's and wife's Facebook pages!
Thanks again-- Colonel Dave Belote, USAF Commander, 99th Air Base Wing
Love Jen! It's pretty apparent some of the guys have issues with her but too bad. It was great to watch her in action and I have no doubt she'll be in the final 4...
i have lost my satelite due to non payment and regret missing last nights show more than anything, but the economy hits hard. i hqve to say that i felt that the lesbians opinion on why this challenge was given to "her" was so typical of thr "me" state of the world. If she was aked to cook for kindergarteners would she complain becaus she is childless? And the asked to cook for military is she non militant? I guess Ashly should only cook for Lesbians.
First, I am this shows greatest fan. However, I disagree with your choice for the winner this week. Kevin's dish (the pulled pork) was a better well-rounded, and more complex dish than a piece of bacon wrapped in lettuce. Ugh, this season is smelling worse than week-old fish. I truly enjoyed last season and this one is rather cliche. What's with trying to up the ratings, pitting brother against brother. But still my biggest complaint is the weird way that Padma talks, does she have cotton in her mouth from a recent dental extraction? Alright, I'll just wait for Fabio's cooking show.
Well first of all I am glad that the cooks/Chefs got to cook at the air base. My brother in law is the top Sargent for a f 15 group. I watched him work his way up from mechanic to top over the last 25 years. It's great to do something for our troops.
One thing I have learned from him that over these many years that contractors have taken over food service for the military overseas. The food is worse and is no longer available over many hours of a day. The companies doing it only serve at certain time. Making our folks more vulnerable to attacks in large groups. In the past the troops would eat over the course of the day in smaller groups. But then when the military was running the food service they were not looking to make a profit at any cost. Like the contractors do. Also these contractors can not fight if the base is attacked. Like a military cook can. These contractors in food service have bilked our troops on the price of coke and everything. Money we as tax payers have also been ripped off by these companies. Take the contractors out of the military services if you really want to honor our troops.
After spending thirty years cooking 20 as a chef I would say so far the judges have gotten it right and I can see who got picked for talent who the producers picked to make it interesting.
So let me get this straight - the exclusionary policies of marriage was a problem for Ashley but the exclusionary policies of the military weren't? As much as I find both federal and state DOMA movements as offensive and discriminatory, I think it's important to note that DADT is, in addition to discriminatory, logistically incoherent and dangerous from a national security standpoint. I think Ash touched on it slightly, but it didn't get a lot of airtime (certainly not the airtime that Ashley's continued discomfort received) and I'd be willing to bet that it won't be played in repeat during next week's recap.
Which leads me, retrospectively, to this entirely not-earthshattering conclusion: They're both right to be upset about both issues, but gay marriage is a topic that the Top Chef producers feel that they can get away with pushing on harder than they could on gay military service. It's easy to go to Vegas, watch some ridiculous wedding spectacle, and turn around and say simultaneously "isn't that adorable" and "gays should have a piece of this." Sure, I recognize it's difficult to tug heartstrings about military service while criticizing the military for a blatantly discriminatory policy founded on absurd prejudices. I don't know if it's Ashley or whether it's Bravo, but there *should* have been a comparable pushback over DADT, but it was so weak when it hit the airwaves that at least one of the two was being disingenuous last night.
While I feel for Ashley's feelings on this subject, I was wondering where the disdane was in cooking for the people of an organization where she can't even be 'out' as herself.
How about being a viewer who eats kosher style cusine, constantly being bombarded with the "everything is better with bacon" attitude that is so pervasive in cooking today.
How about a kosher style cooking challenge. No pork, no shell fish, no meat with dairy. I'd like to see these chefs cooked with traif tied behind their backs.
Well said, Tom. It's amazing how many people get their panties in a ruffle over little things. It is not that serious.
We liked the show this week -- my fiancé's brother-in-law is in the Air Force, so it hit home with us. I was surprised that Jessie and Ron's chowder made it through because of the conditions, and I was worried that she'd end up on the bottom again. But she didn't, and that was okay.
I am a bit surprised at the decision to send Preeti home over Mike I., if only because of his reaction to the dish. How do you beat out thousands of applicants to get on Top Chef and do a "throw away" dish? He was lucky this week, and I don't see him lasting too much longer.
- Brian B. Philadelphia, PA
I am so happy the show cooked for our men and women in uniform! Truly a great idea. But, I wouldn't tune to CNN for any reason much less to get information on the war. This is a tired old horse but here is my 2 cents - Ashley is entitled to her opinions and she certainly may express them but she just would not let it go.
A great episode.
With Top Chef, a lot of the fun of viewing is anticipating what kind of challenges will be presented week-to-week and getting to see personalities unfold. With this season, I find myself actually looking forward to what dishes the chefs are going to come up with next. And while a lot of that excitement is because of the brothers, I can't count out others like Kevin.
Preeti, though I liked her, just seemed out of her league. And even if the competition wasn't this tough, I just didn't see "Top Chef" there. Or maybe I'm jaded after all these seasons? Sorry darlng.
Now, here's a question for you, chef, and maybe it's one that can't be answered, but it occurred to me as I watch this season: how much of an advantage do trained chefs have over self-taught? It seems to me that it would be vastly substantial, yet most seasons we get a chef who's self taught and I always think they have great cajones.
Thanks, as always, for the blog.
OH! I should also add that I'm enthusiastically going to enjoy watching the reaction to Mike Isabelle (whom I believe Amuse Biatch has already dubbed "Bella") on the various TC blogs.
Note to Mike: Believe it or not, many viewers actually DO know what risotto is. The little stirring gesture he did with his hand was priceless. He's going to go down in TC history. As WHAT, I don't know. I'll leave that to the likes of Charlus.
I love your blog and your attitude about it being your soapbox. For those of us that blog, it's our outlet. I think you were all spot on this week. I knew Preeti wasn't a contender after her first 2 shows but I can say that I loved her attitude which was upbeat, regardless. What an amazing place to have a challenge. Love the show.
Tom - I liked the fact that you addressed Ashley's concerns in your blog post. The show has always been about both the chefs, as people, and their food. And I'd rather hear about marriage equality than watch juvenile head shaving stunts again.
My comment relates to editing more than the episode concept. Certainly this was a moving and patriotic episode for all involved, but I didn't need to hear nearly every cheftestant say how proud they were to cook for the Thunderbird pilots and crews. That time would have been much better spent seeing more reactions and comments from the servicemembers themselves.
after last season's dreadful performances, i think TC really stepped up, this could be the strongest chef-testants yet.
Love the show, love craft bar and LOVE your views on gay marriage. As a libertarian, I wish more people with soap boxes, such as yourself, would point out that the government should not be intruding into so many areas of our lives. I'd like the right to drink a non-diet soda every now and again and marry whoever I damn please (as long as they're not related to me). So thanks for presenting a very balanced view point.
One thing I don't love this season? your wardrobe... seriously, the sunglasses and leather jacket just detract from the sexiness.
I am (so far!) thoroughly enjoying this season. I do love Jennifer, but also like Hector, the brothers, Michael and Bryan, and Ashley. I am also a huge proponent of same-sex marriage, and while I agree that Ashley has the right to her feelings, I thought her comments out of context. She may not like to have to cook for a heterosexual couple's wedding, but she also can't limit herself to similar thinking people. I like her very much, however, I have no idea what she cooked that night - but I do remember what she said. Everyone I have talked to about that episode says the same thing. She needs to be remembered for her inventiveness as a chef, and not her views on marriage.
Hi Tom-- Back to your comments about Ashley. First, she had the right to say what she said. Bravo did not have to air what she said. Bravo took a political position without offering air time for opposing opinions--unless you call Preeti's comments the opposing opinion. Second, if Bravo had not aired her comments, you would not have felt compelled to comment on same. You are not a lawyer, theologian or any other individual who can adequately address this hot issue-- and your "crafting" of your statement was muddled--albeit heartfelt. On the other hand, I respect your comments on cooking and am thankful that on several occasions my dishes were better or saved as a result of your advice. Top Chef is a cooking show. To the extent that the show remains about cooking, your blog will be about cooking. Oh-- the current show was great. The men and women who serve us in the armed forces deserve so much more than they receive. Thank you Top Chef for giving them a great day.
I enjoy not only your opinions of the episodes, but your take on each PERSON who is on the show. You are right in saying that it is made up of individuals, not just chefs. Thank you for your insight. I for one do not read a blog without expecting personal opinion, it is what a blog is for.
I'm amazed that Jennifer wasn't recognized as a contender for challenge winner at judge's table. Tom Colicchio's blog singles her out but the stellar job she did wasn't even mentioned in the show -- by the judges or by her colleagues. I was amazed watching her -- she ruled the kitchen with authority but was not authoritarian; completely businesslike, cool, collected and, I swear, she has eyes in the back of her head. In past seasons, team management was ALWAYS recognized and some contestants won because of their leadership, while not cooking. Others, who did the job badly, got ousted. So, here's a kudos for Jennifer. She was incredible!!!
I think it's a bit hypocritical-- Ashley complained that a marriage challenge is insulting to her but had no problem with a military challenge.
Great episode...this season is the most exciting with the best chefs...i wish the women were better but Jen seems to be right up there with the guys.
Sad as I am to keep seeing the women drop like flies, you made the right choice this episode. That wasn't Preeti's first time on the bottom and there is a lot more you can do with a pasta salad than what was done on the show.
It was truly a great episode last night...However, I have concerns regarding you, Padma, and Gail...You three seemed very cranky and even standoffish'... It seems like you have much more experienced cheftestants this year than any other, what is up with that???
This group is for the most part the most professional group you have ever had on there. Jen was amazing as Executive Chef. I'll agree with Jamie though and say other than Jen, the women are thus far lacking.
I just love this show, and this season is really showing itself to be the best so far.
Tom - Thanks for taking a stand and speaking your mind. Regardless of how people may feel about the subject of same sex marrage(I agree with you BTW) it's great to hear someone so clearly and honestly state his opinion on it.
Thanks again for such exciting television. I can't wait till next week!
I don't know if it was done and cut in editing, but it would have been nice for the Judges to give a shout-out to Jennifer for her work as Executive Chef. She's not been my favorite cheftestant this year...don't know why, but she just kind of rubs me the wrong way. But she did a fantastic job during last night's challenge. She kept things running smoothly and made sure that everyone got their food done and on-time, and she deserved to be thanked.
heck, my pasta salad is far better than what they came up with. As far as the comments of chowder in such heat, anyone from the Northeast will tell you that chowder is an integral part of a New England clambake. I think Mike better realize that if he doesn't adjust his attitude, he won't last long. All in all, Preti was going to head home soon anyway. Great show, and looking forward to next week.
I thought this segment was the best of the series. I believe it gave the chefs and idea of how the mess men prepare meals on a daily basis day in and day out four to six times each day.
I'm sure it gave them an appreciation of this side of the industry.
Great stuff as always Tom. Glad to have you writing with regularity this season as I look forward to your insight.
I have already locked onto Michael as an irritating nuisance I would love to see sent packing soon. Several chefs seemed to ride on the shoulders of their betters, and he sure seemed the part there.
I would have liked to see Preeti stay and cook longer as she struck me as under performing in this challenge... I think she could have lasted longer than several others that got past the chopping block this week. But the talent this season seems simply amazing. I am really excited to see this season continue on and see what these cheftestants can dish out in the coming weeks.
Tom, I think your comments were right on last week as well as this week. I believe your explanation helped clarify Ashley's feelings but I still think she missed the picture. She was cooking for people and that is where her focus should have been. This week's show was excellent. You made the right choice on who to ask to leave. She really did not get it. I am sorry that we seem to be loosing most of the ladies but they are not stepping up to the plate like the guys are. Get with it, gals!!!! Thanks for a great blog.
I wonder why Ashley did not have the same attitude towards "not being accepted in that institution" this week? After all, you may be gay and be in the army/air force/navy, as long as you don't tell!
This is another institution that does not allow us to be openly a part of it and still, because they are soldiers fighting for our freedom (don't even get me started on the reasons "why" we need to fight for our freedom in the first place), it seems like that's ok then.
I am actually glad she did not throw a fit; what will be next? The Boy Scouts?
Love you Tom!-You were right last week!!
Last night's show was by far one of my favorites of all seasons and the group of chefs this season are the finest the show has ever had....
Tom, I love reading your blog and the fact that it's so straight forward, you voice your opinion but you're very fair in how you do it.
I had read last weeks blog (because you are a must read) and I'm sorry that you received flak for it. I thought it was wonderful and I love hearing your opinions on things. This is your blog, I'm reading it to hear your opinions and insights as well as to learn behind the scenes information.
I actually was talking on the phone with a friend last weekend and we got to talking about Top Chef and we discussed the Ashley situation and I told her about your blog post and that's where she went after our convo. I might not post to all of your blogs but I read and enjoy them, as do my friends.
BTW, we went to Craftsteak when we were in Vegas and the food blew all 10 of us away. I have even more respect for you after eating at one of your restaurants.
Hi Tom, I love this show so much and can never get enough. I also enjoy you and all of the other judges and chefs. I knew the talent this season was the strongest yet but that quickfire really proved it. I was in awe. Loved last night's show and I even had goosebumps and a few tears.
Great episode! I thought the cheftestants were smart to put Jen in chagre of everyone! Although that could have easily backfired, Jen was the ultimate professional! TEAM JEN! Kevin & Eli are good too, great idea making down home comfort food. I bet most of the airmen haven't had any for a long time and that made their return home all that more special. Jessie must go, she makes me want to puke in my mouth every time I see her tasting food with those nasty, bacteria-filled, piercings. PLEASE, PLEASE IN FUTURE SEASONS MAKE THE CHEFS REMOVE ANY FACIAL PIERCING JEWELRY WHILE FILMING THE CHALLENGES. Love the Volt bros, but I hope Jen wins hands down. I guess Eric Ripert won't be a guest judge this season :(. I love it when he is on the show!
I love your writing style. You addressed the comments from last weeks blog very well. I love the show and have been a fan since day one. The show has inspired me to try new and different foods. Believe it or not I had my first scallop after watching this show. I haven't tried to cook any of the food on the show yet but at least I'm learning. My husband and I would love to take a cooking class to learn more too. I will watch this show as long it's on the air so don't stop anytime soon!! Take care!
Love the show, been watching since started, but this season, Jesse has to go, can she make anything else but chicken, get rid of her
Top Chef has been my favorite show for several seasons. Great inspiration! MY comment is about the massive tatoos seen on this seasons participants. I'm totally turned off by appearence of these chefs. It's hard to see these people as true professionals when sporting tatoos and piercings. I would probably leave if I saw the person cooking my meal looking so mutilated!
Tom, it's such a pleasure to read your blog. It's refreshing to see thoughtful and good writing in this age of texting and twittering. Thank you.
Great show and a great start to the season! tom, as always you have a suberb way of letting the cheftestants know when they are slackers as the case of Laurine, Michael, and Preete. I agree with the decision to have Preete go since she did not admit anything was wrong. I am not a professional chef but I could have done better with a pasta salad. Others made a lot with what they had to work with. I think it is situations like this where the truly talented rise to the top. I see some other cheftestants who will be next in the elimination contention. Finally, loved that the show honored the military and their families. Regardless of people's views on the wars,m these men and women and their families are making huge sacrifices for our country and need to be honored for it.