At American Workshop, Harold played it safe. He never rocked the boat, nor did he put his own ideas or personal stamp on his team's work. But his superior kitchen skills helped Tiffani pull off her cherished concept of American classics. Miguel, on the other hand, was a liability to Lee Anne - making amateurish blunders like misreading the price of the fish by $10 a pound! A restaurant is a business, and regular missteps like that can derail the bottom line, swiftly bring it down. Miguel also neglected to have the fish scaled by the fishmonger (Fish Prep 101) making more work for Lee Anne, and impacting the final dish. Once guests had arrived, Stephen launched into his favorite role - teacher. While not a bad guy, Stephen seems to lack a crucial empathy gene; since he is fascinated by the esoterics of wine, he assumes everyone else should be too. In my restaurants I instruct the servers (most of whom rival Stephen in terms of knowledge) to forego teaching - unless the guest asks. At that point, the diner has signaled they're OK with it. In all things relating to service, a good host should intuit the guests' expectations, and let them lead the way. Stephen became entrenched in his teaching role and therefore couldn't help his teammates. As diners at Sabor, we found ourselves growing antsy and bored between courses. And when the dishes arrived - while some were delicious - the scales on the fish were off-putting, and detracted from the overall professionalism of the restaurant. I didn't consider Tiffani's American Workshop idea to be particularly original - American comfort food has been a mainstay of the dining scene for some time - but I liked her teams' communal tables and foray into family-style service, which I felt dovetailed nicely with the cuisine. Unfortunately, Tiffani, Harold and Dave dropped the homey concept midway through the meal, suddenly serving the chicken and desserts individually, which made no sense. That said, Dave's friendly front-of-the-house approach in the dining room trumped Stephen's pedantic style. Guests found Dave warm and caring and gave the team high marks. While I didn't necessarily agree that they were the better restaurant overall, the challenge went to American Workshop, over Sabor, due to this crucial element. This really illustrates something successful restaurateurs know - great service leaves more of a lasting impression than almost anything. So why didn't we let Stephen go over Miguel? Because love him or hate him, Stephen took initiative in creating something and followed through with conviction. Miguel, on the other hand, took a backseat to his teammates, and never pushed for a concept where he could shine.
As I said at the Judge's table - we're not awarding points for top sous-chef, which is the role Miguel played. While Harold may have done the same, he did so without making blunders that could have derailed his team. I think Miguel will go far. His effervescent personality, his deep passion for food and his real desire to make people happy should serve him well in this business. Miguel was a blast to have around -- a sweet, open-hearted guy who has achieved a lot, even without the benefit of a lofty education. When Chunk Le Funk left the building, we were all sad to see him go.