Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio assesses the veterans' advantages and disadvantages.

on Nov 14, 2012

I think this assessment was born out by the Elimination Challenge, in which the Red Team wound up one of the two teams on the bottom. Too many components in their dish, overcooked quail, not enough cherries in a sauce they made a quart of (so the proportions were way off)… I’m not sure that changing their concept midstream was the great idea they thought it would be.

This week’s was a good Elimination Challenge. Seattle is known for its seafood, plus we shot this episode at the beginning of the summer, when we also had beautiful produce such as rhubarb and morels at our disposal. I was glad to have a challenge right at the get-go that could highlight Seattle in this way. The challenge gave us a chance, further, to see the chefs’ product… and we did have some great results.

The chefs did well overall. As for Blue Team, there were a few noteworthy reasons for their win. They had a great concept for the dish -- they didn’t overcomplicate it, as there is a tendency to do in such team challenges, when every chef on the team wants to display his or her culinary point of view. In contrast to such overwrought dishes, the Blue Team’s dish seemed as though it had been conceived and made by one person. Each person did one thing to contribute to the dish -- one made the fish, one the dashi and one the prawns, so they had not only a well-conceived dish but also a good gameplan for executing it. And they worked collaboratively. John looked out for the team, for example, noticing that Kuniko had burnt the chili oil and bringing it to her attention with enough time for her to make a new one.

Our favorite part of that dish, hands down, was the cod -- Kuniko was the clear winner for that. The technique of poaching fish in oil (or duck fat) reflects a relatively modern way of cooking -- it’s been around for the last ten years or so. So the idea of poaching the fish in chili oil was a very good one. To do it well, though, the chef must understand that the bottom of the pan is hotterthan the oil itself, so if the fish is sitting on the bottom of the pan, itcould become overdone. Making the fish well requires the discipline to let it cook slowly, and it’s not something every chef could pull off. In preparing the cod perfectly, as Kuniko did, she showed really nice technique. This is why she won.

The losing Gray Team had a basically good dish. The garnishes were nicely done and the dish was seasoned well. Unfortunately, though, the fish was completely overcooked. The terms “overcooked” or “overseasoned” are never the end of the story in and of themselves -- whether they are a deal-breaker that will get a person sent home is always a matter of degree: the dish could be slightly overcooked or overseasoned… or it could be hammered. Stefan’s quail was somewhat overcooked; Jeffrey’s halibut was hammered. Had Jeffrey’s fish not been so drastically overcooked, Stefan would most likely have been sent home. His neck was saved in this challenge by the presence of a worse offender. Furthermore, in stark contrast to the Blue Team, the Gray Team did not display good teamwork. Brooke saw that Jeffrey’s fish was overdone and didn’t say anything to him. She just let the fish go out to the judges that way. The teammates should have been looking out for one another’s food, particularly when one of the components was something as delicate as halibut. I understand that it was early in the season and the chefs are just getting to know one another, but this was a team challenge, and Brooke wound up at Judges' Table with one of the two worst dishes, which is not a place she wants to be.