Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio explains how Kristen's dish could easily have gone awry.

on Nov 28, 2012

For the most part, the chefs did a great job. They “got” the challenge, and everything looked and seemed very '50s. And so many of the dishes really delivered on all fronts. 

Josh’s soup was too salty, yes, but not enough to kill it. The dish was saved from the very bottom by its good, beefy flavor, which superceded its saltiness. An inherent problem with the dish, as a matter of fact, was the actually dish, i.e., the bowl itself, which was the wrong vessel for onion soup -- it was way too wide and shallow.  The reason for the crouton in onion soup is to hold up the cheese, but this wasn’t possible in the bowl Josh used.

CJ’s dish was a serious contender for “One of the Worst Two Dishes” -- he’s lucky that it was edged out by Chrissy’s and Carla’s. His lamb didn’t get enough char on it. The meat’s mealiness came from his having sous vided it for the wrong length of time -- I just can’t understand why he chose to do that at all. All in all, the dish was under-seasoned and boring… but it was still not quite as bad as the other two dishes.

As for Carla’s, you need to understand a couple of things both about being a chef and about squab: I have seven restaurants, and I have chefs cooking my food. But it is my job and mine alone to make sure that they know exactly how I want each element prepared. One can’t become Top Chef and not know how to supervise others who are cooking one’s food. If I’d been in charge of that squab dish, I’d have been in there making sure it was done correctly.  And cooking for the judges in this competition is akin to cooking for VIPs in your restaurant -- you want to be extra sure that their dishes are prepared exactly as you want them.

As for how Carla wanted them? We judges don’t know at the time what is going on in the kitchen -- we only know what we’re served. But having watched the episode, I see that not only were ours overcooked, but the early ones were absolutely undercooked -- clearly, the chefs then overcompensated for that when cooking the later ones. Squab should be medium rare  If too rare, it's chewy; if overdone, it starts to get, well, “livery” is the best way I can describe what happens to it. Squab is pigeon whose wings are clipped when it’s young so that it never flies. It’s a nice tender red meat bird, like a duck, with really rich flavor. It’s one of my favorite things to cook… and to eat. Sadly, Carla really blew it, not only by not supervising the preparation well -- she actually made mistakes all the way through. Even when doing the whole flattened thing that you saw her do, you still need to butcher it a bit and take out the rib cage. Carla blew it from the get go with this dish.