Tom Colicchio

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

on Nov 28, 20120

And Chrissy’s salad: I know that she had a tall order, trying to create from the menu description a dish that still exists, against which hers can be measured. But even without measuring her dish against the original, Chrissy made major blunders that merited her being sent home. Quite apart from the fact that there was not enough mint, lemon or oregano, that the dressing itself was heavy, and that then the salad was overdressed with this overly-heavy dressing, she used the outside leaves of the romaine, which simply isn’t OK. Think about the way lettuce grows -- sun hits the plant and the chlorophyll causes the leaves that soak up the sun to turn dark green. It also causes them to turn tough and unpalatable. The leaves inside are lighter in color because they’re not undergoing photosynthesis and have less chlorophyll. These inside leaves are crispier and juicier, and they have better flavor. Salad-making is the first thing a chef will learn in culinary school, and it should not then be taken for granted. When you are served a good salad, it has an appetizing brightness and freshness to it. When you get a bad one, you know it instantly. Soggy, wilty, and/or tough greens are an instant appetite-kill, and we were presented both. I was surprised that Chrissy overdressed the salad, and more than surprised that she served us the outer leaves of the lettuce that should have been thrown in the garbage. Clearly, she doesn’t know how to use romaine lettuce. It’s a weird hole in her body of culinary knowledge, but, as with Carla’s need to know how to supervise those who execute your dishes, it’s not knowledge that one can lack and still become Top Chef.

On the other side of the spectrum we find Kristen’s onions and mushrooms. I was so glad about this win. I try to imagine how many thousands of pounds of mushrooms we’ve served in my restaurants since we first opened our doors to customers -- let’s leave it at “many.” The mushroom is not a forgiving ingredient. Mushrooms have a very high water content. Overcrowd the pan, and they’ll go greyish and mushy and bland. Whereas when you see one cooked properly, it’s a beautiful brown and the flavors are intense. Believe me when I tell you that Kristen could easily have been sent home for either of her two dishes -- it’s easy to mess them up. In fact, in a very crucial way it’s easier to slip up with them than with a more “complicated” dish: when you make a dish with only one component, there is nothing else behind which you can hide an error. It’s a tightrope walk -- you either walk it to the other side and succeed, or you fall to your death. All or nothing. I was so glad to see Kristen take her one-component side dishes as seriously as any other dishes on the menu, not treat either of them as a throwaway, and execute each of them so adeptly. She nailed them -- there were no flaws in either dish. Of everything that was cooked in this challenge, hers were the best examples of how to make those particular products. Her mushrooms were better-prepared mushrooms than the steak was a well-prepared steak or the crab was well-prepared crab.  Sure, there were strong dishes in this challenge, but the simplicity of hers made Kristen’s perfect execution of them all the more gratifying. You know me by now -- I am all about taking the finest ingredients and preparing them as simply and perfectly as possible, so as to let them shine.  

33 comments
better
better

Nicest remarks onto the CANLIS families place as for a establishment to favorites on areas and next places stop onto plans public market place isn't to be ignored either! Lower into Ritzy presentations, but of a few elegant dinning rooms! For cooks to compare may try sometimes at lower places in less styles, your announcement on FARE START is fair! 'Casa Latina' workers did share day jobs and add for they found jobs to work too!

better
better

Nicest kindness on remarks for place at there Canlis Family decades long establishment ,but sometimes every area can't be covered by only these figures alone. Next at local public market place can be describing on areas careers cooks as assortments.

TXCajun
TXCajun

I, for one, am glad to see Carla go.  I would not want her cooking anything for me with all that hair flopping aound.  It just looked so unsanitary.  But I love Top Chef and look forward to each episode. 

Mielegirl
Mielegirl

I completely enjoyed this episode.  Hopefully, the contestants can stay away from the infighting and just try to cook good food.  That is why I watch.  Thanks.

DCGal
DCGal

Tom - I think it's been a great season so far, heads above last season's gimmicks. It feels like a return to foundational elements of being a chef. I am loving the season and feeling my favorite show is back! Plus, I love that Kristen won. It really illustrates the point that often gets lost in the competition: excellent execution of simplicity trumps dazzle. Too many contestants ache to pull out the stops (CJs use of sous vide showed a real lack of restraint) instead of doing simple things well.

Lynda58
Lynda58

Tom, I must tell you that I won't be watching Last Chance Kitchen.  I believe when a cook is dismissed, that's it.  There is no need to prolong the process of getting down to the finale.  I discovered last season that watching it is a lesson in futility because only the last  challenge matters.  The rest of the side show is a waste of time.

LOLA-B
LOLA-B

You are so completely full of it Tom.

 

SURE, it's the same thing for your paid employees to "cook your food" as it is for a competitor on this show to cook THEIR COMPETITOR's dish. 

 

Why even cast women on this show?  They are nothing but fodder. 

TChefAddict2012
TChefAddict2012

The "old school" telephone apparently isn't the only thing that hasn't evolved.  "Charming" as the old ways may be, requiring women customers to wear dresses is decidedly UN-relevant in these days.  Instead of stripping, I'd be taking my business elsewhere.  Guess the food isn't the only thing that's retro-modern.

 

twix
twix

I always enjoy watching you. I will follow you anywhere..

BostonSingle
BostonSingle

Top Chef & Tom - Here's a suggestion I hope you take up.  Before a Quick Fire that involves a protein that can be cooked to different temperatures/doneness, the chefs should be told how well done the judge (e.g., Naomi) prefers the protein to be cooked.  There's always an impression that a dish is not successful when the judge says, "I prefer my steak to be medium rare (or rare or medium, etc.)."  That's not fair if the chef has no clue what the judge prefers.  Why keep that a secret?  If the chefs know what the preference is, this also adds an element that can be judged (i.e., did the chefs cook the protein to the correct doneness.)

 

Love Top Chef and the fact that Last Chance Kitchen is back!

singingscallops
singingscallops

Kristen first roasted the mushrooms, beginning the caramelization process and the release of their water content.  She finished them in a pan, furthering the browning effect and probably imbuing them with the flavors of whatever fat she used to baste them.  Always good to learn something in cooking.

 

And I'm glad to know my hunch wasn't incorrect regarding the serving bowl for the French-onion soup.  I thought it looked odd, for that soup.  The beef-stock element that saved it: interesting, because I've always thought that the most traditional way to make the soup is with water.  No other flavor should shine but that of the onions.  But if you have to rescue it ...  Now I know ...

Lynda58
Lynda58

Tom, Thanks for your insightful comments.  Even after you explain in depth who made the greater errors, CJ's inedible lamb seems like a worse offense than an over-dressed salad.  Those mushrooms made me crave them.  I wanted to eat them all.  Kristen's side dishes looked amazing.  I'm hungry now.

Mummy35332
Mummy35332

Oh my, I hope they had a spare skirt for that actress!!!!

swell_swell
swell_swell

 @DCGal Frankly the use of sous vide should have been an automatic go-home for failing the challenge.

dennis.g.grace
dennis.g.grace

 @Lynda58 I do hope the producers ignore your input. You're welcome to your opinion, of course, but I disagree with the entire premise that one failure proves that you're not Top Chef. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a successful chef who never failed at anything. The best learn from their mistakes.

Marti_W
Marti_W

 @Lynda58 I don't know that I'll actually watch Last Chance Kitchen (okay, maybe if Sheldon lands there) but I like the idea of it.  So many times we've watched a chef who has consistently put out excellent product all season go down in flames because of one inferior dish.  So I really like the idea of having a chance at redemption, so to speak.

PaulainVA
PaulainVA

 @LOLA-B

 Unless you've actually run a kitchen in a top notch restaurant, you are not qualified to challenge Chef Colicchio's explanation of how a chef manages his/her kitchen.  Period.  The women who went home deserved to do so.  Gender bias is a reality, but you have to look at the whole picture and have a measure of common sense.  Carla was an accident waiting to happen, and did not work well with anyone in any of the challenges; including the one she won.  Chrissy did not do badly in LCK, but did not show the mastery of her ingredients that Kuniko did.

swell_swell
swell_swell

 @LOLA-B I agree that it's doesn't seem fair. Men seem to get to slide a little more on certain things than women do - how well you actually meet the challenge, and how your dish is presented. If a dish is truly poorly cooked, any cook will go home, but if it is a toss-up, then nine times out of ten, it seems a woman goes home. When I look at the winner's list, I don't think men are really that much better than the women in the kitchen.

BabiBlue84
BabiBlue84

@BostonSingle that's actually a great suggestion, 'fancy' chefs always seem to lean towards the rare meat, but when a surprise 'normal pallet' guest is there the dish is often scrutinized. I for one only like my meat medium well or better. Idc if its a lil overdone I like that too and better than undercooked. Don't hand me a pink raw feather less pigeon or a leathery one... Even well done can go wrong I.e the lamb shanks that just looked like they came from a cheap Gyro's drive-thru

swell_swell
swell_swell

 @singingscallops I've always had French Onion soup made from a beef stock base - often fortified with some red wine. I can't imagine how thin an onion-only broth would be.

Lynda58
Lynda58

 @swell_swell  @DCGal If Emeril says he didn't want to eat it - that's beyond bad.  CJ should have been axed.  He seemed stupid to do a sous vide - (it was remnants from his season when Hung did it successfully all the time).  What a BIG fool.  But, he shouldn't have been pardoned.  His offense was greater than an overdressed salad.

singingscallops
singingscallops

 @swell_swell  @LOLA-B Tom has addressed this question before.  Whether or not race or gender comes into consideration.  The answer is no.  If you question his integrity, why bother following the show?  I'm not into pro wrestling for the same reason. 

 

Also, don't forget that Padma -- most definitely a woman -- is a judge, as well as Gail when she's on the show.  It's difficult for me to believe that Tom could convince both to go against a woman simply because she is a woman.

 

I'm hoping that this year, Kuniko or Lizzie or Brooke will make it.  All three comport themselves very well, and are clearly well-trained.  In fact, they all have the calmness exhibited by Stepanie Izard.  Which is one of the reasons I think it's realistic to think any of these three can do it.

LOLA-B
LOLA-B

 @Marti_W And TWO went home, one that wasn't even allowed to cook her own food. 

 

3 in a row...so far.

singingscallops
singingscallops

 @swell_swell I should study more soup recipes, including those for French Onion.  I've always used one of the first ones for it that I learned: using water, after deeply caramelizing onions, then adding fresher cuts of onion during the simmering of the water.

 

But hey, beef stock with fortified red wine sounds good in almost any setting.  So you won't get any arguments from here!  Thanks!

swell_swell
swell_swell

 @LOLA-B  @DCGal And had some responsibility for how his food was cooked! Unlike poor Carla! He also knew how his food was intended to taste, unlike poor Chrissy!

LOLA-B
LOLA-B

 @singingscallops  @swell_swell Gosh, OK then!  I just won't watch the show anymore. 

 

I stopped a while ago, but each year, come back and give it a try.  I stuck out a whole season when Ripert was part of the judging, and will always watch when the important chefs are on the show, because Tom will actually defer to their opinion, and has. 

 

As far as Padma and Gail?  Get serious.  What Tom says goes. 

 

dennis.g.grace
dennis.g.grace

 @LOLA-B  @Marti_W Bunk. The first eliminated cheftestant was male, and as Marti points out, a woman won the challenge. 

swell_swell
swell_swell

 @LOLA-B  @Marti_W There is NO WAY in a competition like this that I would let someone else cook my food - unless I had immunity. The risk is just too high. How many chefs have been sent home for not supervising the cooking of their food during Restaurant Wars or other team challenges?