Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio explains what the Commander's Palace challenge was really about, and reveals a special behind-the-scenes moment.

on Oct 17, 20130

Having experienced the elimination challenges as a judge in real time, it’s always interesting to me to then watch the episodes and get the full story. As I’ve written in past blogs, we judges aren’t privy to what the chefs are doing and saying over the course of each challenge -- aside from when I do a walk-through through the kitchen, I don’t encounter the chefs until I’m eating and judging their contributions to the competition. And so, remembering the dishes I was served by our chefs at Commander's Palace, I was intrigued while watching the episode to hear directly from the chefs themselves which of them were frightened and dismayed by the challenge and which were excited and invigorated by it. I see a direct correlation between their feelings about the challenge and how well they did. 

But not because of the nature of the challenge itself.

It was surely difficult to taste a dish once and be asked to replicate it exactly… especially when the chefs who had created three of the four dishes were right there at the table. I get how that could be nerve-wracking. And chefs tend to get set in their ways. The chefs in our challenge had two options, basically. They could have tasted the dish and said, “This is how I myself would do this.” Or they could have said, “How do I think the chef who created this would have made this?” I personally think the first way is the better way to go. Just do it your own way, in terms of flavors. Presentation is another story -- that’s just a matter of mimicry.

So while watching this, I can imagine you were expecting to see chefs falter in their abilities to discern precisely which ingredients were in a dish or just how a dish was constructed. But, in fact, it came down to the two things that it usually comes down to in our competition: using good technique and seasoning the food correctly. What made the challenge, well, challenging was less the need to recreate a dish they’d only eaten once and more the fact of having to make the amount of plates in the time allotted in a crowded kitchen, and still managing to get those two things -- technique and seasoning -- right.

The chefs who were most nervous about recreating dishes might have been thrown off their game by knowing that the chefs who created the originals were seated at the table. But it just so happened that Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, and Tory McPhail were there. In fact, the competitors faced the same challenges they would have at their own restaurants -- creating well-seasoned, properly-prepared food for many people, under pressure. 

When you’re cooking, you need to worry about everything. The chefs who were successful were the ones who got everything right, not necessarily the ones who made it identical to the original. In fact, Stephanie’s biscuit was actually better than the original. Justin’s beignets were amazing -- were they made in identical fashion to Tory McPhail’s? I couldn’t tell you. This challenge weeded out the better chefs not because they could ascertain how to recreate the dishes, but because they could do so within the parameters of the competition and deliver up good food. 

10 comments
rita.karson
rita.karson

Tom, why haven't you blogged about the finale?  Is it because you know you personally made sure Nina was robbed of being the Top Chef last night...I'm so done with this show, it should be called Tom Collichio's Top Chef...it was obvious you wanted Nick to win.  You seemed mad at Hugh and Emeril when they did not agree with you...horrible finale...You, Nick, Padma and Gail should all be ashamed of this decision!

devildog2
devildog2

Tom - truly disappointed in your decision on the finale, as are (by the meter on the show tonight) close to 90% of the viewers. All season, Nina was the stronger chef. Nick would have gone home weeks ago, had he not won a quick fire and immunity and his dishes are consistently under seasoned. Cant figure this one out, and thought I've been a devoted fan since season 1, I think I'll find another cooking show. This was a travesty.

michelle.sirkis
michelle.sirkis

Tom, I really miss your blogs.  You gave the most insight on why the judges made their decisions and really gave us behind the scenes information.  Please keep blogging!

travelinggirl
travelinggirl

Please keep blogging. Your perspective is always insightful and appreciated.

B1YB1S
B1YB1S

TOM... two words for you buddy... SEXY MAN! Oh three more... Captain Yum Yum!

Steve_and_Duck
Steve_and_Duck

The chefs had to have watched the previous seasons of the show. They must realize that a challenge can 'pop' up at any time anywhere. So even without having their knives on hand they must know an evening out isn't ever going to be 'just a time to relax'. I'm curious why none of the chefs took photos of the courses as they were being served. I've seen many smart phones shown as they make calls home. Would it have been so very wrong for them to photograph a dish or to record mental notes on ingredients they've tasted during the meal?

Juca
Juca

Long time fan of the show, this time though dismayed with the amount of food waste left by this challenge. 40 barely touched trouts, 40 barely touched veal chops, all down the trash, really?

BlondeGator1
BlondeGator1

Tom, are you still doing your fishing videos on YouTube?  Loved them....they were spectacular and fun to watch.

azuremountain
azuremountain

Love this season and all of the diversity of the chefs and the different cuisines and viewpoints they represent.

motherhubbard
motherhubbard

 @Steve_and_Duck Not to mention that this was a repeat of the season 5 Le Bernardin challenge, except that replicating the dishes was sprung as even more of a surprise than the Commander's palace challenge. And the season 5 chefs were given far less information about the contents of the dishes.