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, 2013

Carlos and Louis seemed surprised to be in the bottom three, and of course they were – they never tasted their food. So how would they know it was completely underseasoned? But Bret knew exactly why he was there. Don’t mistake: the fact that Bret didn’t muscle his veal on to the grill in time is not what did him in. He had plenty of time to get a proper sear on his veal; he just didn’t. He had enough time, in fact, to overcook my veal. So time was not his enemy on this one -- he was his own enemy. Not only that, but the chefs were charged with presenting the dishes as the originals had been presented, and Bret’s presentation, by his own admission, was sloppy as well. He expected to be on the bottom of this challenge, which is why he didn’t make a case for staying, as the chefs often do at Judges' Table. 

Commander’s Palace became the institution it is today under the careful nurturing of Ella Brennan, mother and aunt of proprietors Ti Martin and Lally Brennan, respectively, whom you sort of met watching the episode. We typically have about three hours between the end of service for the Elimination Challenge and the start of Judges' Table, and, especially in New Orleans, which was incredibly hot, we judges normally changed out of our “judges-wear” and into T-shirts and shorts during that hiatus. But not on the day of this challenge. We finished our meal at about 5 p.m.… and were happily surprised with an invitation to cocktails at Ella Brennan’s home, right next door to the restaurant. Normally, cocktails precede dinner, but our filming schedule had us eating first, and none of us minded. We all went over, and Miss Ella said, “This is what we’re drinking today,” and poured us each a cocktail. And thus commenced possibly my favorite moments of the whole season. I remember thinking, “This is how you start a night down south.” Or, at least, how you start one off on the right foot – with cocktails in the parlor of a grand old home, being shown classic Southern hospitality. A lot of great chefs have come through Commander’s Palace. On that particular night, during that break between the Elimination Challenge and Judges' Table, the other judges and I couldn’t have been more glad that ours did, too.