Before I begin, a side note on last week's outcome: I want viewers and blog readers to be clear that we did not eliminate Michael because of the olive pit left on our table.
Neither Tom nor I ever claimed that as our reason. I am grateful to hear and interested in hearing all your thoughts on the show and would never want to mislead you on how each choice is made, more than the already extensive editing of each episode. True, we were disappointed that he did not think enough to use his leftover money to buy plates for the olive pits and bread, but we chose to eliminate him because we felt he did not contribute anything substantial to the teamwork, restaurant concept, or challenge as a whole, in comparison to everyone else. He is a decent cook, but proved in this challenge that he was just not ready to be a chef.
Wow! Nothing we had seen, tasted or heard up to this point in the competition could have prepared us for Episode 11. The chefs, judges nor any of the crew will soon forget the chaos these days of filming created. To give you the scoop on what went down from our perspective, I'll rewind a little. the Quickfire Challenge seemed to go smoothly enough. The next day, while Padma and I were getting ready for dinner, Eric Ripert, a chef I greatly respect and admire, stopped by to say hello and mentioned how happy he was about the challenge and that he was quite excited to see what our chefs would cook up in Santa Barbara.
That afternoon Padma, Tom, Eric, our most excellent production coordinator Woody, and I got into the car and headed north. The drive was absolutely beautiful as it was the most perfect, sunny day. We arrived in terrific moods, hungry for what we hoped would be a delicious, romantic meal. I really wanted our remaining contestants to impress the loving couples who dined with us at Epiphany that night, as they surely did not impress our last group of diners in the Restaurant Wars challenge.
Now romance, like taste, is of course a very personal matter. What is over-the-top and cliche to some can be transporting and ethereal to others. I believe food in general can be very sexy and specific flavors and textures, when cooked well, definitely add passion and intimacy to a meal. The good news was that our dinner in Santa Barbara was as successful as we had hoped. We were thrilled (and relieved) at how much everyone enjoyed the cooking.
Scallops are one of my absolute favorite foods and Sam's course showed them off proudly. The deep color and sweetness of the beets complimented them well. Although Ilan's Fideos with Clams dish was reminiscent of the paella he prepared for the Social Hollywood Challenge in Episode 5, there was no denying their perfect execution and how good they tasted. Padma spent most of that course trying to steal more of it from Eric's plate! Marcel's Wild King Salmon, although presented in what I thought was an unoriginal fashion (not what we expected from our resident Foam King), was prepared just right. The display of heart shaped potatoes may have been trite, but the flavor combination was a crowd pleaser.
Elia's Chocolate Creameaux dessert was light and well received too. Only its menu description, which did not match what was set before us, gave away her mistake in the kitchen. It was a sweet, satisfying end to our evening. In retrospect, Cliff's dish was in fact the only one we found slightly lacking. That is not to say that it was awful. For me, the lentils just did not belong on that plate, as a mushy pile of dry puree below his meat. They detracted from the final presentation and overall flavor. In any case, we all now know his food was not the reason he was sent home. We left Santa Barbara elated that filming was almost over and that our final five contestants had done a fine job.
The next day, we arrived on set not only to be told we would not be wrapping the L.A. portion of the show, as we had expected, but also that we would not be filming Judges Table that night at all. What they would not tell us was why. With no knowledge of what had transpired, we changed our travel plans and waited. It happened to be Tom's birthday, so at least we had a night off to celebrate with him and his cool and gorgeous wife Lori.
We returned to the set the following day and were told of the tape -- on which Ilan filmed as Cliff held the sleeping Marcel down and tried to shave his head, while the others looked on without a word. Tom was sent in to speak with Cliff and the other chefs immediately. The rest of us were just as shocked as you when the remaining four contestants walked into the room, two with no hair at all! We all thought Cliff was a talented, smart and skilled person. In the little contact I had with him, he was always polite, passionate and down to earth. He definitely had the potential to be Top Chef.
We, of course, realize that what happened was meant to be a joke and I am certain the chefs wish, just as much as we do, that they could take it all back. Everyone's behavior was out of control and despicable. Bullying is childish and unprofessional enough, but by physically manhandling Marcel, Cliff crossed a serious line that could have injured his competitor. No one deserves to be treated this way, no matter how aggravating they may be, and everyone knew it.
Cliff ultimately compromised the integrity of the show. I hope our viewers understand that he left us no choice but to send him home. The whole thing made me so sad. Marcel took it as best he could and I was impressed with him for being that forgiving. OK, enough with all the drama. It takes away from what we all came here to do. Next stop, Hawaii. And this I can finally promise: It will absolutely be about the food!