Is Cheffing A Man's Job?
Ted Allen asks the tough questions. He also addresses Rocco vs. Tony.
On Rocco vs. Anthony : I'll get to that in a minute ... (heh-heh!)
But first, it has always struck me as funny that in a culture where women are still often expected to be the cooks at home, the business of professional cheffing is heavily dominated by Y-chromosomes. I'm sure this is changing, but it remains a very macho world. I think this played a part in why Sara N. and Casey were so thrown by this cruel and unusual challenge (A challenge for which, by the way, the evil "Top Chef" producers should be ashamed -- this was cold, man!).
You'll recall that the "...chefpetitors (Chefletes? Cheftenders? Chefandidates?) were told by our hostess that they would be enjoying a night of Miami-style clubbing -- and how verrrrry excited they were about that. Of course, our hostess lies -- LIES! And then, when the chefs pulled up to Da Club, they saw waiting for them an unapologetic Ms. Lakshmi, grinning like the proverbial serpent, alongside Govind Armstrong, and the ominous block of knives.
As soon as the surprise was sprung, Sara N. expressed her discomfort about shopping and cooking in a low-cut blouse and high-heeled shoes and Casey pointed out that, "I don't even like to have my cooks in the kitchen see me dressed up to go out; I don't mix the two." At judges' table, I was unimpressed by these complaints; I said, in fact, "You can't cook because you don't like your outfit?" I now think that this was insensitive of me.
First of all, cooking obviously is hard, sweaty, messy work, and it's completely understandable that a chef would want sensible shoes for the task. But more to the point, here: Women have worked long and hard to get the respect they deserve in the professional kitchen. It's totally understandable that they might not want to be seen as a dolled-up sex object sporting perfume and cleavage when they are working in a position of leadership, just as when they are running a corporate meeting, testifying before Congress, or planing timber in a sawmill. So, to Casey and Sara, I'd like to correct my previous position on this one.
That having been said, I think this challenge did serve to separate the men from the...er, let's skip that metaphor. It required the chefs to swallow their disappointment and get to work. Some of the chefs did so, and well. Sara simply wasn't able to and I think this is why both of her dishes suffered. She wasn't able to produce enough of her burgers, or to season or cook them correctly and consistently (although mine was good), and the milkshakes were watery and uninspired (I had to take Tom's word for it, because her milkshakes were not available by the time I got there).
But watching the rough cut of the episode, I wish we could have sent Howie packing, instead. (An aside: On-set, Chef Tom and I got into a gentle argument about the word "sliders." My position is that a slider is specifically a burger from White Castle, and nothing else. Tom disagreed. He's from Jersey; I'm from Ohio. Is this a regional difference in the terminology? What do you think?)
Back to Howie: I've said it here before; I like a lot of his cooking, and I appreciate what he SAYS about leadership. And he talks about it endlessly. The problem is that he doesn't SHOW this leadership -- at least, not on "Top Chef." Remember, the judges don't see any of the behind-the-scenes bickering, so it's not what we're basing our decisions on at the table. But having now seen tonight's show, and the past few episodes, I am realllly unimpressed with the way Howie is behaving in team challenges. He listens to no one. He's rude and obstinate. He belittles people -- often after the fact, when he's trying to save his ass from being eliminated -- when he should have dealt with the problems head-on while the cooking was happening. THAT is what a leader would do. That is what a great chef would do.
Maybe this passive-aggressive gamesmanship is Howie's strategy. And maybe it will work. But it would work a lot better if his food were coming out perfectly. It isn't. Of course, the ultimate decision had to be based on the food itself, and Sara's unhappiness got in the way of her ability to cook well. That's why she had to go. Good luck to you, Sara -- you had a good run. By the way, I just want to say it again: I am loving Tre's work in this show. The fun, witty, satisfying combo of cheese grits, bacon-wrapped shrimp, and tomato-chipotle sauce was just perfect; fun enough for a late night crowd, yet, still sophisticated. That did not look like food that came from a catering truck. Also, big ups to CJ for trying to lead his group, to Brian for creating a really great esprit de corps under difficult circumstances, and to Dale for earning the night off!
Now, then: I've been asked what I think about the flare-up here on the blogs between chefs Anthony Bourdain and Rocco DiSpirito. Well, to be honest, I was surprised that a writer as gifted as Tony felt the need to take an ad hominem swipe at a colleague -- although it was, I have to admit, hilarious -- and I was impressed with Rocco's high-road response. I also kinda think people have been breaking Rocco's balls long enough, you know? He truly is a good guy and a great cook, and like the rest of us, he's trying to make a living. But, then, the foodie world is always suspicious of chefs who get endorsement deals (Rick Bayless and Burger King, Tyler Florence and Applebee's, and now Rocco). Is this suspicion born of dedication to the craft? Is it jealousy? Or is it something else -- or a little of both? What do YOU think? And how come none of you said anything about MY face lift? See you next week. Cheers, T