There are certainly those among us who feel dessert is the most important part of a meal, and dessert dominated this episode causing controversy, conflict and, in the end, calamity for one chef. As Ted Allen pointed out, the challenge said nothing about dessert -- they weren't required to do it, but three, with Dale as the ringleader, took the plunge...and pretty much drowned.
Was it a mistake to try their collective hands at something outside their area of expertise? Maybe. If it was, it's probably a mistake I would have made too, because a meal is supposed to have a beginning and an end, and that end is traditionally dessert. We in the restaurant business are programmed to think that way — that a four-course meal ends with dessert. So I think they thought it through correctly.
As judges we all acknowledged they took a chance and gave the team points for the difficulty involved. Unfortunately they weren't enough points to make up for the fact that each of their individual efforts was dreadful. All that said, I give them a lot of credit for thinking it through, for making the meal complete. I respected their decision at the time, and after seeing what went on behind the scenes I respect it and Dale, Sara M., and Camille even more. They knew the course was pretty much a disaster, but they presented it with their game faces on. That must have been terribly difficult for them and, like preparing dessert, out of their realm of normal experience. In their own restaurants they would never have let those dishes out of the kitchen knowing that they were so sub-par...let alone have to answer to the people who tasted them and found them so lacking!
Actually, while I was watching this episode it occurred to me that I live Top "Chef" now that I am conducting tastings almost every day for the new restaurant that will occupy the space where the chefs prepared their meals. Of course I've always realized it's nerve-racking for a chef to present a new dish, but I think I now have an even better appreciation of just how tough it must be after seeing the anxiety the contestants endured. And I was reminded about how much talent the "cheftestants" represent. I was impressed that night and even more impressed after seeing the episode and gaining more insight into what they had to deal with, not only in terms of the structure of the challenge, but with regard to personalities.
All of which brings me to the cream that rose to the top that night. Interesting that it was the beginning and the end of the four courses that captured the judges' collective attention. I think that's often the case with a meal.
In any case, the shrimp course was outstanding. While Brian told us they had decided on scallops and then had to switch to shrimp, I had no idea just how set on scallops they had been. It seemed like scallops were the first ingredient anyone mentioned. They adjusted really well on the fly. That sort of thing speaks to me, because I'm the king of "on the fly"!
Now it's time for me to confess that I am not a religious follower of the show, nor of any show because I don't have much spare time for television. So I didn't know much about any of the contestants. I had no idea Lia works with Jean-Georges Vongerichten until I visited Bravotv.com yesterday. Now that I was reminded that she'll be the guest chef at the benefit Barton G. -- the events and catering part of my business -- is doing next month in the Hamptons for the Diabetes Research Institute (featuring a private concert by Diana Ross!), I wanted to know more about her.
I think it is great that she's self-taught and that she's worked her way through the kitchen ranks the way she apparently has. As executive sous chef she is a vital part of one of the top kitchens in the country and I, along with my executive chef Ted Mendez, are looking forward to working with her. It's always good when terrific culinary talents such as Lia and Ted interact -- a synergy develops and everyone takes something new away from the experience. It's exactly what Camille talked about at the end, about how much the whole "Top Chef" experience had meant to her and how she knew it would change how she cooked. I felt so bad for her. There's no doubt in my mind she could make a great pineapple upside down cake under the right circumstances!