Every Kitchen Needs a Chef

Gail Simmons warns about the problems teams face without a leader.

Tasty tacos and a friendly neighborhood block party!? Wow, our cheftestants have it good. I am not suggesting this week's challenges were easy, but they sure looked fun. Compared to the stress of the Classics Challenge in Episode 1 and the focused nature of the Animal Diet Challenge in Episode 2, this Elimination seemed like a walk in the park. At first, things looked to be heading in the right direction. I saw lots of pats on the back, tons of encouragement, and a whole lot of high-fiving. The chefs' support of one another was a lovely change from the usual back-stabbing, tight-lipped kitchen antics we have come to anticipate on the show. In my time as a judge on Top Chef, I never would have guessed that too much team spirit would be the reason behind failure. Until now. gail_403_04_320x240.jpg

Despite how festive it all appeared, the food for their family fun day did not turn out as planned. Contrary to the positive display of teamwork, I heard a great deal of uncertainty behind-the-scenes and under their breath. This should have been a warning sign that the food was not going to be quite as spectacular as they projected. I also did not see any sort of leadership on either team when it came to working through their menus. When no one's thinking of the whole picture, it almost never comes together as planned.
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It started with Nikki's Mac & Cheese. She voiced her concern twice to the camera about the possibility that it would not hold up in the hot box during transportation to the party. She knew there was serious potential for her dish to dry out, but never communicated it to her group. Of course, that was exactly what transpired. Had there been someone in charge who tasted everyone's food and talked through these individual issues, perhaps they would have suggested ways to keep it from drying out, or perhaps they would have determined that Mac & Cheese was not the best idea in their situation. Although she was on the winning team, her dish, coupled with Richard's (not so authentic) Paella, was the reason the Blue Team still was subjected to intense criticism at the Judges' Table. gail_403_01_320x240.jpg

On the Red Team, communication seemed to break down completely. Ryan's Waldorf salad, lacking the mayonnaise necessary to bind the ingredients together, became a watery, flavorless mess, despite Tom's warning. Neither Ryan nor Jennifer, who helped make it, cared to heed that piece of key advice. In addition, Zoi moaned and complained about being forced into making a pasta salad, as if it were beneath her, but still managed to mess it up. Clearly, everyone else on the team knew she was miserable making it, but not one person stepped in to improve or even taste it, including her partner! Perhaps that was their strategy all along. It would have made perfect sense if they were plotting to get her kicked off the show. Amazingly, they all seemed totally surprised when the judges announced how awful it was.
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It was Erik's corn dogs that really had it coming. Delicious in theory and a family favorite for sure, corn dogs -- as Erik himself acknowledged before they left the Top Chef kitchen -- would undoubtedly get soggy during transit. Now, we all know that practically anything, with the possible exception of an old shoe, tastes great three minutes out of the deep fryer. Erik obviously knew it, and I am quite certain if one other person on his team had stopped to think about it they would have known it too. He told the camera in no uncertain terms that this was a possibility, but he never told anyone else. Or if he did, no one on his team had the insight to deal with it. Were they trying to get him kicked off too? If so, it worked. It should have come as no surprise either when the judges tore those poor little corn dogs apart!

Tonight's moral comes up time and again in team challenges on Top Chef. No matter what the circumstance, every kitchen needs a chef. A designated leader creates structure and direction, which results in quality control. Let's hope in the weeks to come our chefs spend less time high-fiving and more time communicating.

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