Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

No Way Out

Gail Simmons wonders whose fault the losing team's failure really is.

Given that I have to write this blog before the show airs each week, I receive the DVD of every episode several days in advance. For heated conclusions like the one we saw tonight, I have plenty of time to re-watch every detail in order to get to the bottom of each issue. For the record, Antonia never said to Spike's face she would not make soup for the Earth Team's course for the Four Elements Meals On Wheels charity ball. However, she did say it privately to the camera in what we call on-set an OTF ("On the Fly interview"). Therefore, I guess she technically was not lying at the end of the episode when they got into a steaming debate over her insistence on doing a Beef Carpaccio with Mushroom Salad and Sunchoke Aioli, which resulted in their teammate Zoi's leaving the competition. Nevertheless, looking back at the footage, it is obvious that Antonia certainly bulldozed over Spike's butternut squash soup idea and steered them toward what she wanted to do in a passive-aggressive manner.
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So who really is to blame for what went wrong on the losing team this week. Is it the fault of Spike and Zoi for not stepping up and insisting Antonia should not get a say because she has immunity? Or is Antonia to blame for not allowing her teammates to take the lead, knowing she was safe and their necks were on the line? Thinking back to the Judges' Table, had she not had immunity, there may have been a strong argument for sending Antonia home. I have no doubt that if Spike and Zoi were asked who was responsible for the dish and Antonia could have been eliminated, they would absolutely have blamed the concept on her. And rightfully so. The dish was her idea and was clearly the weakest course of the night. But this is irrelevant for many reasons. First, because she did have immunity, but also because it was not the concept of the dish that caused them to lose. In theory, raw beef, mushrooms, fresh herbs, and sunchokes all have perfectly earthy flavors and can easily be combined to create a savory and rustic dish that without a doubt reflects the element they were assigned according to the theme of the meal. Ultimately it was the execution that failed. In this specific case, we had no choice but to eliminate Zoi. Besides the fact that the dish lacked proper seasoning of any kind, the mushroom salad with rosemary was bitter and unbalanced. Zoi was responsible for that portion of the dish. Since we could not send Antonia home for under-salting the food, Zoi was next on the chopping block. I am sure there will be many frustrated fans who are disappointed with the outcome, but given our choices and knowing the rules, our decision was unavoidable. As a side note, I must admit I appreciate that Antonia is not taking any chances, regardless of having immunity, and that she is completely committed to doing whatever she believes is right. This determination is often what helps chefs persevere in the competition.
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Now, besides the fighting that ensued on the losing team, I believe this was the first time we witnessed so much pent-up anger and emotion on the winning team as well. You would think that although Stephanie, Lisa, and Dale had a rough time getting started, the fact that they won the challenge would allow them to forget their original annoyances and enjoy their time in the spotlight. Instead, while Spike, Antonia and Jennifer butted heads over Zoi's departure, Dale let loose on Lisa about her constant complaining and poor attitude. Understandably, he was probably very upset that after so much whining she was the recipient of a trip to Italy for her miso smoked bacon. Don't think for an instant the judges have not noticed Lisa's negativity and the perpetual look of misery on her face. But as I have told viewers before, our job on Top Chef is to judge solely based on what is set before us. We do not know what went on behind the scenes until the show airs. What we care about for each episode is how the food is prepared, how good or bad it tastes, and how well the contestants complete their given challenge. From start to finish, the Fire Team's Grilled Shrimp with Pickled Chili Salad, Deviled Aioli and Miso Smoked Bacon was tasty, creative and met all the criteria of that night's challenge. We all agreed that it was Lisa's sticky, sweet bacon that gave the dish an extra hint of flavor and captured our imaginations. The technique she used to make it was unusual and it looked great on the plate. But most of all it was fun and delicious -- the perfect garnish to an all-around well-conceived plate.