So tonight in the Stew Room, Nikki says to Dale, "You can't point fingers [at] the Judges' Table. You become that guy. They are not going to look at you any better when you do that."
Was she right? Well ... no.
Let me explain: It is true that, while Tom described Nikki's performance tonight as a disappointment, it was Dale's that disappointed me more. Not so much for his food, which mostly sounded fine (if chewy). And not because he punched a storage locker after the Quickfire or went after Spike at Judges' Table. That stuff always makes me wince, but the judges want the chefs to tell it like it is. The producers, of course, are never happier than when the chefs go ballistic. We all know that drama = good telly, and good telly is our business. Really, the only reason I would hold an outburst against someone is if they were lying, making excuses for something inexcusable, or otherwise behaving unethically (or pathetically). I don't think Dale was guilty of any of that.
He was just frustrated, and apparently he doesn't handle frustration well. (D'ya think?) He is a chef with some chops and ideas, and here, once again, he was stuck with another team challenge with chefs who he believes (mostly rightly) are not cooking at his level. He was also out of his mind from sleep deprivation. So his strategy was at least understandable: to hunker down and tune out and bury himself in labor.
It's a pretty safe way to hug the soft, mushy middle. But the prize isn't going to a Middle Chef.
You know what would have been more impressive -- not to mention a helluva lot more inspiring? If he had kept his temper under control, assessed his team thoughtfully, and decided that, because he believes he is the stronger chef, he should take the lead, not just hide behind a pan full of tenderloins and hope that Nikki sinks the ship and herself along with it. (Think, Dale: What Would Richard Do?) If Dale is strongest, he also should be best at taking control, figuring out his colleagues' strong points and weak spots, and encouraging them to bring those strengths to bear.
I'm not saying it wouldn't have been risky -- it would have. As TC Exec Producer Shauna Minoprio recently said to me, these challenges give you a thousand ways to fail, and very few ways to succeed. She also said, when I proposed that the chefs must really hate her English guts after this all-night wedding cookoff, "It's very much a love-hate relationship." On her face was a grin of pure evil; her eyes burned with malice, and her tiny, black heart beat steadily, pitilessly on ...
But it might have worked!
It could have been something like what happened in the Quickfire -- the best one, ever -- where urgency, focus, and esprit de corps drove great performances on both teams (until Nikki petered out.) Both here, and in the Elimination Challenge, this episode was absolutely the Lisa and Stephanie Show. Both of these women clearly have mad skills, as Marcel might say, and it's great when they get a challenge that lets them show off. From the first task, despite her shaky hands, Lisa positioned her team strongly to win by supreming six oranges faster than Hung Huynh can dismember a chicken. And on the last task, Steph somehow managed to keep her vat of eggs and oil emulsified all the way to the finish line. If you've ever whisked up a cup of vinaigrette, you know that your arm can tire out pretty quickly -- and here, we're talking an entire quart. Ow.
But the piece de resistance: Wedding cakes in 14 hours? Are you kidding me? Under the stern gaze of pastry genius Gale Gand -- a chef who once grandly informed me that cooking "is a ballet with knives and fire"? This is the dessert equivalent of Mount Everest -- sans Sherpas, with bridezilla shackled to your ankle and Sir Edmund Hillary doing color commentary on your every step -- and I know we all thought those cakes were going to take somebody down hard. Yet, amazingly, both Lisa and Stephanie summited, if I may belabor the metaphor. Another triumph for them both! And, despite the departure of Nikki, there are still more women in the second half of the contest than any time in TC history. Grrrls rule!
Finally, Richard showed great class for offering his win to Steph; that show of mutual respect under difficult conditions perfectly embodies the temperament and spirit we're looking for. (Dale: Please take a memo.)
So who won last week's GenderPAC charity cook-off between Hung and Ilan Hall in NYC? It was close! It was tight! It was hot and smoky! Check out my other blog -- I know, I can't believe I have two of the damned things, either -- at www.tedallen.net!