On Pitched Food And Pitching In
Tom Colicchio shares his theory on why the chefs produced such lackluster food.
This week's episode was self-explanatory; I have little to add. But I will start by saying how pleased I was to learn that for the Elimination Challenge Top Chef was going to participate in an event to benefit amfAR, a worthy and admirable organization that has been at the forefront of AIDS research, as well as prevention, education and policy advocacy since the disease first surfaced in the 1980s.
What I was not pleased about, as you know from watching the episode, was the level of cooking. In defense of the chefs, the time constraint was a legitimate issue. Having only three hours to pull off the entire prep for this particular challenge was rough. But just because you're cooking to serve from behind a table doesn't mean you should dumb down what you elect to do. There are selections you can make that are just a little better than a deviled egg. I like deviled eggs, but please - you can't expect to win Top Chef with a deviled egg, no matter what you top it with. The chefs didn't seem to be cooking to win; rather, they seem to be cooking to not lose, to play it safe, and not get voted off. There is a huge difference between the two. I know that by Episode Six, they're getting tired, but this is actually the point in the competition at which they should be stepping it up. From what I have seen from these chefs, they really can do better, so I expected more from them. If I didn't think they had it in them, I wouldn't have been so hard on them; I wouldn't have even bothered to go into the kitchen to urge them to step it up. What I was glad to learn was how everyone pulled together to help out the chefs whose food had spoiled. That is exactly how a kitchen actually functions, and I was so glad to learn that everyone had done the right thing. I think that this could have been a factor in the lackluster food - the energy the chefs put into helping those who had lost their food distracted them all from doing their best. But I still think they were hedging their bets. There was a time when I was doing a dinner event and forgot to bring lobster for the lobster course, so we swapped out the foie gras that had been slated for an appetizer, improvised and made do. And it worked. Refrigeration goes down. There have been times when I have had food that took hours or even days to prepare, such as stocks and sauces, and meat that was butchered two days earlier (as opposed to the fish, which we get in fresh each day) and I've walked into the kitchen only to find that the walk-in refrigerator was down and everything had to be thrown out. And yet I still had a restaurant to open that evening. So after looking at each other in horror and letting fly with a few choice expletives, my cooks and I would just roll up our sleeves and get to work. It happens, and you just have to figure it out. So while this obviously was never expected to be part of the challenge, it did provide a little piece of work-experience for the chefs. As I wrote above, I was really glad to see them all pitch in to help - there wasn't one person who didn't do so wholeheartedly. So the judges just didn't think it would have been fair to send any one person home under the circumstances.
Not to mention, it wouldn't have been in the holiday spirit. Speaking of which, Happy Holidays to you all, whichever holiday(s) you celebrate. Thank you for being such enthusiastic viewers, and I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.