The Front Seven Become Six
Tom Colicchio questions the "all-stars" in the Super Bowl challenge.
Did you know that after Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday is the day of greatest food consumption in America each year? (Antacid consumption, too, by the way.) Granted, roughly 15-20 million pounds of that will be potato chips, tortilla chips, and popcorn, but chips alone do not get us through the game; we want food. The foods of choice vary region to region, which is why I particularly liked this week’s challenge.
Each NFL team represented was chosen because its city has a distinguished and distinctive food culture. San Francisco is known for its Dungeness Crab, for sourdough bread. You think of Green Bay and you think of venison, cheese, bratwurst. New York is a food mecca and we were shooting there; Dallas, big over-the-top grilling; Miami, Latin food. And Seattle not only has great seafood but is actually a great food town. In fact, I even strongly considered moving there twenty years ago because of its great food culture. I looked forward to what the chefs would do to highlight each town and team’s food legacy.
The only thing I didn’t like about this challenge was the voting power invested in the young culinary students, who, I’m afraid, tended to vote personality over palate. On the other hand, there had to be a way to break the ties that occurred between the four judges more than once. Also — <em>Top Chef</em> All-Stars? It might be a stretch to say so: Some didn’t make it more than half-way through their season’s competition. Andrea was eliminated not once but twice, and not one of the members of the “All-Star” team made it to their season’s finale. Still, they’re all solidly good chefs and having already weathered prior seasons, they had the advantage of having been through the stress of the competition before.
Overall, the chefs did a fine job. And I’d like to note that sometimes in this competition a great dish gets edged out by an even better dish. For example, I voted for Camille’s dish over Jamie’s, because I think that Camille’s was ultimately even stronger, but I still felt that Jamie’s was one of the strongest of the day. The way this challenge was structured, I voted against Jamie’s while voting for certain other dishes that, while better than their challengers’, were not as strong as Jamie’s. Hey, some years there may be better teams than the one that ultimately wins the Super Bowl, which just had a great streak. It happens.
As for the bottom dishes, Jeff’s was the overall weakest. First of all, it wasn’t actually ceviche. As I’m sure you know, ceviche is seafood that is literally cooked by the acid in the citrus in which it is steeped (the citric acid causes a chemical reaction that cooks the fish without needing to add heat). Here, Jeff poached the shrimp first. osie may have done so as well — I’m not sure. But regardless, her dish was far more flavorful; aside from Padma, it was the clear favorite of both the judges and the students. Similarly, while the venison was overcooked, Fabio’s sauce was excellent and his dish, overall, showed more creativity and intensity of flavor. Jeff is very concerned about presentation. He’s right that it is important, however it’s not the beginning and end of the story, and his dish was just weak. The sorbet on top was a good idea in theory, not in practice. It was fine cold, but once it started to melt, it just became watery and didn’t hold up. At the end of the day, the dish was bland and uninteresting, regardless of how it was presented. Unfortunately for Jeff, decision at the Judges' Table was clear to us all this week.
A post-script: This is the second time that <em><em><em>Top Chef</em></em></em> has worked with the NFL and it won’t be the last ... keep your eyes peeled ... and enjoy the Super Bowl.