Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio takes you behind-the-scenes at the CIA.

on Aug 18, 20100

OK, so everyone finally got what they want: Alex is gone. But he didn’t go home for alleged cheating, he didn’t go home for not pulling his weight. The reason he’s gone is the reason everyone goes: he made the worst dish of the episode. More on that, below.
 
And for folks still upset about Kenny’s departure last week: This is a single-tournament style competition. It’s not the World Cup, where you can lose a match but still progress. It’s not a cumulative competition, for a host of solid reasons that all serve the quality of the show, not the least of which is that if it were, it would render the weekly guest judges irrelevant. If you lose a game, you’re out. It’s always been that way. Our cheftestants are talented chefs, and our viewers develop their favorites, and only one of the group will never find him/herself eliminated at some point along the road for giving us the weakest dish in the challenge at hand. A bad day can cost a strong contestant the whole competition. As I say all the time, it’s all about that day’s food.  
 
But before we get into the food, let’s talk about CIA Headquarters in Langley, in McLean, VA, a few miles west of DC, along the Potomac. It was so interesting to shoot an episode there. Security was incredibly tight, as you can imagine. Getting into the building was a process. But once you’d passed the spy museum on the ground floor, the rest of the building looked like any other office building. And yet you knew you weren’t in an ordinary building. We didn’t just have to turn off our cell phones, we had to turn them in. Those of us working on the show could not use our normal means of communicating during production. They make the shoot run smoothly, so that aspect of production was more challenging, but in a fun way. And once we were on the premises, we had to stay in our small areas.  If anyone strayed, however inadvertently, some official type would appear at your elbow to put you back where you belonged. It really makes you wonder just what’s going on in that building. But they couldn’t have been nicer. They loaded us up on the way out with all sorts of CIA goodies, such as cufflinks, sticky notes, and attaché cases for our computers. I can keep feeling like a spy for a long time to come … as long as my seventeen year old doesn’t abscond with absolutely everything I brought home.
 
Most interesting to me is that Leon Panetta is a real foodie! I’d actually met him once before at a food event in Monterey –- it was the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Leadership Conference, and he was attending one of the parties. He is quite knowledgeable about food. In fact, all of the CIA folks at the table at Langley were selected because they really loved food and/or they really loved the show, which meant that we had the pleasure of receiving really insightful feedback from them about what they were sampling.
 
So the challenge here was to “disguise” a well-known dish  This was an opportunity for chefs to get really creative and playful, to have a great time showing us their skills. Two of the chefs who wound up on the bottom failed in the creativity department: Amanda turned a soup into … a soup.  nd Angelo seemed to have phoned it in, presenting us with what was seemingly Beef Wellington in Groucho Marx glasses. In addition, the dishes were not executed particularly well. As you saw, the marmalade in Amanda’s dish rendered the whole dish excessively sweet, and Angelo’s beef was tough. Unfortunately for Alex, however, his dish failed by going too far in the other direction. While he tried very hard to disguise his dish, Wylie was correct in stating that the disguise was ultimately simply its bad execution. Stunningly bad. Chefs have gone home for overreaching –- here, Alex tried to do things he’d never done before, and every single component of the dish was disastrous. I didn’t mean to be harsh for harshness’s sake when I said that the meat was tough, I’ve had better fried mozzarella at a state fair and better tortelloni out of a box. Sadly, that was just straight-up honest and true.  
 
As for the three top dishes in the challenge –- the chefs met the criteria for the challenge and executed terrific dishes. Kelly’s broth was flavorful and her “disguise” a true re-conceptualization of the original dish. Ed executed a complex array of components beautifully, and Tiffany presented a wonderfully creative “disguise” of a gyro that was simply delicious. Really delicious. Some of our contestants started strong and have been losing ground. Tiffany, however, has been bringing it on as the pressure’s mounted.
 
We’re down to six and closing in on the finale. As is true for those fine Americans working for the CIA, and as Alex himself said in his exit interview, there will be absolutely no room for error from here on out.

117 comments
rlparks
rlparks

Ok I'm not a chef, but I do consider myself a foodie. This show is about the FOOD!!!!! I find that most of the cheftestants go home on not executing basic cooking techniques well; too much slat, not enough seasoning, and not cooking the dish correctly are sure fire ways to be sent home. The closer we get to the end, the harder the judging will be. There is no room for mistakes. And I don't think the judges are being mean. I believe the judges just expect more and more from the cheftestants as the season progresses, and when they don't deliver the judges are honest about it.

Peki
Peki

Me too. Alex should have been gone a long time ago. I watching a repeat of the CIA dinner. Why are these goofballs smelling the food? What's this eating with a knife. Have they heard of forks. These are suppose to be smart people?

Viewer74
Viewer74

I love Tiffany more and more every week. I think it's great that as the pressure mounts, she seems to raise her game. And through it all, no histrionics, no fake drama, and behavior that is actually - shocking for a reality game show - honorable. You're a pleasure to watch, Tiffany! Can't wait to visit your restaurant and sample your delicious food after you win Top Chef. :)

basauer713
basauer713

Currently watching the episode at the ballpark, Angelo is starting to show desperation. In the beginning, Loved Him! Now, not so much, his comment about Kevin being a thug... seriously, anyone know thugs that wield a spoon, spatula, rosemary and cilantro with such ease? My fave is still Tiffany, she is confident, cal, cool and collected.......her behavior and her dishes are graceful. Angelo criticizing Amanda when he advised her.......... seriously, desperation. Can't wait to see the finale......... great TV Bravo!

Viewer52258
Viewer52258

I am thrilled that Alex is gone. I am not thrilled that the CIA and its director were on display like some soap opera cast party. Once upon a time, things like spy agencies had respect for themselves and their work. Apparently under the current leadership that has gone by the wayside. Disturbing to see one of the most powerful men in the world on a cable television reality show. Mr. Panetta seems more the political insider and poseur than the nation's spy chief.

basauer713
basauer713

Could not agree with you more about Tiffany.

Grendel
Grendel

I've just caught up on all your blogs that I've missed, Tom, and I just want to say thanks for the fair & insightful commentary on the past episodes. Keep 'em coming! You're getting me through my workday. LOL!

Ms. Dallas
Ms. Dallas

Tiffany is sweet, classy and apparently a very good chef. Luckily, I can actually find that out for myself here in Dallas!! I truly hope she wins.

Big Red
Big Red

I love Tiffany...her food always looks great. She is the sweetest, classiest person on the show and I hope she goes to the finale.

Big Red
Big Red

I agree with you. Tiffany is the sweetest, classiest contestant this season. I hope she wins it all. Oh yeah...her food looks good too!

dach
dach

Deconstruct challenge! The food looked so... normal. I'm really missing the cast from last year. Especially the mad chef genius of Michael Voltaggio, though I am loving his EC winners recipe videos.

And those still going on about Alex pea ... I'd hate to imagine any of you on a jury, confusing lack of facts with slick lawyer story weaving.

beachteach007
beachteach007

Angelo , please get it together , my 12 yr old daughter who can't wait for her birthday , ( I promised we could go to XIE XIE for her birthday dinner , with 3 of her equally devoted to you friends for her birthday lunch ) , l had to endure her crying on the couch until you were declared safe... at which point she finally began to breath normally ... good luck ... get focused... cook your food ... and you will win ...

JP
JP

I always watch Top Chef but I have never posted. First I love the show and I agree that this year has really been interesting with the chefs cooking in DC. As far as Alex, I also felt bad for him because I just don't think anyone is dumb enough to steal someone's dish and think that no one would know! I have read these blogs and I know that you are getting hammered for that episode. Anyhow, great show and I am rooting for Angelo. It does seem like he has kind of had a meltdown mentally though. I hope that he can recover and take the title of Top Chef. Tiffany has shown some real class too.

mmc
mmc

Loving the show this season....some very nerve racking challenges.I understand what you 're saying....you're only as good as your last meal.makes sense if that's what the rules are.If you stay consistantly good you progress...if not you are eliminated no matter how good you were up to this point.Tiffany seems consistant and confidant in a good way.To the blogger who didn't like the brothers on together....i think it was a nice change.Brothers are competitive as it is and to be vying for the same prize was fun.Even though I rooted for Kevin in that season. can someone at bravo solve the case of the missing Pea puree/Don't leave us hanging!

speeechteach
speeechteach

I must admit I was sad to see Kenny go, because the pissing contest between Angelo and Kenny was interesting. However, my biggest problem is with Amanda. She is constantly on the bottom, yet she is still around.

She disquises soup as soup, leaves cartilage in the chicken, over cooks food, and at one point, Padma said her food was "amatuer." It's time for her to go.

faithful viewer
faithful viewer

i also thought amanda would be next to go. they are keeping her on the show purely for 'eye-candy', so if anyone says 'what do looks have to do with it??', here is your example. she couldn't even explain to tom what a proper ministrone soup should have been. then she gets doe-eyed and gives us her 'aw-shucks' response that the judges fall for every time during judging. oh well, it is just a gameshow/contest people. whatever.

miriam ley
miriam ley

eating with knives...it's european, as are Eric Ripert and Padma (she grew up in London)

alex...the rules didn't say he had to COOK a dish in restaurant wars, they said he had to CONCEPTUALIZE a dish...go back and reread Tom's blog if you need a clarification...just because YOU think he broke the rules doesn't mean he did...drunk magenta polish sausage anyone??

gagemgg
gagemgg

Hi Tom, I am so glad this Kenny thing is over. I loved this week's episode. At the end of the day the viewers can't taste the food and we have to rely on the judges. That is what my husband and I do. I can't wait to see the next DC installment.

Viewern
Viewern

Tiffany is a much stronger chef than most on the show this season. Amanda needs to go home. She is a very weak chef. She is just skidding through right now. She is not top chef material. Kevin needs to get control of himself and focus on the food. I think Kelly has good ideas. By the way, what do looks have to do with anything?

lkbrose
lkbrose

Exactly,

It's what I said in many blogs (on Covert affairs because my post don't make it).

And I still have to add -- Tres left as Executive chef on a DO-OVER. The ONLY time the allowed RW as a DO-OVER. So much for the tournament style of competition.

If they would've played the RW on Season 3 like any other, I would bet 90% that one of the front of the house people would've been going (Dale or Brian -- who both made it to the top 4).

I don't think Tres was the worst in the first RW. They had a precedent for no team to win on Season 2 -- and sent the worst person at that people (sweet Mikey -- but the appropriate person to go home). I don't no why they decided to allow a DO-OVER -- obviously it wasn't well received because they never have done it sense then.

In Season 4 -- Dale (probably won the highest winner players not to make it into the top 4) lost to on of the people who was consistently on the bottom, Lisa (who made it into the top 3).

So this is how, I think the rules work -- Be consistently in the bottom making dishes that almost send you home, never make duos, never be executive show, never take any necessary risks [i.e. don't make desserts unless you HAVE To, sometimes make ceviche but not when the judges decide it's no longer a valid cooking method) -- you'll make it to the top 5 at least. Heck you may even win (Josea, Season 5). What happened to Josea?

Do I have the rules down?

Loopy
Loopy

All I can say is, I am LOVING this season...maybe I'm just a TC addict. I'm pretty impressed you are able to get heavy hitters like Pelosi and Panetta to participate -- says alot about TC clout! I felt bad for Alex - I think the editing kind of turned people against him. He actually seemed alot more mature than some of the other contestants, never spoke badly of the others, took the high road, and did nothing but compete aggressively. He had alot more creativity than some of the others remaining, too...but execution is 95% of it. Me, I'm rooting for Angelo!!

Rayne
Rayne

Yeah Tom your words changes every season and yet no one picks up on it. Anyway I did what I promise. I am not watching the show anymore. I can care less who wins. One thing I know, it won't be Tiffany. Good luck on the rest of the season. Your x-favorite viewer. I'm back with chef Ramsay.

Steve NEW YORK
Steve NEW YORK

Hello Top Chef Fans, This comment is for Tom Colicchio (I dont know if you will see this) lol. I have watch the show Top Chef every season like everyone here I'm sure. Let me first say I cant cook I'm a graphic artist. I do like to watch the show and I do learn from the show. Here is my Issue, The Kenny and the Tre issue. You must agree that they were one of the top chefs on the show? I keep hearing on the show "We judge only on the current challenge" the pass don't mean anything. Patma have said in the reunion "If we eat at your restaurant and the food is bad, then we wouldn't come back" something like that. Well Padma That is different. Top Chef is a show about finding the Top Chef. THEN WHY CALL THE SHOW TOP CHEF? I would think you like to find the TOP CHEF RIGHT? Then you should change the title of the show. Top Chef of the week! Then this makes sense! One week one guy/gal is the Top Chef then the next week you have another Top Chef. The 2 brothers on the show WAS A TOTAL JOKE! How did the viewers NOT SEE THAT THE TWO BROTHERS WERE GOING TO BE IN THE FINALS!!! I'm sure you have many many people apply to be on the show. They must be going crazy when they saw this. How can you put 2 brothers on THE SAME SHOW? HOW? This is first posting. I'm sure someone has posted this comment on the "brother Issue" I mean I can go on about every season but I leave it like that. I understand you like to keep drama on the show. Drama makes the show good. I understand this. but you need change the rules with the show. "We judge only on the current challenge" The final show you should say. " You are Top Chef of the week!" Like I said before, I'm a fan of the show but not a chef. Thanks, Steve

gdw
gdw

Thanks to RLB for posting the breakdown of Tiffany vs. Kenn! I don't get why everyone keeps saying "Kenny was Angelo's biggest competition." Say what? In Kenny's own head, perhaps he was, but his showing certainly tells a different story. I didn't find him particularly likable, either. I would like to get back to a focus on the food, not personalities. I think it's really telling that the chefs who are quietly cooking delicious food and being successful are also the ones who don't bluster and brag. I love how Tiffany helped Kelly with the rice. And about the rice - as soon as Kelly started putting stuff in the rice cooker I said to my son, "Why doesn't she just do it on the stove?" Perfect rice is simple when you do it the old-fashioned way, and you don't have to watch it anymore than you would the rice cooker. It's all in the timing!

Lawrence
Lawrence

While Angelo might not have won many episodes, no one has been more consistently in the running than he has. If you use the same standard then Jennifer wasn't a very good cook last year despite winning so many quick fires and making it to the finals as she only won one elimination challenge and even that one depended upon Michael V cooking a very good dish.

leopoldmozart
leopoldmozart

For me the real drama of the show was that Tiffany helped Kelly out of her rice ddisaster and helped her plate. Tiffany's support made it possible for Kelly to (rightfully) be in the top three, and STILL Tiffany won. Tiffany is the most magnanimous AND the best cook. Bravo Tiffany!

a loyal viewer
a loyal viewer

I still vote for Angelo.He had a case of nerves last week, but I think he is an extremely smart and capable chef with a variety of talents that will help him win the finals. I don't think he has the creativity and wit of Kevin and Brian and Michael. Or the coolness of Harold. Or the amazing dexterity of Hung. Those are the guys that really have stood out. I bet the V brothers and Kevin and Richard Blaise would have had a ball with the CIA challenge. They had skill and style and wit. But none of these folks are of that character. Oh well. My money is still on Angelo.

SoOverIt
SoOverIt

I'm so thrilled that, at a time of extreme and harsh economic conditions in this country, that the CIA was so generous with OUR tax dollars, giving "CIA goodies" to Tom and the gang.

AMG
AMG

Did you mean lamb or lamp?

SCHOTSEA
SCHOTSEA

I agree 200% - Tiffany is just calmly and methodically staying true to herself and makeing good food. I'm hoping it's her, Kelly and Ed in the finale.

YOU GO GIRLS

Canadian Fan
Canadian Fan

Hi Tom:

Thanks for your insightful blogs and for being willing to engage with us fans.

I would agree about the 'rules' and Kenny's elimination except for Stephanie's win in Season 5; she did not make the best meal that night as far as your comments revealed in what was edited for the show. Hosea's win is still a very, very low point in the show for me, when Stefan was the clear 'master chef' of that season (I still do not buy that he should have come in second place because his beautiful dessert was reminiscent of previous decades and 'pedestrian', according to Padma, and when Hosea took the easy way out by not making a dessert).

Still love the show but would like these previous cases addressed on the show sometime, perhaps in one of those reunion episodes (which reminds me - I would love it if those shows showed less clips from the season and more discussion and time spent hearing about how all of the contestents are doing. More often than not hear a few words from a few people but are generally left wishing that we could hear more from each of the contestents - especially the last 10 - about how their lives changed after the show, what they thought of different challenges, etc.).

jazerelle
jazerelle

When reading do you like to peak at the ending so it is no surprise when you finally get there?

Sapphiegirl
Sapphiegirl

Who cares???? YOU SHOULD CARE SINCE IT IS YOUR TAX DOLLARS THAT ARE PAYING FOR THESE "FREE" GIFTS!!!!! I personally believe that instead of the feds giving out freebies to Top Chef, they should be investing that money in the education of our children!!!!! THE FUTURE OF OUR COUNTRY RESTS IN OUR CHILDREN AND THEIR EDUCATION!

whatsthat
whatsthat

for me, the highlight was hearing the director of the CIA pronounce 'gyro'? although the credibility of national intelligence may have taken a hit. (was eric ripert being polite when he repeated it? or just trying not to embarrass him?)

Dena Jo
Dena Jo

This week's episode underscored a major difference between Angelo and Kenny. This week, Angelo actually uttered the words, "I deserve to go home." Therein lies the difference. Kenny could never admit there was anything wrong with his food. When he ended up on the bottom, it was never because he made bad food but, rather, because something Machiavellian was going on, the other contestants were being strategic, the judges were simply wrong... TThat's why Kenny never improved. He was incapable of hearing criticism without being immediately and reflexively dimissive of it.

D
D

Thanks for pointing the fans to the Wikipedia grid LauraJ. It is a nice summation (I always thought the TC website should have something like that to help fans keep track). What it is lacking is more detail of how well chefs did in the Quick Fire. People's opinions are affected by how many times a particular chef ends up in the top or bottom of a Quick Fire. Chefs like Angelo and Kenny might have built confidence (arrogance?) and a "fomidable" reputation by consistently coming in the top of Quick Fires even though they may have won only one or two of them. If the grid would also show that somehow, it would be even better.

S. Nelson
S. Nelson

My complaints about Kenny going home had nothing to do with the judges, but with how the show was edited. The producers/editors set up the episode to give us certain information that was completely misleading. Maybe they are trying to keep the ending a "secret" and not phone it in, but it just feels like being jerked around. The scenes and dialogue should support the final conclusion, not contradict it. It was simply bad editing.

julia
julia

I hope Tiffany wins it all...she appears to be so happy when she wins and her food looks great.

suzymagnolia
suzymagnolia

Well that was rude. Obviously I'm paying attention. I'm a huge fan. It's a matter of perception I guess. Sometimes leadership matters, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's a cooking contest, sometimes it's a rawfood contest. The list of inconsistencies goes on and on.

Alxwak
Alxwak

I havve only one thing to say: Tiffany's dish was so well "disguised" that it was an entirely different recipe. I'm from Greece and gyros is our national fast food. It's not ours as an idea, in fact it came from the refugees of Asia Minor in Turkey. The problem with the recipe that was presented was that it was lamp. Gyros is pork! Period! Don't say it's beef or beef/lamp. That is doner and it's an entirely different thing. The recipe Tiffany presented is really close to lamp kembap (I'm not about it's spelling) with smoked eggplant's puree,which is sometimes served with crispy pita breads. One last thing, greek cooking is stereotypical in the show. We don't cook only lamp or only fish. We have a variety of recipes that most of you would ever consider making,because most of them don't include any meat or fish. In fact, any greek cook could nail the Natali Portman and Napa Valley episodes of Season 6, because these are things we group up at (minus the duck).

LAxrae
LAxrae

I want Angelo to get it together!!! I think Kelly is the dark horse in the running, and may pull it out (you go girl!). I love that Tiffany keeps surprising us. By the time women get to a place of success, they've usually had to work twice as hard as any man, and are better all around. COME ON GRRRRRLS!! :)

LAxrae
LAxrae

Tom- so grateful that you take the time to blog!! Thank you!! :) I enjoy reading your details immensely. I can never get enough of Top Chef, and to be able to hear more from you and others is so....FUN. A blog on a computer screen is fun. Yes. lol!! Thanks for running such a high end operation, from judging to style to production to FOOOOOOD! XOXO

LauraJ
LauraJ

Wikipedia has a nice grid showing how each contestant has done so far. I was surprised to see that Angelo has only won one elimination, the first one; he's talked about how great he is so much, I didn't really notice that he hasn't been winning elims. On the other hand, the lovely Tiffany has won two eliminations, two quickfires, has been in the top 3 four other times and is the only one who has never been in the bottom 3. She's also fair, kind, and calm. I'm pulling for her to go all the way!

Pat from Omaha
Pat from Omaha

With Wylie there and a challenge of disguising a dish I thought this challenge would be easy for the chefs. I figured they all knew how to deconstruct a dish and change things so that what is on the plate doesn't look like something you recognize but once you eat it you say "ah-ha, I know what this is.". Was amazed that Angelo couldn't figure out anything more creative then just putting the meat on puff pastry and Amanda's disguising soup as a different soup. Glad Alex is gone....not really because I didn't like him or because I thought he was bad per se. I felt he was becoming a distraction. Post 'pea gate' and RW. Now we can just move toward the finals and not worry about Alex. Thanks Tom for checking with the other chefs about the 'pea gate', you knew it was really bothering us and obviously you and you took it upon yourself to find out as much information as you could. If not the reunion show would have been real uncomfortable. As always, loyal fan.

Simone25
Simone25

Newsflash her two winning challenge dishes were NOT one pot wonders! The Chicken Tamales and the Gyro deconstructed. Can you say Hater!

Jin
Jin

I agree that Kenny going home is what made Angelo lose focus. But I think it's because Angelo realized that his biggest competition, who he did respect and knew had talent could go home easily and someone like Alex and Amanda can remain. I think that made him kinda lose respect for the game...knowing it's all meaningless anyway. But I hope he bounces back cuz I really like him. I didn't at first cuz I thought he was so cocky, but he actually seems to have some heart.

MLS:RLS
MLS:RLS

At first we thought for sure Amanda would be going home considering she disguised her soup as another soup and it was not good. Even though Alex's dish was executed really bad he followed the criteria. At this stage in the game how do you over cook a major component of your dish? It was time for Alex and next will be Amanda. We were surprised to see Angelo in the bottom 3 but he started off his game in the quick fire challenge. It will be very interesting to see how the next few episodes pan out. Thanks Tom love your blog!!!

MLS:RLS
MLS:RLS

At first we thought for sure Amanda would be going home considering she disguised her soup as another soup and it was not good. Even though Alex's dish was executed really bad he followed the criteria. At this stage in the game how do you over cook a major component of your dish? It was time for Alex and next will be Amanda. We were surprised to see Angelo in the bottom 3 but he started off his game in the quick fire challenge. It will be very interesting to see how the next few episodes pan out. Thanks Tom love your blog!!!

Jambalaya
Jambalaya

Still enjoying the show. It was Alex's time. I agree with Tom about the immunity of the team in Restaurant Wars. In fact, I was very impressed with his team's Restaurant Wars strategy, essentially sidelining Alex so the team overall could prosper. As suspected from prior performances, all it took was the proper challenge for him to be eliminated, and this week was it. (Also, I would like to see them implemement Tom's idea about FOTH.) I continue to believe and have faith in the judging process. The blogs help underline for me how even-handed and consistent the dish evaluations appear to be. I have learned a great deal about what good chefs strive for in their food and see those goals repeated almost every show. My issue is with the production process and the editing. The clips included each week are becoming formulaic. Surely, the producers are getting better footage than what we are seeing?! They need to fnd a new way to tell the story. I would love to see them step out of the box and get creative. Why not show more of the judges comments and deliberations? For example, I can't believe that this week's dishes were judged without more in-depth discussion about "I would have done this" or "I would have done that." More food discussion would appeal to me over simple clips leading (and misleading) to the outcome. Are Tom and Padma and Gail and Eric et al still having fun? What are they enjoying about judging the competition? Let's see more of that!

Emily D
Emily D

Loved what Ron had to say about Angelo - made me chuckle. It really looks like the tables are turning. Glad to see Tiffany pulling ahead.

I really am a little disappointed that there is so much focus on so much of the political scene of DC...Isn't this a cooking show?