Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio clears up -- very clearly -- why Alex wasn't up for elimination.

on Aug 13, 2010

As I’m on vacation, I was going to take this week off from blogging, but I needed to address a few things, so I decided to write.

First of all -- and this is not the result of a new Top Chef rule but, rather, has been the way team challenges have worked since the show’s inception -–
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.
Let’s see if I can be clearer:
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.
Just to make sure everyone understand this:
Alex was on the winning team; he wasn’t up for elimination.

It doesn’t matter that the members of the other team suggested that Alex didn’t present a dish. Not only did we never consider eliminating him for the reason stated above, but also because he did present a dish -- he put his name on his dish. We don’t have time in the shooting schedule to halt production and go watch the dailies to see how much of the dish Alex claimed as his he’d actually cooked. He claimed responsibility for that dish. Had it been a bad dish and his team lost, it would have gone against him. It’s as simple as that. (And don’t worry -- the challenges don’t remain team challenges all the way to the end, and no one wins the title of Top Chef by sliding by while others do their work.) By the way, I’ve been in touch with some of the contestants, who have confirmed that that they did in fact witness Alex making the pea puree. He bought the peas and blanched them but had not yet decided what to do with them the day before. The next day, he made the pea puree. When asked why he didn’t defend himself in the episode, Alex answered, “Why should I defend myself against something I didn’t do?” Some of his fellow cheftestants may have wanted him out this week because they believed he had cheated in that earlier challenge and harbored ill will against him, but we now have corroboration that he didn’t.

People are also up in arms that Kenny was eliminated. Let’s discuss: First of all, so many people seem to have bought into Kenny’s one-man PR campaign, and yes, Kenny broke strong out of the starting gate, but he didn’t keep it up. I’ll discuss his having assumed the executive chef position below, but here let me just start by saying that he chose to make two dishes and both were woefully poor. The beet salad had too many components to it and was just a poor dish, and the cheese dish was horrendous, a word you don’t often read in my blog. The combo of goat cheese and a strawberry rhubarb relish could have been good, but Kenny used an aged goat cheese, which affected the consistency and made it too salty. I have no doubt that Kenny has more experience than, say, Amanda, but we don’t judge on that — we judge on the evidence before us in each challenge. I’m invested in the show, but I’m not a fan, so I don’t have a favorite. Being angry at me for sending Kenny home is akin to a fan at a sporting event not liking the outcome and yelling at the ref.

So many people protested Kenny’s ouster, stating that Kenny did such a great job leading his team. Really? He led them to defeat. He didn’t guide the poorer dishes and, in fact, the two he made were the poorest by far. Gail said it best, when Kenny complained that his team was incredibly well-organized while the other team was running around. She rightly commented that we don’t judge on that criteria –- we judge on the food we’re tasting. Period. And EVOO’s food was better.

So while Kenny may have run a tight ship, it was a sinking ship and one of the four aboard was going home. Many people complain that the person who should have packed her knives was Amada. Amanda’s grilled strip steak was cut too thin to get a good crust, but her sauce was good. It was not a great dish, but it was nowhere near as poor as either of the dishes that Kenny made. One weak dish versus two very weak dishes. It’s simple math. Kelly’s soup was a bit watery, but her chocolate tart was a simple and well-made dessert and her front-of-house skills were professional and fine. And Kevin was not going home for his fish dish, which was pretty good.

Kenny, on the other hand, was like Tre in Season Three –- he assumed a lot of responsibility … and ultimately made more mistakes. Kenny took it upon himself to be the leader, and there’s a risk attendant in that. If your team wins, you may well win the challenge, but Kenny’s lost, and he both led them to the loss and led them in it, with two weak dishes. Sorry if you don’t like Alex. Sorry if you don’t like Amanda. This leads me to the other long-standing rule I’d like to remind viewers of:

We judge only on the current challenge.
In other words,
We judge only on the current challenge.
And, lest I wasn’t clear:
We judge only on the current challenge.
We judge only on the current challenge.
We judge only on the current challenge.
We judge only on the current challenge.
We judge only on the current challenge.
We judge only on the current challenge.
We judge only on the current challenge.
We judge only on the current challenge.

In this episode’s challenge, the four people on the winning team were simply not up for elimination, and of the four on the losing team, Kenny didn’t help Kelly make a better soup, didn’t help Amanda make a better steak, and then himself made two dishes that were far worse than either of those. He was the clear choice to be sent home.

For any wanna-be producers out there, and for all conspiracy theorists: please realize that from a TV standpoint, getting rid of Kenny was a bad thing to do. Believe me, the show’s producers were not happy with our decision, because it brought to an abrupt end the rivalry between Kenny and Angelo. So if ever anyone still speculated that we judges make our decisions for any reasons other than the food before us, I hope this dispels those thoughts.

And for the record, I’ve always thought it odd that the show puts two chefs out in the front of the house and have long begged the producers to change that aspect of Restaurant Wars. One quarter of the chefs are responsible for dishes but forced to spend the evening out in the front of the house. I would much prefer to get two well-known front-of-house folks in that position and have them then comment on how the chefs’ preparation of the food affected service. This wasn’t a year in which anyone went home for his or her front-of-house skills, but I just wanted to say that.

I hope that this has been helpful.