Anthony Bourdain

Sure, Dale Levitski and Stephen Asprinio went home, but Anthony Bourdain explains why they both have a lot to be proud of.

on Dec 15, 20100

The sound you hear still echoing through the halls of the Top Chef studio, the loud clack of large, titanium steel objects, is the sound of recently departed chef Dale Levitski's impressively huge balls.

Throughout previous appearances on the show, every time Dale presented a dish I'd often find myself thinking back to my Yankee hero , the home run-hitting Reggie Jackson. Back in the day, when Reggie would step up to the plate and see what looked like his pitch, he'd almost always take an absolutely  gigantic swing at the ball. Reggie had no interest in chopping one over the second baseman's head for a clutch single or an RBI. He wasn't looking to squeeze out an extra base from a hard bounce off the center field wall. Reggie was looking to cream that thing, pulverize it, drive it out of the park, over the cheap seats, beyond the stadium and into the East River -- farther, if possible, than any ball had been hit before. More often than not -- baseball being baseball -- he'd miss, and his massive upper body would seem to nearly tip him over. You usually don't  look good when you take a big swing and miss. You look awkward and off balance and even a bit silly.

But I guess that's the risk you take when you're constantly swinging for the moon. It's why I admire Dale Levitski and why I'm sorry to see him go. His insistence, time and time again, on not playing it safe, on not modulating his ambitions speaks well of him. There was something heroic -- if occasionally foolhardy -- about it. Of all the contestants in all the seasons of Top Chef, no one has ever been so consistently, relentlessly fearless. "Dazzle or Die Trying" might well be the Levitski credo. Good was never enough. And as a result, when he was successful, he was amazing. When he wasn't? He made French toast -- with peanuts, popcorn and veal. It was a disaster of a dish this week. But with Dale, it might just  as well have been a home run. As has been seen in his past season, sometimes when you're ready to count the guy out, he reaches deep and comes up -- seemingly out of nowhere -- with something truly extraordinary. You don't get that from a chef who takes the safe route. That kind of character and spirit of innovation, that kind of willingness to take chances is what distinguishes truly creative people from the rest.

It also makes for good television. Dale will be missed.

And while we sing the praises of departed heroes (and testicles) let us acknowledge the underappreciated Steven, who was also sent home. Steven has been playing out of his league since his first episode. As he readily admits, he's a front-of-the-house guy. It is a hard -- very hard -- thing being
asked of these contestants. But like Dale L., he has never allowed himself to be intimidated by either the challenge, the competition, or the judges. His incisive self-criticism, his ability to analyze what went wrong, his composure at JT, are to be commended. His technical skills -- when he's on familiar turf -- are excellent. His salmon on this episode was perfectly, exquisitely cooked. But as he realized himself, his enthusiasm for the challenge outpaced good sense. There were elements of his mise en place that should have never made it into the dish. His lack of back of the house/mosh pit experience allowed him to get flustered. He knew how to make a great dish, but he listened to an evil little voice in his head and
went further, much further than he should have with his aromatics -- and fatally lost his way. His dish might have left an aftertaste of hippie. But Steven, too, should be recognized for having some serious cojones.

47 comments
JenJenLoyal
JenJenLoyal

Monsieur Bourdain!

You said on the episode last year in which the chefs competed at different restaurants that one of the chef-owners was part of the "first press" of celebrity chefs.

S'il vous plait, Monsieur! I believe that honor goes to the one and only Julia Child, does it not? Perhaps you meant of his generation? And as a tangent, I'll say that as a diplomat brat growing up in the 60s & 70s in various African & European cities, one of the things I respect her for most, as most do, is having been one of the original people to bring sophisticated cuisine into American dining rooms and kitchens. The current celebrity chef trend is fun and interesting, but also generally, to me, irritating as hell. I've always revered "artisan" breads, various ethnic yogurts that taste like what I grew up with (north African), Algerian lamb, etc., but now I discuss these things with snobby/snotty foodies, who attempt to one-up me in my knowledge and taste. Please! The "celebrity chef" trend, and the foodie movement, is great for me in terms of availability of better products, but it has its drawbacks: a. items I like are more and more expensive because they're trendy; a. the classism of some celebrity chefs, and foodies, is supremely irritating. There are great palates everywhere, not just in celebrity kitchens.

Vive Julia!

BoomerGirl
BoomerGirl

My viewing of this episode was a bit cursed from the beginning, so last night's rerun was my first time to see it all the way through and see what the teaser bit about food that tasted like a "head shop" was about. Coming from an era where sandalwood and patchouli were both the cover up and the pretense (some very ordinary record shops wanted to seem like the other kind, you know, just as many kids who didn't touch anything illegal knew how to act high), to even think of food scented with sandalwood seems...odd. And, for me personally, Stephen's dish might have had a very unpleasant outcome. Sandalwood has had a lasting guilt by association ever since a 1971 field trip (geeks' tour for winners of a research forum) to Chicago when I brought home a suitcase reeking with pungent, cheap sandalwood incense and a raging case of food poisoning from a restaurant at O'Hare Airport. Tossed my cookies at the National Merit candlelighting. Ewwww!

Foodlum
Foodlum

"Reggie was looking to cream that thing, pulverize it, drive it out of the park, over the cheap seats, beyond the stadium and into the East River..."

C'mon, Anthony, every Yankees fan knows that the East River is in foul territory. Reggie would have wanted to park one on the roof of the Bronx County Courthouse.

Love the comments - I've always felt that neither the cheftestants nor audience had much feedback on those dishes which were neither winners nor on the elimination block.

Jancey
Jancey

No Dale? No thanks. We were watching for his redemption. Several others deserved to go. Dale? Not so. No need to watch further because as for the others: who wins? Who cares? 3 Lost viewing homes in this fam...we'll look for Dale's fare in real life when visiting Chi-town. Does Bravo read or care? Don't know, but my DVR has more room to record now that this show is off our list.

MsAli
MsAli

Rock it out Tony! I'm sorry Fabio got his feelings hurt, but good tv is one where you come up with your classic one liners. I miss the "Love Child of Betty Crocker & Charles Manson" or "tastes like doll head" one liners of seasons past.

Fabio is sadly out of his element and won't admit it to himself. He's one "testa dura" as we say in my famiglia.

Ciao!

kthunder
kthunder

Thank you for the wonderful, as usual, take on this week's competition. I was happy to see Dale win and sorry to see Dale go. I will not miss Stephen as I felt he was a pretender. I am finding this season exciting and your participation a great addition.

bitesize
bitesize

Bourdain writes the way I talk, going off from the main topic to dwell on some unrelated topic -- or rather something only he sees the connection to -- and I get to understand why my husband complains about me. But I enjoy reading him, b/c his insights are right on target. I particularly like this article. :)

Rich sims
Rich sims

Tony, i have read just about every thing you had written, you come off as this bad assed new yorker chef. But the eulogy you gave to Dale and stephen's top chef exits shows your love of what it takes to cook.

jjgg5
jjgg5

I believe Mr. Bourdain is a recovering substance abuser.

jjgg5
jjgg5

I think Mr. Bourdain's comeuppance by Fabio on the previous show may have helped him be more logical, compassionate and, hopefully, less bitchy, as a judge.

mtetzloff
mtetzloff

Balls: The desire and ability to do what needs to be done trusting yourself to do what you know you can do.

Leslee
Leslee

Just like Heather Mills got Pauls singing voice in the divorce(did you see him on SNL?) We get the articulate and the venacularly gifted Anthony Bourdain. A review so refined, it is almost like a gift. Those chefs, both male and female do have balls, I sometimes am afraid to cook for my mother, I could not imagine being in their shoes. But, waffle and veal? Only if I ate the brownies first!!

Feednotfatten
Feednotfatten

Priapous to the Papyrus....or Balls to the Walls Y'all.

ddvalle
ddvalle

As a Ron Guidry fan from that era, I think there's a certain narcissism and self-involvement that goes with being a Reggie Jackson type which runs counter to running a successful, anything, other than being Reggie Jackson. Hell, even Jackson was booed more than cheered when he was with the Yankees.

But, as you point out, always swinging for the fences results in a less than .300 batting average. Which in the restaurant world is a losing proposition. Plus, hitting a home run with empty bases has less value to the team than loading the bases and letting the team build momentum and keep driving runs home. If anything, home runs kill momentum in an inning because the bases are now empty and the pitcher isn't defending anything.

So if the goal of a chef is adulation on the occasionally successful dish he or she prepares, while sending out seven of ten that generally suck, then Dale's aces. But if consistency is required of a chef, then he has some work to do.

strong heart
strong heart

If you really want the best of the best, go with Dale and Jen. frustration and exhaustion make people act crazy and Jen is a phenominal chef.

George Jetson
George Jetson

Great comments and insight into the eliminated chefs. I am curious to see if Dale refines that dish and actually puts it on the menu at Sprout. His food is all about unexpected yet fabulous "journeys" as you consume the dish. On the show it looked off-putting and sounded terrible, but I'll bet you he could really pull it off with a little trial and error.

artsunlimited
artsunlimited

Rest assured, Tony, "balls to the wall" is completely appropriate - and accurate - to describe Antonia, Casey and the other women, if by that you mean they gave their best effort and went full-out at the challenge. Because the phrase "balls to the wall" doesn't actually refer to testicles at all. It refers to the brass balls (yeah, stop laughing) on a Porter governor, which was one of the first governers, or controllers, designed to regulate the speed of a steam engine's vertical shaft (I can hear you from here, all the rest of you dirty minded so and so's). It works on a pulley/linkage system and has brass balls in the middle - to make a long story short, when it's at maximum speed the centrifugal force makes the balls try to fly outwards, so they're literally "to the wall".

So the term is more adequate and appropriate than you knew - and this is literally the only way I can repay you for the wonderful blogs you give us - especially last week's!

Karen W
Karen W

Dale and Stephen should frame this blog, and post it in their restaurants, as they will likely never again have such a well written and heartfelt review of their food and their personal strengths again in their professional careers!

Walts Wife
Walts Wife

Mr. Bourdain: Your blogs are timely and very cleverly written. Thanks!

bellachefa
bellachefa

While I agree the most recently dearly departed have huge cojones, no need to worry about the women. A few of them have 'brass ovaries'

KimJones
KimJones

I love reading about how the judges came to their decision. You just can't get that much behind the scenes information into one episode. I was truly inspired by this week's episode and I'm looking forward to eating at the featured restaurants. As a side note, I don't think Jen had her best moment last week, but I can kind of understand her epic flame out. With little sleep and constant attacks on something I created, I doubt I would have fared any better. I'm positive that her judge's table attitude came from a hurt and disappointed place.

Skywalker447
Skywalker447

Anthony Bourdain is awesome! Does anyone know when the next season of No Reservations start?

MylaBaby
MylaBaby

Ditto to Eric C's comment! Elia & Jennifer should both be ashamed of themselves as they turned in their knives as left. You didn't shriek and curse your way onto the show, no need to do it as you exit! Good riddance!

M3
M3

Great episode. Great blog offering from you this week. Remarkable as much for what you didn't say as what you did.

BJ Breaux
BJ Breaux

Great Show...Top Chef is back where it started - competitive, chefs acting honorably and complex great cuisine...Tony, I see you are toning it down a little from the first show...I love the hardcore Bourdain and I'm hoping that you don't become to adoring of Fabio to make amends for your reaction to his first meal...Keep it real! It was time for Stephen to go home and he acknowledges that ..I was cheering for Dale, but it was over when he described the dish...He knew it wasn't his best and left with his head up....I'm a happy viewer, keep it up...

Chef Fan
Chef Fan

Tony,

Funny you should mention head shops.

This topic came up recently at work and the youngest one among us(mid 30's - the rest of us are in our 50's and 60's) had never heard of a head shop. Our collective response was a disbelieving "Oh maaaaannnnnn."

You can always be counted on for a witty response.

IcyAll
IcyAll

Very enjoyable blog -- just when I was starting to get upset (what about the women? Do THEY have balls?) you neatly addressed them and their strengths/weaknesses.

Really enjoyable read; especially happy you gave some props to Fabio. We suspect his food is tastier than the judges or editing make it out to be; glad to have confirmation.

Skywalker447
Skywalker447

I need to know when the next season of No Reservations starts.

Skywalker447
Skywalker447

Bourdain admitted in Kitchen Confidential that he wasn't the best chef when compared to some of the all-stars in the restaurant industry. Yet his knowledge for food and his mannerism is truly astounding. A man with a seemingly rough exterior is actually a 'nice guy' at heart. I love your books, No Reservations, and anything that is Bourdain related. Your blog is very entertaining so keep up the good work!

Lyn H.
Lyn H.

Tony:

So the question of the day is this: Suppose you were a mega-star owner of a multi-million dollar culinary enterprise and you were looking for two chefs to hire for top-level positions. Who would you choose? Elia and Jen, or Steven and Dale? Let me see; such a hard decision! There is more to being a chef than putting food on a plate. The willingness to listen, take criticism from one's diners (Dale cooked for his diner rather than just to "show off") and the willingness to learn--all these are characteristics of greatness. Making a gracious exit is so endearing

Glenn F
Glenn F

I was surprised that Fabio didn't go home for his amature dish over Dale but from Anthony's blog now I know why as Fabio's dish actually tasted good. I didn't interpret that from the judges as they were eating.

VanessaK
VanessaK

It's so sad to see these chefs get sent home every week but I found your homage to them touching.

King of Sweden
King of Sweden

Classy exit from Stephen. Excellent blog from Tony.

flour child
flour child

Having been in quite a few head shops in my time, I knew exactly what you meant when you said it. Sandlewood, of course! Really made me laugh.

Cool blog with balls on it
Cool blog with balls on it

The chef's may have riffed on the food but you definitely riffed a nice jazzy blog (more Dave Brubeck or Thelonius Monk, definatly not Kenny G). I personally love the straight-take-no prisoner’s comments you make but equally love when you wax poetic on the positives of the chef’s. I was sad to see Dale L go, but at least he took it like a man. He has always been fun to watch and listen to, and I am sure will be missed in the house, I really loved his exit comments on being invited to TC#16 or something like that, the senior competition. Have to believe this was a great challenge for you all to judge too. What foodie would not have loved that experience? This is by far the best season of TC and love that you are a judge. Realize I am oozing a lot of praise but one final comment is in your blog your voice (verbal) really does come though. I can hear you speak when reading the blog. What fun it was to read.

Eric C.
Eric C.

Very pleased that Tony mentioned the class and professionalism of Stephen and Dale Levitski. What a contrast from the first two chefs to be eliminated, both of whom went on school-girl hissy fits after being eliminated. These two men worked hard and played straight the whole way. No stomping feet, no on-air histrionics, just disappointment and class. They both clearly identified their weaknesses and why it was time for them to go. Both thanked the judges. What a breath of fresh air.

Also, the food this week looked amazing. This is where Top Chef shines.

FanFare56
FanFare56

Great blog! Thank you for your detailed opinion on who rose to the occasion and who failed and why they failed.

Jaynie59
Jaynie59

I cringed when Tre said he was doing swordfish. Oh, no! You're going to serve Tony Bourdain swordfish? I haven't had swordfish since I read Kitchen Confidential. And I'm never having it again.

Foodie and ex-legionnaire
Foodie and ex-legionnaire

I'm a big fan of Anthon Bourdain. He's got a great palet and amazing knowldge of the food around the world: How it should taste, how it should look and how it shoukd be prepared. I've had my share of French food, but it's not all fine dining. You can finf the best food ever made from the streets of Southern France. And not just in France, but all over the world. Those Michelin stars don't always mean that the food is excellent. Eat what the natives eat and your world will turn around, at least foodwise. I've had dinners in 2 Michelin star reataurants and Boullabaisse cooked by simple fishermen, and I would always go back to the fishermen, rather than eat in an overpriced reastaurants.

Beach Bum Foodie
Beach Bum Foodie

Dead on the mark Tony. Mediocrity isn't going to win this competition and by the way, thanks for the decrease in F-bombs. I hate the constant, non stop annoying bleeps that usually accompany your commentary

BigBillNC
BigBillNC

Nice to see Dale T. growing into his kinder/gentler/older persona.

Ditto Steven--he's so much easier to like now.

Really sad to see Dale L. go.

Very wonderful to hear such kind words from Mr. Bourdain. And he even sounds like he means it.

--bill

Cree
Cree

Kudos to you Mr. Bourdain for pointing out the positives in both of these chefs. I really believed Dale would go further, but when that dish came out with popcorn and peanuts my mouth dropped. Sorry to see him leave. I was glad that Steven admitted he was out of his eliment. Mr. Bourdain people may think you are a little harsh at the JT but I don't I think they need someone harsh because they are at an AllStar level and the stakes are higher. Your harshness will push them beyond measure :)

mpt
mpt

def. balls: Being able to walk into unknown situations and deliver what is asked, regardless of how comfortable you are with it, with style.

Blonde Gator
Blonde Gator

Oh my, Bourdain!

For all of the snarling and snarky comments...you've exposed yourself for what you are, a truly nice guy! A teddy bear. Blog on, big guy....love your writing.

Quincy
Quincy

LOVED the elimination challenge. I'm a bit surprised though at the result, I figured the other two were the ones going home. With that said, both Dale and Stephen are very different than they were in their initial seasons. Stephen, as you and others have remarked, isn't as "kitchen" anymore, so that may have been his downfall. Dale at this point in Season 3 was unsure of himself and his career. Being eliminated in week 3 of Season 3 would have likely caused him to quit the business. Now, he's confident and he knows this is his calling, elimination notwithstanding. I'm very proud to see how far Dale has come.

And speaking of Dales, let's talk about the other Dale, who has also changed a LOT for the better since his first season. What a world of difference!

BarbiQ
BarbiQ

Right on point, Mr. Bourdain. I will miss Dale L. It appears that Stephen matured a lot since season one. He and Dale showed class in their departure, unlike Jennifer and Elia.