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Simply speaking, a "chef" is a cook who leads. I am approached by many proud parents who proclaim that their sons or daughters are "chefs" -- and then go on to describe someone who cooks well. That is a very good thing. To cook well, with pride, and with a genuine concern or even love for the people for whom one is cooking puts one automatically on the side of the angels. It does not make you a chef. A chef is a leader of cooks. Period.
Years ago, I ran a large and too-busy kitchen in Manhattan. My sous-chef, an old associate who I'd brought along and promoted to help me with delegation and management of nearly fifty cooks, all of them new hires, came to me one day and stated what had already become painfully apparent. "They don't listen to me. They don't respect me. Tell them to listen to me." I told him what every leader, manager, or employer must surely come to know: That nothing I could do -- or was even willing to do -- would gain him respect that he had not himself earned. This is a lesson that one would hope Marcel might someday take to heart. Sadly, I see no evidence to date -- even after the shambles of Restaurant "Etch" -- that he ever will.
But let's begin at the beginning. I'm very proud of the QuickFire Challenge this week -- as I helped design it. And very proud that I had the opportunity to introduce the world to the remarkable Justo Thomas, the legendary fish butcher at Le Bernardin, on whom I spent a chapter in my book, Medium Raw. Each day, Justo butchers anywhere from 700-1,000 pounds of fish from on the bone to three-star Michelin quality, chillingly equal-sized portions. He is a proud, deadly serious perfectionist and professional, and it was an honor to spend time with him. It was also a singular delight to show the sometimes cocky cheftestants a truly amazing craftsman. When Justo goes away on vacation, it takes three of Le Bernardin's excellent sous-chefs all day, a full shift, working together, to do what he is able to accomplish brilliantly in about four hours! Intimidating.
As I mentioned on the show, this was a rare challenge where everyone knew immediately, exactly how well -- or how poorly -- they performed. You either can -- or can't -- cut fish well. There's simply no debate. So we learned very quickly, and without any doubt, that Marcel, Dale, Richard, and Mike can cut fish. Marcel in particular is very good at it.
Carla struggled to even finish. Fabio took a chunk out of his thumb. Tiffany did not do well. And Antonia, shockingly, Dahmer-ized her two sea creatures. They looked like they'd been gnawed on by raccoons overnight.
Loved the Quickfire and it was really great (having read "Medium Raw") to see Justo in action. I'm also thrilled that after the debacle that was Restaurant Wars last season was given a tremendous rebound this season. But boy, was I worried even from the first moment that Padma said the diners would be choosing the winner. Etch winning this challenge would have, I think, finally literally caused the Top Chef audience to overtake Andy Cohen on his next live show and call for the U.S. Bravo network to go the way of the U.K. Bravo network. Fortunately, and perhaps for the first time, everything went the way it seemed like it "should" have. The team that won clearly SHOULD have won, and did. The chef that was eliminated clearly SHOULD have been eliminated, and was. Perhaps, even if just for one week, we won't have seven dozen blog comments from the likes of "Angry TC Viewer" and "Never Watching Again" filled with vitriol.
Another week, another candidate for Best Sentence in a Top Chef Blog:
"Restaurant dining rooms are packed with beautiful women, shuddering with desire and anticipation for foam, foam, and more foam and hardened Crips shrink from his approach."
Give us more, Bourdain. Give us more.
Seeing Dale select Marcel as his opposition team leader mad it clear that it would take a miracle for Marcel to survive. He was put into the highest profile job in which he has consistently shown the least ability. The QF with Justo was a "valentine" to Tony's readers that were impressed with this craftsman in Medium Raw. It was also a two part skills test that gave Dale a chance to shine. Dale showed a little of his old chestiness in the kitchen, but has come a long way in temperament since his first season. Antonia may make a great second banana if Tony decides to take over Regis Philbin's show upon his recently announced retirement from morning TV.
I kept my composure reading this, until I got to the part where you compared Marcel's team to a pack of attack dogs. Damn. I didn't just chuckle, or guffaw. I laughed until I could barely breathe. Great blog, great humor. Thanks for imagery that will have me snickering for days!
Thank you, Anthony for making this Dominican so damned proud I actually shed a tear watching Justo Thomas on Top Chef tonight. His skill is a sight to behold and I was so proud to see a native of the Dominican Republic on tv as something other than a drug dealer .....I can't tell you how happy it made me.
I really appreciate your frank and searing analysis of Marcel's behavior. I hope he gets the help he needs because I believe he is very troubled. On another note, I appreciate your restraint as a judge but your honesty and comments in your blog.
bourdain is a jerk who thinks he is a food god you cannot manage a team with know it alls who are self centered and mike or angelo are to blame and tiffany for doing a lousy hostess job marcel is a talented chef which you only dream about bourdain
BOURDAIN YOU ARE AN ARROGANT JERK AND THIS TOP CHEF SEASON IS NOT WELL ORGANIZED SPIKE AND JENNIFER WERE VERY STRONG CHEFS MIKE AND ANTONIA AND TIFFANY NOT SO MUCH WE WILL MISS YOU MARCEL !!!!!
"the sky is filled with magical ponies who shit foam - and appreciate Marcel's rap stylings."
Bravo to Bravo for letting us enjoy Tony on TC this year, and for letting him loose on his blog. I run over here after each episode's completion waiting impatiently for his latest musings. Good foam, man!
PS: Fabio may not be the best cook, but he may indeed be a Top Chef. I have a feeling he'd run an amazing restaurant. Watching him at work, handling servers, greeting guests, soothing tempers...perfecto! If Bodega were a real place, I feel Fabio's presence front of house might garner a 80%+ return diner rate. That, plus the excellent dessert that capped off the Bodega theme, should have given him the win.
It was just so pleasant to see a group of intensely talented chefs come up with an idea, a good idea, and then execute it beautifully. Even the predictable Marcel meltdown couldn't detract from the pleasure (really, Marcel's team was no worse than any number of other RW veterans, at least from the viewer's perspective. You can't tell me their dishes were worse than those butterscotch scallops you hated).
I want to eat with Tony and Tom and Padma and Gail....I want to be served by Fabio...really it was just genius the way he handled front of house and I want Richard and Dale and Carla and Antonia and Mike to feed me. So glad to see the end of Marcel and wonder if he will be able to look at the experience and grow up. Side note, been reading some reviews for Richard's place here in ATL...anyone been yet?
You make me laugh aloud. Thank-you for that. Also loved the quickfire. No gimmick - just a test of skill.
Your analysis is always spot on . The hardest part of watching the rest of the season is that there is no longer a villian for whom's demise I can root!
Sorry I hate restaurant wars,sick and tired of all the team challenges,come on this season has sucked! Stupid gimmicks,challenges and not enough of the chefs cooking against each other. Marcel may not be a group leader but his team wasn't being very helpful either.
Thank you for your excellent summary and analysis. I think you nailed Marcel's problem and yet the idea of magical ponies who shit foam is making me laugh endlessly. I can't breathe but I'm having a good time!
That was so funny! I laughed out loud and repeatedly reading this. I've got to get your book Anthony. Thank God you were on the episode this week so we could read this delicious blog. Marcel deserves every foamy ounce of evisceration you handed out. Great episode and amazing blogging!
" Having poked them with a stick repeatedly, he handed them the key, rolled himself in meat juice for good measure, -- and let loose the dogs of war."
...That pretty much sums it up. Another great challenge / episode!
Thank you for your brilliant observations and insight into all things Top Chef. I always look forward to reading your take on things - this is the best blog I read!
I really wanted Fabio to win. He KILLED front-of-house, which the judges themselves said no one else has ever done, and his dish was good... while it was clear that the food was much better on his side, his schmoozing HAS to be a big part of the reason that the votes went so far to his side. Wasn't he supposed to get his own show on BRAVO? What happened with that?
Tiffany as front-of-house was painful. I thought for sure that she was going home. She violated rule 1: never take one for the team. I didn't like Marcel, but I am a little sad to see him go... watching him just makes me laugh.
Thank you Mr. Bourdain for another great blog. My only regret is now that Marcel is gone there will be no more Snoop references or foam - shitting magical ponies to speak of.
This season is great because we have you Bourdain, I look forward to your blog every week with eager anticipation, I watch the show then sit and read your blog. I love it. You have such a kind, realistic take on things. Thank you.
Man, I fear it's going to get dull without Marcel. He's a one of a kind character. You cannot look away.
Dale T is a genius. Setting up the other team to fail by picking Marcel as the leader. Picking Fabio for front of the house. Also getting lucky by getting Carla for the last pick. Awesome
Thanks again, Mr. Bourdain. Love it when you are a judge. Can't get the same combo of critique and snark delivered with a helping of clever wording from anyone else. I am glad to see Marcel go - no one was less deserving of a second chance and I didn't even watch his season. I don't think I could stand it. My kid, who is oblivious to all things Top Chef, caught a few seconds of Marcel talking smack to Dale (dim sum episode) and said to me "What is WRONG with that guy?". No one knows, sweetie, no one knows.
Poor Marcel. Ya know, I feel kinda sorry for him. He's obviously a good cook, it's just that arrogance rubs people the wrong way. I'm sure he'll recover and be back yet again on Top Chef.
This show is always best when Bourdain shows up. Marcel is an egotistical jerk with an inferiority complex. Maybe one day he'll get out of his own way.
Justo is amazing! He needs a reality show. (I suspect my replacement would only have to work a half day, probably drunk, to match my productivity.) Another great blog post and happy Marcel was 86'd. Onward!
Love your blog and I thoroughly enjoyed your description of Marcel Land. I don't think anyone else could have described it better than you.
Chef ... your writing is brilliant and I think I have read everything you a have published! My question, after reading this particular piece of yours is ... after all of the objections, criticisms, and observations you so pointedly make concerning Marcel's performance ... why is he still there????? How can he still deserve to be there after so much controversy over his behavior, his skills, and his finished product??? It almost seems that he is simply a poor thing whose time has come and gone. More talented and promising chefs than he have been merrily sent on their way. It's Marcel Time!!!!
You know, this blog was almost as satisfying as witnessing the event itself: Marcel's wacky energy unsettled even the unflappable Tom. What a great episode. Poor Antonia! "The Black Hammer" is still one of my favorites.
I loved this episode and thought the winner/loser were exactly the right choices. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on why the three female contestants were the last picked for the team challenge. What gives? Antonia has been rocking the house lately (even thought she wasn't last, she was Marcel's third pick) and Carla has two wins under her belt (but went last like the fat kid in gym class).
Mr. Bourdain, While I love your shows and I respect your experience in the kitchen, I truly wish someone had blasted the rest of the team more than just Tom's slap on the wrist. Each one of the chefs on this team did their own thing (and terribly) with what looked like an obvious plan to vote Marcel off the island. Frankly, they should all be ashamed of themselves. You and Tom keep saying "you have to get them to respect you" but honestly Mr. Bourdain, when you're in the heat of the kitchen, do you bark out an order or do you stop and ask nicely "Can you please get the orders out faster?" so that you are not hurting their sensitive Sou Chef natures? hell no! No one respected Marcel, no one wanted him to succeed and quite frankly, Angelo, Mike and Tiffany should have been axed as well!
Love your books, television shows and this blog. I think the duo of Richard and Marcel is very interesting. They are like two sides of the same coin. They cook similar food, both are interested in innovative cooking techniques, both can overcomplicate dishes and get too caught up in concepts. However, Richard is pleasant, strong, confident and respected. Marcel is not any of those things except confident, and even that he takes too far. I often thought Marcel cooked food that looked good, unfortunately this week he failed at that. Combine that with his complete lack of leadership skills and the decision was inevitable.
Tony, you have always been a favorite in our house. My son is now in culinary school and I'm keeping this episode and sending him a copy of this blog. It's an excellent learning example for what it takes to be a "chef". A must read for for those aspiring to become a leader in their field.. Thanks again, keep up the good work. Your blogs never fail to entertain and in this instance provide a teaching oppurtunity.
Hilarious and to the point as always, Mr. B. I laughed out loud for 3 whole minutes after "Stabby." Seriously, what a cluster-! I will miss Marcel's crazy antics though--he is always entertaining. Like last week when he tried to go all "gangsta" on Angry Dale for winning.
Ah, Mr. Bourdain, I cry when reading your prose. We celebrate poets but rarely do we celebrate the essayist who can force me to visualize foam-shitting flying ponies. I thought your QF challenge may have been one of the best ever and I will bet that you have been itching see that for years. Please, keep pushing for originality!
Adieu, Marcel. Though I always thought you got a raw deal in Season 2, your time has passed. And can we please send Angelo packing next. What a douche.
I really, really thought a few weeks a go, that Marcel had come back to the "Stars" version a changed man - one who had emerged from the ashes of his pyramid pompadour style of old into a man of decidedly more eloquent use of language, better commentary and an ability to hold something, anything back. I was happy to see this renaissance Marcel, a little grayer at his inner temples. However, a few weeks into the all stars, I was seeing flashes of old Marcel, out on the deck, swearing and getting in the chef's faces, calling them out. As a show addict, I should have been prepared, but I wasn't. I wanted all of these returning cooks to outshine even their shiniest moments. I sat back with my bag of corn or pistachios or whatever and waited to be "schooled" and dazzled. I never thought I'd be seeing a show which amounted to not Top Chef, but Top Breakdown and we all know who's in the lead. I never thought I'd see a previously talented female chef, just blow it - simply by refusing to take the advice of her judges, to paraphrase, "I'm going to change this as little as possible," straight to her demise. One would think that her prior elimination a few years ago – by this same panel of judges - might make her think twice about their admonitions that she should feel free to improve her dish. There are some exceptions to the breakdown habit. There are Richard and Antonia. Fabio is always fun as is Mikey. Carla is a hoot and it’s obvious Angelo can cook. I just wish we could start all over, have the “stars” shake off the proverbial cobwebs, sharpen their brains along with their knives and give us a competition, like in the days of Jennifer, Kevin, Mike and the Voltaggios – a killer season.
So, Marcel is gone and I think we all called that one. You know what though? I think we'll see him back in a few years. I think he's a talented cook. I think he'll mature further and perhaps learn some people skills. I think he'll stay away from the foams. I know I will.
Yes I have been to his restaurant and highly recommend it! Be sure to make reservations way ahead :)
I'm sad Marcel is gone, because now I can't read your hilarious observations about him anymore!! The "gansta" is gone!! Now who are u going to make me die laughing about now!! LOl...Love, love , love your blogs!
So, I felt like Tiffani from S1 was unfairly edited as the villain in her season and it was really heart-warming (as much as I hate to use that term) to see her come back twice now and not only be more calm and likable but also receive a substantially better edit.
My point is, this is the difference between Tiffani and Marcel. While he was obviously kind of a jagoff in his season, his teammates also protested that he was if anything edited to be much less annoying than he in reality was. Still, time passed and I thought maybe Marcel has changed because he's seen himself on TV and heard people talking and he's aged a few years and whatever.
Nope, still a jagoff. I hope he really is as nice in person as he claims.
Oh-and this blog kicks so much ass. You had me at foam-shitting ponies.
Very truly yours, Never Watching Again