You should know that under the Judges' Table, just out of sight of the cameras, are apple boxes containing various beverages. Most of the time, Padma's drinking some kind of herbal tea. But Tom and I? By the end of the day, we've got two shaker glasses filled with gin and tonics working under there. And after 16 hours of eating, evaluating, arguing over who stays and who goes? There's no skimping on the gin.
I know, I'm supposed to be a heartless, evil, snarky bastard. But actually, I'm rooting for these contestants. All of them. I like cooks. I think anybody who cooks with pride is automatically on the side of the angels. I want them to do well.
Even more so with his particular group of 18. They are, after all, the "All-Stars." The Veterans. Who've been to this rodeo before. Who've endured the slings and arrows, experienced the heartbreak of almost, almost making it -- before either choking at the penultimate moment (Richard Blais), having an inexplicable brain fart which requires you to drown scallops in butterscotch sauce (Dale Talde), become debilitatingly ill (Angelo Sosa), or falling victim to the Far-More-Evil-Than-Me Eric Ripert (Tiffany Derry).
All were mighty warriors, brought low by a strange confluence of bad luck, bad timing, bad decision making, "just-not-your-day" syndrome, tough judging, or extraterrestrial visitation that can happen at any time to the best of professionals.
In fact, one of the joys of watching Top Chef is seeing a talented cook reach the limits of their talent and experience yet somehow, dig deep, find something more -- and push through to victory.
More painful is watching an otherwise talented chef walk slowly and with eyes wide open into a haymaker for no apparent reason. These chefs are older, smarter, and presumably wiser now, which should make for a very exciting season.
No one likes their work to be mocked. Fabio in particular. And yet mock I did. I couldn't help it. I mean, look at that thing. Its supreme ugliness only reinforced and highlighted by its presentation on paper, bringing to mind immediately and inevitably, the command oft directed at a bad puppy: "Go on the paper! The paper!!"
Did it taste that bad? Did it -- and by extension -- Fabio, deserve the kind of scorn I heaped on him?
I don't know. Clearly, I hurt his feelings. And seeing that, I feel bad. Really. To the extent that you can like anyone you know only from TV, I like Fabio. And I liked how he stood up for himself and gave some back at Judges' Table. If I were an employer looking to hire a chef from the among the All Stars, I'd think very seriously about Fabio. He's smart, likable, steady, level-headed in a crisis, and hence not easily flustered -- and I'm guessing he's a much better chef than evidenced on this first day, where he was challenged to "fix" a dish he's surely had plenty of time to think about. But...look at that thing. Really! Look again.