Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons explains why she was almost happy to see Jennifer Carroll react the way she did.

on Dec 8, 2010

In contrast, Team T-Rex’s preparations had several noticeable flaws. Tre’s Shrimp & Apple Smoked Bacon Sauce, served over Casey’s delicate pan-roasted salmon, was intensely over-reduced and salty. Antonia and Tiffany D’s Mini Frittatas were inconsistent in doneness—some runny and undercooked, others tough and rubbery. Most troubling was Jennifer’s Braised Bacon with Hard Boiled Eggs—something I would not want to eat again. It was texturally unappetizing, with no contrast in mouthfeel between the fatty bacon and the scant crumbles of hardboiled egg. Unfortunately, the bacon was also incredibly strong in flavor, to the point of overpowering the weak jus and egg garnish around it. The kids did not like the dish. And as much as we tried, neither did we. After a tense exchange at Judges’ Table, Jennifer was asked to pack her knives and go.

I assure everyone who feels this was an injustice that it was not a decision we took lightly, nor one that could have gone any other way. By all accounts, hers was the least successful dish, or even component of a dish, in the challenge—and that is how the game must be played. For what it is worth, all of our diners were in agreement with us. No amount of yelling or posturing would have changed that, or made her dish any better. When such clear faults undermine dishes on the bottom of the pack, Judges’ Table can only serve to help us understand how that chef made the dish, what they could have done better and whether their intentions matched our taste experience. In this case, they simply didn’t. I must add that we all were strangely pleased to see someone defend their food with as much vim and vigor as Jennifer did, as angry and disrespectful as she may have been! No one, in my memory, has ever had the gumption to do so and it was actually refreshing to know she was not willing to leave without a fight. I just wish that fight could have taken place in the kitchen a few hours earlier. It might have made her food taste a little better.

I know Jenn was devastated. But I also know this dish will by no means define her, moving forward. She is a gifted and committed chef, a fierce competitor and a courageous leader in her field. Regrettably, even the brightest stars have a bad day or, in this case, present an ill-conceived dish once in a while. It keeps your ego in check, humbles you in the face of obstacles and allows you to come back next time, stronger than ever. I wish her luck, although she doesn’t need it. She already is a great chef and I hope she knows how much we all value her.