Before moving forward, let me first say that yes, Richard may have won last week’s challenge had he not gone over the allotted time. He and I exchanged e-mails after the show aired last week. It was the first time he’d seen the footage of himself in the kitchen, and he acknowledged that he’d clearly gone overtime and that the decision of the judges not to consider him for the win was completely fair.
And now let me say this: We have a really great season ahead of us, but it’s going to be as tough for many of our viewers as it was for us judges, for reasons similar to those I laid out in last week’s blog. Every chef this season has a big fan base right from the get-go based on his or her performance in a past season, and it’s going to be very hard to be objective about what one’s fave does in this season. I have braced myself to hear from the fans of the chef that was sent home each week that we judges got it wrong. I’m resigned this season to “being wrong” all 17 weeks this season.
I understand the impulse behind that. It’s why I wrote last week that the challenges were harder to judge this year than in years past, not only because we didn’t want to be judging people who, since their seasons ended, have become our colleagues, but also because we know the chefs going into the season in a way we never knew the contestants before. Jen is a terrific cook and she’s smart and knows how to play the game, so I would have imagined her going far … but I couldn’t let any of that color my judging. I had to judge the food in front of me, and that’s what I did. This is a game, and, just as in football, on any given Sunday one team can beat another. This wasn’t Jen’s week.Jen endeavored to make a very similar dish to one that Michael Voltaggio did successfully in Vegas, but her version in this particular challenge just didn’t come together at all. ou even heard Casey –- Jen’s own teammate –- say on camera that she didn’t like the dish. The texture of the bacon was spongey, and the egg lacked flavor. As for why Jen would go home for the dish instead of Jamie, Jen herself said that Jamie’s not being there did not affect the outcome of the dish. If Jen herself said so, there’s nothing further to be said about that. (Jamie, by the way, had never had stitches before and was a bit frightened when she heard she needed them, which is why she left to go get them right away.) I didn’t mind at all the very vigorous defense Jen mounted. I didn’t mind her tone or the content of what she said. Jen wasn’t sent home for what she said; she was sent home for what she cooked. Staying honest about the food in front of us meant acknowledging that as strong a chef as Jen is, and as good a job as she does in her professional life in Philly, she’d served us the weakest dish on the losing team...
...which happened to be the weakest dish on either team. We cannot say so overtly while eating the food, lest the episode be over before it’s over, but it was abundantly clear to us all that “Team Herbivore” was the runaway winner. Their food far exceeded that of “Team Carnivore.” Katie Lee and I sat at a different table than that of Padma and Gail, and when we all reconvened we found that we had independently reached the identical conclusion that Team Brontosaurus had blown away Team T-Rex. All of Team Brontosaurus’ food was delicious. The argument that it wasn’t all necessarily “breakfast food” was irrelevant. I would put gnocchi on a brunch menu — people eat and enjoy hash browns, so why not another potato dish? Similarly, people drink tomato juice at breakfast, so why not a flavorful, light and wonderful gazpacho? And a parfait that delectable made without dairy is laudable — it deserved the win.
On the other hand, let us parse the dishes served by the other team, almost all of which was flawed. I won’t recap Jen’s dish; ‘nuff said about that (and I can’t wait for the inevitable schooling I’ll be getting from Jen’s fans...). Rather than churning out three frittatas, Tiffany and Antonia could have focused on making only one or two and making them well. Further, they knew that the ovens were cooking unevenly, yet they didn’t do anything to accommodate for that. Similarly, Tre knew that his sauce had overreduced, yet he didn’t fix it. His team was permitted the use of butter — Tre had more than one option for fixing that sauce. Tiffani and Dale made a solid steak and eggs, but it wasn’t particularly noteworthy and certainly not “win-worthy.”Tiffani may have thought at the moment that she heard the challenge that “Carnivore” meant “Omnivore,” but as soon as I finish explaining each Elimination Challenge to the contestants on camera, a producer of the show comes and explains it in far greater — and more boring — detail. So Tiffani knew within minutes of choosing the T-Rex diet that it meant meat and meat by-products ... and only meat and meat by-products. On the other hand, the other team was barred not only from the use of bacon and eggs (breakfast staples), but also from the use of dairy (the other breakfast staple!), so the playing field was more than level. Once again, the fact that the banana parfait was as successful as it was without containing dairy made it worthy of this week’s win.
It was cool working with Joe Jonas. I’d met him at the White House Correspondents' Dinner and learned that he was a big fan of the show, so it was great to have him come join us. Also great was having Katie back, as she is a pleasure to work with. Finally, I love when we get to serve kids. They are so enthusiastic and joyful. Clearly, some of them watch the show and have developed a vocabulary about food, and it’s always a hoot to hear them applyl what they’ve learned to the food they’re eating! If any of our young viewers are reading this, I love hearing from you...! Have a great week.