Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio breaks down the chefs' strengths and weaknesses in the season premiere.

on Dec 1, 2010

Now contrast Elia’s lack of creativity with the absolute ingenuity shown by Spike. He had immunity, but it didn’t stop him from tackling the seemingly insurmountable problem presented by his dish –- he was dealt the worst hand of all the chefs –- and finding a resourceful way of fixing it. There was debate in advance about whether to give Spike frozen scallops or fresh. The producers felt that Spike’s fatal error in Season 3 was to select frozen scallops to begin with. The producers ultimately decided that if the challenge to all the contestants was to fix the errors in their initial dishes, Spike would just have to find a way to mitigate against his frozen scallops. He not only cooked his way to a solution, he did so with aplomb.
Jamie had to make a dish that didn’t inspire her. Granted, the dish is Eric Ripert’s style, not hers, and once a chef has his or her own restaurant, s/he may create only his or her own food, but that doesn’t mean a chef doesn’t need to have the skill set to pull off other types of food. The other chefs still competing in that episode of Jamie’s season pulled off the challenge, and it was gratifying to see Jamie not only manage it this time around, but do so ably enough to put her in the top three.
Angelo showed smarts in how he reworked his dish. He was very enamored of his watermelon tea the first time he made the dish, but that tea was the very element that derailed the dish. I was very glad to see him jettison it here, despite how in love with it he was before. The dish was now beautifully balanced. When cooking many types of Asian cuisine, one has an opportunity to strike the balance between salt, sweetness, acid, and spice. The food hits all of the mouth’s food receptors, whereas much European cuisine hits only two or sometimes three. In Southeast Asia, they often use palm sugar for the sweetness, while the acid is often from lime, the spice from chilis, and the bitter notes from various spices and from bitter greens. It’s easier to get it wrong than right, and to overwhelm with one or another of the tastes.  Angelo crafted a very sophisticatedly harmonious interplay between them all.
As for Richard, we wanted to acknowledge that he’d made a top dish, but we simply could not consider him for the win because he had not stopped plating when the time ran out. It’s a hard-and-fast rule  I don’t think he was trying to cheat –- I think he was simply absorbed in what he was doing and didn’t pay attention. One of the other contestants rightly alerted the producers to what had happened, and Richard was out of the running. One doesn’t lose for working past the time-limit; one simply cannot win that challenge. Once Richard saw the tape, I believe he was fine with the decision. Any other outcome would be unfair –- there would be no point to the time-limit.
We have a great season, one that gets better and better with each new challenge. The challenges are all really clever and fun to implement, giving our contestants rather off-the-beaten-path but quintessentially New York experiences. The competition gets surprising in places, and heats up as it goes. I look forward to sharing my thoughts about it all each week and to reading yours.