Many people wanting to experience New York while they’re here will decide to take in a taping of a late-night talk show. Who were we to deny our chefs the same opportunity? Oh, but we don’t do things half-way at Top Chef. Why stop at seats in the studio audience when we could send them all the way on-stage and right into the middle of the action with no warning whatsoever? Our chefs are well used to being in the spotlight by now, though, so as you saw, it didn’t faze them a bit.
Jimmy Fallon was the perfect choice of late-night host to serve as a judge for this episode of Top Chef. I first met him years ago, when I was chef/co-owner of Gramercy Tavern and he was a regular there. He has long been really into food. He’s also a huge fan of the show.
This wasn’t the first time I’d hosted a party for Jimmy and his family. He’d bought just such a meal by me at a charity auction, which I did some time ago, and I enjoyed it every bit as much as I enjoyed this one. Jimmy’s parents are great –- when you meet and get to spend any time with them, you see exactly where Jimmy gets it all from. This challenge really didn’t feel like work –- we were all having a lot of fun together.
Speaking of having fun with people, Jimmy decided to have some fun with everyone prior to the episode, tweeting, “Is it possible to put too much paprika in something?” Folks began tweeting that he was surely giving away the episode (as you now know, he wasn’t), until I finally tweeted, “You people are reading way too much into this!”
Jimmy was looking for the basics. With all of the dishes on his list, all of which was basic, simple fare, there is a standard of what each dish should be. A chef can then put a twist onto the dish, can elevate it, but only as long as s/he has first just satisfied the standard.
Two of our three bottom dishes failed to do so. I’ll discuss them in a moment. Before people get up in arms that we didn’t send Dale home for over-salting his dish, let me remind you that everything is a question of degree. When Jen was sent home for her overly-salty duck in Season 6, she was one of the final four, the other three dishes showed incredibly skill, and hers was salted past saving. It was inedible. Dale’s was not inedible, merely too salty. The flavors were great, and the whole dish well-conceived. Had Dale not forgotten that the pretzels were salted, the dish may well have sung. People could eat and genuinely enjoy it for a time… until the salt eventually got the better of them. It was salty enough to land Dale in the bottom three, but in this particular challenge against the other dishes we were served, it was not enough to get him sent home.