Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchip gets personal about the Muppet Quickfire Challenge, and reveals a professional connection to the late Jim Henson.

on Feb 17, 20110

I don’t think I’ve seen our chefs more excited to meet a guest judge in all my days on Top Chef than they were this week when they met Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Telly Monster. And not just those chefs who are parents. All of them were thrilled, since most of the chefs competing grew up watching Sesame Street. And don’t get me started on the crew, who were so happy to show up for work that day!

I admit to having been excited myself, even though I was just a bit older and “past it” when Sesame Street first hit the airwaves, so I didn’t discover Elmo and friends until my older son began watching the show. That boy loved Elmo with the reverence my grandmother saved for the Pope. And now my toddler, who calls Elmo “La-La” (because of Elmo’s theme song, in which “la-la, la-la” is the chief lyric), is a raging fan. He’s unimpressed when he sees Daddy on TV… but loses it with joy when La-La’s on the screen. His two favorite items are firetrucks and La-La. We actually found him a Firefighter Elmo which he calls “Woo-woo-woo-woo La-La.”; So cute it hurts. A friend’s three-year-old was excited to dress as Elmo to attend a Halloween party this year… until he entered the room and every other preschooler acted like teenaged girls at a Justin Beiber concert. He narrowly escaped the stampede and couldn’t get the costume off quickly enough. I could go on and on. It’s crazy, the hold Elmo has over the tiny tots.

…Or so I thought until I got to spend time with him in person (in muppet?) on Top Chef. I no longer find it crazy at all. The outsized charisma of that little furry red monster is utterly disarming. Kevin Clash, who plays Elmo, David Rudman, who plays Cookie Monster, and Martin P. Robinson, who plays Telly Monster (and looks like him, too!), were so much fun to hang out with, and even more fun to watch at work. They’re ambassadors of happy, leaving a trail of joy wherever they go. I don’t normally have to be at the set for tapings of the Quickfire Challenges, but there was no way I was going to miss this -- I brought my toddler and the two daughters of dear friends, and we had a blast hanging out with them in the green room. They have great senses of humor and of fun. Even the muppet wrangler was fun, whose tasks include making sure the muppets fur is fluffed just so.   

It was amazing to watch Kevin Clash, David Rudman (Cookie Monster), and Martin P. Robinson at work. These puppeteers are so adept at what they do, are so very talented, and make it all seem so fluid and effortless that folks almost forget it’s not the muppets themselves talking, despite actually watching the muppeteers in action. It was astonishing. Kevin Clash can actually make it seem as though he and Elmo are talking simultaneously -- I've never seen anything like it. Watching their exit from the table after the Quickfire Challenge was so cool -- they were hilarious. It was far and away one of the best days we all have ever had on Top Chef.

123 comments
TSMyrie
TSMyrie

A salt-free challenge...hmm!

That would be a good one to consider for Top Chef. It would take great skill and flavour manouevering to accomplish a good dish Ital-style (that's what Rastafarians call salt free food...many of them eat that way!)

I was disappointed to see Angelo go too..but guys, remember...it's a game! If Team X won all their games in a World Cup and lost at quarter-finals, the judges aren't going to grant them pardon on their consistency....it's just Game Over!

princessshopsalot
princessshopsalot

I'm from the South and my chicken & dumplings are NOTHING like the soup Tiffany made. My dumplings are thinner but the broth has the consistency of gravy . My mama doesn't make Chicken & Dumplings like Tiffany's and neither did my Grandma or anyone else I know. I have lived in CA for the past 5 years and have learned to love, and cook, Mexican food and what she made looked exactly like Chicken Tortilla soup to me.

ViewerPA
ViewerPA

Richard is right about Tiffany (I'm from Beaumont!). Why is she still there? How many times has she been on the bottom - yet you guys are still keeping her around! Dale should still be there. Angelo should still be there!

ArolemArolem
ArolemArolem

@Dylan111 -- taking lots of tests and averaging the results is what teachers do in middle and high school.

In college and grad school, you frequently get one grade on a paper or exam, and that's it for the semester. No averaging, no do-overs. These folks are talented and skillful professionals. We KNOW they all can cook. This is Any Given Elimination Challenge time.

Deed
Deed

Really? It looks like Carla all the way. I am definitely NOT a Carla fan -- she's too space cadet for me but apparently she makes for good TV so she'll be there until the bitter end -- to the demise of the show (at least for me).

katrianna
katrianna

awwwwwwwwwwwwwww Top Chef All-Stars-Super-Stars?

Viewer12345
Viewer12345

I LOVED this challenge! Like most people who were born after 1968, I grew up watching Seasme Street. You could see how all the chefs (even the ones without kids) lit up when they saw Elmo, Telly & Cookie Moster. What a pleasure it must have been to bake cookies for them (and I was pleasantly surprised to hear NONE of them complained about "not beening bakers/pastry chefs". Like Carla, I also LOVE Target so that also must have been fun cooking for the employees.

Therese B
Therese B

"Muppet wrangler" is a good job to have.

Kristy K
Kristy K

Tom - Thanks for sharing such a fun story of behind the scenes with "La La" and the muppets. I so enjoyed reading your blog with my teen daughter, we had such fun. We love Top Chef and even planned to go to "CRAFT" while in LA and were sad when it just didn't work out. Boy, do we have a story about trying to park in the connected building... It will forever be our Tom Coliccio, Craft drama of trying to get out of the glass walled building... We should have valeted! ;-)

JessWest
JessWest

LOVED the Sesame Street Episode! I also have an Elmo obsessed toddler (daughter) who can clearly say "ELMO" whenever she sees him anywhere and was delighted to see him on Top Chef along with "Cookie". It was wonderful to share my love of food and cooking with her love of Elmo and Cookie! Thanks!

Kristy K
Kristy K

Interesting...the "washed" dishes/products strictly applied to off the shelf items which isn't typical of an episode and was simply a case of leading by example. Many people don't understand that it IS important to clean the chemicals off products. We do see the chefs prep food, wiping stations and cleaning hands. We even see them preparing knives and putting knives away. Hmm, its simply a matter of leading by example as they do so very often. This has nothing to do with who did or didn't receive funds from the "tooth fairy". TOP CHEF - I'm a huge fan and love what you do!! Keep it up. Thanks for all your great tips and humor Tom!

TopChef fan writing first time
TopChef fan writing first time

Now why are you not checking tapes Tom? If the one of the show member's blogs she was sick of Mike Isabella how come you dont seem to be aware of this happening?

I think Top Chef should once in a while atleast start modifying the rule "one episode-one plate judgement" You want a mediocre Top Chef or someone who performs consistently? Mann...I am from South and if southern belles cant cook you cant expect others. No doubt Carla or Tiffany should have gone.

andy boy
andy boy

Tiffany hasn't won one challenge yet... so calm down.

andy boy
andy boy

Right on!!! Teacher Dylan is the fool.

andy boy
andy boy

Come on!!! Those are the rules.

andy boy
andy boy

You must be dense pgh. As Tom said Angelo's soup was too salty and clearly the worst dish without debate. Just because Angelo is consistently near the top, doesn't mean he can't go home anytime. Same with Tiffany, just because she's always near the bottom dosen't mean she should go home. As the rules state, any bad week can send you home, even if you win the challenge every other time. Stop being a FOOL.

Leslie Ballard
Leslie Ballard

Last season, I admit to being annoyed with the "you are only as good as your last dish" way of judging as I thought Kevin deserved to win for his "body of work." However, I realized the judging rules are right when I examined how I react when I have a bad or less than excellent meal at a restaurant - I don't return.

(Re. the comment from the teacher - a profession we share - that is a really false analogy as you are talking about learning, not chefs who have already demonstrated mastery and are competing with their peers.)

AngeloandDalelovers
AngeloandDalelovers

SADDEST TWO WEEKS OF TOP CHEF HISTORY. Never expected Angelo and Dale to leave so early. Thought they were going to be in the final three at least! They had a lot of passion, talent, and heart. Could you bring them back to Top Chef All-Stars-Super-Stars?

Sigh. TommmmMMMMmMm!

Childstar
Childstar

My Goodness...did no one read the disclaimer at the end of each episode that reads: 'Portions of the episode not affecting the outcome has been edited' or something like that. I really don't tune in to see the dishwashing, handwashing, but even though you don't see the Tooth Fairy, you still get a buck for your spent tooth(well, some of us kids anyway)!!

 care from pgh.
care from pgh.

I'm sorry, but no way should Angelo have gone home last week!! I like Tiffany too, but she was in the bottom for the last 2 or3 challenges as she was for this one and should have been sent home. Angelo has consistently been in the top and actually won a couple while Tiffany has not won one challenge this season. Fair? I think not. And it still p__es me off that Dale only cooked 6 or 8 portions on one of the challenges and never got caught for it. I used to like him but his ego is getting out of control. And why didn't Antonia tell them 2 weeks ago that if it wasn't for Richard her beef tongue would have been horrible? I never once heard her give him credit when she landed( i use that term loosely) in the top three! I'll never get enough of top chef, I LOVE this show but you dropped the ball on this one Tom and the rest of you, I hope you restore my faith this week.

MayraGarcias
MayraGarcias

how can i get invited like one of those people who goes and eat in the competitions? theres a lot of people just walking around trying the dishes from the different chefs and i wonder what do i have to do to go ? xoxo

Topchefer
Topchefer

Seriously, you do know that this is a game show, right? I would hardly compare it to flunking out of school. If the chefs don't like the rules, they don't have to play. So many viewers want to rewrite the show, maybe you should all apply for jobs at BravoTV.

Sapphiegirl
Sapphiegirl

I sooo agree about the grilled cheese sandwich.....I remember a few seasons ago that Adrienne (i think) made deviled eggs for a challenge and the talk at judge's table was "no one is winnign with deviled eggs" I also think that those words came out of Tom's mouth. I LOVE Top Chef, but grilled cheese?

LCMKTG
LCMKTG

I would love to see Richard or Carla win!

blankPaige
blankPaige

Too salty to the point of inedible ... that trumps everything else. Carla's tastes pretty good, according to Tom. The judges couldn't handle more than one bite of Angelo's.

Kristy K
Kristy K

Wow! I thought I was the only one thinking this. Yes, I agree. The pans should have been washed before using. We want to keep our favorite judges healthy. :-) Much love!!

Anna Banana
Anna Banana

I don't know if this had been mentioned yet--but my biggest concern during the entire challenge was that the contestants didn't appear to have access to running water! None of the food products, serving ware, or cookware seemed to have even been given a rinse, not to mention the contestants' hands through the whole process. I just hope that things actually were washed and handled in a sanitary manner, and for whatever reason they were just not shown.

Mooga
Mooga

Touche Touche Touuuuuche !

Sally B
Sally B

Oh, Tom, you would have done the target challenge so much better than they did?

Please don't talk about what you would have done until you've been in their shoes, until you have been cooped up in apartment with a bunch of strangers with egos at least as big as yours, subjected to the challenges that they have had to go through- cooking for screaming kids after two hours of sleep, running around the kitchen looking for utensils, coping with freezers that don't freeze and ovens that don't get hot and seeing great chefs going home while mediocre ones are flying under the radar. Add to all of this not being able to kiss your boys goodnight. Try it.

Sally B
Sally B

Tom

Too much salt? Next season why not have a challenge where the chefs can not use any salt at all, cooking for people who must reduce their salt intake,

You could also add “no salt” to other challenges – Palma coming into the kitchen with an "Oh by the way...no salt"

dylan111
dylan111

Here is why I, as a teacher, really dislike the evaluation system. Imagine that instead of Top Chef this was Top Student. To make the analogy, it would mean that one of my kids who is usually a great student doesn't do well on a test and thus flunks out of school. Of course it doesn't happen like that because teachers average tests together. So a great student can have a bad day and earn a 72, let's say, but then he or she could rebound and score in the high nineties on the rest of the tests in the marking period and therefore still earn an A, as a top student; I mention this because it actually happens. My point here is that while Angelo bombed out on this one challenge, he has consistently done better than others both in this season and the last, and yet he has been sent home. I like Tiffany, but she is not, nor ever will be, the chef Angelo is, whether you like him (I do) or not. Why is she still on the show?

Smiley face
Smiley face

Chefs constantly work in crazy environments, but focus on food. The challengings are stretching a chefs talent. It is getting a bit boring with all the challengings getting away from food. I mean, grilled cheese on an iron. Idk if it was worldly. LETS talk about viruses and bacteria, Mr. Bourdain. Those irons come straight from factories.

bite-size
bite-size

luuuuved this episode. Go Dale! Psst: But I would love for Carla to have her own show. Sorry, but even on this one when she didn't mean to, she had me in stitches!

Sheri L
Sheri L

Does anyone else besides me get the impression that this season was produced just to hand the Top Chef crown to Blaise?

I was thinking the same thing. I love Blaise but I hope it isn't so for so many reasons.....

suzie
suzie

Regarding Tiffany's chicken and dumplings from the Jimmy Fallon episode

What she made was the Southern style of chicken & dumplings. They are a thin, flat 'noodle' and the 'gravy' is a thinner, more brothy style.

The Southern version is a very different dish from the what most people think of as chicken & dumplings.

so what she made was exactly what chicken & dumplings are to her - I am surprised she did not explain or elaborate that this is what she is used to and what she learned to cook.

I am surprised that none of the judging chefs had not come across this version of dumplings.

I am so glad Tiffany was not eliminated in this round!

Juliet Wittman
Juliet Wittman

Are you aware that Marcella Hazan contested your opinion on risotto on her Facebook page after a fan asked her about them? Here are her comments. American chefs who go to Italy suffer from a Moses complex, they are always coming down from the mount with a tablet of rules for the unlearned. What he should have said is, "If you go to Venice ...". Yes, our Venetian risotto, while not quite soupy unless it's made with peas, is indeed runny, and of course we love it. But in Bologna and in Piedmont, risotto is firmly clingy and it is not less delicious. As for the chef who adds cream, well, follow my example, pay no attention to chefs.

a viewer
a viewer

according to toms' blog commentary, dales food was salty, but not inedible. angelos' food was inedible. that is why he was sent home. :-(

RobMck5
RobMck5

I think that, barring a few "quirks", it is the chef who makes the worst dish of the challenge who leaves. ( Quirks include, Dave season 1 getting the boot before Tiffany, even though in the 3 part challenge he won one and would have won 2 but forgot a dish, and Tiff won none, and there's the "but you didn't cook anything" and the" this is top chef not top sommelier" variations ) Dale didn't leave because his salty dish wasn't as bad as Fabio's, and I guess Angelo's was worse than Tiffany's and Carla's dishes

thatsme
thatsme

What the heck are you doing??????? Asking these chefs to "bake" a cookie isn't fair in the least!! You all know that baking is a science (and an art) and requires a completely different skill set. Next week, why don't you just ask the chefs to weave some cloth, or throw a clay pot, or paint a picture, and judge them on that? Chefs are chefs and bakers are bakers.....did you tell all contestants they would actually have a baking competition on the show??

Anyway, Carla seems to be baking cookies these days....how is that fair to the others that she came to the competition with skills the others weren't required to have?

thatsme
thatsme

Dear Tom, I can't believe you sent Angelo home for salty soup!!! Past contestants have had salty food and they didn't go home. Some have won for things like steamed mussels when others went to great pains to actually COOK something. Angelo is clearly an excellent chef. Of course I can only judge based on the comments I hear on the show, but it sure seemed like a couple of other chefs had equally bad food, or at least, mediocre. You blew it on this one!!!!!!!

By the way, since others here have chosen to comment on your looks, I will also. I don't think you are good looking at all! Not in the least. But Fabio?! Now HE was HOT!!!!!!!!

Timmi
Timmi

Southern belle is right. When we heard Angelo try to overcompensate with salt n bacon we knew it was bad news. So sad though cuz he is amazing..

Frank-Fradella
Frank-Fradella

"Ambassadors of happy" is a brilliant turn of phrase. Well done, sir.

jambalaya!!!!
jambalaya!!!!

After all the times Angelo 'helped' someone only to see the person lose, Angelo's fate should come as no surprise. What goes around comes around. Reap what you sow. Do unto others. And all that jazz.

Go, spice-girl Tiffany! Beat everyone, even though it seems like they wanna hand it over to Dale. You can do it! And don't cry, girl. Those snooty judges don't know what in the hell they're talking about.

so what who cares
so what who cares

duh, of course it was a commercial for Target. That's what TV is. A showcase for advertisers. Like, when they're running around Whole Foods. Same thang.

puppets!
puppets!

I do not like the Muppets. Sorry.

food, shmood
food, shmood

Who cares about the food? Tom is a hottie.

Tom is hot.
Tom is hot.

Dear Tom, Are you married? Wanna be?

luv Tiffany
luv Tiffany

Tiffany, we're here for you down in Big D. Represent! Hope you win it all.