Tom Colicchio

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

on Feb 17, 2011

Parenthetically, I knew Jim Henson -- he lived upstairs from Mondrian when I was there, and was in the restaurant all the time. In fact, he ate there the night before he died. He was a great guy, and he really loved food. I couldn't help but think it was only fitting that the descendants of his first muppets wound up on a food show.

Oh, yeah, I should probably discuss the Elimination Challenge, shouldn't I?

It was a fun but difficult challenge. We showed up at about midnight and worked through the night. The Target we were in was a super-sized monster store, and our chefs were running back and forth -- it was physically challenging. I was surprised that most of the chefs did not approach the challenge as they would the planning of a professional restaurant. When planning the kitchen of a new restaurant, a chef first must ask, "What kind of restaurant am I doing, what kind of food am I serving, and, thus, what do I need?" A restaurant serving Chinese cuisine will need more woks, a steakhouse will have more grills than other restaurants. I would first have checked out the food aisles to determine what I would be cooking; only then would I have made my way to the kitchen supply aisles.

People may quibble with our having awarded the win to grilled cheese and tomato soup, but they should understand that it was a very, very good version of grilled cheese and an equally good version of tomato soup, prepared smartly given the parameters of the challenge. As I've always said, food need not be fancy to be well-made. The soups certainly weren't attempts at haute cuisine. The chefs understood that this challenge didn't require of them that they prepare high-end food. Dale made smart choices and his dish reflected them.

Once in a while, we have a challenge where we judges know immediately who will be sent home. This was just such a challenge. There was no need for discussion this week, and there was certainly no debate. Of course, this being a television program, we couldn't just walk up to Angelo the moment we tasted his soup and inform him that he would be going home, even though we knew at that moment that his was the weakest dish by a mile. Given the structure of the competition and the show, we needed to bring the chefs who'd made the bottom three dishes to the Judges' Table to discuss all three dishes. But none of the judges could get past the first bite of Angelo's soup. Unlike Dale's dish last week, which was saltier than it should have been thus yielding diminished returns as we continued to eat it, but was still tasty and otherwise well-seasoned, Angelo's was simply inedible  Its level of saltiness far exceeded that of Dale's. And where it comes to amounts of salt, that is an apples and oranges difference.