Before we go any further, let me just say that I never watched Dallas. I don’t know who J.R.is, and I don’t know who killed him. Oh, my wife tells me he wasn’t killed, just shot. OK. Bottom line: Filming the Elimination Challenge at Southfork Ranch meant nuthin’ to this New Yorker -- it was just another place to shoot. The episode, I mean.
And I’m sorry to say that the work our chefs presented at the Elimination Challenge held about as much appeal to me as would a Dallas rerun. The reason we were so harsh at Judges' Table is that the chefs were complacent and wouldn’t take risks, so they didn’t create dishes worthy of this competition. This group of chefs, more than in any season prior, seemed to be thinking about how to win the game, and at this early stage, seemed to be saying to themselves, “Hey! Just don’t go home! Stay in the middle of the pack until the end. Then step it up.” Like pacing oneself in a marathon. And with a dinner for 200, yes, they could say, “That’s a lot of people -- let’s play it safe.” But they could have been far more creative than they were.
This points to aproblem inherent in a group challenge like this: When creating dishes by committee, no one puts themselves out there and says “I want to go out on a limb with this, and I don’t care if the group doesn’t want me to.” So nothing soars. Furthermore, the food lacks a point of view -- any chance of one has been eradicated by the process.
At the beginning of the season it appeared these chefs would be the best of all the seasons but it seems they all are in such fear of being sent home they can't be the great chefs they probably are. It's too bad because it's making for a boring season of scared chefs.
Great to hear your technical commentary on both the Quickfire & Elimination challenges, Chef! I wish some of this kind of discussion had been in the actual episode. I don't think I have seen true daring from most of the chefs since the first two episodes when they had to cook to impress you and the other judges just to get on the show. The Cattle Baron attendees were truly gracious in their comments - I hope they weren't too disappointed in the meal.
I have to say that I (and my fiance) always considered you to be a grumpy person. After coming on the site to check out the last chance kitchen, I saw this blog and decided to give it a read. I have to take back my previous opinion. I enjoy the well thought out way of presenting your opinion.
I did not watch Dallas, either, but I certainly know who J.R. was...I am sure you don't mean to, but sometimes the comments sound pretentious. "I don't know why people think they can slice potatoes and put them right in the oven."...you know perfectly well that most people make au gratin this way. No, most people are not chefs, but you should not infer they are stupid. I completely agree about the mundane aspect of the meal. It does not have to be fancy to be good. One of my favorite things is a well cooked steak. I was also surprised that they were cooked individually and in that manner. Your comments on the sauces were very informative. Some of the best challenges are about "the basics"....i.e. Wylie Dufresne's challenge of the egg comes to mind, with Carla winning. I also completely agree with most of the posts about the nauseating challenge last week! It is the first episode ever that I did not want to watch again. EVER. BRAVO~Please take note~~there are those of us who LOVE Top Chef, but NEVER watch Housewives of anywhere!! I certainly hope this finds you pain free after your surgery. I greatly enjoy your show as I always learn new things. P.S. Can we take the words "Home Cook" out of the vernacular? Johnny Iuzzini had the greatest line ever about just that topic. Something like "My grandmother wasn't a chef, but could make great pie." ;-} I live in rural Iowa & am surrounded by wonderful cooks!
Tom, you mention that this episode put forth "a problem inherent in group challenges like this", I wonder if you, personally, would like to see fewer group challenges and more individual efforts from the chefs? I know as a viewer, not that I speak for the entire viewer community, I would like to see more of the chefs individual styles and culinary perspectives. Ed is more than a garnish and Nyesha is more than a compound butter.
I know the logistics of the show dictate that team challenges work better with more chefs and that an important part of being a chef, as opposed to a cook, is working in a team environment, but I wonder how the judges feel about the predominance of team challenges in the early rounds.
You were unusually rude to Whitney. I've seen worse dishes without your snarky comment about how easy it was to send her packing. Remember your comment last week about Chris' cupcake. . .
You make some great points Tom - I just wonder how hard is it to pull off 200 medium rare steaks consistently all in one night while all coming out relatively at the same time? Shouldn't Lindsay be on the line as well for making the call to flash the steaks too early? I would call that a bit of a sabotage. I mean if you don't own the dish/component, you shouldn't make a call when to fire it. Ty should have defended himself better on the steaks instead of being such a nice guy. It's a competition, not a popularity contest.
And what's with Heather calling out Beverly on cooking too Asian? That's like someone telling Lydia she cooks too Italian. You cook to your strengths, not your weaknesses. Is it one dimensional, yes, but why on earth would someone ever try to cook to their weaknesses in a competition?
Anyway, great stuff, nice pointers steaks.
Chef Colicchio, thank you for your thoughtful comments. You're right, the group challenges, although they might make for "interesting" (i.e., dramatic) television - personally, to which I say "Blech!" - are never as satisfying as the individual challenges. The only time the group challenges are enjoyable to watch are when a true leader emerges, that is someone whom the others want to follow (think of Jen in Top Chef Las Vegas at the Air Force Base) versus a chef who bullies his or her way to the top, or who makes a big deal about stepping in because no one else will (and aren't they then marvelous to do so, etcetera). The "Mother Sauce" challenge was indeed more interesting from a cooking show point of view - I love these "Cooking Class 101" types of challenges, such as prepping eels (that kind of thing), when we can really see what it is that chefs must know to succeed in their profession, versus group drama to turn out a meal. (BTW, "Dallas" wasn't really that bad - nice mindless, campy fun!)
Tom thanks for explaining some of the Mother sauces 2 of them never heard of or no how to make . But I do see the need for a good one. I thought the potato dish was a bad choice for such a hot time of year and way to heavy. The dishes did not make me swoon when I heard about them or saw them.
The team challenges are often more about personal interaction than about cooking technique. Interesting TV but we've seen talented chefs submarined by team dynamics. However, that was not the case this week. You should be able to make potatoes au gratin in your sleep. I am amazed that a chef could cook 200 ribeyes on a grill, rest them an appropriate amount of time and plate them in a timely fashion. Remind me never to try that. Appreciated your comments about sauces. We culinary dilettantes still have much to learn.
Not sure if you're reading this but i hope you are...
Firstly, i love the show and respect what you do and never second guess your decisions. After all, its amazing people still quibble about your decisions despite the fact that NONE of us actually do any tasting whatsoever.
With that said, you hit the nail on the head with this one, team challenges are incredibly difficult to parse through because ultimately, the hands in the dish become very difficult to parse through and there are so many factors that go into the direction, flavor and texture profiles, and overall balance of the dish that are hard to isolate to various chefs. Beyond that, at least from the tv perspective, someone like tyler(despite his valiant ownership), seemed to get short changed by leadership decisions not made by him specifically. I understand this is a game and television done for entertainment and frankly, team challenges tend to bring about more liveliness among cast members, but like you said, if you want to judge good food, either make them all individual challenges, or suggest to the producers to have much better designed team challenges where individuals can have enough leeway to make a dish their own. Ty's dish, for example, was largely derailed by decisions made by heather. Ed's dish was useless by itself but that might have been because given the totality of the entire dish, he was afraid it would be too much going on. Etc Etc. Again, love what you do, but going forward, team challenges need to be augmented with better design.
BTW, compared with last episode, your crankiness seems 10 fold this episode. In some ways, however, its actually more entertaining this way.
Andrew beats Janine. Keith beats Andrew. Keith beats Richie. Chuy beats Keith. Whitney beats Chuy. All that Last Chance Kitchen will prove is that the better chefs who last in the main competition longer will win once they go into Last Chance Kitchen, beating out the weaker chefs who were eliminated earlier becasue they were weaker/less talented. My suggestion originally was going to be to wait until thr forth place chef gets eliminated to duke it out with no. 5. But then I changed my mind. The cruel way that you offer illusory hope to losers week after week is captivating. Brilliant addition to the series and perfect for watching on the web. There's just so much of "no talent" that one can watch. Keep up the suffering! Brilliant! Truly an epiphany concept. Pay the cresator a bonus. a BIG bonus!
Tom, a roast is not a steak. One grills or broils steaks. The challenge was to serve steaks. Not to rotisserie or bake roasts for later slicing. If someone had done that, they would have been booted-out for not making steaks. Ty-Lor truly is Boring and now goring his hands; always too low and will go home fingerless shortly. Whitney Otawka pulled a Jennifer Carroll and needs a tasteless inedible tater-tots refresher class.
Top Chef started so great and it appeared you selected the best 16 chefs but now it looks like these chefs are so scared of being sent home they are playing it way too safe which makes for boring televison. too bad because it could have been a great season.
Tom ... as a steak man can you please post 2 steak recipes:
A) I am a NY strip steak fan ... can you please post a good seared individual steak grilling method as well as a whole set and cut them up later like you mentioned during the episode and your blog? Can NY Strip be done as a block or individual only?
B) Same above for a tomahawk steak like the one you had Keith and Chuy do during LCK: as a block and individual.
I don't like cooking in kitchen on a searing pan and like to grill outside.
Thanks in advance ......
Did you know Heather before this season's filming? The way she addresses you as "Tom", rather than "Chef" it appears that she expects more from you than fair judging. And, now, by how you've defended her in this blog, it looks like she got it. Her unprofessional bullying should be excused by you or anyone else.
I agree with you on the basic flaws of the team challenges. As a producer of the show, why not advocate for changing the structure? Add an advantage for anyone who steps up as a leader, or takes risk in what they cook. Define the advantages up front and I think the contestants would step up.
I don't know what I think about this blog post from Tom. If you know the problem with these "Everyone in the same team" challenges, then why are we in season 9 (season 14 if you count just desserts and masters) and they're still happening?
Group work is sort of weird in Top Chef because then the judges are left asking "Who thought of the idea for this recipe, who did what component, so you cooked the shrimp and she did the sauce but who was responsible for the garnish?" etc. But everyone on 1 team means that everyone's already in the losing team and now they have to keep from being eliminated. At least if there are multiple teams there's some motivation to take a risk: keep your team from being on the bottom.
It's like in season 8 at the dim sum restaurant where Casey and Carla "took one for the team" and did service and lost full control over their dishes. Except there was only one team and they were basically giving up time to work on what they'd be judged on (because Top Chef can't afford two more waiters?). Both were in the bottom and one was eliminated. Maybe they would have done poorly if they were able to focus on their dishes and change them as problems arose, but we'll never know.
I am probably not the only one to say this, but I'm getting really tired of these catering challenges. The show is called Top Chef not Top Caterer. I realize that you must be an excellent chef to pull off an event for 200+ guests successfully, but the goal of most of these chefs is to own a restaurant or something along those lines, correct? So if you're going to have a steak challenge (which I love because a perfectly cooked steak is my absolute favorite thing to eat), then have every chef prepare a steak. I'm not interested in who can bake a cake and who can cook the worst potato casserole or whatever it was (although I do agree that she deserved to be eliminated), but I would want to know who could actually prepare a mouth watering, perfectly cooked and seasoned steak. After watching the "steak challenge," I along with all of the other viewers don't know who can prepare the best steak. I guess it would be whatshisface with the weird hair, because he and Tyler are the only ones that made steak! Oh well, I still love the show!!!
i completely agree with your assessment of the lackluster performance by the chefs. Your point about group challenges seem to dummy down their output is well taken. Therefore, I reiterate my major complaint: why are there so many group challenges? They really don't give the chefs a chance to highlight their individual talents and POV.
I think you're a little off about the comment about Ed being bothered by her use of his recipe--- how about Heather bake something up her own repertoire? Insist that he bake it? Come on... this is a competition; I think anyone would feel uncomfortable with someone using their recipe twice, then winning. It could have gone badly if he had done it himself, but ... still. While not the oyster fiasco with Richard/Mike, and I understand that there is no plagiarism in cooking, even as a viewer, it doesn't sit well with me, especially because Heather is so obnoxious towards some people in the competition. She says Bev always cooks asian food, now one can say she always bakes Ed's recipe...
Couldn't agree more with Tom about the lackluster performances of the chef's this season & about Ty-Lor's attitude. He had every reason to whine & complain about what happened, but instead he stood up & took full responsibility. Hooray for him! With that kind of attitude he quickly became someone I can finally cheer for to make this season more interesting.
Excellent blog this week!
I particularly like the breakdown of how you would have made a gratin. Very interesting insight into your cooking process.
Keep them coming...
My dad's gratin comes out awesome with just a buttload of butter and sticking thinly potatoes in a pan, so I'd beg to differ Tom. But Whitney's dish did look awful with all that dense cream and cheese - it was like she wanted to put the steak in a wet diaper. Heather's attitude was horrible, sad that she got the car but if that was the best of the worst (as Hugh Acheson put it), then it was the best of the worst. The last couple episodes have had (what looks to be) lackluster cooking - hoping the heat is turned up next week!
I get that you liked the cake. I get that a LOT of folks liked the cake. But the main part of the challenge was to make steak, and with Chris' steak course so well received by everyone I could not see why he did not emerge the winner. He got robbed, if you ask me.
I've seen a few comments about how this season seems to be failing. Some think it's because it's on the heels of the All-Stars season, but I think this episode highlights that the problem is the chefs themselves.
Competitions like TC are supposed to push you, make you go outside your comfort zone & out of the box a bit. These chefs aren't doing that. You guys said it in judging: the menu was under-whelming and you expected more (as do your viewers, quite frankly). Heck, they recycled a cake recipe! So it's the chefs. And I'm not even looking for a Marvel or whoever to amp up the drama. I'm looking for...CHEFS! People who want to push their boundaries. And that's just not what we're getting this season so far. That's not TC's fault. They looked for the cooks, now the cooks need to step up.
I always enjoy your blogs. I too am a New Yorker. I had no idea about JR and all that. I was a bit confused about the thin cut of meat that Ty used. I always thought Texas had the BIG of everything! I reallly enjoyed the roux comments. The very first thing that my grandmother taught me to make was a roux. I receive a great many compliments on my sauces thanks to her. Keep on that group of chefs. The talent seems far lacking compared to other seasons' chefs.
Thank you for the sauce explanation and the breakdown on how you would have prepared the potato dish, that sort of information is fascinating. Why in the world did they have only one person (who was exhausted and injured) working the grill in that heat? It just seemed stupid to me. I prefer the challenges where they are cooking for a small group rather than a huge group. No matter how great the chef, the food seems to suffer a little when they're cooking for an army.
I've been surprised by the choice of chefs this season - and I'm hoping that we see a few stars emerge and sparkle. We viewers have enjoyed watching chefs with superb cooking and imaginative chops, who also had personalities; therefore enjoyable to watch and root for. Unfortunately for me and I'm sure many others, we are missing the Blais', Voltaggio'esque people, the Antonias, Mikes, Carlas and Fabios - folks who could cook, but like 'em or not, you cared one way or another about them. Some seasons have had a glut of talent and personality -- this one, not so much. Hope it changes soon, because I love my show and want to keep watching. PS: great to see Chef Acheson on Top Chef. I enjoyed him when he was competing as well. hmmmm, maybe it was the chops AND personality??!!
Hello Tom, Thanks for another insightful blog. You state that you don't care for the group challenges because they inhibit the chefs to perform at their best. Then, why are there so many group challenges? Obviously, outstanding food is NOT being produced. It looks very safe, boring, and unappealing (even the winner's).
Seems like this season the cheftestants are succumbing to stereotypes of the Southwest or something. I think if they were in New York or Chicago they wouldn't be making such safe, boring dishes. Seems like they think if it's Texas, they don't have to make difficult, sophisticated food. Hope things get better and they elevate their own standards. Good luck Tom! (p.s. can't believe you never watched Dallas!)
Tom, Thanks for the breakdown of sauces. As a home chef I am testing myself on sauce making often. As I live in a warm area of the US I grill steaks year round. I understand how some may be confused when you said to buy the whole roast and slice it to proper cooking size. When I do large parties I buy the Rib Eye Roast, cut it thick enough to my liking or just cut it like Hugh suggested in his blog for smaller appetites. Then I grill each cut separate, not as a rib eye roast.
This group of chefs doesn't play well together -- and we only seem to see flashes of their skills. With the exception of a dish or two, this season, so far, has been a disappointment. And as for the steaks, I'm no chef, but I'm a pretty good cook, and when I cook for a herd of guests, the protein is cooked in one massive piece (a spit-roasted pig, a smoked turkey, butterflied leg-o-lambs piled in a grill) and then portioned for serving. The idea you could grill 200 steaks and serve them "all at once" was foolish. Oh yeah, Heather is not nice.
Tom, I sympathize with your frustration over the timid dishes served during the latest episode but I feel the show has brought it on itself. First, as you note, Top Chef is structured like Survivor – you do not have to win until the very end, you just have to stay on the island. This encourages caution and mediocrity. To counter this attitude I encourage you, on occasion, to send more than one contestant home. Ty, as the chef responsible for the steaks, clearly should have gone home as well. To balance this approach if everyone has tried his or her creative best, don’t send anyone home. Second,have fewer catering challenges. Chefs get through these rounds by playing safe and keeping their heads down, not by cooking great food.
1. Ty-Lor was the hero, he did the grueling grill work admirably. He should not have had to shoulder sole responsibility for the steak in the main course. His team mates are to blame for the steak debacle.
2. I'm a bumbling fool in the kitchen but I've never messed up a roux base sauce.
3. Thanks for the inside info on potato gratin preparation.
4. I agree with several of the other comments. Less "top catering" challenges. I think restaurant wars is a great means of showcasing chef's kitchen/team leadership abilities while still highlighting an individual's creative skill and point of view. The remaining challenges should give the chefs the chance to cook innovative food in reasonable quantities in a realistic amount of time.
There are so many group challenges because that is what provides the "drama" of the show and I'm sure Bravo producers are behind it. I say base the show on the food, but that's just me :). That said, I agree that the steaks should have gone from grill to plate. There was no reason to flash them if done that way. Whitney deserved the elimination because the gratin is a baked dish. She had plenty of time to get it precooked and then heated and browned in the oven. There was no reason for it to be undercooked.
Heather obviously had enough time to be running around checking on everyone so if she was so concerned about Bev getting the dish done, she should have jumped in and helped peel some shrimp. Just sayin'.
I really enjoy reading your blog (and the comments) after watching the episodes. It helps put things into perspective.
I too have a lot of respect for Ty-Lor and the way that he handled himself in this episode. That said...I wanted to throttle Lindsay for deciding to flash his steaks without even consulting him on it. Whether or not that was the right way to prepare these steaks, she should not have messed with his dish. Not only that, but I feel as if most of the weight of this challenge was on his shoulders as the steaks were to be the highlight of the meal and he had to prepare 200 of them to be served at the same time...Whew!!! Ty-Lor is quickly becoming my fan favorite; in line right behind Grayson.
I can't wait to see Heather go...she is mean and nasty. And, I don't understand why she thinks it is okay to call you 'Tom' rather than 'Chef'... found it to be completely disrespectful and I felt very uncomfortable listening to her do so.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the Mother Sauces, how the Gratin should have been cooked and your overall knowledge about food.
Always like to read what you have to say. Often agree, ocassionally I don't. You say here that this is the problem with team challenges. Well here's an idea. Get RID of them. Ive always hated when someone makes the weakest dish, but their team wins and that person stays and someone else goes home. Or someone only has to make a salad while someone else is grilling 200 steaks. Here is my idea no more immunity for anything, prizes for quickfires instead. And no more team challenges. You said it yourself, that's not how a kitchen runs.
These contestants seem a bit too Hosea and not enough Stefan. They don't seem to have the wow factor in their food that previous seasons had. The chefs are playing the game rather than challenging their culinary skills. Thanks Tom for your insight and frankness on the overall attitude of this season's competitors. It is blatantly obvious that Heather and Sarah are more strategic than talented and I hope they get eliminated soon. There are a few chefs that seem creative and I would like to see the show tap into that creativity more or showcase chef skills like the butchery or knife skills or the tasting game.
I had NO idea there were so many sauces; I need as cooking class. Enjoyed Tom's explanation. I hate the group challenges. Hopefully, there will be more individual ones coming up. I'm not fond of Heather. I think she's too bossy and really full of herself, but maybe that's the editing.
I had no idea there were so many sauces. I think I need a cooking class. I really enjoyed Tom's blog; it explained a lot. I do wish, though, they'd have fewer group challenges. I'm not a big fan of Heather's. I think she's overbearing and bossy, but maybe that's the editing. I just don't think she's very nice.
What on earth is going on with Top Chef? If All Stars hadn't broken up DC and Texas, I would have quit watching weeks ago. The challenges are so unimaginative, and as you pointed out yourself, they compromise the ability to showcase the chef's true talents and creativity. This whole SEASON has been uninspired and lackluster, and given your general crankiness this year,Tom, I think you might agree with me. I can't help but wonder how much longer you (or I) can stick this out.
I seriously love your approach and attitude towards these chefs and your high expectations. I think that view can be paralleled in ANY professional environment. I really liked how Ty didn't throw someone under the bus even though it was definitely someone else's fault to a degree.
I honestly am growing tired of group challenges on all reality shows - it gets annoying to watch people who are good chefs end up getting let go. "Too many cooks in the kitchen" is like.. the most cliche but awesome phrase about team challenges imo.
This was a steak challenge. Yes, there was 4 courses to be prepped by the chef teams. However, consider the venue. The Cattleman's association is a huge deal and they eat MEAT. Ty-lor deserved his come to jesus meeting, he should have fought for how the meat was to be handled once it left his grill. The potatos Gratin was horrid looking, I wouldnt have eaten them and the right person was sent home.
But to consider a dessert that only YOU liked because it was well made, was a poor decision. Chris Jones should have won that challenge because his STEAK was properly prepared and well received.