Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

On Being KO'd for Kale and Concept

Tom Colicchio stresses the details of why Lindsay Autry went home.

After a busy couple of weeks, it’s nice to be writing again, though I’ll be repeating a refrain I’ve stated before: At this stage of the process, the chefs still standing are very talented and highly competent. And so, unless someone were to make a stunning mistake (which would surprise us at this late date), we would expect at this point to be presented with three very fine dishes, and we would expect to have to analyze them in detail to find small picky problems, and to have toascertain which dish, in the aggregate, was best and which was worst. And we expect the difference between the dish that secures the win and the dish that gets someone sent home to be very small.

Clearly, Paul was not going to be sent home for the questionable addition of an arugula garnish. The flavors in his dish were complex and beautifully developed, and the concept for the overall dish and cocktail as a whole was sound and clear. His cocktail also incorporated the “ice” aspect of the challenge well.

Sarah, too, had a clear idea for her dish that reflected the assignment of bringing together the heat of Texas and the cold of Vancouver for the “Fire and Ice” cocktail party. While her mousse was colder than she’d intended, it complemented her pasta well. And her cocktail was crisp and delicious,further invoking the “ice” part of the challenge, as Paul’s did. Frankly, Sarah’s dish was ambitious, and she nailed it. Lindsay made a fine dish, one that in an earlier challenge would never have sent her and her knives packing. Her halibut was cooked properly, as was the celery root salad. But I couldn’t enjoy the raw kale -- it was jarring. Her cocktail did pair well with her dish, but when taken on its own merits it was the poorest of the three cocktails we were served that evening. Remember that the cocktail itself was being judged -- it was part of the challenge. Further, we failed to see Lindsay fully embrace the challenge itself -- it was not enough to make good food, she had to also work with the concept of “fire and ice,” and I failed to see the fire in her “fiery celery root salad.” I think Lindsay played it a bit too safe when conceptualizing her dish for this challenge, and she paid the price for doing so.

All of that said, I must reiterate that it was hard to send Lindsay home for her dish, even if it was the weakest of the three. All three dishes were very good, and all three chefs should be very proud of what they accomplished, not only in this week’s challenge, but throughout this competition. These are three very, very talented chefs. They don’t have outsized egos, they are not flamboyant in their affects, but throughout this competition they quietly worked hard to present food that could then speak to commend itself.

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