Tom Colicchio

Tom takes a closer look at where the Pink Team went wrong.

on Nov 17, 2011

I believe that they all worked very hard on the Elimination Challenge as well, and, as I made a point of saying on air, both teams did some very good work. But the judges still have to determine which team performed better and eliminate someone from the other team.
Having the chefs cook for terrific young Blanca’s Quinceanera was a fitting first challenge for Top Chef Texas. Mexican-Americans make up 31.6 percent of Texas’s overall population, with Mexican-Americans comprising over half of San Antonio’s population, with Houston boasting the second largest Mexican ancestry community in the United States, and with Dallas weighing in with the fifth largest Mexican-American population in the country. The contributions of Mexican-Americans to Texan culture, including cuisine, are legion. We sought to honor these contributions with this week’s Elimination Challenge.
In asking the chefs to cook for Blanca’s Quinceanera, though, we were very clear about what we were asking for: We wanted elegant food (and, to quote Padma, “a fabulous cake”) in the tradition of the foods of Blanca’s family and community. This raises two points for me:
First, be careful not to pigeonhole “Mexican Food.” Which raises two more points for me:

a) Anyone who thinks that “Mexican Food” is about rubbery tacos and chimichangas should make a pilgrimage to Rick Bayless’s Topolobampo in Chicago, or, for that matter, should sample the dishes of our guest judge, Johnny Hernandez. Check your preconceptions at the door.

b) As with any large country, Mexico has many cuisines. The seafood-centered fare of Veracruz on the Gulf is very different than the food of mountainous Oahaca, “the Land of the Seven Moles.”  All Italian is not red sauce and meatballs. All Indian is not curried lamb. If they were thoughtful in asking what foods Blanca and her family like, the chefs would also have been discovering the region in Mexico from which her family hailed, which would have given them insights into the spices, seasonings, and ingredients that could, in turn, have inspired them. They also could have asked directly -- I don’t know whether any of them did.