Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio explains why Heather and Grayson's dishes failed from the moment they selected their cuts of meat.

on Dec 21, 2011

The chefs were asked to make dishes that paid tribute to those people who first inspired them. They were not asked to reassemble those dishes, and I consider it a dearth of creativity in Grayson that she chose a literal recreation of her father’s steak dinner, without giving any thought to modernizing that dish and making it her own. As a contestant on Top Chef, she should have known better. But the bigger problem Grayson faced (and one that she should have anticipated) is that if you really want to wow someone with a piece of steak, you’d best go out and get a piece of prime meat. Only four percent of meat in this country is prime. The rest is choice, which is fine, but if you’re going to go out there and center a competitive dish around a piece of steak, it should be the best piece of meat you can possibly find. Grayson’s wasn’t that. 

The only reason Grayson didn’t get sent home was that Heather’s dish was so bad. And Heather’s was so bad because she had the wrong cut of meat. You want to braise cuts like shoulders, shanks and bellies, because they have a lot of collagen and connecting tissue that breaks down as it’s braised, creating a rich dish. You don’t want to braise cuts of meat like strip steak or rib eye or tenderloin. Heather could have braised that piece of meat for three days, and it would never have worked. As with Grayson, Heather needed to apply her creativity as a chef to the situation she faced: if she was inspired by her mom’s Beef Stroganoff, she could either have bought the right meat or decided to do a take-off on the Stroganoff using that beef and applying in a new way the flavors found in a Stroganoff, but she didn’t do either, and so what she did do wound up dried out and terrible. Chris C. knew that he had cooked his salmon too hard, but luckily, as with Grayson’s dish, his wasn’t the worst of the worst. Heather’s miserable Stroganoff spared Grayson and Chris the need to pack their knives.