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Protecting My Brand

Francis Lam explains why he is grateful he didn't meet Dita Von Teese.

By Francis Lam

How to Watch

Catch up on Top Chef Masters on Peacock or the Bravo App.

So, next to “Can the chefs really cook?” the question I most get asked is, “Did you get to meet [insert celebrity guest judge here]???” And the answer is no, I did not get to meet [insert celebrity guest judge here], though I would’ve appreciated a chance last week to apologize to the B-52’s for shoplifting the Cassingle for “Roam” when I was in high school. (I bought the album after! And their entire back catalog! Which got me called names by jocks and cool kids for years! So maybe I wanted an apology instead?) 

The Queen of Burlesque

And this week, I suppose I’m glad I didn’t meet Dita Von Teese, because judging from the episode, there is not a grown man alive who can hold it together around her. Chris made the same face he made flying in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, Takashi dutifully mentioned his wife before asking for Dita’s number… even Art, who is married to a man named Jesus, was losing it when Dita tasted his homage to boobs. Who knows what dumbness may have fallen from my mouth? Just the other day, someone tweeted at me: “enjoy you comments on TC Masters. Nice to see erudition is not going out of vogue with the younger crowd!” So thanks, producers, for, er, protecting my brand.

Anyway, to another part of the episode I didn’t get to see in real life: the chefs hauling it to open a restaurant in something like 30 minutes. I love cooking, but I also love restaurants—how they run, the systems, the machinery, the teamwork, their bone-crunching pace—so it was really interesting to watch the goings-on on TV when all I saw during filming was the food as it hit the table. The miscommunication between chefs that caused duck to nearly fly out of the kitchen on its own power was a rough one, one I’ve experienced (and also caused) while on the line. It’s not a good feeling. And so I hurt for both Patricia and Kerry when I watched their gears screech to a halt. The thing with line cooking is that it’s all about the team, and great teams never appear overnight—it takes practice to learn each other’s rhythms. t did seem a little odd to me that Patricia couldn’t have popped her duck slices into a hot oven for a minute to help cook them through, or that Kerry couldn’t have made his braised pork belly—a forgiving cut, and a forgiving preparation—wait a little more, but a lot of weird stuff happens in the fog of war and cooking. It’s a moment I’m sure both chefs wish they could’ve taken back, and it was heartbreaking to watch them go through the emotional reaction afterwards. These chefs really respect each other, and themselves. 

Speaking of respect, it was really sad to see Art go. There’s a weird thing that critics often want from chefs: they want to see you innovate, but they also want to see you do what you do best. For this dish, it seemed like Art’s dish got a little trapped in the middle—it lost the satisfying quality of his Southern cooking, but it also didn’t venture far enough into the Thai realm. And unfortunately, the dish ended up a little bland and soft spoken, the exact opposite of Art himself. We missed him before he even walked out the door. 

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