Bravotv.com: This week the chefs are serving some special diners.
Gail Simmons: Yes! One thing I want to mention is that the men and women firefighters and police officers the cheftestants served on this episode, were almost all first responders on the day of the Boston marathon bombing. We wanted to honor this specific group of people. It was really special to spend an afternoon with them, hear their stories and understand the work they do, which is so vital to that city. That was the bigger context for the day, and we were really glad to be able do it.
The first challenge in Boston was so individual, "show us who you are with the first dish you learned." For the second Elimination Challenge we wanted them in teams to see how they cooked together. We put them in completely random groupings and they had to cook from a mystery basket. It was apparent from the start who was a team player and who wasn't. This is the tricky part about team challenges, which are often a problem on Top Chef: how do you work as team player and still be competitive. At the end of the day, one person is going home for their individual mistake. The end game is not about being a team. You have to walk that very fine line between working well together, so that you get the job done, but you also need to make your specific contribution better than anyone else’s so that you don't go home and you ultimately win.
Bravotv.com: That's always very tricky. . .
GS: Super tricky. Which is why as much as we want to see how they play well as leaders, we want to the chefs as teams in the kitchen. That is a very difficult balance. Naturally there's going to be tension because you want to assert yourself and your vision. You want to control the situation, like Mei who was very clear about wanting to control the dish because she did not trust the people who were on her team at first. But you also need to get the job done well and be able to work with everyone else so that the end product does show value from each person who cooked it -- unlike what was happening with Aaron and Keriann or with Joy and her team. In a challenge like this you get to see everyone’s true colors very quickly.
Bravotv.com: And then you have Doug and James, which is interesting. You might initially think they had a disadvantage as a team of two, but they both saw it as a positive -- having one less person to work with.
GS: Yes. Two less hands, sure, but one less brain and one less person whose ideas you have to figure out how to integrate. James and Doug happen to be two really strong competitors. There's a very fine line between wanting more hands to get the work done and also getting the work done quickly and efficiently.
Bravotv.com: Let's start with our two top teams, Red and Blue.
GS: Our two top teams were the first teams to receive their baskets. The order of the day was almost aligned with when they got their mystery baskets, which showed you the advantages of how you get into the kitchen really do come into play in the outcome.
Mei, Katie, and Katsuji's were able to take seemingly disparate ingredients and put them together in a focused way, to make one dish that didn't feel like three different people were touching it and exerting their opinions on it. They had designated roles, they kept each other in the loop. They also took full responsibility for each of their components, which I think was smart. The dish flowed, it tasted good, it made sense. Katsuji made a beautiful sauce. Katie made really lovely vegetables to go with it, the pickled rhubarb and radish salad, and then Mei cooked the fish perfectly. What was also smart about what they did was that they also policed each other (pun intended). They tasted each other's food. And, Mei especially was very honest and spoke her mind to Katsuji or Katie if they weren't doing a good job.
But that's what you need to be prepared to do, to be brutally honest, and it ultimately was the downfall of some of the other chefs that were on the bottom. They weren't able to be honest with each other. Either they were too nice, or they couldn't get their egos out of the way.
Rebecca, Adam, and Gregory's dish was also cohesive. They had a few more components. They made a surf and turf because that is what they were given, but they also each owned a piece of it and took responsibility for their piece. They got each other, they helped each other, and they made a dish that even though it had a lot of pieces to it (the filet mignon, the scallops), was edited well and tasted delicious. Adam knew exactly how to cook the meat, he could really focus on it and was able to do it without the chatter and pressure from the people around him. Gregory made a seemingly simple vinaigrette that was outstanding. He had two hours to do it, so it better have been good. It was thoughtful; it was really fantastic. Doug and James had less hands but also less issues to handle. They made a straightforward dish, grilled pork chop with stone fruit, mushrooms, and walnuts. Their dish was four beautiful ingredients. It wasn’t complicated, but we didn't want complicated. We just wanted good food.
Bravotv.com: Now were at the bottom . . .
GS: Here we had two clunkers.
First Keriann and Aaron. It was clear they were at each other's throats. They weren't listening to each other, they weren't helping each other. Their egos were getting in the way of actually cooking the food. They were both being assholes all around -- and they knew they were being assholes. Aaron was determined to show a technique that he actually really had no idea how to execute. He completely lost control of his dish. He was so focused on using agar agar, when he could have, as Tom said, just made a jam! Keriann spent so much time talking and so little time focusing on the task at hand that her corn salad was a mess. I think if either of them want to last much farther in this competition they're going to have to stop ordering people around and start putting their heads down and cooking, which they both claim they can do. I'd love to see it.
On Joy's team, there were two major problems with that porkchop: one was that they added vanilla. I have no problem with vanilla. It works with a lot of savory things, you just need to be really careful with it. I know they all agreed to use it, and they all tasted it and said they were fine with it, but it was just too strong. The vanilla threw the dish off-balance. The other issue was that the veal was universally undercooked. Personally, I don't usually even want to eat regular veal, to be honest, but I definitely didn't want to eat it raw -- neither did any of the first responders, and neither did Tom, most importantly. The issue in this case was very different than Keriann and Aaron's issue. They were trying so hard to work well together that no one spoke up when changes needed to be made. They were too worried about ruffling feathers and no one was actually taking responsibility. Just saying "yes yes yes," is not always helpful. In the end, the problem was what Joy had said at the start -- that the veal chop was too thick, too large. Her instinct was to take them off the bone to make them uniform, and everyone disagreed with her. Then she suffered for it. She was too worried about disappointing them and being the nice one, instead of asserting her beliefs and how she knew her cooking ability could work. So sadly she went home.
The most important takeaway from the day is that we gave the men and women of Boston’s fire and police departments a very special meal, and had the opportunity to meet a lot of truly incredible people. I will forever remember it!