So, finally, I’m back. I was originally scheduled to be in an earlier episode this season, but two days before I was due to fly to Las Vegas I was knocked off my bicycle. The car was only going five miles an hour but I ended up spending the next 16 hours in hospital. (You can read more about my accident here.)
When I arrived in Vegas, 48 hours later, the producers of the show took one look at my face and decided I was TUFTY: Too Ugly For Telly. I had to sit in my hotel room, cooling my heels, until the stitches were ready to come out. Only then could enough makeup be applied to ensure my cuts and bruises weren’t visible on camera.
I was a little awestruck to be seated at the same table as Penn and Teller. I had caught their magic act at the Rio a couple of nights earlier and was blown away. Somehow, they had managed to promote a spirit of skepticism and scientific inquiry while performing one trick after another. I hadn’t expected to encounter such a smart, sophisticated show on the Strip, but Vegas constantly confounded my expectations. During the time I spent filming the show I fell so
deeply in love with the city that I now want to live there.
One thing became clear as the 11 remaining contestants brought out their dishes: the standard this season is much higher than last season. Admittedly, only a handful of them seemed to have a clear idea of what “deconstructing” a dish involved, but the best were very good indeed. First impressions can be wrong, but Kevin in particular struck me as an accomplished chef. His Chicken Mole was the best dish served that evening, followed closely by Jennifer’s Meat Lasagne. You could tell that they’d both been trained to a very high standard.
As far as I was concerned, the choice of who to send home was between Ash and Ron. During the deliberation at Judges' Table, one of the main points of disagreement was who had failed to grasp the original brief most completely. The art of deconstructing a dish is to break it down into its different components and then recombine them in such a way that each component is still clearly identifiable. Michael Voltaggio nailed it with his Caesar Salad, but Ash and Ron simply
didn’t have a clue.
Take Ash’s Shepherd’s Pie: When deconstructing a dish you’re not supposed to leave any of the ingredients out, but deciding not to include mashed potatoes was a schoolboy error. You simply can’t make a Shepherd’s Pie without mashed potatoes -- it’s what makes the dish a
But in the end we decided that Ron’s Paella was the worst dish of the night. He didn’t make any attempt to deconstruct it at all — it was just Paella, plain and simple. That might have been
forgivable had he succeeded in cooking it properly, but the task seemed to throw him through a loop and he ended up overcooking the seafood and the rice. I was sorry to see him go because he’s clearly a very charming, likable guy, but in this season of Top Chef you’ve got to bring your A game to avoid elimination. The standard is just so high.