In this post: So long to Lia, putting Hung out to dry, and the unlikely buddy story that nobody saw coming. But first, I need to go a little "Kitchen Confidential" on you here with a nasty subject, one that has come up often on-set when I've judged this and other food shows, but one I've never seen aired in public: Chefs that (eww) sweat into (blech) their food--our food, actually. Yecccccccccch! Cue the rising chunks, por favor.
I'm talking about the Elimination Challenge last night in which the cheftestants were told they'd have three hours to cook a dish for the cast and crew of Telemundo's telenovella "Dame Chocolate." Great idea for a challenge since the cast of most Telemundo shows are gorgeous, sexy, and perpetually glistening.
Of course, an actress glistening in the languid Miami air is one thing. A chef gushing into your entree is something else. And after the cooking started, when Tom announced this challenge's cold, harsh twist--that, in fact, there would only be 90 minutes to cook--the urgency turned to anxiety. And that's when it started: one of the cheftestants was clearly, visibly gushing sweat down his/her face, where it dangled momentarily from the nose before falling onto the cutting board--and directly into dinner. Now, I caught this special moment a few days ago while watching the rough cut of last night's episode to prep for this blog. After reviewing the finished episode last night, I decided not to name names because the crime wasn't visible in the final cut, or perhaps was only visible on a high-definition telly. But, it happened. And, chef, you know who you are. I mean, what's the point of even washing your hands? Yes, it is hot in the Top Chef kitchen. Hell, it's hot in most professional kitchens. And my heart goes out to you if you're uncomfortable in that heat. But I say, if you can't stand the heat without dribbling personal fluids into the ingredients you are otherwise so lovingly preparing, all your skill and knowledge and labor and talent are worthless.
Suggestion Box: Casey, who cooks in sweltering Dallas, ties on a headband when the kitchen gets hot--her colleagues should take a cue from her. They might also consider not leaning over their food. Remember, in the first episode of Top Chef that ever aired, Season One, Number One, a contestant was booted just for dipping a finger in his sauce to taste it. Please, let's not see any more human-based secret ingredients. Capisce?
On to our friend Hung, who clearly is one of the contestants to watch here, but who didn't have the best showing last night. As judges, we're unaware and usually unconcerned about the chefs' posturing, or cockiness, or other behind-the-scenes silliness. But last night, Hung, who has in the past shown a somewhat cavalier attitude in the Top Chef kitchen, crossed a line with his frenetic running around...holding a knife! Casey called him out on it, and so did Tom at Judges' Table, and both were right to do so.
Hung also did himself no favors as a professional when he disputed Tom's verdict on his dish as dry and underseasoned. Arguing that the dish was, in his opinion, highly-seasoned, Hung then said, defiantly, "I understand and it's your decision." Yes, it is. And in your restaurant, it is your customers who will decide whether they ever come back.
Moving on, I just want to say how sorry I am to see Lia leave. She's been a class act and a team player throughout the competition. The fact that such a talent didn't last longer in this pressure-cooker of a competition just shows how extraordinarily difficult it is. I think the style she demonstrated on national television will serve her well down the line. Casey clearly agreed, declaring tonight that she and Lia will be lifetime friends. Nice.
A more surprising development was the rapprochement between Howie and Joey Pickles, who not so long ago were at each other's throats, and who now appear to be on the fast track to a buddy movie.
t's true--Joey really excelled in the Quickfire Challenge (he needed a good win, and I was glad to see him earn one), and in the Elimination Challenge. I was even gladder to hear the effusive praise for his dish from Howie: "It blew me away. I couldn't stop eating it all day." I guess we can all get along! See y'all next week. Cheers, T