December 09, 2010 12:30 PM by Shayla Perry
As Gail Simmons said last week, each elimination in this All-Star season of Top Chef on Bravo is a difficult one, and last night was no exception, with Season 6′s Jen Carroll leaving the competition. But according to Gail, if you had tasted the dish Jen prepared for the challenge at the Natural History Museum, you’d understand why she had to go. So what did Gail Simmons have to say about Tiffani Faison’s moonpie-snowball-Rice Krispie treat lovechild, and what was Simmons’ role in getting Joe Jonas on the show? Find outÂ here in Gail’s blog.
“The biggest challenge as a responsible adult cooking for kids is you want to make it nutritious and taste great, too. The problem is a childâ€™s palate always wants the sweetest, junkiest foods and that can trip people up, which is what it did for many people in last nightâ€™s Quickfire. It was difficult for our chefs to separate what they were being asked to do: Cook something for the kids that would be chosen by the adults â€” at least for the first half of the challenge.
“Joe Jonas â€” heartthrob, musician extraordinaireâ€” narrowed it to the top two and we let the diners decide, and of course they went for the more sugary dessert, but it was also the most fun. There was no problem with Tiffaniâ€™s being sugary because we didnâ€™t tell her not to make it sugary. That wasnâ€™t the challenge at hand. It was supposed to be a fun decadent treat. Hers was fun and played to familiar flavors in a new form the kids probably hadnâ€™t seen before.
“Being the one who usually is the one who tastes things, I know thereâ€™s more to the dishes than I was able to get as a viewer. I always say, ‘You know why I know that I made the right decision? Because I was there.’ Unfortunately, thatâ€™s the tricky part of our show. Our viewers donâ€™t get to taste the food. They need us to be their taste buds. So I had to trust the taste buds of a certain teen heartthrob in this instance.
“Actually, weâ€™ve been quite amazed by the onslaught of love people in Hollywood have for the show. Tom and I met Joe at the White House Correspondents and at a party at the French Consulate. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was Joe Jonas! He was so excited to talk about the show and had all these great challenge ideas. I was like, are you trying to produce our show right now? But he was clearly an enthusiastic food lover and fan of the show. We traded restaurant recommendations and emails, and when we told our producers he was a fan, I guess they hooked it up.
“I had spent a lot of time at the Natural History Museum just about a month before because my nephew had been in New York City for his 10th birthday. Itâ€™s an iconic place and sort of a fantasy world. Their food is run by a quite conscientious food and catering company, so they do a lot of good stuff in-house.
“Overall, I think both teams did a pretty good job considering the limited nature of the two diets and how little sleep they were running on. To give you a sense: It was a little after midnight when Tom gave them the challenge, then there was time for lighting and set changes, and they mustâ€™ve gone to bed at 3 a.m. and got up at 4 to start making breakfast. We had to be finished with the challenge by the time the museum opened at 10.
“The Brontosaurus team pushed themselves quite a bit. We were impressed with the flavor combination, the depth of flavor, and the diversity of what the Brontosaurus team did. There was an enormous amount of knife work and precision. I canâ€™t tell you how many times Iâ€™ve had terrible gnocchi on Top Chef. The only good gnocchi I can think of on Top Chef to date besides this episode was when Michael Chiarello made us gnocchi in the finale of Mastersâ€˜ first season. He had the luxury of a good nightâ€™s sleep, a sous chef, the Top Chef kitchen, and the fact that heâ€™s been making gnocchi for 25 years.
“Carla and Spikeâ€™s gazpacho had a ton of knife work and a great balance of flavors. It was fresh and bright. We could see all that went into the banana parfait. The fruit was cut beautifully in perfect proportions. The banana puree took skill; they didnâ€™t just put it in a blender and call it a day. They roasted fruit. Each piece was perfectly placed. It was a beautiful plate of food and tasted the best of anything we ate that day. It was all just done well.
“Without a doubt, there were more flaws on the T-Rex team. I know they had meat, eggs, and cheese, and meat requires more cooking than fruits and vegetables, but I donâ€™t think they did anything more difficult than what the other team did. Treâ€™s sauce was over-reduced, which made it incredibly intense and salty. Antonia and Tiffanyâ€™s frittatas were inconsistent in their doneness. Tiffani and Daleâ€™s steak and eggs were actually pretty great â€” unoriginal, but pretty great. The Hollandaise was nice, smooth, and unbroken.
“And then there was Jen and Jamieâ€™s braised pork belly and hard-boiled egg. Ultimately we thought all of the flaws made by Jen were greater than Treâ€™s sauce. As much as his dish was salty, I could still eat and understand it. But I couldnâ€™t get through Jenâ€™s braised pork belly. We all unanimously came to that decision. In its entirety, it wasnâ€™t something we wanted to eat.
“As for Fabio and Stephenâ€™s gnocchi, it was no more or less appropriate than salmon with shrimp and bacon sauce. And actually potatoes, mushroom, and spinach â€” the components of their gnocchi â€” are pretty appropriate for me. I eat all of those with my breakfast all the time. The gnocchi was like a soft, pillowy hash brown â€” perfectly fine. The appropriateness of the breakfast dishes was never on the table for either team. Every dish everyone made was perfectly appropriate. I canâ€™t say it enough, itâ€™s about whether the dish tasted good. At the end of the day, again, did the gnocchi taste good? It tasted fantastic actually.
“Jenâ€™s didnâ€™t. I know viewers are so disappointed. We all are. The truth is: We need to judge on what was the best and worst dish of the day. If itâ€™s your first time at a restaurant and you have an incredible meal, youâ€™re going to go back. But if you go and have a terrible meal on your first go, youâ€™re never going back. Restaurants donâ€™t get another chance when youâ€™re a diner. Every single time has to be great. Itâ€™s actually very real to the world of restaurant reviewing. You canâ€™t allow the chefs to rest on their laurels and say, â€œWell, Jen did a really good dish two episodes ago.â€ Then whatâ€™s the point of having new challenges if youâ€™re allowed to base your conceptions on what they did in the past? The only way to make the show fair is to wipe the slate clean every week.
“Jenâ€™s dish wasnâ€™t good and why do we know it? Because we were there and we tasted it. We always survey our diners to see what they think, but at the end of the day, for an Elimination challenge, we decide and often donâ€™t agree with what they think. In this case, we all did. No one at the museum liked Jenâ€™s dish. It was pretty unanimous. The pork belly was unappealing, overpowering, fell apart and had no textural counterpoints. The hard-boiled egg was totally forgettable. It wasnâ€™t a good plate of food or something we wouldâ€™ve ordered in the first place. And thatâ€™s what it comes down to: What dish do you want to eat again and what dish do you never want to see again?
“When Jen defended her pork belly at judgesâ€™ table, the vibe was pretty tense, but not because we were angry. We just wished we couldâ€™ve sat down with her and explained it, but she was so convinced that her dish was good that there was nothing we could say that was going to convince her otherwise. If some of us liked it and some of us didnâ€™t, perhaps her rant couldâ€™ve changed things, but no amount of yelling at us about how good her dish was was going toÂ make us change our minds. Her dish, unfortunately, was the weakest dish of the day.
“We understand. We donâ€™t blame her. In fact we applaud [that she stood up for her food], as Tom said. We often wonder why our chefs donâ€™t talk back. I think thatâ€™s partially because, in the beginning, theyâ€™re intimidated. But this time around, they all know us pretty well and theyâ€™re comfortable giving us a piece of their mind, which is great because it evokes better conversation.
“In theory it may have been a brilliant dish, but this version wasnâ€™t a success in the context of this challenge. Thatâ€™s not to say she isnâ€™t a great chef in her own right. I have no worries about Jenâ€™s success in the future. And I think she knows that because Iâ€™ve spoken to her since. We were sitting in a quiet moment and she said, â€œI hope you know that I didnâ€™t mean it personally when I got so angry at judgesâ€™ table.â€ And I said, â€œJen, I cannot even imagine what you went through that night, and I know that it must have been amazingly hard because of what a fierce passionate person you are, and rest assured it wasnâ€™t personal from us either.â€ And then we proceeded to have some cocktails and have a good night.
“I know whenever we eliminate a woman, weâ€™re called sexist. Whenever we eliminate an African-American, weâ€™re called racist. I am neither American nor a man and I do not believe weâ€™re either of those things. The professional restaurant industry is not an equal industry and thatâ€™s a fact. There are more men working in professional kitchens than women. On Top Chef, we purposefully start our season with an equal number of men versus women. That actually stacks the deck for women. So if you think about the fact that only one woman has won across our seasons, thatâ€™s actually pretty accurate to the industry, for better or worse. What I always say, sadly, is, can you name five women in New York City who own multiple restaurant empires? Can you name any men? Unfortunately, itâ€™s an unfair reality. I think weâ€™ve made incredible strides in the last few decades, and Iâ€™m a ferocious advocate for women in the restaurant world. So itâ€™s upsetting, but itâ€™s the truth.
“Every week will be controversial and difficult to digest â€” pun intended. There are no good [eliminee] options. Every single member of the cast is talented and interesting, and weâ€™re all invested in them. Thereâ€™s never a good elimination this season.”
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