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'Top Chef: Texas': Tom Colicchio tighter than bark on a tree

January 5, 2012 |  7:30 am

Top Chef Texas

Tom Colicchio doesn't seem to be having much fun in the current season of "Top Chef." Perhaps the cooking competition's lead judge hasn't been impressed by the overall cooking, or maybe he doesn't like the heat and humidity. Or maybe he'd just rather be greeting diners at Craft. But he's always seemed to understand the essential challenges of the punitive pressures under which the "Top Chef" contestants must work -- until Wednesday night.

In the evening's "BBQ Pit Wars," the remaining nine chefs were divided into three teams, mandated to barbecue three proteins (chicken, beef brisket, pork ribs) and plate two sides for 300 diners -- with no sleep. The sheer logistics of the task were daunting enough, but when the team of Ty-Lör, Edward and Sarah lost the latter member to apparent heat stroke, Tom heartlessly failed to appreciate what the two chefs suddenly had to do: 100% of the work with 33% less manpower. As Sarah keeled, Edward went into overdrive, logically deciding that he and Ty-Lör (who had immunity from winning the Quickfire challenge with an inventive watermelon with vanilla bean honey concoction) never would be able to carve their food to order. Instead, they cut up their meats early, admittedly hacking them as if they were feeding downed trees from the windstorm into a wood chipper.

Throughout the nine seasons of the show, Colicchio has repeatedly urged his contestants to improvise -- if a dish or an ingredient isn't working, ditch it. But when Edward and Ty-Lör did the very same thing, he was tempted to send both of them home for allowing the meats to steam on warming trays.

Anyone who has had the privilege of dining at one of Colicchio's restaurants knows that the staff-to-client ratio is as high as an ultra-deluxe resort; you can measure in nanoseconds how long your dropped napkin might be on the floor. So why would a man who floods the zone with service believe that two people could and should do the work of three times as many? By Ty-Lör's own math, he and Edward had to make 2,100 "plate strokes" to serve 300 diners each seven items. But when it came to judging, Colicchio showed no mercy, repeatedly crabbing about their cutting the meat too soon. Maybe he should have insisted that Sarah revive herself in the walk-in freezer and keep at it.

If Chris J. has a chill pill like the weird miracle berry he served in the Quickfire, he should slip Colicchio one -- and fast. 

It would have been even more merciless for the judges to send Sarah packing, who was after all so sick she had to be wheeled off by paramedics (not that we are rooting for her to stick around long). Chris C. was forced to say goodbye for a Dr Pepper glaze and spice rub that was too salty even at a restaurant called the Salt Lick.

And while we're talking about the Salt Lick, we can't let go unchallenged Padma Lakshmi's absurd, boosterish contention that it serves the best barbecue in Texas. It's not even considered the best such food in Austin, an honor that goes to Franklin Barbecue, or JMueller BBQ. Maybe those two joints simply didn't want "Top Chef" shooting in their restaurants, and were thus demoted.

So let's get a little perspective on "Top Chef," and maybe the rest of the season will be better.


'Top Chef: Texas': Excellence rarer than hen's teeth

'Top Chef: Texas': Haven't we seen that cake before?

'Top Chef: Texas': Fixin' to get interesting

'Top Chef: Texas': Diners are all hat, no cattle

 -- John Horn

Photo: Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Vivian Zink / Bravo