That was head judge Tom Colcchio's admonition to the remaining six contestants in "Top Chef: Texas," but we're not so sure that's the main issue right now.
The season's consistently best cooks--Paul and Lindsay--are fanatically focused on the smallest things, which distinguished the cooking of Wednesday's winner, Paul, (who put eggplant in his low-fat Korean barbecue kalbi to give it mouth feel) and runner-up, Lindsay (who substituted chickpea flour in her meatballs to keep them light). Yet the details aren't really all that was missed by the lower finishers, particularly Sarah and the no-longer-with-us Chris J.
Those two cooks failed in their ambition, not just their execution.
The elimination challenge required the half-dozen cooks to prepare "block party" food for 200 guests. Yet again, and somewhat annoyingly, the time restraints were absurd--2 1/2 hours to prepare the dishes. "An insane challenge," as Grayson said, "a little intense" in Lindsay's opinion. Even if the constraints were tough, at least four of the chefs (the partners of Sarah and Lindsay and Grayson and Chris J.) could have come up with dishes a bit more ambitious than their respective meatballs and chicken salad.
Throughout the ninth season of "Top Chef," the contestants have cooked as if they were more worried about failing than inclined toward winning. They remind us of studio executives who look at every script that passes over their desk trying to avoid a bomb rather than find a hit. As Colicchio upbraided Grayson for picking chicken salad as her dish, she was quick to remind him that her rivals' meatballs were hardly more daring. That's probably why Edward, who at least attempted to make a healthy version of a more difficult dish--another version of kalbi--wasn't sent home, even though his dish appeared to be the least edible.
And while we're on the subject of healthy eating--the evening's tie-in was to entrees by "Top Chef" sponsor Healthy Choice --it didn't look like any of the Texas diners had eaten a healthy dish since the Mexican-American War. We don't intend to be cruelly weightist, but if you're asking amateurs to judge low-fat food, maybe the "Top Chef" producers could have found some locals who actually eat it.
Furthermore, there's a real debate about whether Healthy Choice entrees actually are that good for you. Some critics say they are typically high in sodium, are frequently built around simple carbohydrates like pasta and feature such small portions--350 calories, in some cases--that consumers may eat two of them or have an entirely separate meal a few hours later.
But we digress. Paul's win and Lindsay's strong showing reinforce our belief the two will make the finals. As much as we dislike Sarah, she was on the bottom Wednesday night only because of the way the challenge was set up--she even may have cooked better than Grayson, who was in the winner's bracket. Yet whoever wants to win this thing better turn their cooking up a notch. As I tell my Little League-playing son says, it's better to strike out swinging that take a walk.
Photo: Chris J., left, Edward and Sarah in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit" Victoria Sherwood/Bravo.