Chef rewarded for floppy funnel cake

Have you been watching Top Chef? Color me addicted..and sad that it's over. I'm not sure that this post will make a lot of sense to those of you that have not been watching. It now occurs to me that it would have been more fun to review Top Chef for business lessons that the Apprentice but it's too late. I'm already ticked off about huge egos and tents and chicken bowls.

Anyway, for those that have been watching Top do you feel about the ending? I have to admit that last week, I was horribly disappointed that Sam was told to pack his knives and go (how dare you, Padma!). I love Sam, I like what comes out of his mouth, his food looks fantastic and he's dreamy (hey, it's a TV show!). Sam would have easily been my pick for Top Chef.

What I have found interesting through the competition is the evaluation of what being a "top" chef means. Remember when I blogged about top business school lists? All to be taken with a grain of salt. "Top" is obviously in the eye of the beholder and of course, since none of us were sitting at the judging table with the people that actually got taste the food, well, I'm not even sure that we remotely qualify as beholders. But it was interesting to think about what it was throughout the contest that the judges considered when making their decisions. Clearly, pure taste was not the only factor.

I've heard a few of the contestants talk about Elia as the most talented of all the contestants. They way that they said it, it really made me think that she had the technical skills; and judging from her frustration when her chocolate hearts collapsed during one challenge, I would bet that she takes a lot of pride in her execution. Visionaries are great but at the same time stuff needs to get done. The right stuff. And I felt that Elia often defaulted to comfort style foods when making some choices. If I had to guess, that was a concern of the judges. It tasted good but it wasn't "the right work" in their minds. Her food looked amazing, but I'm not a hoity-toity food and wine connoisseur...I'm not even sure how to spell connoisseur. Roast chicken probably didn't do much for them even if it was the best roast chicken they had ever had. Easy for me to say.

Sam played it safe most of the time. Sometimes flying under the radar (neither winning nor losing a challenge) is a good strategy; at least in the beginning. Some of the stuff that Sam came up with was beautiful and creative (to someone like me). But a little shock is nice now and then. Not doing what is expected, even if it fails sometimes. I found Sam's food the most edible (at least from my seat on the couch) and the fact that he's diabetic and that influences his cooking makes his menus more appealing to me. I recently mentioned that I am all about substance over flash. If I got to vote, Sam would have won; solid throughout.

Then there are Marcel and Ilan. I think the pro-Marcel versus pro-Ilan debate should calm down considering it's totally possible to find them both annoying. I'm just saying. Their back-room antics really made me wish we had a few more mature chefs in the final two. Both of you grow up. Anyway, Ilan played it safe throughout most of the competition but took risks when it counted and I think that is why he won. Straying from his usual Spanish fare by incorporating taro leaf worked in his favor. I even think that he wasn't penalized for that floppy funnel cake (which looked like something you would see on the ground the day after the state fair was in town) because it was a risk; sometimes you get points for taking risks alone, sometimes you get points because someone else's risk backfired worse (and it's called unstrained soup).

Marcel was just a risk junkie. Ahh, the foams. I don't really want to see foam on a plate. There are just too many unpleasant manifestations of foam in this world, not including beer. It was too much. Ditto on the gelees and anything with guar cum or xantham gum or whatever it was. I hate the idea of funking up the food with weird chemicals even if they allow you to make vinaigrette tear drops. Frank Lloyd Wright said "form follows function"...I think what he meant is that pretty is good if the thing meets it's purpose, but the purpose comes first. The form should suit the purpose of the thing. Food is for eating. Vinaigrette tear drops are called garnish. And too much risk taking can be tiring.

So this is why I think Ilan won, even though I think others may have had better or more interesting plates. He took risks when he needed to. It's hard to be objective in the business world; we aren't set up in a kitchen with a nice clean chefs shirt and state of the art cutlery, staring down our competition. I think that the market adores risk takers but there's a time and place for it and soggy funnel cakes.


Comments (7)

  1. Wine-Oh says:

    Wonder if Marcel will open a restaurant and call it "Foam" ?

    Personally I too was tired of seeing Foam from him.

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, what about that coffee moat he put that one dish on. What could he have been thinking?

  3. crawdad13 says:


    I really dig your business insight mixed in with "Top Chef" rants.  Plus, if you just wanted risk takers you would have gone with Mike.

    You said, "Visionaries are great but at the same time stuff needs to get done. The right stuff. And I felt that Elia often defaulted to comfort style foods when making some choices."

    Some poeple are just better suited to be visonaries, but a lesson that I learned by beating my head against a corporate wall many years ago, is that translations skills  set a visonary business person apart from pure "big thinkers."  

    We would all love to be Bill Joy, Stephen Hawking or someone like that, but isn’t it equally important to know how to communicate that vision and plan the tactical steps it will take to actually see the idea come to life?

    In Top Chef it was clear that Marcel was very creative and may have been the best pure visionary, but he wasn’t able to sell his vision and get everybody on board with his ideas.  In short, he always thought it would be enough to be the smartest guy in the room.

    In most business cases it is important to be able to think strategically but it isn’t always important to be able to do it the most complicated and technically impressive way.  It is ok to use a table in a Word document instead of building an Excel SS when you are just listing stuff.

    That is why Ilan won.  He was always solid and creative within his core talent and skill set.  I wouldn’t say he was a visionary but he took advantage of all that he did know.  Isn’t that the definition of what most of us would love to get out of people we have working for us?

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Crawdad13 – OK, in one comment you were able to sum up what has really been bothering me about some people I know that are consistently trying to be seen as visionaries and throwing around technologies and  "strategies" but I fall short when it comes to priving actual successes. And you really made me think about myself as a leader. I’m really challenges by walking the gray area between prescriptive and visionary. I took a great training class that helped people assess what area of development people are with respect to specific tasks (skills + motivation) as a tool to leading and managing and I think that peoples’ ability to actually put that kind of management into action is exactly what you are talking about. Or in short, "making it real and actionable". Thanks for the comment….great stuff!

  5. Margo says:

    Personally, I liked Marcel’s style.  He wasn’t mired in a constant idea of what the food should be, but tried to mix it up to a fair extent.

    In fact, I would probably want him to cook for me, considering his passion for the chemicals would work for my benefit.  There is a place for those things, especially when I myself rely on Xanthan gum as a binding agent for my food.  Eliminating ingredients (in my case, anything containing gluten, which ends up being Wheat, Rye, Barley, Malt, Oats) makes everything an instant challenge, especially when it involves an allergy/intolerance.  I would say that Marcel is the most versatile chef, being followed closely by Sam of course (with his ability to cook for those with food restrictions, albeit only sugar is removed mostly) that would be able to cook for anyone, as opposed to only some people.

    And I found that Ilan was more close-minded to new food.  Everything was Spanish, Spanish, SPANISH.  Reminds me of when marketing gets to be just variations of the same email blast and intriguing mail piece that all end up doing the same thing.  Also, I thought his little "speech" about being open and friendly and nonjudgemental or whatnot was a direct contradiction to how he constantly treated Marcel.  It was also really evident in his food.  He only had a really good time in the kitchen with Elia and Betty because they were fully behind his dishes – they didn’t care that it was just Spanish Spanish.  I am sure if they felt some differing opinions on his dishes, things would not have gone so well.

    Joining the fight against Marcel.  I feel bad for him really.

  6. Wine-Oh says:

    Ok I finally caught the finale of top chef this weekend due to BravoTV’s marathon showing. I rather thought it was anti-climactic. However I am glad Ilan won. Marcel cant run a kitchen to save his life. Who forgets the fish?

    Oh and Bravo is milking this top chef, top designer, top haircut for all its got. Whats next?

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, that’s the truth. I’m not interested in the top everything. Top Chef was good though.

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