Yowza! The All-Stars season's first eliminated chef, Elia Aboumrad, is speaking up for herself - and speaking out against a lot.
In this interview with TV Guide, Elia takes issue with whether the rules of the episode were enforced, claims she was given palm tree leaf in lieu of ti leaves, says she argued for her dish for 40 minutes at Judges Table, rues what was left on the editing room floor, and defends Fabio for serving his pasta on paper.
She has more to say about what she perceived to be an uneven playing field and those leaves with which she wrapped her red snapper in this item from The Feast, where she says: "My season was crazy but we were never rude like this to each other in the kitchen. Here there was no respect for the kitchen, for the ingredients, for the utensils. It was just a war, and I was very surprised to see that. People would elbow you, take things from underneath you, break things in order to open them. Behavior that you don’t see in kitchens. You shouldn't have that if you want to be a top chef, but maybe that's what they're looking for." (Hmm, no rudeness on the head-shaving season? Oh, she did specify that rudeness didn't take place in the kitchen.)
You can find more about what Elia has to say about those pesky rules – and the real mother lode of controversy over her comments – in this piece from the Chicago Tribune, where Elia has particularly incendiary words for head judge Tom Collichio – and Tom talks back in harsh tones as well.
Moving on. Colicchio's Bravo blog takes up the question of another rules infraction that did make it on air: "As for Richard, we wanted to acknowledge that he’d made a top dish, but we simply could not consider him for the win because he had not stopped plating when the time ran out. It’s a hard-and-fast rule. I don’t think he was trying to cheat –- I think he was simply absorbed in what he was doing and didn’t pay attention. One of the other contestants rightly alerted the producers to what had happened, and Richard was out of the running. One doesn’t lose for working past the time-limit; one simply cannot win that challenge. Once Richard saw the tape, I believe he was fine with the decision. Any other outcome would be unfair –- there would be no point to the time-limit." Oh, yeah, it probably didn't hurt Blais that he already had immunity by virtue of being part of Team Chicago in the Quickfire Challenge.
Judge Gail Simmons' Bravo blog addresses expectations for the Elimination Challenge: "We did not want to see each dish completely reinvented, but rather reconfigured as a better version of its former self. Most of our cheftestants did just that, and we were pleased with many of the results." Gail is also blogging All-Stars for Entertainment Weekly, where her take on the first episode includes this: "Richard’s pork belly and Casey’s pork belly—both were redeemed for sure. Both had been a problem of execution, not conception like other dishes, and they both knew exactly how to fix them. Unfortunately, Richard did go over the time. We went back to the tapes many times before we decided that we couldn’t allow him to win, but it certainly wasn’t something he’d be eliminated for. Other contestants saw that he went over and we needed to be fair to all of them. His was just an honest mistake."
The inimitable Anthony Bourdain is back to blogging for Bravo for the first time since 2007. (You might recall that he discontinued after a snit over product placement according to one of his blog posts for the Travel Channel which has since been taken down; salient quoteage has, however, survived here). In Tony's Bravo blog about All-Stars Episode 1, he talks about his on-air criticism of Fabio's dish: "No one likes their work to be mocked. Fabio in particular. And yet mock I did. I couldn't help it. I mean, look at that thing. Its supreme ugliness only reinforced and highlighted by its presentation on paper, bringing to mind immediately and inevitably, the command oft directed at a bad puppy: "Go on the paper! The paper!!" And then Tony back-pedals - a bit: "I feel bad about beating up on Fabio. Maybe I'm losing my edge. Maybe I should leave the bloodletting to my sinister French colleague, Eric Ripert. Or that English guy ... what was his name? Maybe I should confine myself to constructive criticism. To a kinder, gentler, more mentor-like approach. Wear a big fluffy f---ing sweater to Judges' Table, speak in quiet, melifluous Garrison Keilloresque tones. Maybe lay off the gin. . . . Or not."
Frequent TC judge and Bourdain BFF Eric Ripert is also blogging the All-Stars for Bravo, despite the fact that he is not a guest judge this season, owing to the appearance of his protege, Jennifer Carroll. You can listen to the Ripper's melifluous tones via video or read the transcript here, in which he says: "Fabio was very sensitive about the criticism of Anthony of his dish. And he was very animated and very critical and attacked Anthony. He basically blamed him for making fun of him and criticizing his dish without being constructive. Anthony, you cannot do that! You have to be a nice gentleman. In Washington, Anthony was making fun of me because supposedly I was the evil man and he decided to be very nice, so, Anthony, I'm giving it back to you. Be careful!"
Season 6's Eli Kirshtein continues to blog on Bravo, with insights I often find interesting for their pragmatism from his perspective as both an experienced chef and a TC competitor. About this episode he writes: "Redesigning dishes is an everyday job for the modern chef. We take a concept, hopefully one that we feel strongly about, and believe in at the onset, and tweak and modify it till it meets the standards and vision we have for it, optimally before you ever serve it to a diner. One of the challenges of the show is the lack of opportunity to go through this diligence. You realistically have just one shot at a dish. All the nuances of seasoning, garnishing, even plating, is left to one opportunity. This specific challenge gives them another go, one more chance at it. All of them have re-concepted this dish over and over again; this is the one the got away. They have hoped for this chance to redeem themselves and prove it was a one off mistake. If they do strongly here, they will feel verified and qualified at the onset. An albatross removed." And Eli concludes: "This season has so many more layers to it than ever before."
If you really care, Bravo is bringing us another blog this season from "Senior Editor of Bravotv.com" Monica A. Reyhan. I'm not sure what it takes to be a "senior editor" for Bravo's website, but hello? She didn't know until that recent media conference call (which ATC's Minx blogged about here) that Bourdain was going to be a judge this season? And she claims of Bourdain's earlier Bravo blogs, "As a young and naive editor at Bravotv.com it was my privilege to receive his blogs each week for posting. Unless I'm re-writing history I think his blog may have been my idea." Sorry, but this "senior editor" is no substitute for insider Season 1's Lee Ann Wong, who posted some of the best blogs about TC ever on Bravo's site, sharing her insider perspective when she went on to become a culinary producer of TC.
For another quasi-insider's take, you can read Open Table's live blog of TCAS Episode 1 with Season 7's Ed Cotton here (apparently Ed was not asked to come back for All-Stars).
And in case you're bored or snowed in this weekend, you can read extended versions of that All-Stars media conference call here and here.
Stay warm, all, and happy reading!