Top Chef, S11E13.

This turned out to be one of the most interesting Top Chef episodes I’ve ever seen because of the controversy in the elimination. I’ll spend more time on that than I usually do on judging or elimination, especially since it seemed like many of you wanted my thoughts on Twitter.

* Jacques Pépin is in the house for the Quickfire. Padma says he “wrote the book on technique, literally.” (The original 1976 book to which Padma refers, La Technique, is out of print and appears to be a collector’s item.) The challenge is to prepare his favorite dish: Dover sole with artichoke and asparagus. It’s a skills challenge, so they’re all making the same dish, which he shows them all how to make first. That’s really his favorite dish? I love a good fish dish, but when it comes to favorites, bury me in duck confit, please.

* I wish we’d seen more of him cooking – the man just made everything look effortless, like when he ripped the skin right off the sole like it was only attached with Velcro. He also carves a rosette from butter with a few turns of his knife and says, “Now you can charge 30 bucks for it.” And people say the French are all socialists…

* “Your tahm start … now.” Pixar blew it. They should have had Pépin voice a character in Ratatouille.

* Three of the chefs struggle here – Stephanie, mostly with the fish, and Carlos and Brian with several elements of prep. Nick and Shirley, both of whom have training in classical French cuisine (which is really the foundation of Western cuisine in general), don’t have any trouble, and neither does the Queen of Execution, Nina.

* Carlos’ dish is missing tomatoes and the sauce is not what he wanted. Brian’s plate is a mess, with no sauce and cold fish. Nina’s presentation is poor. Stephanie’s plate looks just a little sparse, and her fish was also undercooked. Nick’s plate is “neat and tidy.” Shirley’s looks the most authentic. She says Pépin is like a grandpa, and you wouldn’t want to let your grandpa down, would you? I suppose that depends on what kind of grandpa he was.

* Nick wins, gaining immunity, which turns out to really matter this week. Pépin said his and Shirley’s were neck and neck, but implies that the elements came together a little more thoroughly in Nick’s dish.

* Elimination challenge: Spanish cuisine vs. French cuisine. I’ll confess to limited familiarity with both, having been to Spain (Barcelona) once for just 48 hours, and tending to eat Italian when I’ve been in France because I don’t care what anyone says, Italian cuisine is the best in the world. But what I know of Spanish food, which varies widely within regions of Spain (much as the language does), I love. American tapas restaurants often use it as a springboard but layer more elements on top of the basics of Spanish cuisine, so you lose what makes it special. I’ve already exhausted my knowledge on this topic so I’ll stop talking now.

* The chefs are divided into two teams of three. It did not occur to me at the time, but in hindsight this is clearly a failure of process. With six chefs remaining, a team challenge in and of itself is somewhat unfair, but combining it with immunity makes an outcome like the one we saw more probable than it should be. If the goal is to identify the best chef, or something along those lines, immunity/team challenge/six chefs remaining is a bad combination of variables.

* The teams are led by Julian Serrano (Spain) and Dominique Crenn (France), who will serve as coaches. The meals will have five courses, built around five “quintessential” ingredients of both cultures: olives, almonds, mussels, chicken, and chocolate. Chicken? Really? Is that “quintessential” in any cuisine, or just something we eat a lot? How about wine, or vinegar? Any fish from the Mediterranean? Cheese? There were so many better choices for the fifth ingredient.

* Team Spain: Nina, Carlos, Brian. Team France: Shirley, Nick, Stephanie.

* Crenn is the dream coach, fostering conversation, taking feedback but pushing the chefs to be bold. Serrano seems to think these are his indentured servants and is bossing them around and even micromanaging things like vegetable cuts. I have to think that, post-shooting, the producers were doubting their choice on that one.

* Crenn has her team using corn silk, which I thought was inedible (or indigestible) to make a “nest” for the game hen. The silks in my house go right into the compost.

* Nina, making a potato salad for the Spanish team, says, “If I go home for this I’m going to kill myself.” I hate when they say stuff like that. That’s not the least bit funny, and if there’s even a smidgen of seriousness in it, then the speaker should be seeing a psychiatrist, not joking about suicide in a room full of knives.

* Shirley, playing with liquid nitrogen, would prefer not to be the first Top Chef contestant to lose part of an ear on the show. If she does, though, she’d better stay in that kitchen or the other chefs will say she’s not tough.

* The food … First courses: Shirley’s snapper ceviche with dehydrated olives and olive ice cream against Carlos’ ensaladilla rusa with green olives, gulf shrimp, and potatoes. Both pretty good. I think Nina had a hand in the salad too.

* Second course: Stephanie’s pickled and poached mussels with gelée of tomato against Nina’s ajo blanco with almonds, crab, and cherries. According to Teresa Barrenechea’s wonderful The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking:

Also known as white gazpacho, ajo blanco is a perfect cold summer soup: easy to make, healthful, and distinctive. The Arabs who ruled Andalusia for almost eight hundred years introduced almonds to the Iberian Peninsula, and this dish probably originated with their reign. Though highly popular in Andalusia, it is little known in the rest of Spain and virtually unknown in the United States. I serve it garnished with grapes, but thin apple slices are also common.

Barrenechea’s recipe includes garlic, almonds, day-old bread soaked in water, sherry vinegar, and olive oil. Whatever Nina’s was like, the judges, especially Emeril, loved it.

* Third course: Stephanie’s chicken liver mousse along with Shirley’s consomme with roasted maitake mushrooms against Carlos’ mejillones (mussels) a la romesco with crispy leeks. Romesco sauce is Catalonian, made from dried red peppers, EVOO, and almonds and/or hazelnuts.

* Fourth course: Nick leaves the nest on the plate over the objections of Stephanie and Shirley, dismissing them pretty rudely in another bit of foreshadowing. His Cornish game hen with spiced chocolate and corn silk nest with eggs and duck fat goes up against Carlos’ “pollo con arroz.” Nick’s dish loses this battle as the judges hate the silk nest and the chocolate sauce overpowers the chicken.

* Julian Serrano is kind of an ass at the table, though – or perhaps just very childish. He won’t even touch the silk nest and complains that he doesn’t like “the new cooking.” Tom kills the corn silk, says it’s like what you pulled out of the drain in the shower.

* Fifth course: Brian’s flan de chocolate with strawberries against Nick’s almond flan with plums, cocoa nibs, and fresh licorice. Neither of these was well-received; Nick’s flan’s texture wasn’t good while Brian’s was too sweet.

* I can’t be the only one who started singing “Scenario” every time the judges referred to Nick’s “chocolate chicken,” right?

* The Spanish team wins, and Nina gets the top prize, again just for execution (here for executing someone else’s idea). What matters, however, is the French team: Of their five dishes, the two worst were both Nick’s responsibility, but he has immunity and can’t be sent home. That means that one of Shirley or Stephanie, neither of whom did anything remotely elimination-worthy, has to go … unless Nick takes Jacques Pépin’s suggestion and resigns.

That’s a hell of a moral quandary. Nick won immunity and has no obligation to resign; such are the rules of Top Chef, and he might argue that he was willing to take on riskier dishes because he had that immunity. Any question of resignation is a moral one – that it would be proper, or just, or fair to take the fall for his mistakes rather than allow one of his teammates to go home for something he did.

There is, however, a significant practical angle here that no one mentioned. Nick had a chance to be a hero, and chose instead to be the zero. Falling on his sword (in Tom’s words) would have earned Nick an enormous amount of praise, on the show, from competitors and judges, and among the audience. It wouldn’t have eliminated him entirely; he could have won two battles in Last Chance Kitchen and returned to the finale. But it would have granted him the kind of positive publicity that can’t be purchased. I think Nick made a split-second economic decision that overweighted his chances of winning the whole thing (probably between 25% and 30% at that point) and underweighted the financial benefits of resigning with honor. Many chefs who didn’t win Top Chef have managed to capitalize on their appearances on the show because they showed great skill and/or personality. I’m glad the judges didn’t force the issue further, but I think they were correct in broaching the idea to Nick.

* Stephanie says in confessional that she would have resigned in Nick’s situation. Shirley says the same, that she would have taken the fall and fought back in LCK. Of course, it’s easy to say those things when you are the victim rather than the perpetrator, but it sounds like Shirley at least understood the costs and benefits a little better than Nick did.

* The judges hammer Nicholas one more time, in an attempt to get him to fall on that sword, telling him, “you’re the reason why the team is here.” He doesn’t budge, and Stephanie is eliminated, reducing Shirley to tears. In the confessional, Stephanie breaks down too, saying, “I went home making a dish I was really proud of.” That has to be a bitter pill to swallow.

* LCK: Battle Beignets. I thought Stephanie’s looked far better on the screen, both her savory and sweet applications, as Louis’ savory one was too dark (and likely greasy) and looked like an expired beetle with dark fried legs coming off its torso. I also liked Stephanie’s flavor combinations more, but Louis’ appeared to have better texture and he took the win. Stephanie’s decision to try to create a yeast-raised beignet in a half an hour may have been what sank her. Would adding baking powder to the yeast dough have saved her, ensuring at least modest CO2 production?

* Rankings: Shirley, Louis, Nick, Nina, Brian, Carlos. As much as Nina keeps winning, it is still always on execution, not creativity or vision. Nick may end up sabotaging himself in the finale, as at least one of you suggested in a previous week. Louis has cooked like a different chef since he was eliminated; that could be about the format, but I’m inclined to think he’ll fare much better if he wins next week’s LCK battle and gets to re-enter the main house. Carlos is the clear bottom guy at this point, struggling with execution and showing a lack of range.


  1. That outcome undermined the integrity of the whole show. What’s the point of a cooking competition if the best dish loses?

  2. Having immunities and team challenges this late into the competition really hurts the show. It’s almost like the producers care more about creating drama than finding the best chef (shocking I know).

  3. I was shocked that the judges even suggested Nick should resign. Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of immunity in the first place? This is definitely not the first time that a contestant with immunity has produced the worst dish. Just a few weeks ago, Carrie did some bland broccoli and sauce and Tom said “She’s lucky she has immunity or she would be going home.” And I’m sure its happened multiple times in prior seasons.

    Think the judges kind of threw Nick under the bus on this one.

  4. Yeah, I kinda agree with Tom. If immunity isn’t going to grant unquestioned immunity, then why award it in the first place? How brutal is it that a chef with the stature of Jacques Pepin puts you directly on the spot about forfeiting your immunity?

    I’m not at all convinced that it’s appropriate for the judges to raise the notion of giving up immunity. At the same time, once the judges DO raise it, I think Keith is right that you almost have to give it up, especially with the existence of Last Chance Kitchen. Giving it up might even improve your chances of winning Top Chef, as you gain respect from the judges by falling on the sword and burnish your CV by ultimately earning your way back via LCK. And, of course, as was mentioned above, it would have played better with the public.

    Seems like that would have given Nick better “momentum” (Sorry, Keith) than coasting into the finals as the guy who “shouldn’t be there.”

  5. Ok, I’ve thought about this way too much–my take. Keith makes a strong argument that Nick should have given it up and gone for glory in LCK. This probably would have been the best choice on his part, and maybe he would have made it given more time.

    That said, this is on the judges and producers. There’s no point in having immunity if it doesn’t mean anything–particularly this close to the end of the competition. All the chefs are a couple of dishes away from serious life changing money–for them, for their careers, for their families. It’s a really big ask to demand someone walk away from that.

    Second. we shouldn’t subscribe to the theory of pre-determined outcomes here any more than we do with clutchiness. If Nick doesn’t have immunity, he’s going to approach the way he cooks differently. Presumably one of the points of immunity is to allow the chef some creative freedom and the ability to push him/herself. I mean, weren’t we all on Carrie for making freaking steamed broccoli? Where were the judges demanding she fall on her sword then?

    So basically, Nick probably should have taken one for the team, but the show made him look like a jerk way more than was necessary and was not in keeping with the history of the show.

  6. The other part of this: The implication by the judges in telling him to fall on his sword is not that, without immunity, his teammates would be safe because he would be going home (immunity has saved individuals a number of times before, and I don’t remember the judges being this personal about it then), but that they’d be safe because someone from the Spain team would be going home instead. But at least by what they showed on TV, the French team didn’t lose because it had the worst dish; rather, the judges looked at the best dish from each team, and chose Spain, and dealt with the worst dishes only once they started determining who to cut (or at least, that’s how I remember it). The point being, even if Nick had made a very good dish, unless it was the best dish prepared by any of the six contestants, the French team was still going to end up on the chopping block, and Shirley or Stephanie was going home regardless.

    So basically, this was the producer’s problem for having immunity w/in a team challenge, and while it’s all great that they wanted to drum up intrigue on the show, if the judges really thought it was unfair, they could have gone ahead and saved both of them. Short of that though, Nick shouldn’t have felt bad about using his immunity, as there’s no way of knowing that “but for his terrible dish, both of his teammates would be safe.”

  7. Did you consider the idea that Nick *intentionally* made two bad dishes, knowing that Stephanie and Shirley are stronger competitors than Brian and Carlos and that their elimination would be more favorable to him? He mentioned early in the episode that he was the only person fired when new management took over his restaurant. What’s that about? My gut tells me he’s not nearly as nice a guy as he would have you think.

  8. Other commenters point that it’s rare if not unheard of for the judges to suggest a player forfeit immunity and resign. I think this furthers my theory that Nick threw the competition. Tom knew Nick threw it and was trying to get him to own up to his actions. Tom was pissed off at the lack of integrity and was shining a spotlight on Nick to make him squirm.

  9. Ryan: don’t know the inside details, but Nick was the last exec chef of the most famous restaurant in philly but kind of in name only. The founder and long time chef of the restaurant was really still in charge and kept the place kind of in the dark ages of white tablecloth dining. When business continued to tank, he sold the restaurant to a thomas keller protege and the new owner brought in a new chef–it would have been weird if he didn’t. I don’t think there was anything sinister.

  10. Also, Ryan, what you’re doing now is the equivalent of PED rumor-mongering. Not classy.

  11. A few thoughts:
    First, Nina’s false modesty act is getting SO old. Second, they should not have had the coaches be at the tasting table. They were obviously biased (esp Serrano), and it was distracting b/c they were given so much air time. Finally, no question Nick should’ve resigned. First, it is incredibly two-faced for him to talk at length to the point of tears about having integrity and then letting (or even worse perpetuating) this go down. Second, as Keith points out, he would fare much better in the long-term professionally to have done so, and he may have gotten back in via LCK anyway. Best case for him now is to win and win the $. Seems hollow.
    Also, this seems later than usual for them to still be granting immunity, esp, as people point out, with a team elimination challenge.

  12. I would have liked to have seen more footage concerning the infamous fourth dish. Crenn pushes her team to use the corn silk, but in the footage we saw, never clarified or defended her position with the judges table.
    Also, wasn’t the fourth dish highlighting chocolate, not chicken, so how could the chocolate be overpowering? Typically, chocolate in an entree is used as a secondary or tertiary flavor, right? Seems odd that the judges would dock points from Nick for highlighting the ingredient that he had intend to feature.

    Finally, when we look back at past seasons of Top Chef, do we better remember the winners or the battles during the season? I don’t think you can accurately estimate the financial outcomes of resigning. Just because Kristen took responsibility for her team last year and won LCK (and the title) doesn’t mean Nick would.

  13. Hi Ben. I don’t see any similarities to PED discussions, other than we’re on a website of a writer who likes both Top Chef and baseball. Anyway, on a show like this, the producers get to dictate how contestants are shown. You can do two hours of confessional interviews and if the producers want you to be the nice guy, then they’ll pick out the sympathetic things you say. If they want to portray you as a doofus, then they’ll choose the clip of you picking your nose. So our views of the characters are based on what the producers consciously choose to give us. I wonder why they chose to include the short clip about Nick being let go from his job. He’s been consistently presented as “the nice guy” but it seemed to me like they were consciously introducing this bitter side of him. His tone in that clip wasn’t “I was let go because of a rational business decision.” He spoke as a jilted employee who felt he had been screwed over. There was a hostility in his voice that the producers wanted you to hear for some reason. To me, it also introduced the idea that this seemingly great guy had worn out his welcome somewhere and that it had ended not cleanly, but in a bitter dispute. I think that was foreshadowing the end of the episode, when Shirley, Stephanie, and Tom could barely contain their disgust with him. They were all clearly upset at him in a manner that went way beyond, “you happened to cook a bad dish.” People don’t get that angry just because someone screwed up. If he was genuinely well-liked, I don’t think they would’ve reacted that strongly to him staying and Stephanie leaving. Just my thoughts based on what the producers chose to show us.

  14. No mention of Nick eye-rolling Carlos when he spoke Spanish when describing the first dish? He also added the classy, “Oh c’mon.”

  15. Ryan, you have as much evidence for Nick sandbagging his teammates as Murray Chass does for Craig Biggio juicing.

  16. Been waiting all day to say this on this post, and it’s been broached, but I’ll say it again: Where were the judges asking Carrie to resign when she had the worst dish? I was very surprised and disappointed that the judges broached it. We may all have been thinking Nick should resign, but it should not have been pointed out. In the interest of fairness, I hope they ask any future chef who has immunity and the worst dish to resign.

  17. I think the main difference between Carrie and Nick involves the team concept. The judges were able to pick the second worst dish when Carrie made the broccoli. Because of the team concept, the judges couldn’t pick the second worst dish in last night’s episode. I’m certain either Brian or Carlos would have been sent home before Stephanie. However, Nick’s cooking saved Brian and Carlos from elimination.

  18. Agreed with Steve, though that again points to the judges and producers more than the contestants. It was clearly boneheaded to have immunity/team challenge this late. Perhaps they should have sent nobody home and done a double elimination next week?

    • Ben’s point about sending nobody home and have a double elimination next week where I thought it was going, but alas.

  19. Agree with everyone who points to the structural flaws in the episode. I mean, does anyone who works on the production team for the show understand basic math? Any chef on Nick’s team had a 25% chance of being eliminated (1 in 2 chance of the team losing x 1 in 2 chance of being the lower ranked chef). Any chef not on Nick’s team had only a 16% chance of being eliminated (1 in 2 x 1 in 3). Consequently, the moment they drew knives, the two unlucky blue team members had a 56% greater chance of being eliminated before a single decision had been made, or a single dish had been cooked.

  20. To me it’s ridiculous that the judges suggest Nick resign. The judges and producer define the rules, if they’re that concerned with occupying the moral high ground they shouldn’t have sent anyone home, or sent the weakest dish from the other team home. It’s a competition that often times rewards strategy and guile not necessarily being the best chef. Nice guy or not, he legitimately earned the right to be immune from being sent home.

  21. I find it hard to believe that the producers didn’t know exactly what they were doing when they set up this episode with immunity and teams. They want drama and controversy and it worked perfectly.

    I don’t know if Nick sandbagged, as some have suggested, but I’ve found him whiny for a while now. While I didn’t like what Carlos did in previous episodes, I also didn’t like Nick complaining on screen every two minutes, either. As others have mentioned, who knows how much time is spent in confessionals for the show to make convenient edits but he was never one of my “favorites.”

    I do not like that they flat out asked him to resign but because of the circumstances in this episode vs Carrie’s I understand why most are much more upset. In Carrie’s challenge there were a lot more competitors, no teams, and someone still was sent home for a bad dish, rather than being sent home specifically because of Carrie’s actions.

    My hope was that they would not send anyone home after seeing what happened.

  22. I wonder if Jacques Pepin went off script when he asked Nick if he should resign. Now he could have been urged to do so but seeing he’s not a regular judge, I can see it being a spur of the moment thing. I also agree that Nick would have been better off falling on his sword. He’s comes off as a bit of a bully and hypocrite more and more each episode.

    Anyway, I really really enjoyed the challenge this episode. I thought the concept was interesting, the challenge itself was engrossing and the food looked really amazing. I hope we see something like it again, only without the immunity, moving forward.

    Seems like this is coming down to Nina vs Shirley… Nick may have the best concepts, but the execution and technique don’t match that creativity. I still think Carlos is a dark horse if the challenges line up for him (btw, I thought it was pretty clear that Brian was going home on Team Spain if it had gotten to that point. The judges seemed to like Carlos’ dishes (specifically the choices he made with the Pollo Con Arroz) and panned Brian’s flan).

  23. One reason against Nick resigning in his own estimation of his chances in LCK: he’s been pretty consistently bad in quickfires. He wouldn’t have much confidence in doing well in LCK. But I don’t blame a guy with a family to support to stay in the competition–he earned immunity. On with it.

  24. The one thing no one has mentioned, is why Shirley and Stephanie let the guy with immunity make two dishes on his own. That was moronic on their part. They should have seen this possibility and fought to have more control over the team’s product. Stephanie was relying on Nick to keep her safe and for that she got sent home. About the nests, she can’t tell Nick what to do on his dish, but she could have if she said, “If it’s bad, you can’t go home, but I can.” I think he might have listened at that point. And if he ignored it, then his head would have been in a very different place when one of them was getting eliminated.

    I also think it might have gone down differently if Pepin hadn’t brought up the idea of him resigning. He basically had an old French master chef questioning his honor. I don’t think anyone responds well when called out like that. If he had been left to think of it on his own and make his own decision, he might have come to the same conclusion that Keith. But since it wasn’t his idea, he never would have gotten all the acclaim.

    Either way, I think it was bad form for the show to present him that negatively. He was playing by their rules, as stupid as they may be. And if they really didn’t want to send anyone home, they could have not sent anyone home. And made next week a double elimination.

  25. I hate the Stephanie was sent home, but I don’t see why Nick would have given up his immunity. That is the entire point. There have been plenty of instances during the show’s run where someone was saved only because they had immunity. And I also agree that it’s likely Nick would have done something differently if he didn’t have immunity. I do think that Nick missed a great opportunity to create a huge amount of goodwill by not falling on his sword, once Tom suggested it. Even if he didn’t think he could win in LCK (but I think his ego is large enough that he would have thought he could beat anyone) the positive reception would have been huge; especially for someone who’s about to open a new restaurant. That would have been great press.

    What really did annoy me about how things went down is that Cmar (who clearly knew she was the odd woman out) didn’t confront him. I don’t know how she didn’t say straight out, “I told you that nest was crap and to take it off and you didn’t! And now I have to go home for being right.” I understand that she was taking the high road of silence, but once you get thrown under the bus the only possible way out is through the mud; I think you go through the mud.

  26. A few things:

    1) agree with the people who don’t think that Nick should have given up his immunity. He won it for a reason and should absolutely be able to stay in the competiton. People bringing up LCK as a way to come back can argue that Stephanie had the same option as well as the fact that Nick still has the competiton AND LCK in his back pocket for the next episode. Too much of an advantage to give up to appear nice.

    2) the wrong person goes home all the time on this show. If you want the worst dish going home every time then there should never be immunity AND (not brought up yet) you could never have a team challenge. There are plenty of times where a team will win and that saves one of their teammates from possible elimination. Taking this one step further, you could never have a double elimination challenge because it is unfair that someone with a “second worst dish” would get sent home when they would be safe. This show does not always reward the best chef or dish….we have 10 years of history to show that.

    3) finally…I find the contestants who say what they would do if they had the opportunity to be extremely hollow. Anyone can claim they’d do the “right” thing when there is zero consequences. It is easy and there is really no reason to claim you’d do otherwise. You basically get social credit for a situation that didn’t involve you. Reminds me of the former nba players who claim LeBron is terrible for teaming up with other nba greats…because guys like
    MJ and Magic were telling their GMs to make their team less talented because it wasn’t fair, right?

  27. Final final point…are we really arguing that a statistically significant number of extra ppl were/would go to this guy’s next restaurant cause he seemed nice? That seems a bit far fetched. People will probably forget this whole episode in two months.

    Angelo from TC wasn’t considered a nice guy and made TC All Stars. Same with Stefan, Mike Isabella, Dale, Hung…even Michael voltaggio were all considered “not nice”….not sure you can argue that the public perception during the TC season has a negative impact on future endeavors

  28. I was actually pissed off by Dominique Crenn pushed the team to make her style of dish, since even at her own restaurant, they are failures due to the lack of proper technique. I had a dinner about two month ago at Atelier Crenn, and there was a duck dish with chocolate and that “nest” thing(you can see it here: It was not a good dish, and overall entire experience wasn’t up to something deserving Michelin two star. Therefore, I could kind of understand why Chef Serrano were so upset like that. Technique for just technique’s sake doesn’t mean anything if not perfectly executed.

  29. I think you overstate the possible benefits to Nick of resigning. He would have reaped those rewards if he was inherently the sort of person who would resign. But he seems like a jerk. One honorable move won’t change that. He’ll eventually be revealed as the jerk he seems to be and all will be for naught.

  30. Who would have thought its Nick getting the bad guy edit this season? But, jeez, between his behavior last week, this week (agree that the eye roll was particularly obnoxious), and the previews next week, there does seems to be some merit to the edit.

    We’ll be interesting if Tom or others address the possibility of nick tanking it in their blogs.

  31. I’ve been trying to think of a sports metaphor for Nick not resigning, and I don’t know if this is perfect, but here goes. If an NFL clinches a playoff spot in week 16, they have every right to sit their starters in week 17 – you can’t boo-hoo for other teams in possible playoff contention that might be affected if this NFL team’s week 17 opponent has an easy path to victory that might unseat their chances. Nick earned the right to play it safe or take risks or whatever he wanted to do in the challenge because he won that playoff spot in week 16 (the quickfire challenge).

  32. There is always the potential that the “deserving” chef will not be sent packing due to immunity – shame on the producers for creating a format that magnifies the impact and paints a contestant into what some may view to be a moral corner. Resignation shouldn’t have been brought up and Nick was right in refusing. In what other competition would we expect someone to do that? “Hey, Skip, Johnson actually had a better spring than me and has a bit more life on his fastball – why don’t you go ahead and demote me to AAA instead.” Ridiculous.

  33. I didn’t think Tom seemed disgusted with Nick’s choice to stay in the competition – in fact, Tom actually voiced support of the idea that immunity should mean something.

    I thought it was pretty obvious that when asked about it, Nick paused for a few beats, thinking about what to say, and then was completely right when he said that he earned immunity. It sucks when a chef who made a better dish went home because of immunity, but that happened when Carrie made her terrible broccoli too!

    As for whether or not he did it on purpose, it’s impossible to judge intent, especially when the producers are editing it. But I don’t see why him being upset about being the only guy fired would make you think he’d sabotage his own teammates, especially since they were people he liked (he tasted Stephanie’s crayfish soup the previous quickfire). Pretty crazy stretch to make.

  34. When it happened, I turned to my girlfriend and said “I probably would have said the same exact thing that Nick said”. But after hearing Shirley mention it, and Keith write it, the fact that I was reminded that he would have another chance in LCK made me question if that would have been an option to consider as well. And like Keith said, I think that would have gained him a bunch of goodwill.

    Stephanie is still not pleased. From her Eater Boston interview today:

    Eater: Right after the elimination, you couldn’t look at him. Since then, we’ve talked about how you’re friends now. How much time passed before you were able to feel that?

    Stephanie: To be honest with you, as we’ve talked, I still always knew the outcome. I don’t think Nick and I will ever be able to be the same friends we were before this challenge. I really did trust and respect him. I still do, to a certain extent. It’s just one of those terrible situations that sometimes happens to people. But yeah, it just sucked. I really feel had it been different — had there been no immunity — I could have gotten a lot farther. You can never say “Oh, I’d have been the winner,” but I know I could have made it another challenge. And I was really getting my feet underneath me. Having that ripped away sucked.

  35. So after some consideration, here’s why I don’t buy the Nick-as-saboteur argument.

    One of the values to the chefs of appearing on this show is getting to show off their skills in front of some of the most important people in the culinary world – chefs, writers/editors, and the occasional celebrity. I can’t fathom Nick choosing to put winning one challenge (or eliminating one competitor) over cooking to impress Jacque Pépin, Tom Colicchio, and two other chefs of some note, in addition to whatever value comes from performing well in and of itself. Think of yourselves in your own chosen fields – can you imagine any situation where you’d be willing to perform at a supbar level in front of your company’s CEO, or a pioneer in your field, or even in front of a professor? The cost/benefit analysis there is pretty easy. You would never want Jacques Pépin to walk away with a negative impression of your skills.

    I also concur with those of you who think Jacques may have gone off script, and that going “J’accuse!” on Nick may have been unfair. I don’t think the analogy to Carrie is apt because it wasn’t a team challenge and there were so many more chefs at that point – plus she took the cold station in part because she knew she had immunity and most of the other chefs didn’t want that station. But putting Nick on the spot like that was probably a wrong call on the part of whoever conceived it.

    • Your argument is certainly strong, Keith, but I’d point out that even more importantly, there simply isn’t any evidence, and anyone suggesting he tanked is completely speculating. Hardly a felony, but not really fair either. I still think it’s fairly akin to Murray Chass and Craig Biggio.

  36. @Eric,

    Wife is watching episode now. Stephanie actually did say she could go home. When Shirley told Nick that the corn nest wasn’t good, and Nick told her to let it go, Stephanie says “it’s my ass.”

    • I do remember that moment, but I think she could have been more forceful. (of course, we’re at the mercy of what they choose to show) Also, I think everyone is overstating the “nest” being the problem with the dish. It was a weird choice and Tom mocked it, but the dish failed because the chocolate lacked spice and overpowered the hen.

      Also, my bigger point was that Stephanie let Nicholas carry the bigger load (doing two dishes on his own), because she thought he would carry her to victory (She said something at some point that basically implied that.) She knew he had immunity, so she was a participant in her own fate. She was clearly out of her comfort zone with Crenn’s style, but if she and Shirley had taken more control, things may have turned out differently. If they each do two dishes on their own and perform at the same level, and Nick only does one, but it fails, chances are the French team wins the challenge and someone else goes home. I don’t know why they let him make two fifths of their meal on his own.

  37. I think it is less likely that Nick tanked and more likely that he made a strategic decision to take a big chance that was no risk and all reward. If he knocked those dishes out of the park, he’s a star. If they fall flat… well, it’s not his ass. That seems well in line with how past competitors have used their immunity. The issue here was — as many have pointed out — the team aspect and the number of contestants remaining. That’s not his fault. As edited, his teammates didn’t take a strong enough stance in advocating for themselves. For Stephanie in particular, this does not shock me. Her biggest weakness has been her own self-doubt. Here, she seemed to weigh taking a stand versus riding Nick’s coattails and opted for the latter. It ultimately bit her in the ass. In the past, we’ve seen competitors challenge those with immunity more explicitly. His teammates should have done that there.

  38. How about when the camera cut to Padma as the chefs were leaving. The look of disgust on her face in that brief moment was extraordinary.

  39. The biggest issue for me with this episode was that they gave immunity with 6 people left and then had a team challenge. That was a flaw right out of the gate. I joked as soon as the teams were drawn that Nick should put out a plate of cat food so that a really good chef gets sent home. He would come off very badly, but it is still a game. Crazy that is basically played out that way.

  40. Whether Nick *intentionally* tanked or not (or just phoned it in, or just went through the motions “executing” Chef Crenn’s totally loony idea), I think it is fair to point out that the show’s producers structured the episode’s rules so as to give him absolutely no incentive to cook a good dish. As Keith often points out, people respond to incentives. The producers could have avoided this problem in several ways. Many episodes do not extend immunity via the quickfire. This one did. Many episodes provide a prize for the winner of the elimination challenge. This one didn’t. Obviously, it didn’t have to be a team challenge, particularly with only 6 people left. This one was. All these factors combined to give Nick no reason, for the game’s purposes, to cook a good dish (and arguably a good reason to actually cook BAD dishes, since he was teamed up with two of the frontrunners). We don’t have a window into Nick’s soul, so we don’t know his true intent. But we can know what his incentives were.

    However, Keith smartly points out some *external* factors (i.e. external to the game itself) that would provide Nick with incentive to cook well — his image to viewers, to the prestigious chefs at the table, and simply pride. But that might be just enough for him not to take a dump on the plate, and instead just to (half-heartedly) take a stab at Chef Crenn’s idea. “Hey, serving corn silks is idiotic, but whatever, it’s Crenn’s idea, she’ll defend it at the table (she did!), and if it sucks one of them gets eliminated and that’s good for me.” It might just be the editing, but it seems to me from watching this show that the chefs tend to get consumed by the competition and lose perspective.

    In short, I don’t think Nick rubbed his hands together and said “bwa ha ha I have a fiendish plan to terminate Stephanie or Shirley!” But I think he deferred to an idiotic idea and did not give it his best because he had nothing invested excelling in that particular challenge.

  41. Immunity is fine in the early rounds, when there are always several dishes that “deserve” to be sent home. It’s probably okay with 6 as well. But not with 6 in a team challenge. The result was grotesquely unfair. I don’t blame Nick. I blame the process, as KL said.
    Further, this immunity could be used to sabotage the competition. if Nick thought his two teammates were his toughest competition, intentionally cooking poorly would help his position. Now I don’t think he did that, but it certainly would be allowable under these rules.
    That said, just like Nick would have gotten a nice PR bump from resigning, Stephanie will get a nice PR bump from being screwed by the rules plus her personality.