During a conference call today, we asked Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi what they thought about Bruni’s assertion that Top Chef “gets [young chefs] thinking more about mass-media glory — about big, quick fame — than about disciplined professionalism, dedication, sacrifice.” Padma told us, “I don’t think anyone who has come through the process would say that laziness got them through the challenge. Of course it’s very lucrative to one’s career to have a platform on TV, but they’re on national TV and they are followed by seven or eight cameras in that kitchen. So if they’re sloppy or lazy, the camera sees it. If the food isn’t good, they’re eliminated.” Tom Colicchio had more pointed words — in response to Bret Thorn’s comments, he told us that the show’s viewers are very passionate about food, and he’s offended that some would dismiss them just because they can’t go into a fancy restaurant and eat.
We asked Colicchio what he thought about David Chang and others who’ve complained about the show’s effect on young chefs:
I don’t think there’s any shortcuts to getting there — there’s a vetting process and you’re not going to get through that process if you don’t have some sort of skill. Our industry has changed a lot because of TV and media, and you know, it strikes me as very silly when you get chefs who talk about “back in the day” and “old-school this,” “old-school that.” My feeling is, if you weren’t working in kitchens before 1986, stop talking about “back in the day.” … This is getting ridiculous. It’s very easy to badmouth the show if you’re a professional chef because some people look at this as a shortcut to fame … I don’t think it’s a shortcut.”
Padma noted that American food fiends always get knocked for being backward and uninformed, and that the show does a good job of correcting that. And she told us that of all the former cheftestants, Harold Dieterle is the one she’d hold up as the biggest success story: “Harold is one of those guys who’s very even-keeled … I think slow and steady wins the race. He’s not someone who’s going to charge headlong into something without looking [at it carefully] and ruminating about it first.”
Earlier: Diner’s Journal vs. Food Writer’s Diary: Is ‘Top Chef’ Breeding Tittering Idiots?