Strike Tré, You're Out

On last night's Top Chef, Tré Wilcox just had the gone-awry look of a man who might be going home.

This morning, Anthony Bourdain's Top Chef blog entry asks the same question on the minds of the show's most faithful followers: "So what happened with Tre?" That's Tré Wilcox, of course, the Chef de Cuisine at Abacus who was asked to pack his knives and leave the show at the end of last night's episode -- a stunning development, as Wilcox had won three previous Elimination Challenges, including a trip to Italy.

What happened? Simple enough: Wilcox bit off more than he, or the diners in his team's "restaurant," could chew, and he paid the price for being the executive chef in a no-star eatery designed by Madonna's brother. He made one superb dish (his seared scallop with corn-truffle "custard") and a few utter disasters, chief among them a salmon and pesto dish guest judge Ted Allen proclaimed "disgusting." In the end, Wilcox suffered because his teammates -- including friend Casey Thompson of Shinsei -- did too little but delivered just enough to skate into next week's episode. Bourdain, of course, puts its best:

So, why did Tre "lose"? Simply put, because he was the guy who -- on this particular day -- stuck his neck out the furthest. And as happens sometimes when you stick your neck out, his head got cut cleanly off.

I expect a great number of commentators will point out that had Tre not taken the "chef" gig, not asserted himself with his own menu choices, been less of a leader, he would still be around. Absolutely right. In this case, by taking on more responsibility, he put himself squarely in the crosshairs. And ended up cut down. A more perfect example of the way the restaurant business really works could scarcely be imagined. A world where, sometimes, no good deed seems to go unpunished.

Did Tre deserve to be the one to pack up and leave?

I'd have to say that if judging that night, that I too would probably have gritted my teeth and chosen Tre. Why?

Because I've never seen Ted Allen react so violently and unfavorably to a dish as he did when trying Tre's "beet-cured salmon". He jerked in his seat as if harpooned. Guest chef Geoffrey Zakarian, who I have a lot of respect for, concurred -- as did Tom...

For the many who, like me, found themselves depressed by Tre's exit, console yourself with the certain knowledge that of almost all the Top Chef contestants, past and present, few are as well suited for the real business of being a "top chef". He has the character. He has the skills. He lacks only, perhaps, the inspiration. And he is well on his way in that department. Last I heard, Tre was trailing at some excellent NYC restaurants. He keeps that up, he shall surely, someday, rule the world.

At the end, of course, Wilcox departed with great class and dignity -- no tears, no hysterics, just the familiar calm and cool of a man who realized, yes, he'd had an off night, the reward for which was a ticket back to Dallas. He spoke at show's end about the experience making him a better chef; he insisted he's now ready to open his own restaurant, where he will not make the same mistakes.

Wilcox was easily the favorite to win, but now he's gone from the show -- before Howie, Brian, CJ, Sara M. and one or two others who should have been sent packing by now. Now, Dallas is represented by Casey Thompson, who cuts onions the way old people screw.--Robert Wilonsky


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