Gail wasn’t on last night’s episode of Top Chef All-Stars, but we got the eliminated cheftestant to sound off about what went down during the epic Restaurant Wars battle. And boy, does this cheftestant have a lot to say. Read more after the jump, but SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the episode yet, do not click ahead! Seriously! Ok, everyone else, you ready? Let’s go!
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you… Marcel’s blog! (As told to Archana Ram.)
I never really know what the judges are going to decide. For every challenge, when they pick a winner and loser, it’s not typically who I would’ve chosen. We have different opinions about things, so I stopped trying to guess.
With the Quickfire, I don’t think the judges got anything wrong in terms of my dish. Everybody has his or her own palate and sense of taste. Anthony Bourdain made a good criticism that I hadn’t embraced the nose-to-tail eating. I was in Le Bernardin, so I thought I should do a refined dish. And yes, mousseline has one texture, but that’s why there was crispy ginger and fresh herbs. There was texture, but when the judges eat the dishes, sometimes they only take one bite. Bourdain didn’t get the broth or crispy ginger. It makes sense that Angelo plates on a spoon. It’s not a dish, but it’s brilliant because you control the bite. Otherwise, they may just get one component. But that dish probably wasn’t one of my strongest dishes.
I definitely made some flaws in the Elimination challenge, but I think my biggest flaw, as I said, was choosing my team. The fact that nobody would listen to my concepts or me, as the team leader, totally sucked. And then I got sent home for nobody listening to me. What was I supposed to do? I wanted everybody to feel comfortable with what they were cooking because it was a team challenge. When I proposed modern global and no one was gung ho about it, I listened to my team. I asked, “What do you feel comfortable doing? Because if we’re going to win, I need to make sure everybody’s on board with what we’re doing.” I ran the kitchen like a democracy. It wasn’t a hardcore brigade that was my-way-or the highway, even though it looked the opposite. I let everybody cook what they wanted to cook. Is that the description of a monarchy? Not so much.
One of the things I was confused about was, from my understanding, the judges sent me home for a lack of leadership, which is difficult because in this particular challenge, you have individual chefs who are responsible for their own dishes. One of my philosophies was, because I had such a strong team, utilize them for their strength and let them cook what they wanted to cook because happy cooks made good food. I was hoping this strategy would have a synergistic effect of the sum of the parts being more than the whole. It ultimately backfired because everybody thought I wasn’t leading them. But whatever sort of constructive criticism I gave my teammates about their dishes, they didn’t follow it, and it ended up being the demise of all of their dishes.
Before the challenge, we had a tasting where we all tried each other’s dishes and had an open forum about the food. I told a lot of people some of the faults within their dishes, which were the same faults the judges had. They didn’t take my criticism seriously and did whatever they wanted to do. And I get popped for lack of leadership? My philosophy was you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. For example, Tiffany asked if she should hold the asparagus in ice water. And I said, “No because it’ll leech out all the flavor. Just shave it at the moment or dress it in a sexy vinaigrette but don’t hold it in ice water.” So what does she do? She holds it in ice water. At Judges’ Table, Tom said her asparagus was all washed out. I stood there, thinking, “Um, hello? That was my recommendation for your dish! You’re sitting here, telling me I have a lack of leadership when in actuality, I tried to help you. You just didn’t take my advice.”
I also tried to tell Angelo his dish wasn’t Mediterranean, and that he shouldn’t lace it with dashi. He was on board for the concept but then had this dish that wasn’t Mediterranean at all. Every chef has his or her own way of doing things and because people also have ulterior motives, if you give someone advice, they often wonder where it’s coming from. It’s a competition.
The execution of our first service wasn’t seamless to say the least. There were a lot of problems in the front of the house. We had several dishes that got sent back. I was told everything was running smoothly, the timing was perfect and never to rush on any dishes. But there was a communication breakdown between front of the house and our expediter. Apparently when we got to Judges’ Table, they wanted to know why service took so long and where all the servers were. Meanwhile, in the back of the house, when we were plating, none of that urgency was conveyed. Other than Tiffany coming back with dishes that needed to be hotter or colder, we were told everything was fine as far as timing. The judges said it was a breakdown in the back of the house, which affected the front of the house. But in actuality, it was the opposite of that. Things were pretty messed up in the front of the house.
When we were at Judges’ Table, Mike totally threw me under the bus. He was the one who started it. He said, “You’re a f—–g time bomb and that’s why nobody wants to work with you.” And I thought, “Are you kidding me? If you want to go there, let’s go there.” I had my rebuttal, which was, “You’re lazy. You’re slow.” Mike said he wanted to cook all the protein, which I thought was a big responsibility, but I trusted him. But I shouldn’t have trusted him at all because he stabbed me in the back. He was searing my fish and cooking the lamb, so I was plating the components for four dishes. All he had to do was cook three proteins. I told him, for every log of monkfish, you get two portions. What he did, simultaneously with his lamb, octopus, and pork belly, was cook my fish way ahead of time and not in the right quantity, and then spend all his time focusing on his protein, while neglecting mine.
Meanwhile, I’m plating all of his plates and literally running over to make sure he had pots and pans. It’s ironic because at Judges’ Table, he’s said I was throwing pots and pans around, acting like a time bomb. I’m thinking, “Throwing pots and pans around? You wouldn’t have any pots and pans if it weren’t for me running back and forth getting them.” When I noticed he was sandbagging my protein, I said he couldn’t cook my fish anymore. So I was cooking my fish, plating all the dishes and making sure the plates were hot, while Mike was moving at a snail’s pace. Angelo actually came over and helped me plate, which was great.
I think the duties were distributed pretty fairly had everybody kept up with the pace. But Mike wasn’t a team player. He was looking out for his dish and that’s it. I feel like my team let me down a little bit. If I were to pick again, I definitely would not retain any of them. After the draft, I looked at my team and thought, “Wait a second. What was I thinking? Tre isn’t here. Blais isn’t here. What did I do?” I don’t know why I picked Angelo first. I definitely was not thinking clearly.
I haven’t been watching the show much. It just gets frustrating because I know what actually happened. But sometimes I can’t help it. It’s like watching a train wreck. I do like watching so I can defend myself. But I did catch [last week’s] fishing episode, and Dale talked so much trash in the interviews that it was astonishing to me. I’m the type of person who wears my heart on my sleeve. Dale, on the other hand, was totally two-faced. He was always really nice to me in person, and only had beef for the camera. I lost a lot of respect for him.
I don’t let the trash-talking get to me. I feel kind of bad for [those contestants] because they’re a bunch of kids. I haven’t had to deal with people talking behind your back since I was in high school. We’re all adults, so if you have something to say to somebody, own up to it. I’ve already gotten an apology from Tre, who said they cut a sentence short when he called me an asshole. The complete sentence was something like, “Marcel’s kind of an asshole, but we’re all assholes and he’s just the best at being one.” And it got cut off at “Marcel’s kind of an asshole.” As soon as he saw it, he sent me a text message, saying “Yo, dude! I’m sorry! They totally cut me short.” And I said, “Don’t worry about it man.”
Do I have the capability of being an a—hole? Completely. But am I actually a really nice guy? Also true. That asshole side of me only comes out when it’s warranted. If you take it out of context, then it just makes you look like an asshole. They never showed that I helped out every contestant in every other challenge. But this is reality TV.
Top Chef isn’t the end all, be all for me. The reason why the judges have the power is because they have the prizes. But for me, they’re just other palates. At the U.S. Open challenge, out of the 80 guests we served, about 60 came over to me and couldn’t believe Angelo won and thought my dish was so much better. The vast majority felt strong enough about my dish to tell me I should’ve won. That bodes pretty well. And during the dim sum challenge episode, Dale bragged to me, “The only plates I made that were half-way decent were the judges’ dishes.” I got pissed off. Really? You’re going to brag about that?
I have my own show coming out on the SyFy network. The awesome thing about that is the people will see the real me, which actually might not be so good for Top Chef because, when people actually see it, they’re going to question what I’m known for. My friends and I started our own catering company, and we cater elaborate parties for high-profile clients predominantly in Los Angeles. We do a lot of things people have never seen before and probably never thought was possible. It’s all about teamwork, creativity, imagination.
I definitely would not come back to Top Chef. I’m totally over it. I don’t need people to portray me in a light that damages my reputation. I don’t need people to think I’m something that I’m not. I want people to know who I really am. For me, it’s not worth it.
Photo: Giovanni Rufino/Bravo