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How to Cut Pork

Reflections on 'Top Chef' and the kid who got axed. Tom Colicchio tells TWS, 'It was clear he had to go.'

4:25 PM, Nov 9, 2011 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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If you read the above headline and were hoping to learn about ways to cut pork-barrel spending, this is not that item. But if you're a fan of Top Chef, the best cooking competition on television, do read on.

How to Cut Pork

Now in its ninth season, Top Chef Texas kicked it up a notch by forcing 29 contestants to compete for 16 spots, which turned last week's opener into a qualifying round—that itself was a first. But perhaps more memorable was the early exit of 22-year-old chef Tyler Stone of Sacramento. Still in the midst of kitchen prep, Stone was asked by head judge Tom Colicchio to pack up his knives and leave. The young contestant was in the midst of butchering pork when Colicchio rather abruptly told him it just wasn't happening. Stone smiled nervously, at first brushing off the remark, then looked at the judge, realizing in horror this was most definitely happening. Within moments he was gone—the first casualty of the season.

I asked Colicchio via email if he'd gotten much flack for the quick firing. "No flack," he says. "In fact, it's the other way around—mostly good feedback." (The comments section of Colicchio's blog are certainly supportive—there was little patience for Stone's antics.) "I knew that the way the pork was butchered, it was going to be impossible to cook it properly. It was such a basic cut, and if you can't do that, you probably shouldn't go much further in the competition."

And speaking of kicking it up a notch, this season also features Emeril Lagasse as a fellow judge. Forget about his warm and fuzzy cooking shows—this is Emeril as kitchen boss. "He'd spent his apprenticeship in cellar prep kitchens getting pans thrown at him," writes Michael Ruhlman in The Reach of a Chef. "That's how this business worked. That's why he had no remorse, or worry, firing seven of his thirteen line cooks in a single night, just weeks into his new job [at Commander's Palace]. During service. Get out, you're not good enough, I'll f—g do it myself."

In fact, says Colicchio, it was Emeril who "had pulled me aside before I even got to Tyler's station and told me to take a look at what he was doing. I asked him a few questions, to see if it was just nerves or if he really did not know what he was doing. After that, it was clear he had to go."

If you felt bad for the kid, check out his audition tape.

(Top Chef Texas airs on Wednesdays at 10pm on Bravo. Check here for weekly musings on this season.)

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