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One Tough Pickle

A 'Top Chef' Update.

6:15 PM, Dec 6, 2012 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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As Al Capone explained in The Untouchables, "A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part of a team. Teamwork... Looks, throws, catches, hustles. Part of one big team. Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on. If his team don't field... what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I'm goin' out there for myself. But... I get nowhere unless the team wins." At which point Capone swings a baseball bat at an underling's head—someone who clearly did not get the whole teamwork thing.

One Tough Pickle

This week's Top Chef was all about teamwork. The chefs were put in pairs tasked with making the most of artisanal ingredients from Pike Place Market in Seattle. None did well—so much so that head judge Tom Colicchio decided to revoke the $10,000 prize for the best dish. There wasn't any. But a team was definitely going home.

Tyler Wiard and returning contestant C.J. Jacobsen were to make the most of locally made dill pickles. Since C.J. was a veteran and already familiar with the market, teammate Tyler deferred. On the phone, Tyler says he's gone through the whole "coulda, woulda, shoulda" routine too many times in his head. But he didn't feel too terrible about the pork burger with fried pickle concept. And he disagreed strongly with judge Gail Simmons about the pork. "I didn't think it was that bad." But he does concede the crumpet bun was a disaster.

According to Tyler, the crumpet was C.J.'s idea—but the problem was "it was not properly toasted," he explains, and "it was both our fault—we were both responsible." The toughest part of Top Chef? "To be perfectly honest, self-doubt."

I mentioned the crumpet to C.J. Jacobson in a later phone interview and he agreed, "it was our downfall," though he still can't figure out why it didn't toast more after seven minutes. (Besides being a chef and former professional volleyball player, C.J. is also incredibly funny. When I said I'd spoken with Tyler Wiard, he asked, "Were his eyes coming out through the phone?" Tyler's eyes do tend to bug out.)

Having been on season three and now season ten, C.J.'s familiarity with the show might have been a double-edged sword as he seemed to have overthought Colicchio's reaction to the burger-pickle concept. He imagines the head judge saying he should've done something simple like a burger—and his impression of Colicchio with his rapid-fire tongue is spot on.

C.J. calls his elimination in week five "humiliating" and definitely a worse experience than his last foray. On his way out from judge's table, the chef, perhaps in an act of desperation, asked the judges how the dessert of another team wasn't worse than the pork burger. After the episode his mother called to chastise him for being petty. "My mom gave me the most s—t," he says. (Perhaps the funniest thing C.J. ever said was during season three when cohost Padma Lakshmi woke all the chefs up one early morning. But when she entered C.J.'s room, the chef simply stretched out his arms and exclaimed that his dream had come true. "Even the cameraman was laughing," he remembers.)

And no, he is not a fan of the team challenges. "To be honest," says C.J., "I hated it a lot more. I couldn't stand it." After all, "it's not Top Team Chef—it's Top Chef." The good news for now is that he and Tyler survived on Last Chance Kitchen, defeating Kuniko Yagi.

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