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Salad Daze

A 'Top Chef' goes healthy and goes home. Plus Tom Colicchio on who decides who goes home.

3:35 PM, Jan 26, 2012 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Chicago chef Chris Jones respects the judges' decision, he doesn't harbor any ill will towards his competitors, and as he said on the phone earlier today, "I don't make excuses." That said, when the contestants on Top Chef: Texas were told to create a healthy version of a meal to be served at a block party (sponsored by Healthy Choice), Jones went healthy—a chicken salad sandwich, he points out, that didn't use Hellmann's Mayonnaise. Instead he used tofu as a binding agent, which technically worked. His problem was deciding to premake the sandwiches, which dried up under the hot Texas sun. Looking back, Jones said he should have done it "Subway style," made to order. But there was another problem: A swarm of bees occupied his blender, and Jones is deathly allergic to bees.

Salad Daze

One sting and the chef said he'd have swelled up. Two stings and he could've been done for. This explains why his frozen citrus refreshment wasn't blended all that well and why judge Emeril Lagasse complained about a sizable piece of ice that didn't belong there. After a while, Jones said, "they had to shut us down" because of the swarm.

But what bothered Jones most was following through on the challenge and consequently losing. "The challenge was, Can you create something healthy?" which he no doubt did, "and got punished for it." Not that chicken salad was the first thing that came to his mind. Jones first thought cheeseburger but the location didn't have a grill. Then he considered BLT. "It was down to the wire" when Grayson suggested the chicken salad.

When asked about Last Chance Kitchen and the opportunity to cook his way back into the competition, Jones was not a fan. "When you're done, you're done," he said. "It didn't make sense. Once it's over, it's over."

This morning I spoke on the phone with restaurateur, head judge, and Top Chef producer Tom Colicchio (I could hear his little boys running around the house). He was emphatic that the other producers have absolutely no say in who gets to go—they aren't even allowed to taste the food. There is no script for the decision-making (as opposed to introductions), although they do repeat certain lines if the audio was insufficient or a camera missed something (there are six cameras in the room). The final episode has just been filmed—it took place overseas, which is all he would tell me. As for next season, I suggested Top Chef: New Jersey since he and I are both from the Garden State. He laughed (did he think I was joking?) and said, "Great, and Snookie can be a guest judge!"

How Top Chef came to be and the role Colicchio played in making this enormously popular series will be published in a future item, so stay tuned.

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