My heart sank when Padma Lakshmi told Dale Talde to “pack his knives and go” on this week’s episode of Top Chef, but I knew it was inevitable after the disastrous opening of Mai Buddha with teammates Lisa Fernandes and Spike Mendelsohn during this week’s challenge, Restaurant Wars. Dale was the executive chef for the restaurant and when things go wrong, the guy at running the show gets the blame.
Aside from some brilliant cooking and wins in both the Quickfire and main challenges, Dale’s time on Top Chef was also marked by his ongoing friction with Lisa. When asked about the rivalry, Dale said:
Dale: Come on, rivalry? Rivalry connotates that someone is at the same level you’re at.
CHOW: So you’re saying that Lisa was nowhere near your level?
Dale: Please. Scoreboard. C’mon.
Dale’s reference to the scoreboard is telling since he had more wins than Lisa and Spike combined and was in the bottom three only once before getting the boot (with his Wedding Wars teammates Lisa, Spike and Nikki). Lisa, on the other hand, had only one challenge win and was on the bottom four times, and I honestly thought she should have been eliminated last week instead of Andrew. Spike had one Quickfire win and was on the bottom five times.
So why was Dale given the boot? He knew it was coming when Antonia picked her team. Both Dale and Antonia were praised as the best contestants during this episode’s egg station Quickfire, but Antonia was declared the overall winner and got to pick her team for Restaurant Wars. She picked Richard and Stephanie, the two strongest contenders on the show aside from Dale.
“Did you see the team? It was like a junior varsity basketball team versus a professional basketball team. I got put on the short-bus all stars.”
The challenge ended up being a rematch of Wedding Wars with Dale’s team on the losing end again. There were several reasons why the Mai Buddha team failed, not the least of which was the toxic work environment created by clashing personalities. Dale admits to letting his ego get out of control and not playing the game correctly by fighting to be executive chef.
“You know when (Frank) Bruni or Adam Platt come into your restaurant and the food sucks, are they going to blame the sous chef or the pastry chef? No. They’re going to blame you, and you’re going to be out on the street looking for a job…but I’m going to be goddamned if Lisa’s going to be the executive chef and I’m going to take the subordinate role to her.”
Dale’s disatrous Butterscotch Scallop dish was another contributor to his demise, and he accepted responsibility for that dish’s failure.
“I messed up. I had a vision and I didn’t execute that vision correctly. I was trying to go for salty, sweet, spicy, sour with the pickled charred long beans and then have the scallop be the savory, sweet, salty—I just put too much sugar in it. I’ll do that recipe again, and I’ll guarantee you that I’ll execute it correctly.
I’ve described Dale as ornery in the past, and he understands that people don’t like him, both on the show and at his regular job at Buddakann in New York.
“It helps a lot when people like you and you like the people you work with, but it’s not a job requirement. It’s not necessary.”
A first-generation Filipino American, Dale attributed his work ethic to his immigrant parents, and during his exit interview on the show, he broke down because he felt like he let them down.
I wanted to show them I could have won this. I know in my heart that I am more talented than a lot of people that are still on the show. I’m very competitive at sports and to be honest with you, I never really won any championships or anything like that. This would have been a nice one to pull out and say, “Hey, I actually won this.”
To listen to the entire interview with Chef Dale Talde, go to Chow.com.