In case you didn’t notice, I’m not a fan of Dale on Top Chef. He is the only person I’ve ever called an asshole on the site – because it was more than deserved. Whether it was joining in a team or if Dale was the executive chef for a team, Dale’s personality drives everyone’s performance down.
But, in the first episode of the finals, Dale redeemed himself, if only for a little bit. I’d like to think I call them as I see them (an umpire’s baseball term) and this time Dale did well.
It’s the finals of Top Chef, filmed in Puerto Rico after the contestants, through the magic of TV, have had six months off since we last saw them in Chicago. The big challenge is to feed 150 guests, including the Governor of Puerto Rico and his wife, at the Governor’s mansion. They have to create a minimum of two dishes – all did more – made from pork. And they were all given a whole butchered pig to work with for the meal.
Stephanie won the earlier Quickfire challenge and her advantage was to assign each of the four sous chefs to each of the finalists from the four returning contestants. Including Dale. And she picked Dale. I thought it was the kiss of death.
In the commentary, she said that she has known Dale for ten years. Stephanie comes across as shy. To choose to pair with “ready to blow up at the first sign of trouble” Dale was, to me, a disaster waiting to happen.
The Elimination Challenge
The challenge started well enough with Stephanie and Dale dividing responsibilities. There was preparation on part of one day and then the completion during a longer period the following day of the party. In essence, people would prepare the pork on one day and then cook the next.
Walking in the next day, Stephanie’s pork was at risk. There hadn’t been enough room in the refrigerators and the pork and rub didn’t make it into a cooler – Dale’s job. Stephanie immediately decides not to use the pork because of the risk. Yet, she’s not willing to settle for only two dishes. What to prepare? She doesn’t know and there’s only five hours to go.
In the commentary, Dale is devastated. “If she goes home because of me, I’ll kill myself” or something close to that statement. Quiet. Frustrated and devastated, but quiet. This is the point where Dale normally starts blaming everyone except himself. This is a change.
Back on the challenge, Dale and Stephanie are preparing the first two meals while discussing what else to make. There is no loss of focus on getting the first two meals completed – another first for Dale. Instead, Stephanie and Dale are bantering ideas back and forth to try to solve the problem – another first for Dale.
Dale comes up with a salad idea that incorporates pork and that’s the dish they settle on to make. The salad dish is the only salad from any of the chefs and Stephanie ends not using pork belly – the only one of the four who does not.
When the party starts with the tasting, Stephanie watches the judges taste her dishes. One of the comments from the judges at the tasting is how good the salad is – light, refreshing. It’s a huge relief. After the judges leave, you hear Stephanie say, “Thanks, Dale.”
And thanks it is. This is what team play is all about. It is working hard, admitting mistakes, helping to solve a problem, and recovering to serve a meal – or a customer. Teamwork is not about ranting, raving, and revolution; it is about getting it done. Dale was all about getting it done in this episode. A personality change? No pressure from not being one of the finalists? Wanting to redeem himself after six months off? Reading this blog? We won’t know.
Personal Brand Cautionary Tale
The challenge Dale has is that, on this television show at least, his personal brand is fixed – the wrong way. As wonderful as this episode was for him, it leaves doubts about what to expect in the kitchen: someone who is a team player, working to solve problems and serve customers? Or the guy who goes off when events don’t go his way?
That’s the problem when your personal brand goes south and you need to rebuild it. It is not one incident that will redeem you. It is multiple events over time that will finally reinforce your personal brand the right way. But, it is a long road.
The lesson here is build your personal brand the right way – and keep it that way. It is easy to destroy a brand; hard to rebuild.
Dale – you did yourself proud on this episode.