Monthly Archives: August 2009

Top Chef Masters: The Emperor is still the Emperor, and the Child is still a Child

One of the classic tales of fiction is Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor Has No Clothes.

One day two rogues arrived in town, claiming to be gifted weavers.  They convinced the Emperor that they could weave the most wonderful cloth, which had a magical property.  The clothes were only visible to those who were completely pure in heart and spirit.

The Emperor was impressed and ordered the weavers to begin work immediately.  The rogues, who had a deep understanding of human nature, began to feign work on empty looms. 

Minister after minister went to view the new clothes and all came back exhorting the beauty of the cloth on the looms even though none of them could see a thing.

Finally a grand procession was planned for the Emperor to display his new finery.  The Emperor went to view his clothes and was shocked to see absolutely nothing, but he pretended to admire the fabulous cloth, inspect the clothes with awe, and, after disrobing, go through the motions of carefully putting on a suit of the new garments.

Under a royal canopy the Emperor appeared to the admiring throng of his people – – all of whom cheered and clapped because they all knew the rogue weavers’ tale and did not want to be seen as less than pure of heart.

But, the bubble burst when an innocent child loudly exclaimed, for the whole kingdom to hear, that the Emperor had nothing on at all.  He had no clothes.

Now the moral of the story is that there are sycophants in a room, and that we should be willing to point out when there is a lie.

But in the Sandman, by Neil Gaiman, I am reminded of another point of view:

It has always been the prerogative of children and half-wits to point out that the emperor has no clothes. But the half-wit remains a half-wit, and the emperor remains an emperor.

In the episode titled Trick in a Box, the master chef’s are asked to cook a meal for a bunch of aspiring chef’s in cooking school.

And so the aspiring chef’s, feel that they should criticize these legendary cooks … They act as if they have the right to an opinion.  Except what they should be doing is using that opportunity to touch greatness and learn from greatness and shut the fuck up about the quality of the food.

Watching these children make comments is painful. And so maybe the food wasn’t perfect, but the Emperor, the master chef, is still Emperor, and the aspiring chef is still the aspiring chef that critiqued the master chef’s food on television.

Top Chef Masters: The difference between the great and not so great

In a recent Top Chef Masters episode I got to see the difference between a great food critic and an amateur.

Anito Lo was asked to create a dish with the theme illusion. Her dish was a masterpiece of thought and execution. A key element of the dish was a steak tartare sauce whose purpose was to be poured into a bowl.


In the regular Top Chef, where newbies compete, Gail Simmons is one of the better food critics whose opinions are usually thoughtful and insightful.

But little did I realize the gap between her and the great critics. Presented with this dish, Gail complains it lacks salt. Then the incomparably greater critic, James Oseland, turns to her and says:

Well I poured the steak tartare sauce into the bowl, and it was perfectly salted.

I suppose that’s the way one food critic tells another food critic:

Dude, have you ever eaten food before?

Gail, after having been educated on how to eat her food, proceeds to give the seemingly unsalted dish 4.5 stars. 

Top Chef Masters: Hector vs Achilles in front of the walls of Troy

Top Chef, a Bravo TV, reality program pits aspiring chefs against each other in a month long competition where they are asked to, on their feet, create great food week after week after week.

The team that brought us top chef, decided to do a spin on the show, where they would bring in great chef’s and ask them to compete in the same format.

In many ways, the creators of Top Chef, looked at gladiator matches of yesteryear, and realized that we all want to watch the greatest go head to head. We all want to see Hector fight Achilles in front of the walls of troy.  And yet the reality is that in our modern world, that never happens. hector would be a general, and so would achilles, and they would never be allowed to risk their lives in man-to-man combat.

Top Chef Masters creates that delicious competitive battle, where the stakes are infinitely lower, but still real. These are after all, great chefs, who want to do great cooking.

In one episode, they take the chef’s and have them compete in a speed competition where they have to prep food. For all of them, the last time they prepped food was at least decade ago, and for Roy Yamaguchi it may have been more than two decades ago.

What’s amazing to watch is how these great, great, great Chef’s are forced to do something as elementary as create a great dish on the fly, and to see them struggle. Not because they can’t create a great dish, but because the last time they did it on their own was years ago. Watching Jonathan Waxman, a man whose efforts years ago helped create the foodie culture that produced top chef, struggle with how to use a pressure cooker was delightful because it reminded me of how all leaders rely on some kind of support staff.

It’s an interesting statement about life in general. As we promote people to positions of leadership, their ability to do the simple basic tasks, under time pressure, begins to evaporate. So Rick Moonen, can’t finish a quick fire, but then turns it around and creates a masterpiece, because he is still a great, great chef.

It is very rare that you see great men compete mano-a-mano in their chosen profession. Top Chef Masters is a great bit of television.

Perhaps Nokia has chosen not to die

Nokia’s irrelevance in the smartphone market, their inability to deliver a usable UI for their new touch screen gadget, and their ongoing inability to create an application ecosystem around the single most popular OS in the cell phone market has made me wonder if they are headed into oblivion.

Or at the very least, whether their role in life is to be displaced by a Chinese or Taiwanese cell phone manufacturer who figures out how to make really cheap and really reliable devices for the masses who just want to make a phone call.

But perhaps they’re not dead yet:

Microsoft Corp said it will announce an alliance with Nokia on Wednesday, likely unveiling plans to make the software company’s Office suite of applications available on devices made by the world’s top cellphone manufacturer.

In spite of the efforts of Google and in spite of the claims by the Mac phone boys, Office is the single most important set of applications for smart phones. The fact that Windows Mobile has the only workable implementation continues to make it a contender.

This can only help both MS and Nokia.

Drunken sailors and web ui design.

So it’s really cool that we can use dynamic web technologies to have user interfaces that allow for maximum configurability…


Just because you mr. web designer decided that I need to be able to click and remove every UI element (so that I find myself trying to figure out how I lost the all important panel) doesn’t mean you should.

Building UI elements and forcing me, the VERY BAD UI DESIGNER to figure this out is an abrogation of your responsibility.

Yech. I feel better.