Thursday, May 29, 2008

Guest Judge Rick Tramonto Denies Frozen Scallops, Tom Colicchio Denies the Denial

It goes without saying, possums, that we thrilled to Scallopgate last night, and Spike’s “If I’m going down, I’m taking your reputation with me” stance. Let’s be honest; all of us had the same question of guest judge Rick Tramonto, and for all his asshattery, Spike had the gumption to ask it. We thought that Tramonto himself handled Spike’s jab rather graciously, but of course it don’t look real good for a restaurant of such aspirations to have frozen scallops on hand.

In his interview with Bravo, Tramonto categorically denied any knowledge of the existence or provenance of frozen scallops in his walk-in freezer: Spike won the Quickfire and got to choose his proteins ... the big scallop question: Did you know there were frozen scallops in the pantry?....

No, didn’t know there were frozen scallops in there. We never ever purchase frozen seafood, so it isn’t anything that’s kept in my coolers normally. In the real world, when you’re a chef, you may get something you didn’t order from the purveyor, or there are other people there accepting your product and it does make it into your cooler, but you as a chef need to know when there is an inferior product, and you need to be able to say no. As a top chef, your quality conscience needs to be at a top level. Spike failed that test.

Ok, fair enough. Now here is Ted Allen’s take on the matter:

So an issue that comes to my mind, and one that Spike unwisely and impertinently (if fairly) raised at Judges’ Table, is this: Why *were* there giant bags of frozen scallops in Rick’s walk-in? Perhaps he uses them in some kind if mousse, or other dish where the superior sweetness and texture of fresh shellfish isn’t required? I’m not going to ask Rick that question -- he clearly didn’t like it.

Oh dear. Ah, but take a look at what the Tom Colicchio, who himself presides over a burgeoning steakhouse empire, had to say:

Rick Tramonto took Spike to task over this, which brought on Spike’s feisty reply, “With all due respect, the scallops were in your walk-in.” My heart sunk when I heard this because I’ve known Rick for years and can say with certainty he doesn’t use frozen seafood in his restaurant. Along with the high-end steaks they had provided for the show, Allen Bros. had included a variety of other products to round out the restaurant’s existing stock, including frozen scallops, which is how they came to be in Tramonto’s walk-in. I learned later that Rick knew this when we taped the show, but chose not to make a federal case out of it. But as a colleague and fan of Rick’s, I feel it’s important to set the record straight.

Oh, so, contrary to his denial, Tramonto did know there were frozen scallops and knew how they got there. This seems just the teensiest bit awkward. Paging Scott McClellan!

Oh, and is it just us, or are scallops cursed? After all, the wee coquilles St. Jacques have disposed of two cheftestants in a row.

Update: Apparently, Tramonto's PR rep is claiming the scallops were planted by Bravo.

Further Update: Now Tramonto says the scallops were, in fact, planted by Bravo's production team to trip up the cheftestants (what Spike calls "trickery at its best"): “Their team purchased all the food and put it in the coolers,” [Tramonto] explained, saying he felt that most people realized it was part of the challenge. He just wants to set the record straight. “They put those in the mix to see ... who would use them or not.”

Also, when our pal Meredith at asked Spike about the scallops, she had her hand slapped in best Dana Perino fashion by the Bravo publicist. Could this be the same Bravo publicist who told The Chicago Tribune, of the scallops, “Sounds like there’s something fishy going on here …”?

Yet Another Update: Tom Colicchio responds to our post.


The Java Junkie said...

I do love a conspiracy theory!

David Dust said...

"Paging Scott McClellan" true!

This sounds like SABATOGE!

CLICK HERE for DavidDust's Top Chef Chicago recap.


The Big Shamu said...

Is this what it has come down to this season? How frozen scallops got into the pantry?

Frankly I'm surprised he didn't make cream of scallop/squash soup.

AlphaChef Chris said...

this sounds like bull$#!t. it's a total PR move that Bravo is doing to keep Tramonto's reputation in tact. This is also helpful in case they need to raid someone else's restaurant in the future.

The Troll said...

Dang, I thought I broke the Scallopgate story. But I think you posted first. Oh well.

I also found it absurd that Tom would assert that his little buddy Tramonto has NEVER used frozen seafood.

I'd bet 200 Cash he has indeed. Happens in MUCH better restaurants than his Steakshouse dive.

CG said...

I think they should lay mines like this across ALL the challenges. Stock the kitchens with crooked kinves, Giardia-riffic water, rotten eggs...

Anonymous said...

As a frequent customer of Tramonto's Steak and Seafood I can say that they have never served scallops on their menu. It seems like a trap to me

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