Top Chef & Feedback

Posted on September 12, 2012


I get a kick out of Top Chef, for the feedback.

Yes, the feedback.

The judges use their status to vaguely put down the would-be Top Chefs who, seemingly on cue, commonly bow their heads in defeated posture. The whole judging thing reminds me of teachers from 20 years ago. You got a C because the teacher said it was a C. Why was it a C and not a B? Because the teacher said was a C. Of course that doesn’t fly today.

Back to Top Chef. Earlier this year, there was an episode where one of the successful contests apparently needed to be put down (actually all the contestants seem to be needed to put in their place down).

You can see the video at Top Chef Texas.

Judge Tom Colicchio goes into automatic pilot with his feedback as is often the case with the judges and is called on it by contestant Grayson. He criticizes her for making chicken salad because it is not an “exciting” dish. Well, was “exciting” part of the criteria? Often times in Top Chef, criteria doesn’t matter. Sometimes it is applied, sometimes not? So Grayson fires back, “Like a meatball?” referring to a competing dish. Tom looked like he was slapped out of sleep. His programmed feedback was caught off guard.

I realize when we speak of the area of the arts, whether be visual, musical or cuisine, there is a lot of subjectivity involved. But there is feedback and there is BS feedback. Top Chef falls too often in the latter. Episodes are filled with “not balanced enough”, “uninspired” or “it didn’t go far enough.” The feedback is so vague it could be applied to the best dishes and used every week for different participants.

But let’s get back to education. A student can’t take vague feedback and get to standard. The road to proficient is specific. Effective feedback has been shown to be a factor in successful urban education. It may seem obvious that a student can’t know how to improve if they don’t know what they aren’t doing right. But that isn’t always easy to execute. That’s why feedback has been an issue in urban education. One of the distinctions between successful and failing schools is how much is communicated to students.

Top Chef is great for its horrible examples of feedback that can’t be used in the educational or supervisory arena.

I’d continue this blog post, but I have to check on my 1/2 flour and 1/2 corn tortilla enchiladas.

Posted in: Assessment