Producers planted the frozen scallops that led to Spike’s elimination from Top Chef

Spike Mendelsohn was eliminated from Top Chef 4 last Wednesday in part because he used frozen scallops he found in the cooler at Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood restaurant in Chicago. As the challenge winner, Spike had first pick of the proteins at the restaurant, and chose a bag of frozen scallops that didn’t work well. When criticized for his choice during judging, Spike turned that on one of his critics, the guest judge and restaurant’s owner, arguing that the scallops were in his freezer.

But those frozen scallops actually came from the show’s producers via a food supplier–not the restaurant’s actual inventory, according to both head judge Tom Colicchio and the restaurant’s owner. “Their team purchased all the food and put it in the coolers. They put those in the mix to see … who would use them or not,” guest judge and Tramonto’s head chef Rick Tramonto told the Chicago Tribune.

And on his blog, Tom Colicchio wrote, “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.”

It might have made sense to set the record straight, like, during the actual episode, especially since who put them there was irrelevant to the actual elimination. As Tom points out, “Spike had first choice among a walk-in filled with high-quality fresh options. He didn’t have to use the frozen, and, frankly, he should have known better.”

However, in his exit interview, Spike calls “bullshit” on the producers. “Obviously, I chose them, but all that protein in there should have been top-notch,” he said. “It’s just bullshit that they were there to begin with. … It just felt like it was just trickery at its best.”

Not our scallops on ‘Top Chef,’ says Rick Tramonto [Chicago Tribune]
So Much at Steak and Freezed Out, pt.1 [Bravo]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.