It’s Trite, But Winning Top Chef Isn’t “Everything”

Author’s note:  This is a continuation of a series of blogs about the experience of watching my daughter, Chef Dakota Weiss,  make her way through Bravo TV’s Top Chef Texas, currently airing on Wednesday nights. 

Check for updates at bottom of post.

“June Gloom” also known as a “thick marine layer” that typically hangs over California’s coast during June, lasted most of the summer.  It was the kind of summer when I wore fleece instead of gauze while Dakota, in the hellish heat of Texas while filming this season’s Top Chef, wore a navy blue jacket in an even hotter kitchen.

I know how Dakota loves foggy days, belaying some of her Irish roots.  She was heavily on my mind as my foggy, cool July mismatched her over-heated days in a competitive Top Chef kitchen.  She was on her sister’s mind as well.

“Mom, I’m freaking out,” began her older sister calling from her office in Santa Fe.  “Last night I had the most miserable nightmare about Dakota. It felt real.”

“OMG! I did too!” I concurred.  “I dreamed that Dakota took a bucket of sand and threw it in the faces of the other chefs and then got kicked off the show.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling that something’s wrong,” her sister admitted.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” I tried to comfort.  “She’s been gone a long time and we just wanna hear her voice.”

A few days later the fog cleared and it was warm enough to sit in the sun.  It felt delicious.  The phone rang, I rushed to answer. I hoped it was Dakota.  It wasn’t , but the message was devastating: the judges told her, “Please pack your knives and leave.”

My stomach turned and tears filled my eyes.  I worried about Dakota.  How did this make her feel?  What happened?  Would she get over this? I fretted until we saw her later in August.

Her first words were, “I’m okay with it, Mama.  I wanted to go further, but I ran out of steam.”

“Did you get sick from the heat or something?”

“The heat sucked.  But Top Chef is a game—a reality game show where chefs move to win.  I learned that I’m not very competitive…and I did under cook the meat. Damn it!” Dakota, outfitted in her just-out-of-Texas gear laughed and grimaced at the same time.

And this made me think about how I raised my daughters.  I demonstrated a work ethic, which they have each reproduced.  The work ethic included education, determination, and quality product.  But I didn’t teach gamesmanship, because I’m not a great game player.  I’m pretty much what you see is what you get.  If you don’t like what I offer, I’ll find someone who does.

I see this echoed in both daughters. 

Dakota’s biggest lament, “I wish I was a little less emotional!”

“Dakota,” I began, “Emotion is what makes you an artist.  It’s what you are.  Without feelings—deep feelings—you don’t have the soul to create. So, you didn’t make it as far as you wanted, the fact is, you did ‘make it’ by winning a position on the show.  That’s pretty darn prestigious and a trophy in your corner that recognizes your talent.”

And now that I’ve watched the other cheftestants pack their knives, I don’t think one is less talented than the other.  Maybe some remaining cheftestants hired coaches to show them how to play.  Maybe not.  Maybe some trained to keep their physical energy up.  Maybe not.  Maybe some play better in front of a production team.  Maybe not. 

Dakota and the other 14 who packed their knives are in good company.  Anne Burrell was on the Daily Show on Monday. Here’s what she has to say about packing her chef’s knives when recently  bumped off of  Iron Chefs Super Chefs, “…it’s very difficult…it’s personal…”

Yeah, it would be cool to get that Season 9 Top Chef pin on your toque.  And it’s easy to make the trite statement that “winning isn’t everything,” because we all admit that winning is super cool.  Yet, really, winning isn’t everything.  “Everything” encompasses much more than a temporary award that brings momentary fame.   The chutzpah to audition for the show is a winner.  Cruising through all those interviews and tests is amazing.  Watching each chef perform and create is inspiring (except for the rattlesnake dish).

What my oversized television screen showed me  was the daughter I raised to be herself–with no excuses.  That’s winning.



Dakota explains the story to TV Guide“I was hurt by Nyeesha’s comments”



From TV Ology:  Dakota Stays Positive Despite Elimination


All Top Chef Podcast:


From TV Insider:  Top Chef Dakota: I Went Out In A Ball of Fury




5 thoughts on “It’s Trite, But Winning Top Chef Isn’t “Everything”

  1. Dear Dakota and Charmaine,
    I don’t know how any of the cheftestants were able to deal with the “intentional” pressure and stress placed on them by the show. It is very uncomfortable for me to watch any type of “reality” show because they purposefully try to make life incredibly miserable for the contestants, just for the cameras and ratings, at the expense of “real” people… But, to watch my cousin go through that experience was torture, knowing what a blessing she is to her family.
    I am extremely proud of how Dakota handled herself, especially when she stood up for Beverly when she was under an attack from her so-called “partner” during the game day episode. Dakota is an amazing chef and in my opinion she’s still a winner because she was chosen as one of the original contestants, and was respectful and courteous to the other chefs. Her daddy would be proud!
    Kisses on your noses,
    Cousin Cindi

  2. I’d like to make a comment but my heart is too full of awe. The bond you share with both your daughters – aah, if only with mine.

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