Kitchen skills vary at NBC’s omelette-off

Topchef It was the holding-company buyer versus the network seller. An overflow crowd of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed industry types turned up at 8 a.m. Monday at the NBC Studios at 30 Rock in New York for a Top Chef-style omelet-making competition between Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of WPP’s GroupM, and Michael Pilot, president of advertising sales and marketing at NBC. The face-off, part of the Advertising Week festivities, took place inside the famed Studio 8H, home to Saturday Night Live. In his opening remarks, O. Burtch Drake of the 4A’s set the we’re-here-to-have-fun tone of the gathering. He recalled an SNL encounter years ago when he was still an agency executive. Drake brought his college-age son to a taping, and shortly after the show began, the camera zoomed in on him with the superimposed tag, “Couldn’t get laid at Woodstock.” 

  As the competition was getting under way, there were some early signs that bets placed on Gotlieb would be smart ones. First, Gotlieb confirmed that he did indeed bring along his own set of cutlery. Asked about rumors that he was a classically trained gourmet chef, he laughed without answering the question. Meanwhile, the Pilot camp seemed resigned to having egg on its face by the end of the competition. One NBC wag was overheard saying that “Mike hasn’t seen a kitchen in his life, let alone been in one,” much to merriment of those around her.
  When the bell sounded, the contenders had 15 minutes to put together the most sumptuous omelet they could muster. Both Gotlieb and Pilot had one assistant each—aspiring chefs who appeared on last season’s version of Bravo’s Top Chef series. The differences in style became immediately apparent. Gotlieb was a whirling dervish on his side of the kitchen, chopping and dicing, carving and paring, conferring with his partner from time to time. Pilot did a lot of very capable egg whisking and very adeptly popped some bread into the toaster. At one point, Gotlieb, having chopped and diced about 20 different ingredients in 60 seconds flat, began sauteeing them in his omelet pan. He then pulled out a high-tech-looking device that he pointed at the pan. Turned out to be a state-of-the-art thermometer to make sure he didn’t overheat the skillet.
  No thermometers, high-tech or otherwise, appeared to be in use on the Pilot side of the studio kitchen. “Mike is so screwed,” lamented one media seller in the audience.
  The Gotlieb team finished first, although the contest was as much about taste (or rather tastiness) and presentation. It took little time for the panel of judges, including Tom Carroll of TBWA, to decide that the man who brought his own utensils can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan too. That is to say, Gotlieb won.
  Photo by roboppy.

—Posted by Steve McClellan

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