Friday, September 21, 2007

Top Chef: French Culinary Shakedown

One of the thrills of Top Chef (a favorite of the TIGBG crew) is witnessing a hotly- debated cooking question get played out amongst the contestants: which works better- talent or technique, home-spun cookin' or classic preparations? This week's episode gave us that match-up on the silver plate of the classic-contemporary French kitchen.

A few years back I was fortunate enough to take a beginner's class at the French Culinary Institute. While the program did a great job exposing me to the authentic preparation techniques, my teachers made no bones that they were actually babysitters to us armchair cooks. I can only imagine that the real students (like TC Season 1's Lee Anne) got worked for every roux. The training is militaristic and impeccable; a true French kitchen heeds no shorthand or laziness. When Anthony Bourdain writes that Andre Soltner "[speaks] from the mountain top", you better listen up.

So it came as no surprise that Hung exceeded in this contest, and the more 'bottoms-up' chefs like Dale and Brian scuttled about like nervous freshman. However, Casey astutely read the situation and dipped into her French heritage enough to impress the panel. For these judges, the technique won over tradition, but it was a surly race. Hung was is his comfort zone, but the home-spun cook might have leverage in the less sanitized conditions (beach bonfire anyone?).

Finally, did Bourdain unwittingly give us props? Check out the last line of his Top Chef blog... see ya at the screen next week.

No comments: