Knowing how to please a picky diner was the true test of this Elimination Challenge. After all, chefs are key members of the hospitality industry and should know that the customer is always right. Children may not have the most sophisticated palates but the point here was never to educate or enlighten them - it was to serve them something they would not usually eat, in a way they could relate to and enjoy.
I could not believe how arrogant many of our contestants were and how superior they acted in the face of their task. Here was a chance to have a little fun, engage a room full of smart, adorable, enthusiastic kids and nourish them too... What a great opportunity to show your versatility as a chef! That is why, despite their rocky start and Stephen's snooty attempt at speaking French, the red team won. They created a menu that was clever, tasty and playful. It was consistent and well cooked. Unlike the Blue Team's soggy carrots, which the kids picked up on immediately, proving even immature diners know when food is badly prepared. They also had a clear leader in Lisa who guided them using her obvious expertise. Making lunch an interactive activity didn't hurt thm either. Kids love getting involved and those dipping sauces gave them a good excuse.
In addition, there was something so perfect about Chefs Tom Colicchio and Laurent Manrique judging Episode Three's Elimination Challenge together. There are few chefs who know more about catering to all levels of dining, from lavish and sophisticated to simple and casual, than they do. Both are chef/owners of award-winning temples of fine dining, Craft and Aqua respectively. But recently, both have come to appreciate that people do not always want the fuss and frenzy of a long, complicated meal and have opened eateries that appeal to a broader spectrum of customers, for diners of all ages to enjoy.
I eat at Craft restaurant in New York as often as I can. But time and again I return to Tom's take out bakery and sandwich shop 'wichcraft. In fact, I probably grab a latte and some sort of gooey treat for breakfast or any of his outstanding sandwiches for lunch several times a week (lucky for me there is a 'witchcraft two blocks from my office). And I know that New Yorkers young and old line up there daily to indulge in his great food too. So when I arrived in San Francisco to film Top Chef I immediately set out to find a comfy local spot for good coffee and lunch. Laurent's Cafe de la Presse hit the spot. When not on set I often lingered there sipping Cafe au Lait in front of my laptop, or eating a Salade Nicoise and French Onion Soup. And just like at 'wichcraft, I was always surrounded by families with their children.
I love this trend of acclaimed chefs opening more casual restaurants, after they have established themselves in the world of haute cuisine. Coincidently, another great San Francisco example was located just steps from our Episode Three shoot at the Boys & Girls Club. Craig Stoll (Food & Wine Best New Chef 2001), who wowed critics across the country with his creative mix of California and Italy at Delfina , had just opened a tiny pizzeria next door. That night, after hours of discussing Monkey Dogs and Baked Fish Nuggets, I wanted the real thing! Delfina's romantic room, innovative pastas, oven roasted fish and meats were, for me, a very grown-up end to our long day with the kids. Tom, however, had other ideas and headed straight to Pizzeria Delfina for a classic Neapolitan pie.
Just goes to show, even grown-up diners need choices. But I assure you; over-cooked will never be one of them!