Breaking Bread with ...

The renowned chef answers our questions about the Le Bernardin challenge.

Feb 4, 2009 First the Quickfire, what is the most difficult fish to filet correctly?
They all have their own challenge. Since the sardines are so tiny and fragile, it’s definitely not an easy task to fillet them. It is a very fatty fish and the more you keep them out of refrigeration the more they become inconsistent, almost like a piece of soft butter. The arctic char is very similar to salmon and they both have a very delicate flesh, and an ultra-thin spine, and fish bones that are not easy to locate and follow. The eel is certainly the most challenging. Even after they are dead they move a lot, they are very bloody, and their skin is very difficult to remove. It’s also a fish that you don’t see very often and therefore few people have experience filleting it. How do you think the chefs did filleting their fish?
Stefan definitely did very well on that challenge. The arctic char was his weakness but it was very acceptable. Carla really sabotaged the sardines. Hosea in particular did an excellent job on the arctic char. The group overall reflects what I see all the time with young chefs and line cooks — they are uncomfortable and lack confidence in filleting fish. It’s one of the basics of learning how to cook, therefore I always encourage our team (or anyone) to spend time with the fish butcher to learn better techniques. When Leah gave up on the arctic char, what were you thinking?
Gone baby gone … Onto the Elimination: Which dishes do you think were the hardest to replicate?
At Le Bernardin we focus mostly on flavors and harmony between all the components of the dish keeping in mind that the fish is the star of the plate. Since fish is so delicate we believe in not overcomplicating and overwhelming a dish. Presentation is never the priority at first. All our focus is in the technique and the precision used to build flavors. Looking at one of our dishes, it can be deceiving and appear extra simple, but that is our intention and challenge. However, as soon as you taste it you enjoy a subtle complexity of textures and refined flavors. For example, the black bass, the dish that Jaime had to reproduce, represents our style and philosophy the most and therefore was the most difficult to replicate.