Breaking Bread with ...

Forget the Foo Fighters, rock-star chef Grant Achatz answers our questions about his experience as guest judge.

Nov 25, 2008 Do you watch Top Chef regularly? If so, who has been your favorite chef on all the seasons?
Unfortunately I do not. I rarely watch TV in general, always too busy working. I watched two episodes last year however, making it a priority because I knew two of the contestants. I was pulling hard for Blais -- I had worked with him at the French Laundry back in 1997 -- but was happy to see Stephanie win; she is a respected chef here in Chicago. It is often said that soup is the true sign of a chef's ability. Do you think that's true? What are the keys to making a successful soup?
I thought a true sign of ability was eggs?? Maybe that was 90 years ago ... Soup is easy. Great soup is hard. With soup you have the opportunity to build a complex layering of flavors. First the aroma blast, then the mid palette ... and finally the finish. I also find texture to be critical. Often soups are either too thin, and more than likely too thick. Finessing a soup to a silky consistency requires a light touch and a real understanding of how ingredients work. So yes ... to make a truly great soup, you need to be a great chef, but wait -- isn't that true with everything?? How do you think the chefs did with the first curveball of having to take the ingredients they were working with and make soup?
Most did quite well, a few struggled. The fact that they were working from recipes that were intended to be composed plates of solid components, and then had to transform the concepts into a soup form had to be difficult. Especially Leah's. White asparagus and raw tuna pose some challenges. She impressed me with that one. Which soups stood out to you?
Leah's White Asparagus was the best on all levels for me. It was a great interpretation of the original recipe, showcased the focal flavors, and tasted great ... she rocked it out. Carla and Jamie put forth some great stuff ... as well as Danny. I think Fabio was trying too hard. He is a smart guy ... and read me and my cooking style ... so he went for a more advanced approach to technique to try and impress ... but it was a bit off. To me that is a sin. Play with fancy technique only if you can make the overall dish better. Onto the Elim Challenge, are you a Foo Fighter fan?
I am now. But somehow they skipped my radar. Not surprising ... from 1995 to 2005 I was buried in work in environments without music. We don't allow music in our kitchens unlike most. No boombox or iPods allowed. I have basically lived a Monk-like life revolving around cooking since I was 22.