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Inspiration is a word I use often. It’s the backbone of my cuisine. And to any creative, it really means, “tell us about yourself.” It can come from anywhere, literally. But being too literal can undermine the beauty of being inspired.
By request today, (see, I read your comments!) I’ll give you a glimpse into how I may have handled each of our chefs flash point for inspiration.
Kevin gets the Mirage. He jokingly stumbles upon where my mind would have gone, a wordplay on mirage. It’s an oasis that in reality may be just a sandy wasteland. Using modern techniques, it’s quite simple to recreate an edible beach landscape, one that appears dry and desolate, yet underneath yields moisture and life. I would have “buried” a slow cooked protein in the sand of a fatty liquid made powdery with tapioca maltodextrin. The dish would look like a pile of sand, yet disappear in the taster’s mouth and reveal the dishes hidden treasures.
Jen, Excalibur. I actually liked her idea of the Sword and the Stone, as well as the choice of using the skewer to make the connection obvious and fun. Swordfish would have been an interesting choice if available. And stone quickly conjures up the idea of stone ground, or stone fruit to me. Maybe swordfish cooked on hot stones, with stone ground polenta and stone fruit.
Bryan, Mandalay Bay. I’ve stayed there recently, so I’m aware of the vibe. And you can’t ignore the inspiration of a giant aquarium in a cooking challenge. I’d go with a similar “Life Aquatic” theme here, incorporating an immersion circulator (after all, there’s a circulator in your fish tank at home) to reel in the theme of the big fish tank. Sorry for the pun! (No I’m not!) And, although I agree with Padma about the term fluid gel, it’s certainly more than appropriate for a pool of sauce on an all-things seafood dish. I suppose I wouldn’t be surprised to see an airy foam bubble on my dish as well.
Michael V, New York New York. Haven’t been to the hotel, but I’m a born and bred New Yorker. And Michael goes to a place where most creative do ... left field. The connection between NYC and firefighters sends his thought process to chicken wings. It’s a roundabout idea, but that is the thing with inspiration, sometimes you can’t control where it takes you. Explain it, as he did, and it’s valid. Without the visual cues of the hotel, I would have went to the Lower East side. The Jewish delicatessen Katz’ or Barney Greengrass, the same place Eli went during the Quickfire—aggressive flavors and acid. Corned beef, mustard, pickles, smoked fish, hot dogs, matzoh. That food, to me at least, is essential New York.
Ron Duprat. Sorry, but did anyone else really want to know what Ron Duprat would have done for this challenge?
Robin, Bellagio. This would have been my favorite. Like Robin, I am a huge Chihuly fan. She saw colors, I see shape and texture. She literally attempts to recreate glass. I would have simply used vegetables in all their glory. The roots, tips, stems and pigtail tops would symbolize the organic, fluid nature of Chihuly’s work. Using Isomalt, a less-sweet sugar substitute, to bring in the blown glass effect, perhaps to encapsulate some of the roasted vegetables. And I would have had to incorporate a nod towards the film Oceans 11, or 12, or 13. But I watch a movie here and there. Robin’s never seen Sesame Street.
Eli, Circus Circus. As most of his colleagues attested, this was a relative softball, because you eat at a circus, popcorn and peanuts amongst other things. Both seasonal ingredients during their filming, and ones in Eli’s wheelhouse, being from the South. I would have played the theme a bit darker here. There’s a certain smell to both a circus and a casino. Cheese comes to mind. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is elephant shit, but cheese is more palatable. A smoky, barnyard-y cheese, to serve with the sweet, salty ingredients that are common circus fare, a lamb dish, with sheeps’ cheese, popcorn, caramel, even cotton candy. Knowing Eli’s affection for caramel, I’m surprised that his dish didn’t come together.
But in all honesty, we are in a safe zone. The chefs who think they will make it to the finals are pulling the ball closer, making sure they don’t fumble. The ones doubting their chances are lunging forward, hoping to make an impression that will catapult them into the final rounds.
We will know shortly which tactic will work.
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Dude! Barney Greengrass is on the (shudder) Upper West Side. you're thinking Russ & Daughters. Better variety of smoked fish at the latter, too.
I enjoyed your comments and "what I would have done..." As you know by now, Robin is out. Perhaps her reaching for the stars each week by cooking things she was unfamiliar with, was to make a big impression on the judges. Unfortunately, that approach gave the impression that she didn't know how to put ingredients together and sent her home. Although I found her to be a nice lady, I tired of her discombobulated ideas winding up on the plate and her worn out excuses and pleas for another chance. She proved that keeping a bottom chef on past his/her prime is wrong. Better chefs went before her. I agree with your assessment of NYC food. I thought the same thing. Michael's dish did not feel very NYC to me. His brother's concept and execution seemed closer to the inspiration. I thought Kevin's initial idea to have sand and picture of his dish was smart and humorous. Thanks for your creative input here. Much appreciated!
Thanks for the insights. As a fan, it's fun to feel like part of the dialogue after the show is over. You must already have a "What Would Richard Do?" following after each of the challenges. Cheers! -Kristin Colier @kcolier
Seeing how taken you are with all things left field, I'm not surprised you're curious about Duprat. But really, he'd be lost in Mandalay's fish tank making clam chowder.
It's possible that the reason Michael's dish didn't seem like NYC is because wings are from Buffalo, NY not New York, NY. As a Buffalo native it really bugged me that he went there. His connection was tenuous at best. Although I'm sure they tasted yummy.
Richard, great blog as usual. I loved your sand idea. But for Circus Circus, the elephant sh*t was already done, in the Quickfire, on a shingle.
This was a really interesting post Richard, I would have loved to have seen you tackle this one head on! Great and very creative ideas... keep 'em coming.
Dude, you are soooo cool and funny. Your comment on what you smell at the circus, I was ROFLOL. Oh BTW, loved you on the reunion dinner show last week.
Ahhh, this blog makes me wish you HAD had this challenge during your season. All of your ideas sound mind-blowingly original and delicious to boot. I think your ideas for Excalibur excite me the most.
Hey Richard. I was watching Inside the NBA last week and nearly wet myself laughing at Charles Barkley trying your foie gras milkshake. That was hilarious!!
Thanks to the Top Chef reunion show the night before, I knew Flip Burger Boutique was your restaurant. Way to go Richard. That was awesome.
Richard, Great blog. A few of your inspirations sounded much better than the dishes than the cheftestants created! Thanks for sharing your creative mind with us. Robin.. never seen Sesame Street? Hilarious!
Interesting concept. I'm leaning towards Kevin, then Bryan, Then Jen if she can snap out of her exhausted state.I can't believe how tired she looks It's a shame, and i wonder if she ever really recuperated from being sick.
Richard, as usual, I loved your post! You continue to inspire me to become a better cook!! Thanks!! Goodefen: I think you are right about Duprat except that I think he would be in the fish tank trying to figure out how to deconstruct clam chowder!! LOL