Richard Blais

Richard Blais breaks down the new and improved Top Chef Kitchen.

on Aug 26, 20090

At this point in the season, the pack is still so large that not all of the contestants' food gets air time and we don’t hear the judges’ recapping. So, I’m going to continue looking at Top Chef from an angle is unique and resourceful (I hope) until our crew gets whittled down a bit more and we get to know the chefs.

Last week, I gave some insight into the social interactions and acclimating necessary for our chefs to succeed in a very new personal environment, living with 15 or so weirdos, getting used to bunk beds and communal bathrooms, as well as preparing for a long grind in a pressure-filled environment. They also have to get used to their other new home — the Top Chef kitchen.

We are all very aware of the shiny GE monogram ranges and ovens, the war room wall of microwaves, and the glossy stainless steel work tables that comprise the set. What you may not know, and what’s almost impossible to document during the chaos of competition, is exactly what else is in the kitchen—the table top appliances, the gadgets and gizmos, the spice racks and hand tools.

As the show becomes more popular, and as more talent competes featuring diverse cooking styles, the kitchen, each season, gets, and very appropriately so for Las Vegas, upgraded.

I’ve had the good fortune of, besides competing in Season 4, also appearing in Season 5, and Top Chef Masters. I can say the kitchen upgrades have been significant each time. Mostly, it is the previous competitors that spur the additions. If a past contestant introduces an ingredient or tool, it seems to appear in the next season’s pantry.

As I write this, I’m reminded of the SNL skit where Dana Carvey (I believe), playing an old-timer with a bone to pick.

"In my day," we didn’t have immersion circulators and liquid nitrogen. We didn’t have gellan gum and rotary evaporators. If we wanted ice cream, we churned it ... by hand, for hours and hours. We had wood, and fire, and coal! We would kill our own meat! We would make guacamole by grinding our avocados on a piece of stone with bloody knuckles ... and we liked it!

Here’s a brief summary of some equipment you may not know about, and what it may do to help our chefs this year.

iSi syphons or “foam canisters” - Popularized by Marcel Vigneron in Season 2 of Top Chef and Legendary Spanish Chef, Ferran Adria. Invented by neither. These containers, which most of you see in use at Starbucks for whip cream, can create airy textures, melting mouth feels, carbonate, inflate, aerate, chill, and basically manipulate. Although foam gets a bad wrap, these hand-held tools used to appear in TC Kitchen if a contestant brought one in as a special secret hand tool. These canisters, once only available as a chefs secret piece of equipment, are now at a chef's disposal in the storage area.

16 comments
wayne
wayne

I would like to know which knife brand do most of the "top chef" chefs prefer.

Viewer
Viewer

Richard, First let me echo that you should have won last season. You had , consitantly , outstanding dishes, some of which I never saw. It's unfortunate that you chose Pork Belly for your final dish. Being southern, I've used pork belly (salt pork, side meat, fat back, or whatever you want to call it) to season greens, beans etc. Never have I used it for a main dish, but that's just me.

Now for the best part. I LOVE that you are giving us "behind the scenes" info. Your posts are the most interesting to me. I always wondered about such things and now with your post, I have answers.

Keep it up.....

Rachel
Rachel

Chef- great blog, glad to have your POV adding to the season! Keep it up!

David
David

@Lynda - Actually, if you watch S-1, Harold kvetched all the time. He complained about pretty much every challenge until the wine-truffle contest. Of course, he also won most of them.

As for all the wonderful techniques and ingredients, it just reinforces my contention that Top Chef is to most cooking (including most restaurant cooking) as the NFL is to touch-football with your family on Thanksgiving. Both of them, pro and home version, are fun. But they are very different animals.

Koji Attwood
Koji Attwood

Love the grumpy old man reference, Richard, haha.

I'm oooooold! And I'm not happy! And I don't like things now compared to the way they used to be. All this progress -- phooey! In my day, we didn't have these cash machines that would give you money when you needed it. There was only one bank in each state -- it was open only one hour a year. And you'd get in line, seventeen miles long, and the line became an angry mob of people -- fornicators and thieves, mutant children and circus freaks -- and you waited for years and by the time you got to the teller, you were senile and arthritic and you couldn't remember your own name. You were born, got in line, and ya died! And that's the way it was and we liked it!

jtc
jtc

Thanks for this breakdown of the equipment. It's particularly nice to get this, given how less and less camera time is being given to the actual food preparation these days. And thank you for mentioning pressure cookers. I have been wondering why we see so little use of them, given the time constraints on Top Chef. It seems to me that pressure cookers would open up a whole new range of possibilities for ingredients that would usually need much more time to be made edible than is usually afforded in the challenges.

Jenn
Jenn

Awesome blog! Thanks for the inside look at some of the equipment that are available for use in the challenges. Can you give us an inside look at the food and other ingredients that are available? It always amazes me - especially in the quickfires - how the cheftestants can find what they need so quickly to produce such amazing food.

Crystal
Crystal

I always enjoy your blogs. I like how you break down certain elements so that the layperson, that would be me, may not look for. I think it is very interesting and even telling that TC continues to upgrade each season. It means that the show itself is growing and learning about what chefs use and it is a good way of showing the public on how we can expect or theorize how our food is prepared when we go out to eat.

Steph in ATL
Steph in ATL

Thanks Chef!! I love info like this, it always makes me feel like I've got an inside line. And a reason to pause the Tivo and go back...my hubby and I have to watch TC separately because of this.

Marsha
Marsha

Hi Richard, thanks for the good inside info. But, what do you mean by a secret tool or ingredient? Are the chef contestants allowed to bring their own equipment and ingredients, or are they kept hidden from the rest? Please explain. TIA

Weim Girl
Weim Girl

Anne,

You may have been in a hurry when you scanned the article. It is rather apparent that Chef intends to imply (as he writes in the blog):

{[ "As I write this I’m reminded of the SNL skit where Dana Carvey (I believe), playing an old-timer with a bone to pick.

"In my day...," " Etc., etc.]}

I'm fairly certain he was writing with Dana Carvey's sarcastic voice as his narrative. NOT Wacko.

Lynda S
Lynda S

Richard,

Is that really a picture of you on this blog page? Have you undergone a transformation via liquid nitrogen of self?

I realize that you speak with tongue firmly in cheek, however, your comments almost seem rank with bitterness. Yes, you were extraordinary in "your time". I fully expected you to win. Maybe, you COULD have won if you didn't choke in the Finale Part Deux. But you ended up 3rd (behind loathsome Lisa). So, please move on and stop patting yourself on the back or your arm will fall off.

The S-1 contestants have more of a beef than you. They were holed up in a dump with no pool table, swimming pool, perks and the least equipment and ingredients of today. Do you see Harold gripe and moan about it? No, he played the cards he was dealt.

Jessica
Jessica

I love your comments!

You mention "secret hand tools" and "secret ingredients" - what are the rules for contestants bringing tools on the show?

kimgar
kimgar

Love your blog, Richard, but the word is 'whittled."

Taking the boyfriend to Flip for his 35th and we can't wait. Thanks again for all the insight. It's great to see your pieces on here and in Creative Loafing!

Anne
Anne

I was reading Richards take on the new upgrades to Top Chef Kitchen when my eyes scanned over him saying something about "In my day we didnt have liquid nitrogen, blah blah blah"

WHAT? He is the reason that its so popular on TC! WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT?

Wacko

Lauren
Lauren

i'm not trying to be mean or anything, but who the h is that in what's supposed to be richard's picture? you look totally different...