Richard Blais

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

on Aug 26, 2009

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.