- Message Boards
Eli Kirshtein is 25 years old. He wears t-shirts perhaps a bit too tight for his frame. His white clogs, were, well, once that color. He runs awkwardly, like a newborn foal. His hairstyle is somewhere between Crash bandicoot and the Wisconsin badger. He lives in his parents’ basement. And his comedic presence: a ratio of three parts “I’m smarter than you” and one part “I just put my foot in my mouth” gives him a very George Costanza-esque television personality.
That’s what most of you know about Eli. In reality, I know him much better.
Eli showed up at my doorstep, as an aspiring chef, when he was 17 years old. At a time when I was just figuring out how to run a kitchen, a time when no one knew me from “atom.” Before molecular gastronomy was even a term used, Eli wanted to learn from me. He was my first. That sounds weird. But he was the first person I ever hired that was there to work for me … not a paycheck.
That first year was memorable.
Most notably, was the time we were cooking for a critic we identified in the dining room, and Eli almost sent out some badly cooked shrimp. I’d never yelled at anyone before or since like I yelled at him that day. So much so, that a manager wanted to send me to the hospital because veins were visibly pulsing on my neck for many minutes even after the moment passed.
And speaking of hospitals, one afternoon while I was in the office, Eli came in sucking his thumb, mumbling something. Turns out he was mumbling about cutting his thumb. I put him in a car with a blood-soaked towel with one of our captains and sent him off to the ER. As they were pulling away, he told me to check his cutting board. Odd? But there amongst some chiffonade red-stemmed Swiss chard lay the tip of his thumb, nail, flesh and all. Not knowing what to do, I put it on ice and in the fridge on his station. Hours later, when he finally came back, I think I dared him to eat it.
And while he didn’t take me up on that dare, I once challenged him to down a shot glass of fish sauce. He slurped it back like Patron, while the rest of us gagged.
And when I got my first executive lesson in corporate downsizing, it was Eli, the youngest and most capable of absorbing the loss of his job (he was in high school) that I had to let go. I told him the decision was strictly business and about labor cost. That it had nothing to do with him, or certainly his passion or skill.
I’ll see you tomorrow, Chef. Unpaid. Tomorrow, turned into years. Paid of course.
From there, the story gets much better for Eli. He heads off to the Culinary Institute of America. He works, unpaid again, in any New York City restaurant that will have him. Alain Ducasse, Daniel, Le Bernardin. And he returns to Atlanta to become a leader in the town he loves. But winds changed and Eli followed me on the worst career move of my life, to work with me in Miami. He sleeps on my couch, or wherever bourbon lays him down that night. My career is half a mess but Eli is always there, right by my side.
For our daily lunch at one of our restaurants he would ask me to name a chef and a year and he would make a dish they would have produced, during the time frame. Tower of portabello and duck confit: Alfred Portale ’91. Short rib on celery root puree: Colicchio, Gramercy Tavern, ‘98. Poached halibut in a nage of chanterelles: Eric Ripert, ‘94. “Pre Gilbert LeCoze’s passing!” He would exclaim.
Did I mention Eli was, maybe, 22 at this point?
Eli's exit was classy, especially for such a young chef. It's an achievement to come in fifth in the deepest season of contestants ever on Top Chef.
What a wonderful tribute for Eli!! I actually like Eli on the show. I'm disappointed by all those statements from those judgmental jerks who forgot about their own youth. Hell, when I was his age and anyone asked me for an opinion, damn if I didn't give it even if I wasn't fully aware of what I was talking about - just being happy someone asked.
And I'll never understand this Country's problem with adult children living at home. The Royalty of Europe and the corporate rich here in the States having been doing it for centuries and are much more financially well off. As long as you contribute to the household - you are actually in a better place to help care for the ones you love. Both physically and financially.
Richard, this was a wonderful read. You're absolutely right that many of us viewers think we know the contestants based on following them around in a highly artificial setting. Thank you for letting us see Eli behind the scenes. It was truly touching. I wonder if a boss of mine will ever write something about me in such glowing terms - I doubt it. It's clear from this both that Eli is incredibly talented, and that you, sir, are a class act.
This was such a great season! With Robin's departure last week, I was so happy with the final five chefs ... liked each one personally and professionally. Although I'm a Jen fan at heart, have liked Eli since the beginning. And I can't wait to visit Atlanta next year to check out the great restaurant scene!
Richard, I am a convert! You have humanized Eli for me and all of us who, I now realize vividly, only see what the editors allow us to see. If you believe in Eli as a chef and a person, that's enough for me! I am a believer! Thanks
Thank you for sharing this with us. As much as I liked Eli before, and was sad to see him pack up on last night's show, I like him even better now. If he has impressed someone with your ability, kindness and integrity, then I wish him the best - wholeheartedly - as I wish you and your family.
If I ever get to Atlanta, one of my top priorities is to eat at one of your establishments!!!!
Cool story. It's great to hear the learned chef's passion for food is deeply rooted in a life of friendship and mentoring.
What an incredible read! I know Eli is young and he will go far, having the experience and knowledge he showed on TC with the competition, makes him exceptional for his age and getting a glimpse of him from a former boss says alot. Thanks for a great blog read.
Beautifully said. Your article not only gave a peek of the path Eli has taken to achieve his skill, but it also shines with the friendship we can all tell you feel for him. Eli was one of our favorites to watch & sorry to see him leave. It will be fun to see where he goes from here. Certainly UP.
Thank you Richard (my other son) and thank you Top Chef. I am Eli's mother, and I have waited many weeks to write this. Eli's dad and sister and I have all watched as Eli has grown from a boy, "Blais's boy", to an incredible young man. We know that he put every part of himself into this competition just as he does everything else.We sat with him last night and watched what we knew the outcome was going to be. We all wept, and we all felt incredibly proud to be his family. As his mother, I feel particular pride in his work ethic and his integrity. He is loving and honest,sometimes to his detriment. So, to my son, may I say to you that you have made the the proudest mom on earth. I am Honored to be your mother.
Richard, that was...well....that was an amazing story and very eye-opening. It was really enlightening to hear from you about who Eli was and is. I honestly admit to not digging him at all on the show. I thought he was arrogant, snotty, rude and thought his talent was beyond what it was. Now, I would be hypocritical if I said that now all that has changed, but I can say this. After learning more about the man and the chef I will definitely give him the benefit of the doubt, assume some of his asshatery was due to editing and stress and allow that he might be an excellent chef, just not in this context. Top Chef isn't for everyone and there are plenty of great chefs that cannot shine in that situation. So I wish Eli luck and good things in life and thank you again Richard for sharing with us.
Richard, thanks so much for sharing this personal side or your relationship....I had no idea until Eli mentioned you on last night's episode. Proud of both of you guys....thanks for putting Atlanta on the culinary map!
Thanks for this fantastic post, chef! It shows us a side of Eli (and of you) that we would never have gotten from just watching. You're both all class.
Thank you so much for the background on Eli. You were my favorite on your season and he was my favorite on this one. It's great to see how wonderful your friendship/bond is with him. Reminds me of one of mine. The best of luck to you and him.
P.S. Eli's mom - your comment was very touching...brought me to tears (more than when I saw the episode).
Great story! Thanks for sharing... People like you, Eli, and Kevin make those of us fortunate enough to live in Metro Atlanta proud! Not to mention the fact that some truly great meals are also created here.
My wife and I were watching the show and frequently remarked how this was, by far, the best group of five chefs assembled on Top Chef. Eli was impressive.
One thing for sure, there's good food happening in Atlanta.
This was a great read. Because it's television the chefs are made into characters, and sometimes it's easy to forget they are real human beings. This has been very insightful, and I'm sure Eli will be a chef to watch in the upcoming years.
ok,im a romantic sap, and this is one of the sweetest things i have read in a long lonnng time. i loved watching Eli on TC especially since he just has fun with food and u can tell. I hated to see him go, but i agree, the best is yet to come for him. Blais, thanks for this perspective on Eli. It may (i will not confirm) have brought a tear to my eye. you are a best friend indeed, and i think this is what reminds me what passion is all about. peace.
What a great read, thank you for sharing. Such insight into Eli was wonderful, he seemed like such an oddball at times on the show. Being in the business, your relationship is common and rare at the same time, you are great mentor who has a lot to give. Pass it on.
What a beautiful read! Thanks for sharing Eli's background and allowing us to understand him on a more personal level.
Eli could be grating on the show, but I suspected it had to do with his age and the pressure (and of course editing). This post makes for a much more rounded picture, and definitely make's me respect Eli a lot more! it shows his true drive to learn. Dedication, loyalty, intensity. Glad you posted.
Once again a great blog...regarding Eli..you obviously have affection for him but I found him to be very hostile and rude towards Robin, to the point I was hoping he woudn't make it to the final four. I hope he learns from watching himself on Top Chef.
Thanks for you comments, it is easy to see the contests in one light b/c of editing, but you remind use that the chefs at this level have a very deep and personal commitment to their craft. Eli does seem like someone that I would hire (if I ran a restaurant), which says more about him than me and is probably one of the highest compliments you can pay somebody.
What a great story! It took me awhile to warm up to Eli. I feel like I know him after reading your post. What a great kid! Thanks for sharing this post.
That was like the nicest thing I have ever read. Not only are the Atlanta chefs talented, but humble and kind. (Did you see Kevin G. give Jen a wink when she won the quickfire last night?) You make our city burst with pride and we are awe of your craft. Well done!
thank you for sharing this via your twitter --- we are weeks behind in Top Chef so it was nice to read a little ahead and assume he is still around for a while. great article! great chefs from atlanta!!!
Awwwww Blais, you made me shed a tear! It was tough for me to see anyone leave this episode, this is the only season of Top Chef where I didn't want anyone of the 5 remaining contestants to pack their knives and go. While I did not like how Eli treated Robin this season, he seems like a genuinely decent-down-to-earth kind of guy who knows how to cook, and your blog made me like him even more. Have to visit Atlanta soon and dine in both (and KEvin's) your restaurants.
Blais...I love your reading your blog each week and I know you're a personal friend of Eli's, but I would have liked to get a little more of your perspective on the entire episode. An entire blog dedicated to Eli was a little hard to stomach (no pun intended).
It was nice to see Eli get a good edit on his last show. His comments about you as well as his classy exit has done a lot to redeem him in the eyes of viewers this season. Richard you are a badass blogger and a great chef. Momof6 Richard made a pun when he posted "don't know me from Atom" since Blais is known for molecular gastronomy. The man is just too smart and clever for his own good.
I'm glad you like Eli, but it hasn't changed by opinion of him. I'm not sure this blog was appropriate; it sounded like a eulogy.
What a delicious read! I'm so proud of all my Atlanta chefs. Each of you have shown real class and generosity while in extremely stressful circumstances. The beautiful of bond of friendship and love between brothers of different mothers was so satisfying to read, that I feel like I just ate my favorite dessert. Once again Blais had left me feeling better than I did before our encounter. Bravo!
I have to admit I shed a tear when Eli got eliminated & now reading your history with him I again shed some tears. What a loyal friend he has been, I know in your business it can get cut-throat so this is a testimony that friendship can endure. By the way I loved seeing you having so much fun on the reunion show that Fabio hosted.
Eli will go far, he is an excellent chef, hey maybe Kevin will hire him.
A lovely story from a nice man about a friend. I think Eli should be proud that he made it so far. A great accomplishment for such a young man.
Eli was a tool who was overdue for getting booted from the competition. His behavior towards Robin and his throwing Ashley under the bus told me everything I needed to know about him. Good riddance.
Great read Richard. (Still upset you didn't win, grr.) Shows how some people have a great compassion in their craft and will go all out to succeed. Not sure if it was the editing, but he really looked liked an a*hole to most viewers. Now you've humanized him. Take care.
people are so so critical and IT MAKES ME MAD.eli is a great contender. thanks for completing the circle
Wow. Had no idea from your recent blogs you even knew Eli.
Thank you for sharing that. It makes a big difference in how I view him (not that I didn't already think he was extremely talented).
Damn, I love this. This is the best of Top Chef - excellent chefs with great values. Blais, we are all so lucky to have met you. Eli, it's so cliched but you rock. Eli's mom - even more proud of you for supporting your son.
Thanks to all of the top chef contestants for choosing your passion over the safety of a boring career. Your passion is beautiful art we get to enjoy. Now, will someone pass me some of Kevin's lamb...
Wow, such a nice message and I love the Eli's mom commented. I'd be proud too, at 25 I was in grad school, he's accomplished so much. momof6 "atom" was a play on words.
wow, i really enjoyed reading that. what a great testament to friendship and sharing a passion. although i am just a server, not a chef, i love the industry so completely. i believe you have to be an artist, and i love to be a part of the dance. thank you. and if you have any pull, lol, i totally want to try out for top server....hint bravo!
Thank you for sharing this. I liked Eli throughout the entire show - I thought his honesty and passion were right on and I'm glad the editors let us see his whole person (I like his wit and think it fits perfectly with someone who would write "don't know me from atom!"). As others have said-what a great Top Chef season this is, down to five stellar contributors. Congrats to the final five and Richard thanks for your enlightening blogs.
Look at this young man now and think about what he will ultimately become. Wow. So impressed. He may be young, but he has a long and great career ahead of him. He has been fun to watch - he will be missed. Richard, your insight was neat to read. You are truly generous to share your experiences with Eli with all of us. Makes us all like him even more.
Silly, Richard! You should have taken Eli's thumb tip immediately to the hospital for it to be reattached!
I was not/am not a fan of Eli's,however, I am a HUGE fan of Richard. Therefore, I will rethink my opinions of Eli in a more gentle fashion. Richard is grace under fire. If he thinks that Eli is great then perhaps he is.
I do think that a little more maturity and a little less mouth would be a grand addition.