In tonight’s episode, Eli mentions in an interview that he wasn’t really sure if Joël Robuchon existed. That somehow, he may actually be just a myth. Somewhere between Big Foot, unicorns, and UFOs. It was a very appropriate comment for someone from our generation. The legend of Robuchon, for most of us, lives by the recipe of his signature mashed potato. A picture of a terrine of langoustine surrounded by a thousand dots of the greenest thyme leaf puree. Or the whispers of how he would hire apprentices whose sole purpose was to precisely slice chives, and then individually plate rings of the sliced onion in intricate circles.
I believe I started that last bit of lore, but it has kept a lot of my own students on their toes!
But here he is ... in person ... Yoda.
And as it was with Yoda, he is surrounded by the rest of the High Council. Masters who carry not the title of Jedi, but of “French Chef.” And there really isn’t a more accurate and fitting metaphor than that.
The French are the pioneers of fine dining in our galaxy. They are steeped in tradition and history. And even amongst a world filled with culinary bounty hunters and badasses, they will always slay a vagabond with a blaster. The Boba Fetts of our industry may have their immersion circulators and Paco Jet packs. Their smoking guns and Class IV lasers. But armed with only a spoon, the French are the culinary Illuminati, both to be feared and admired.
Their only weakness could be their self aggrandizement. As witnessed by our own Frenchman of the cast, Mattin. It seemed he was almost done in by his own overconfidence and righteousness.
Cooking amidst mythical creatures, living legends, and Jedis, I can only imagine our chefs’ emotions. Cooking snails for a Quickfire was tough. Cooking snails under a time restraint and in a new kitchen, tougher. Knowing the consequence for a loss means packing your knives. Priceless from a viewer’s perspective—probably evil from a contestant’s, though.
Interpretation presents itself for the first time as the buzz word for victory.
Preparing the classical protein or sauce in the style of Escoffier may get you to the next round, but to win, there must be artistic vision. Which, by the way, is another arena where the French have been known to excel.
As Robuchon speaks, the table quiets and the guests lean in to hear the great leader. His musings and utterances are like nectar to his enthralled parishioners. I’m all ears! And his comments are as inspiring to me through a small screen, as they seemed to be for our judges in person. I’d even guess that they were smitten. It reminded me of the good fortune I’ve had to hear sermons from the likes of Daniel, Adria, and Thomas Keller. To hear them talk about flavor, not solely from a cooking perspective but from an eating perspective. As it is with religion, even though there are many different disciplines, books and gods, they all generally speak to the same point.
The frog doesn’t accentuate the frog flavor. The poussin is overpowered. Harm no one. Give freely, be nice.
In the end, artistic interpretation or divine focus will not be sending someone home. It comes down to simple execution. And I’m reminded of a passage from some ancient religion, that existed a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
“Do or do not ... there is no try.”
Thanks for checking in this week and don’t forget to check out my companion piece “Second Helping” over at Creative Loafing.
And find me on Twitter @richardblais
You get an A+ for comparing the hierarchy of the culinary world to that of Star Wars because that was AWESOME. As always, it's a pleasure to read your blog.
Richard, you are becoming an EXCELLENT blogger. Love your blog and your observations are right on the money.
It was great to have such a powerful culinary presence at the table. Someone who could crush Tom Colicchio's ego with the mere thought of a gesture. Disappointed though that at such a prestigious opportunity came down to not being able to properly cook the chateaubriand. I hope they continue to gather some of the world's best chefs to appear in some of these episodes. And as another jedi said: Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squish like grape.
The Yoda comparison is appropriate. I mentioned to my boyfriend as we watched that Robuchon holding forth reminded me of the Dalai Lama.
I love your bogs. Always insightful and funny, keep up the great work for people like us who can't seem to get enough of the show.
Richard, your blog rocks. It's informative while still being light and entertaining to read. Please continue to blog Top Chef!
I love you blogs. Their informative AND entertaining to read. Plus, some of your metaphors and analogies are instant classics. Yoda? Learn from him we will yes?
Richard: You are AWESOME!!!!! I have a "bucket list" (Yes, the mirror tells me I am older and older every day:) ) The top 2 desires on my list(the rest are boring) are as follows: #2: To meet Tim Gunn and #1: To meet you and eat some of your delicious food. You cook with such finess and have SO MUCH class! I admire your sense of fair play tremendously! How wonderful of you to recognize Stephanie's abilities (although I will always believe you should have won) by giving her your prize! You are a credit to the culinary world. How lucky your wife and child are! BLOGGERS: Does anyone else dislike Mike I. as much as I do? He is very obnoxious and Bryan V.'s back must hurt alot from carrying Mike I.!!!!
Richard, I've come to look forward every week to your blog. More than always entertaining, I've learned so much.
I wish you had your own show.
tres bien!! also tres bien to Jennifer Carrroll and Michael Voltaggio, I felt their dish was better received and spoken of by the revered Joel Robuchon and Tom I have actually never heard him compliment the chefs as he so did by saying Jennifer and Michael are young chefs, yet they presented and executed a very mature dish, Then Tom complimented Jennifer Carroll at Judges's Table by saying to her, "Jennifer, your Chaussen Hunter's Sauce was BRILLIANT"!! There was more complexity and techniques involved and shown by Jennifer Carroll and Michael Voltaggio
I have always liked you, Stephanie and Carla (from Season 5). The three of you show how to cook with passion, love, skill, professionalism and seem very calm while doing all of this and keep it "real" without hamming for the cameras or trying to "put yourself out there" so that a big name chef sees you on tv and, hopefully, hires you. Keep it up and I hope I get to someday eat in one of your restaurants.
Jeffrey Steingarden has a colleague in you, Richard. Your blogging is reminding me of why great food writers get read. Its thought provoking, informative, and literary.