Richard Blais

Richard Blais explains why this is one challenge he would have loved to have been a part.

on Sep 24, 2009

Deconstructing food sounds fairly simple. You take a dish apart, and then rebuild tinkering with texture, temperature, and design. Yet, you have the power to alter the diners’ experience, while maintaining the tradition and nostalgia of the original creation. As a matter of fact, I think it’s best to think of deconstruction in cuisine as a necessary process to upgrade and advance flavor.

Penn and Teller, our guests, are somewhat deconstructed themselves. They don’t wear the traditional garb of a magician. They don’t act the same, or talk the same. Well, one of them doesn’t even talk. And some of their tricks, as witnessed tonight, are classics. Cup and ball, sleight of hand. We’ve all seen it a thousand times. Just like we’ve eaten meat lasagna a thousand times. But doing it with clear cups! That would be like Kevin making translucent mole... Hold on, that gives me an idea ....

As I write this, I’m sitting on a hotel balcony a few doors down from two of the most world’s most famous culinary deconstructionists, Paco Torreblanca and Juan Mari Arzak from Spain. Yes, I’m name-dropping.  But it’s more than appropriate here considering the theme of the challenge.

These revered chefs, and some of our own “cheftestants,” get it. They can wax poetic about their reasoning for putting Caesar salad in the shop, and replacing the classic dressing with one made of an emulsified egg yolk cooked slowly at exactly 62.5 degree celsius, as Michael did. Or discuss how to capture the essence of a Mexican mole negro, in many dissected parts, as Kevin did ... and how the great Arzak did at the Star Chefs International Chef’s Congress this week.

For the record, making mole is like building a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle on the third story balcony of this midtown Manhattan hotel. Deconstructing mole would be throwing the puzzle overboard, running downstairs, and reorganizing it here on Park Avenue, during the lunch rush hour. That’s mole— loud, almost uncontrollable, raw, and chaotic.

With that being said, Kevin drew a dive with a high difficulty and he hit the water without a splash. Hard to imagine, I know, since we have actually seen Kevin’s pool entrance before.

Some of the easier draws in the challenge, Caesar salad and meat lasagna, get two entirely different approaches. But both display the range of what deconstruction can be.  Deconstruction does not have to feature foams, meticulously diced vegetables and encapsulated dressing. Michael Voltaggio runs his dish through the Wonka express. Jennifer just shines up a few parts. But at the end of the day both chefs get the desired reaction for a successful deconstruction. The dishes are reminiscent of the original. But better.

It’s rare that I watch an episode and say out loud that I would have loved to be a part of that challenge. This was one, regardless of the dish, as a creative thinker, what fun! Then, seeing the paella, the fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie, was really disappointing.

But there is a bigger problem here, a fatal flaw even. The bottom three were not there solely because of bad technique. They were called to judgment because of their inability to think creatively. Their inability to understand the theme of a challenge. Their inability to respect tradition enough to honor a classic dish.

What was made clear tonight, was that the chefs on the bottom of this challenge, do not have what it takes to win this competition.

We are on repeats next week, so I’ll see you all in two weeks!

Please find me on twitter @RichardBlais

Check out my ‘Second Helpings’ piece on OmnivoreAtlanta and at www.richardblais.net