I’m back from Los Angeles, from the Emmy Awards. Traveling with my six-week-old was its own reward. As for the Emmys, being nominated was its own reward, too. This is Top Chef’s third year being nominated and the first year that Padma and I received nominations in the “Best Host(s)” category, and the warm reception that we have received each year has been amazing. It floors me to have people whose work I admire come up to me and say, “Hey, man, I love your show!” I don’t feel that television is actually my industry – I’m a chef – so I always feel a bit like a fish out of water, but when I said that to someone at the Emmys, they said, “Well, guess what – it IS your industry now!” It feels great for our show to be acknowledged when you consider how many reality shows are out there. And I must add that Neil Patrick Harris KILLED – he was great! He’s been a guest judge on Top Chef Masters, so it was cool seeing him up there having so much fun and doing such an excellent job as MC.
But meanwhile, back in Vegas… There’s one more behind-the-scenes logistics I’d like to clarify before discussing this week’s challenge. People ask whether the first to serve are at a disadvantage because they have less time to cook … or, conversely, whether the last to serve are at a disadvantage because their food’s grown old and cold … OK, while I know that in this episode we saw all the cheftestants walk into the kitchen together, and it seemed as though everyone started and finished cooking for the Elimination Challenge at the same time, in actuality, the cook times for the Elimination Challenges are often staggered to comport with the order in which the dishes will be served. This time, it took us a half-hour to taste, give a few comments, clear, and get ready for the next course, so we staggered the start times by forty five minutes. Our director is not on the set – he is directing the multi-camera shoot from “Video Village,” a room in a remote location, where he is surrounded by screens showing him what each of the six cameras is doing, and he is communicating remotely with the camera crew, instructing them to zoom in and out to get the coverage he wants. Meanwhile, the set itself is the domain of the Assistant Director, Hogan, and he does a phenomenal job. From Day One, he has timed the staggered starts and finishes perfectly. Hot food never sits around. Every chef has the same exact amount of time to cook, their food is always served hot, and the whole enterprise runs like clockwork and works in a way that is fair to all the chefs.
A bunch of the chefs griped that this week’s challenge wasn’t fair to them all, because it called for them to deconstruct food, and a few of them said, “I don’t ‘do’ deconstructed food.” Nonsense. I’ll explain: Deconstructed food has been going on for a while now. It’s an approach to a plating style, as well as a way of personalizing a dish and making it one’s own. For example, I used to do a dish based on minestrone soup: the veggies became the garnish for a roasted rack of lamb, the soup itself became a sauce, and in lieu of the minestrone noodles, I made a goat-cheese ravioli. Deconstruction is a great way for a chef to put his or her own stamp on a classic – I thought this was a great challenge. For Laurine and others to say “that’s not what I do” makes no sense to me. The point is to stretch yourself as a chef. You may not be a chef who does this often, but this doesn’t mean you can’t give the matter some thought, apply your knowledge of your craft, and come up with a thousand different ways to rework something so that the flavors are there along with the imagination.