Most chefs would be intimidated about going into Le Bernardin and cooking, with its deservedly exceptional reputation, and that of Eric. He was the chef de cuisine at the time of the tragic and unexpected death of chef/co-owner Gilbert Le Coze, and most people expected some sort of a hiccup when he suddenly assumed the reigns, but, in fact, there was not a moment’s dip in the caliber of the restaurant. Amazingly, Eric even elevated it. The restaurant has received an unprecedented four four-star reviews (1986, 1989, 1995 and 2005) thus far.
This challenge did not ask of the chefs that they create their own dishes, but it asked of them something equally important in becoming a great chef. A critical part of a chef’s training involves working under other great chefs, so the beginning of one’s career is always simply about imitating, as our chefs did in this challenge. Initially, a chef tries to emulate the greats, i.e., the Troisgros Brothers, Michel Gerard, and Georges Blanc, among others. Of course, you never know at the time whether you’ve prepared a given dish well, because the chef obviously doesn’t come to your house to review what you’ve done. In this challenge, though, the chefs got to receive Eric’s feedback in the moment, which was an amazing learning opportunity for them. Up-and-coming chefs are always working under other chefs until they get to that point in the development of their craft at which they’ve internalized the lessons learned, the imitation can stop, and they’re ready to find their own way. Hopefully they can then take what they’ve gleaned and apply it to their own work in a fresh, creative and exciting way.
The chefs stated repeatedly what an honor it was to have participated in this challenge, and a few commented on how jazzed they were by the experience. They’re right — it really was an honor, and I’m glad they recognized it for the tremendous opportunity and experience that it was.
Jamie expressed that Eric’s food really didn’t do much for her, and as misguided as that may be, I respect it. As good as Eric is, his work isn’t every chef’s cup of tea. I don’t know whether this affected Jamie’s enthusiasm for the challenge at hand; I do know that it was obvious to all the judges that hers was the weakest dish. That celery was inedible. While we selected the top three and bottom three dishes and discussed them as such, five of the six were actually well done, and the only chef that any of us ever considered sending home that night was Jamie. She knew it, too. All of the chefs knew what was working and what wasn’t. If you’re a diver, you know as you’re diving whether you’ve nailed the dive or whether you’re going over the vertical point on entry. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to diving into the final challenges as we near the season finale …