Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio on the 500 calorie challenge. Oh, and that cheeto amuse bouche.

on Nov 8, 2006

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There is an inherent contradiction in the world of great food that is also playing itself out in this competition, and it has to do with rules. On the one hand, rules exist for good reasons like providing order to our society, or keeping things fair. Some rules aren't written but exist through habit and common practice. For example, the "rules" of restaurant dining are commonly understood -- one behaves a certain way at the table, the waiter does his or her thing, a tip rewards good service, etc. But once you enter the culinary sphere, it gets tricky. A chef who sticks too closely to the rules can close herself off to experimentation and discovery. It seems quaint now, but I opened Craft in 2001 to a firestorm of criticism because we changed the rules on how to serve haute cuisine -- family-style service was fine for a steakhouse or Chinese restaurant, but in a three-star restaurant? One of the reasons that this week's Quickfire Challenge was interesting was because it forced our chefs to think creatively with a (very) limited palette of ingredients. Of course, no self-respecting chef would choose to create an amuse-bouche, or any dish, from items in a vending machine. But by making that the "rule" of the challenge, suddenly our chefs were placed on new creative ground. It was interesting to see who used the vending machine rule as a springboard for creativity, and who among them froze up under those circumstances.