Tom Colicchio
on Sep 20, 2007

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The Elimination Challenge was similarly straightforward. Although it was staged at the French Culinary Institute and the ingredients were selected by French chefs, the challenge was not to make a classic French dish so much as to demonstrate that you can make great food from humble yet important ingredients. When you think about it, this is at the heart of every national cuisine. And in fact, very few people these days receive a true, classic French training (which to my lights includes working under a raving lunatic as an unpaid serf in a village somewhere in, say, Lyons.) As a teenager, I cooked my way through the classic text Repertoire de la Cuisine because there were no famous French restaurants in Elizabeth, New Jersey, let alone one that would have allowed a mouthy Catholic school dropout like me through the door. Eventually I made way to France and studied in some great kitchens, but I would have been equally served working in one of the great Italian kitchens like Gualtiero Marchese in Milan, Italy's first Michelin three-star restaurant, or Da Guido in Costigliole d' Asti. Chefs who came up under Marchese or Lidia Alciati received training every bit as valid as someone who studied in France, and in fact, it was the Italians who brought the idea of gastronomy to France in the first place, with the arrival of Catherine de Medici. I think French cuisine is exalted as a training ground because the great chef Escoffier was the first to codify the essential techniques -- roasting, braising, sauce-making, etc. -- and create the idea of a functioning kitchen hierarchy that could be replicated successfully anywhere. My point is, that to win this challenge, our chefs didn't need to cook French food, or demonstrate perfect French technique. Rather, they had to show that they could make good food. Period.