At the close of Episode One, I mentioned how pleased I was by the level of cooking we experienced in the first Elimination Challenge. I wish I could say the same this week. Our diners - all applicants for Top Chef who weren't selected - were quite vocal in their displeasure (have I mentioned that they're all from New York?). The challenge: Come into Craft restaurant and prepare an appetizer, entree, or dessert. The only requirement was that it be New American cuisine.
What exactly is New American cuisine? Originally, the cuisine was based more on regional American cooking than it is now. As you know, there can be no such thing as "American food" per se, because each region of this vast country has placed its own cultural stamp on its own food. If you look at America as a melting pot, there's too much in that pot to create one homogenous cuisine, so New American cuisine began as chefs doing their plays on regional cuisines using fresh, seasonal, regional ingredients. While it may have been influenced by fusion, please don't confuse the two - fusion is specifically the melding of foods from different traditions, while New American cuisine began as finely trained American chefs, steeped in traditional technique yet working with a lack of pretension, taking American regional idioms and striving to do something original and different.
Larry Forgione's work at the River Cafe in New York is a perfect example of one of the places from which New American cuisine sprung - rather than buying from one purveyor, he sussed out local farmers, procuring different ingredients from different sources and crafting them into his take on various American classic dishes. Chefs such as he, and Alice Waters on the West Coast, and Bradley Ogden in the Midwest, not to mention a spattering of teachers like James Beard and Julia Child, are all examples of the pioneers of New American Cuisine.