Eli Kirshtein

Eli Kirshtein sings Wylie Dufresne's praises and weighs in on Angelo's performance.

on Aug 19, 20100

This is for sure a culinary competition classic, "The Mystery Basket." With notable appearances in cooking challenges ranging from the American Culinary Federation’s Certified Master Chef test to the common, everyday culinary school practical, it’s relevant at every cooking level. This was also a particularly difficult example of the challenge due to the additional mystery baskets coming out, which added yet another layer of difficulty given the precarious nature of some of the ingredients involved. I was in no way shocked by the pseudo freaking out that happened in the kitchen. I mean how can you really think through your dish without even knowing your required components?

This is also a tricky challenge for the judges to go through. While the dishes are all different, they do have similar flavors due to the nature of the challenge. The real challenge is not getting palate fatigue during the tasting process!

I wasn’t really surprised that a few of the chefs went the route of soups or stews. It’s kind of a way to just keep adding things as they come up without altering the soul of the dish. I was also really impressed to see some of the chefs so capably adapting and creating thoughtful and articulate dishes while still being able to move with the new ingredients.

It seems that Alex and Amanda were in the bottom because of the sort of erratic nature of their dishes. They kept adding components without actually integrating them into the flavor profiles. I see the success for Kevin coming from a tasty dish that had some solid technique behind it, and Tiffany getting the win for developing a solid, soul-satisfying dish with a ton of flavor packed into it.

Wylie Dufresne is a really fun judge to have. First and foremost he is practically a culinary icon theses days, a tremendous chef with boatloads of foodstuffs knowledge and technical prowess to back it up. Additionally he knows the lay of the land in the Top Chef world. He has been a judge several times, as well as being a contestant on both seasons of Top Chef Masters, so you know he is familiar with the whole process. He is also good to have because of his culinary position. While being a super forward thinking chef, he is also extremely devoted to culinary classics and even Gastronomic Americana. You know he will be very objective and open minded to all styles and aspects of the different chefs' food.

Now the idea of disguising a dish is a thinking chef’s game. On one side you want to make it practically indistinguishable from the original incarnation, but on the other you don’t want to totally lose site of the concept. As the old saying goes, “We eat with our eyes first,” after all. I think the heart of the matter was to basically keep the same fundamental flavors while really manipulating the textures and obviously the appearance. I think the three top dishes really focused on that; Ed obviously excelled by having really strong cooking technique, and Kelly had great flavor. Tiffany really went over the top by having the whole package. She presented a restaurant ready dish with a high level of elegance, good approachability, and in this case the fundamental qualities of a gyro.

The bottom dishes really just all seemed to fall apart and really did a poor job on both the disguising as well as the execution level. All three really failed to have any kind of wow factor. At this point in the competition chefs are starting to get tired and beat down. They start to lose focus and ideas in your head start to get muddled. I think this was really evident with Angelo in particular this week. But in the end, Alex’s fatal flaw seemed to be an overall technical disaster that was just too egregious to over look. Hopefully this will quell the focus on his slipping through the cracks, and we can all look at the last few standing before the finals.

Follow me on Twitter @elikirshtein

13 comments
db
db

Thanks Eli, I really like having your insight!

mmc
mmc

It bothered me that Alex left without resolving the case of the Pea Puree.If Sherlock Holmes was there he would have had this solved by now.Can't Bravo really look into this?He'll either be innocent or guilty and there won't be this suspicion surrounding him.These chefs are amazing...i always thought it would be exciting to be on the show, but after seeing them work with duck testicles,rattlesnake,etc. I think i'd rather observe rather than participate.I do like the fact that they can win money and prizes during the show...Loving this season!!!!

andyluw
andyluw

To return quickly to one point that was off-subject, Eli I was originally annoyed with your comment to Robin although it was obvious she was getting under your skin. However, you more than redeemed yourself and WendySmiles needs to go back to smiling not griping.

I agree you have fantastic writing skills, but your food is far superior! Your insight into the behind the scenes mindset of the competitors is something that we at-home viewers can only speculate about, so thank you! We've seen that burnout occur every season, only to have the competitors catch their second wind after some soul searching, and I am sure that will happen soon.

I tried to keep and open mind about Alex (and it's funny this hasn't been clarified to some point about the peas), but the final straw for me was his obvious butchering screwups and lack of the required dish conception. Kelly took the time for soup and dessert, and despite their shortcomings and least she showed an attempt. Now we have watched Angelo go from being the man running from station to station trying to "help" the other contestants to a man lost in his own dishes. He kinda annoyed me at first but then grew on me. Hope he gets some much needed rest-it'll be interesting to see how much he dives back in the game if he does! Thanks again Eli for your blog. We miss you!

Dave in DC
Dave in DC

Eli--thanks for breaking these episodes down and giving us your insights. As someone else said, you write as well as you cook, and for us, it's a treat!

Cheers!

cocopuff
cocopuff

I enjoy having a participants' view on the competition. You have an insight that none of us at home watching can understand. Thank you for taking the time to blog. You are able to offer an unique perspective about the show and it adds to my experience of the show.

Panger
Panger

(Wendy, perhaps a little more smiling and a little less kvetching?)

Love the blog. Thanks!

Joeymom
Joeymom

If you saw the reunion show, Eli apologized to Robin for his comments and she accepted his apology. How many times have we said things that we later regreted? Eli - you are doing a great job, very insightful!

karendg
karendg

Who cares what you think either. At one time or the other, we all have said things in the heat of the moment that we wish we could be take back.

I enjoy Eli's blog and thank him for his comments.

WendySmiles
WendySmiles

Who cares what you think! After your comments to Robin regarding her cancer I can't believe that Bravo is allowing you to comment on anything.

WendySmiles
WendySmiles

Who cares what you think! After making that comment about Robin and her cancer I CANNOT believe Bravo is allowing you to comment on anything.

Gloria Reyes-Moore
Gloria Reyes-Moore

very good blog! I enjoyed all your comments right on! I'm so glad Alex did not slip thru one more time, got him! I'm so please & can sit back easily now & watch the rest of the chefs compete fair & square... not more cheating/stealing! thank you for putting more than your 2 cents worth in, you are good at what you do perhaps writine if cooking doesn't pan out?

Anne K.
Anne K.

Eli - I love reading your bird's eye view and episode reviews. And, I thought about Angelo's dish? Why puff pastry? Why not a crostini or some other bread component? He's falling apart. Interesting to see how it turns out.

SLindaAnn
SLindaAnn

Great blog. You're writing skills seem to be par with your culinary skills. Thanks for the recap.