Eli Kirshtein

Eli Kirshtein explains why the Ellis Island challenge was a great opportunity for the chefs.

on Mar 3, 2011

Everyone has ancestors, and with America being the melting pot it is, the majority of people have different backgrounds to trace. With all of that in mind there are culinary memories and cultures that come with an ancestral past. In someway or another all cooks and chefs try to pull from that component of themselves. Some chefs go to it more than others, but all chefs tap into it at least a little bit. The exciting part as a diner is that you can benefit from the cultures of the team cooking your meal.

Speaking for myself, I know some of my heritage but by no means all, or even a majority. I would have loved to have this opportunity myself, being able to have my families past laid out for me so concisely, and then being able to draw from it, to cook inspired. Really it’s just so cool, so exciting. I have often times cooked dishes that reflect what I know of my families background but I have never known how far back it goes, and to exactly where. With a clearer picture you can get excited about components of your history and highlight them and really tell a story.

Having to cook for family members is a really hard challenge and presents a set really of unique difficulties. In a situation like this, your family will always try to be supportive and proud of you, but you always will want to impress them. When you ask for input, it takes a lot for you to get any sense of negative critique; they don’t want you to be upset or ashamed. Your on show more than ever, and trying to please several types of people. It can also put you on edge because you know to at least a certain extent they are campaigning to the judges for you. You have a doubled level of concern and emotion added to the puzzle.

It was a huge and pleasant surprise to me that all five chefs got to move onto the finals. With the exception of the first attempt at Restaurant Wars in Season 3, where they called a mulligan on the whole challenge, I can’t recall there ever being a challenge where a chef wasn’t eliminated. I think that this really attests to the quality, vision, and execution of all of the chef’s dishes. I also feel it really speaks volumes to the judges knowing that you can draw a line somewhere and know that it simply might not be fair to send a chef home for producing a great dish. I’m not saying that there should ever be two chefs that win the title in the end, but in a challenge, you shouldn’t go home for doing a great, inspired dish. A very respectable decision, that I think is great for the fabric of the show.