Eli Kirshtein explains the significance of the chefs' fishing trip.
America is a land of immense wild abundance. Every region and every season has a something to offer. Every little microclimate and area can have variances of what is available. Long Island in the summertime is a grand example of one of the most illustrious of these places and times. It is really one of the great American experiences. When you think of it you should think of exactly the things that were in the episode: wild striped bass, tomatoes, corn. It is a great example of how you don’t need to force where your food comes from; you don’t need to reach to far away to get amazing, nutritious, and exciting ingredients. Even in that region the variety will change over the course of the year, to amazing gourds, shellfish, and game later on. The moral of the challenge was that keeping local and accessible is possible, practical, and fun. Now I am not saying everyone can go fishing, but there are fishermen in that area that can be reached, it's just about putting a little more effort in it.
With all that being said, wild stripe bass is an amazing ingredient that should be focused on especially. It is one of the great American ingredients. When American chefs go to Europe we ask to see the spiny lobsters, Japan we want to touch the blowfish; when Europeans come to America they want to see the striped bass. Its sole environment is on the east coast of the country. It is also a really important example of how a fish that was on a steep and critical decline on its way to extinction can be brought back to very sustainable levels. Through strict enforcement of commercial quotas and size limitations the population levels went from around 5 million in 1982 to over 56 million in 2007. This is the type of practice that can be implemented on many other varieties of fish and help keep fish around for a long time to come. With all the pros about the fish and its eco-friendly nature it also doesn’t hurt that it is incredibly delicious. With a firm but subtle white flesh, it is a really approachable fish with a flavor profile that is appealing to almost anyone. It’s a good beginner fish for people who are just warming up to eating seafood.Kerry Heffernan is a really exciting judge to have on Top Chef. He has a brilliant pedigree with stints at heralded restaurants such as Montrachet and Mondrian in New York as well as a tour of several top European restaurants. He then went on to be the opening executive chef at the renowned Eleven Madison Park in New York. He now is the executive chef at the gorgeous South Gate Restaurant on Central Park in New York. He cooks a brilliant, refined, and tasty style of food. He is a true artisan in his own right. He is also a tremendously qualified judge for this challenge. Being a long-time resident of the area he really knows about the fish and produce that comes from the area. He understands its potential and can really embrace the soul of summer cooking with beautiful and simple ingredients.
This was also a challenge I would have loved to participate in. It first of all would have been a cool change of pace to not have to do a Quickfire. Secondly I would have loved to go fishing for my product. That really did seem like it was a day off, a mini vacation even. I am jealous to say the least.
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