Eli Kirshtein

Eli Kirshtein examines the chefs' psyche in the premiere challenge.

on Dec 2, 2010

Redesigning dishes is an everyday job for the modern chef. We take a concept, hopefully one that we feel strongly about, and believe in at the onset, and tweak and modify it till it meets the standards and vision we have for it, optimally before you ever serve it to a diner. One of the challenges of the show is the lack of opportunity to go through this diligence. You realistically have just one shot at a dish. All the nuances of seasoning, garnishing, even plating, is left to one opportunity. This specific challenge gives them another go, one more chance at it. All of them have re-concepted this dish over and over again; this is the one the got away. They have hoped for this chance to redeem themselves and prove it was a one off mistake. If they do strongly here, they will feel verified and qualified at the onset. An albatross removed.

As chefs, we are constantly reinventing and revamping more than just our dishes. We are always looking to hone, and focus our culinary identity as well as our outlook on food.  Being a chef is not terribly different than any other artistic, craft driven field; if you are stagnant and complacent you become stale, even boring. This may sound somewhat obvious and like common sense, but the biggest variable is the elaborate and difficult reality of maintaining your culinary identity and food ethics. Sometimes you might even find yourself focusing on changing for the sake of changing, not a terrible thing on the whole, but it could have a downside also. You might see many chefs who stylistically seemed to be so distinct on their respective season have changed and evolved, and not totally for the better.

Some of these chefs have gained national recognition since the first time they were on the show. They have opened their own business, been awarded accolades, some of them have even have changed cities.  Their cooking skill can, and has brought many a lot of notoriety. They are all back on an equal playing field. Many chefs remark about their time on the show, how it made them better chefs, and made think about food differently. Some saw things their last time on the show that have become indicative of their current cooking style. But this none of this matters now. It's just time to cook what you know and believe in.

Post Top Chef, there are many interactions that you have with other chefs from the show, past and present. It is almost a social circle, once you are in; you are in with everyone from the circle. You do a lot of events together, appearances, and dinners. Now you will have to look at many of the people who you have come to call friends and you have to now call them competition. In the sake of good sportsmanship this seems simple, but the emotions will run much higher now, no question.

This season has so many more layers to it than ever before.

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