Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

Tools of the Trade

Eli Kirshtein explains why the week's Quickfire Challenge was so difficult.

Chefs hold their tools sacred. They are as personal as any possession can be for a cook. Oftentimes chefs will find their tools as a true comfort zone, an old friend that they can rely on and trust. The most praised and loved are knives. Ranging in sizes from small little paring knives to full-on cleavers and slicers, chefs spend years purchasing, collecting, refining and choosing their favorites.  ou can spend a small fortune trying to find the right blades; some of them cost a small fortune on their own. There are many other tools that are essential and are personal from chef to chef, a favorite spoon comes to mind for myself. This fact is so well known that during the filming process of the show, the producers never let the chefs' toolkits out of their sight. They stay with you constantly during all traveling and challenges. There doesn’t ever want to be a conversation about tools being tampered with.

Many kitchens are stocked fairly well with all kinds of tools: spatulas, ladles, graters, can openers, all kinds of fundamental tools for very basic tasks. While some chefs do have personal iterations of all of these tools, they are commonplace in most professional kitchens. Removing these from the equation can really take a chef out of their comfort zone and make it much more dynamic. These can be things that are really taken for granted for many cooks.

Taking all equipment, never mind just personal tools, can be daunting. Fundamentals of cooking, cleanliness, organization, and refinement all hinge on the use of tools. It take a creative thought process to re-invision a chef’s cooking style and technique enough to summit this task. But as the old saying goes:“It’s not the wand, it’s the magician.”The thing about trying to play a strategy is that there are a whole lot of assumptions that have to be made. First and foremost you are betting on someone else’s game plan. Secondly you are trying to make a judgment call on your own strengths and weaknesses without account for the subjectivity of the judges. If that were that easy, you would never hear a chef make an argument that they felt their food was a great dish and didn’t deserve to be sent packing. 

Shouldn’t there be a much stronger focus on working as a team to produce very strong dishes all around as opposed to banking on there being notably poor ones? When you bank on mediocrity that is probably what will happen. If you concentrate on excellence and quality of final product you will have a much stronger chance of success.

Working as a team is never out of the question; asking for advice and feedback is really normal in most kitchens. But being strong enough to disagree and go with your gut is a fundamental quality of chefs, strategy or not. You have to stand by your guns, or there is no one to blame but yourself. On the other hand, not serving at all can be a strategy also. I mean if you don’t put food out, you might not win, but you wont go home.  So I suppose that is banking on mediocrity also. But once the team challenges are gone, you cant play that one anymore, and you’ll have to put something up.

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