Eli Kirshtein

Eli Kirshtein explains why he thinks his good friend, Richard Blais', fondue was so original.

on Feb 10, 20110

Fondue is a total culinary conundrum. There are many definitions and concepts associated with the term, but they all make their way back to the literal French definition to the word melted. Some applications are to cook a vegetable, like a tomato, very slowly till it is “melting.” Other applications are more the iteration that were intended in this challenge with melted cheese, chocolate, molten oil, or heated broth. 

All of the chefs were able to be creative with the concept while not deviating too far. Now, while my relationship with Richard is well-documented, I do have to say, as unbiased as I can be, his was the most exciting to hear as a viewer because it wasn’t quiet so literal. He didn’t just make “fondue." Now it may or may not have been the most delicious based on the voting, but as an outsider looking in I dug the concept.

One of the most dangerous things a chef can do is to attempt to re-create peoples most loved foods.  People have sensory recollection of food, they have memories associated with the times, places, and people they enjoyed food with.  When you add the dimension of it being a significant day (i.e. your birthday) as well as your family at the table constantly talking about all of those associated memories, it really stacks the cards against the chefs.  There is also the added challenge of cooking for a true superstar.  Jimmy Fallon is an iconoclast level celebrity, he is the kind of idol that helps define as well as transcend a cultural generation.  Wanting to impress him, while attempting to maintain your culinary creativity, and attempt to interpret a culinary classic can be very daunting. 

There are very few of these dishes that I would want to have to cook in this challenge. They all have their individual challenges and issues associated with them; people’s preconceptions aren’t the least of them.  Most if not all of these dishes are volatile places for gastronomic argument already. What is more hotly argued to modern foodies than the discussions of barbecue pork, hamburgers, French fries, even ramen? So, no matter your culinary diligence and research, people have their opinions of all of these dishes, and will stick to them come hell or high water. These are dishes I wouldn’t want to have to go toe-to-toe with anyone about explaining my perspective. It didn’t appear that this angle came to a head for any of the chefs, but it is a concern to say the least.

5 comments
AlysabethInAustin
AlysabethInAustin

I liked your blog...it was well-written. I hope more people are reading it than the ones who commented. Thanks for taking the time!

Barbara in NY
Barbara in NY

Eli, thanks so much for your thoughtful blog. Bravo is fortunate to have you contributing here. You were right on target with the difficulty inherent in attempting to deliver old favorites that would meet anyone's expectations, not everyone's.

Besides that, the guests would have been quite stuffed before even half of the cheftestants had presented their offerings. How could these people eat so much? The "favorites" Jimmy had chosen were each huge meals.

What an enthusiastic guest he was.

However, this time I was disappointed to learn that Carla was the winner again. The judges had just been effusive in their praise of Antonio's preparation, that he had given them unique flavors that all worked together well, elevating his meal above the rest. So what happened? What in heck was so darned special in Carla's dish about an undercrust for chicken pot pie and about "pea salt" eh?

I enjoy Carla but for her hoydenish howls upon winning when she she does. That's so unseemly. I wish she'd tune in to Westchester Kennel Club on this coming Monday and Tuesday night to view what good sportsmanship looks like.

Random
Random

Frozen chocolate-covered bananas made from dipping bananas in melted chocolate and then freezing them have been around for ages. If Richard was somehow redefining fondue, I unknowingly redefined it many times making them while growing up. Not that I'm bragging or anything -- I'm sure the millions of others who've done so over the years can claim equal credit for their genius.

VE
VE

I admire Richard's sense of adventure - when Padma said "we don't want chocolate and bananas here" he took it as a challenge- and produced something very different that challenges the idea of what a fondue is- he may not have gotten a lot of votes, but it looked like his fellow chefs found his dish very interesting and fun- which, ultimately, is a more important win than the quickfire itself.