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Dinner and a Movie

Rocco DiSpirito reflects on his history with renowned chef and guest judge Daniel Boulud.

By Rocco DiSpirito


How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

Daniel Boulud. What incredible screen presence. The look on the cheftestants' faces when Daniel walked into the room was priceless. He is a legend, and his magnetism is palpable.

All young chefs dream of meeting, cooking, working, or just plain riding the elevator with Daniel Boulud. I moved back to NYC from Paris as a young chef looking for work. I remember calling Daniel, who at the time was the chef at Le Cirque, and begging him for a job. In those days we had to beg, there were fewer restaurants, and man, many cooks -- today the opposite is true I said the following in one long sentence spoken in double time ... "Chef Boulud, this is Rocco Dispirito I just came back from France where I worked for Dominique Cecillon he suggested I call you because he said you're the best I know this guy and my CIA roommate Barney worked for you on his externship and chef so 'n' so recommended me to you at the Beard house and and and ... " and before I could finish my pitch he said he wasn't looking for anyone. He then gave me a moment to re-pitch, testing my tenacity I suppose, but I cracked under the pressure. I didn't even use my finely-honed French in that conversation, fresh off the boat too! That probably would have made the difference, but I was shy in those days. I would have done anything to work for him. He was, and still is the man. Since then I have had the good fortune to interact with him at many events, dine at his wonderful restaurants, and form a friendship with him over the years. I don't know a kinder chef with more grace and talent than Daniel Boulud.It makes perfect sense that the Quickfire Challenge was about classic techniques with Daniel in the house, as he is a master of the classic French technique. As young eager students of cuisine we all wanted to know the "classics." This is actually why I went to the Culinary Institute of America, and why I traveled to France as a penniless teenager (sans work papers).

Ryan spent time with Daniel? Huh. This type of challenge shows us what each chef is made of. The idea was to incorporate classic techniques into a dish, which would showcase their abilities. Those who did their time in the trenches like Zoi, Richard, and Dale turned eggs and simple vegetable cuts into magic. The rest, well, made things like batonettes of peppers, confetti, and assembled fennel fronds, shaved fennel.

In honor of Chicago, and Richard Roeper, the Elimination Challenge theme was "dinner and a movie." The chefs had to pick a movie, and then somehow work the story into their meal. A bit esoteric, but nonetheless, a creative challenge. I mean, while six courses offers a lot of opportunity to show your stuff, it's also a lot of work. So the cheftestants were separated into teams, and made responsible for creating their own cinematic/culinary course.

Richard, Dale, and Andrew formed one team, and it sounded like a strong one to me. They picked the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, to honor the "imagination the movie and this team share." I thought they did a great job of fusing cinema and cuisine.

Manuel and Spike struggled to come up with a film for their course. They ended up shoehorning Good Morning, Vietnam into a limp summer roll, and it flopped.

Jen and Nikki went Italian with their choice of film being Il Postino. I know firsthand that Nikki makes terrific pasta, from having tasted her lasagna in Episode One. Great film choice. I thought Ted made a good point about rusticity. I love the handmade look, especially if it is actually handmade.

At first Ryan and Mark were like a Laurel and Hardy routine. But they managed to make good on their Christmas promise. Ryan's suggesting Dumb and Dumber had to be scripted. Then a eureka moment happened and they settled on A Christmas Story. A duck Christmas story that is. Ryan makes a great presentation and Mark backs him up on the plate. I enjoyed Mark's "'tis the season to be jolly." He's an adorable guy. Great quail and great carrot puree are no small achievements.

Antonia and Zoi pick the Almodovar movie Talk to Her and refer to themselves as "two strong females." Here's the irony: The film, for those of you who don't know it, features the two female leads in a coma the whole time.

Stephanie and Lisa got dessert and decided to make a wonderfully rich dish of braised beef and steak based on the film Top Secret. Chefs hate to make dessert. Need I say more? Stephanie is a very good cook and clearly not in a coma.

The judges love Richard's dish for its imagination, balance, and precision of Willie Wonka's chocolate reverie and it garners him a well-deserved win. I was glad to see him put his molecular money where his mouth is.

Zoi is brimming with emotion .... I hope she can keep it together. Manuel gets the boot for excessive noise on a plate. Poor guy. He seems really nice.

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