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As it is in the reality of the restaurant world, no one flashed a smile at me in New Orleans and proclaimed me Top Sous-Chef. There was no physical reward. Nothing personally to play for and win. I had never met Josea prior to those moments when we were introduced. Hell, I haven’t even been able to spell his name correctly half the time here on this blog. But, in all honesty there was plenty of incentive. And it’s the same thing that drives every serious chef. Regardless of the challenge, or title, or reward. You just want to do your best and make people happy. It’s a simple driving force. And one that lies within every great sous-chef.
As we entered the yard of the museum, I’ll be honest, I was just really happy to be there. I’ve missed the competition immensely. It’s a thrill to compete, and I was going to drop any ego and push as hard as I could for whomever I got paired with. It didn’t matter to me who that was. And it may sound brash, but I knew I could help any one of them win. I wanted to win.
When Hosea picked me first, I was truly honored. It’s been awhile since I’ve played kickball, dodgeball, or any other schoolyard sports, but no one wants to be the last kid picked. To be the first chosen, that’s both thrilling and unnerving.
I was ready to be a great sous-chef. A partner in the ideation process. An editor. And quite honestly, the blue collar workhorse. As far as I was concerned, and as Hosea and I agreed early on, we were in this together. He encouraged me to contribute intellectually. And I did. He asked me to troubleshoot and consult. And I did. He asked for me to provide entry-level prep work. And I did.
Truth be told. I was ready to physically tackle either Stefan, Carla, Tom, or Padma, upon the order from my chef. Just like any quality sous.In most professional kitchens, there is an almost military type of bravado necessary. But, it was the very democratic management style of Hosea that had me enjoying working with him more and more as the challenge progressed. At one point we discussed cooking the venison sous vide. And just like Carla, Hosea was willing to risk it, even though it’s not something he has done with regularity. It was easy for us to decide to scratch that idea, even though he was game (pardon the pun). It’s this exact scenario that sealed one team’s unity and unraveled anothers.
It was an interesting dynamic to observe and be a part of. Among the three teams, it was Goldilocks and the three bears: Carla’s team, over-utilized Casey. Too hot. Stefan under-utilized Marcel. Too cold. And Hosea makes chesnut and celery root porridge. Just right!
It’s worth mentioning that most of my off-camera time was spent with Casey and Marcel. Casey, who I’ve worked with a few times, has this untangible quality about her work. It’s what we so often describe as “love” or “soul.” Whatever it is, she’s got it. If you live in NoCal, find her. I’d eat her food every day. And then we have Marcel. He has, what we mostly define as passion in our industry. He’s an engine. He’s a veritable encyclopedia of creative cooking facts, recipes, and happenings. Love him, or hate him. Marcel has done more to surface molecular gastronomy to the masses in our country than anyone else. Put me in the “love him" category.
As the challenge wraps, I make sure I taste Stefan’s food. BTW, I want to thank Bravo for giving me the fat kid edit. My main screen time consisted of asking Stefan to eat a bowl of his cabbage. It’s my thing! Huh?
Padma says it best when describing Stefan’s food. He exhibits an elegant classicism. The guy's very talented. The pigeon was the best thing I tasted that night. Sometimes, the best team doesn’t win the game. And then we get into the dessert controversy.
At first, and even at the sous-chef’s judging table (did you know there was such a thing?). I expressed that Hosea should have done a dessert. But then, last night, as I was tossing around in bed (I never sleep well), I came to the conclusion that dessert is just a tradition. Possibly as silly as fermented grape juice being the the only beverage to be paired with fine dining. Or the notion that food can only be eaten with knives and forks, and presented on bone china. So I take back what you never heard in the first place. I don’t have a problem not presenting a dessert. Break the rules, or at least question them.
Hosea is our next Top Chef. And I like what he had to say about it. A small town chef. An employee. A guy who, self-admittedly, may have never gotten to where he wants to go without this show, now has the opportunity to push off the pier and explore his dreams. Good luck Chef!
and BTW. I’m Top Sous-Chef!
Please check out my new writing gig for the Creative Loafing. Atlanta Edition. Omnivore.
See you soon!