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What is Fondue?

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

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.All of the chefs did a tremendous job of following their culinary vision to create the dishes. When you look at the compositions, no one strayed too far from the initial dishes. Antonia went the deli sandwich route; Fabio gave us his interpretation of a classic burger, and so on. No one was way out-of-the-box. At the end of the challenge I really feel like it was more about being the worst of the best. I will have to say, I don’t totally disagree with Fabio’s approach to the burger. He focused on seasoning as well as texture; it just so happened that what he was looking for was not what the typical American palate expects in a burger, that issue combined with the burger being dry, it just didn’t work out for him. Sad to see him go, now we are down to just seven.

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