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Old 12-16-2009, 02:28 PM   #1
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Top Chef - New cuisine?

This is a question or two I have never seen asked or answered.

I am not sure what to call the food offered in the tasting plates I see on Bravo Top Chef. It is certainly upscale. Can someone tell me of this upscale food has a name and if you serve it in your restaurant?

I am also curious about the gastronomy tricks and foams.

Does the title Top Chef mean much in the real world of the Executive Chef - other than the prize? If so how? Does it affect how you cook or inspire you?

Thanks!

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Old 12-16-2009, 02:43 PM   #2
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Remember when you were a kid your mom told you not to play with your food? (I assume she did) Well, this is exactly whaat they are doing. Playing with their foods.

As far as meaning of the title Top Chef, I thik it really means something for the first time people visit his/hers restaurant and unless the food is really good, I doubt anybody will care. Also, you have to figure out how many people really watch the show. I did not start watching it till last year season.
I have been to the restaurant of one of the contetants, can't remember his name, in NY. I did not know about it, untill after long time ago. I do not remember food being very memorable. It was good though.

In reality it's just my guess.
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Old 12-16-2009, 03:06 PM   #3
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For starters, millions of Americans watch Top Chef every week, and hang on every dish and every word.

These are restaurant chefs competing, and the type of food they cook is NOT the type most home cooks make. In fact, it's not the type of food these chefs make when they cook at home.

Remember that in their restaurants, they have staff who chop the vegetables and portion out the meat and fish, etc. unlike home cooks. Of necessity, restaurant food is different from "home food," but that does not make it better.

Every once in a while, a restaurant technique will sneak over into the home cook's repertoire. Some home cooks are more interested in incorporating restaurant techniques than others. This does not make them better cooks, imho, only different.
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Old 12-16-2009, 03:12 PM   #4
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What you see on the "tasting table" is not just one cuisine or style of cooking. Some of it would fall into the category of nouvelle cuisine (lighter than classical French cuisine), some would be more along the lines of the new nouvelle cuisine (lighter still than nouvelle cuisine), some is based on classical French cuisine, some pure ethnic cuisines, a lot of fusion cooking, etc. Some would be upscale 5-Star dining, some Bistro or Trattoria styles.

Some of the odder techniques are based on findings from research in molecular gastronomy (molecular gastronomy is a branch of food science that looks for explanations of what, how and why things do what they do in cooking - it is not a cooking style) like some of the foam tricks, cooking in vacuum sealed bags, or making pearls of caviar from fruits or vegetables, etc. A reporter mistakenly called the cooking using these techniques "molecular gastronomy" but those in the midst of it say it is not - if anything the cooking this inspires is just another wave of New Cuisine. I have seen more examples of this on Iron Chef than on Top Chef.

Top Chef is a contest with the winner usually getting their own restaurant and/or a big wad of cash (from the episodes I have seen) and that's about it - except for the prestige of having won.
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Old 12-17-2009, 03:05 AM   #5
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Thanks! Your comments reinforce my thoughts that shows like Top Chef are much the same. It's family entertainment shaped to draw ratings and advertising dollars. The Art OF Fine Dining requires long hours and very hard work before individuals rise to the top and stay there.

I suspect, no, I know the test kitchen and Hell's Kitchen are as different from the well run commercial kitchen as a cat is to a boat. My hat is off to those dedicated individuals who strive every day to make their restaurant the best it can be from the front door to the back door.

As an aside, I am still waiting for the food judges to agree on some of the more basic essentials such as what defines a perfectly cooked 'medium rare' steak. The answer seems to vary from judge to judge as weill as from region to region.
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Old 12-17-2009, 06:41 AM   #6
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I think the judges can all agree on what constitutes a medium rare steak, but since thickness varies, grill or broiler temperature varies, the attention, quality and judgement of the chef (without having to cut the steak open) in a busy commercial kitchen can vary... so it's not the definition, but, in my experience, the imperfect execution that makes it different.
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Old 12-17-2009, 08:40 AM   #7
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I would suppose that beef quality and seasoning also plays a part. I've traveled to many different states. Food as simple as hasbrowns is always a surprise whereas grits dependable and no surprises. It is a challenge to travel on a budget and find good food - meaning it isn't pre-packaged, canned or over seasoned. In the end it is all a matter of taste.
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Old 12-17-2009, 09:32 AM   #8
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I agree. And finding good hash browns is about the worst! NOBODY cooks them the same, or even very well. But traveling, even on a budget, can also be an adventure to find that gem-in-the-rough without tripping over too many places that send a person to the restroom in a hurry!

Decades ago, when I lived in the Seattle area, I found the best clam chowder I had ever had, or had since. It was served out of a little pier-side shack, (No seating) very near the ferry terminal building. He gave it to you in a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon. It was a marvelous experience, and one that has stayed with me all of these years. There are others, but this is an example of taking the risk to never visit a chain restaurant while on the road!

And it can be fun as well, can't it?
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:20 AM   #9
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From someone who has been in the food industry for 30 years plus, I love the fact that every so many years we have something that adds a wrinkle into what we can do in our kitchens. Molecular Gastronomy is the current wrinkle. I am a big fan of the classics and my career has been built on the works of Escoffier. I have read a few books on the subject written by a French scientist called Herve This, as a matter of fact I have also been in email contact with him. He is one that has helped the Molecular Gastronomy movement grow. There are many Chefs that use parts of his his research, but probably the most well known of these Chefs is Ferran Adria Chef/Owner El Bulli in Spain. Foaming items such as sauces have been around for about 10 years give or take.
Winning Top Chef would be great for a personal accomplishment and for your restaurant, but only if you serve consistently great food. Once you don't do that it doesn't matter what your resume or accomplishments are.
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:29 AM   #10
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Herve This was one of my professors in my Masters program in France, and as part of our program, he staged a dinner for the class putting forth the principles he espouses. (He does not call it "Molecular Gastronomy!")

I can say for sure that there was little if any resemblance between what we were served that evening and some of the efforts of chefs here in US who are "into" Molecular Gastronomy.
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