Sunday, April 29, 2012

Top Chef Canada: Season 2 episode 7: Curtis Luk is Outta Luck

Top Chef Canada has been parading out the celebrity Chefs lately and things are really starting to cook. Last week we saw Susur Lee and this week it was Richard Blais. Chef Blais has a signature style of cooking, that usually involves liquid nitrogen, that is best described as Molecular or Modern Cuisine. This style of cuisine uses "new" (at least on the kitchen) tools, ingredients and methods in creating dishes. Besides liquid nitrogen, examples include the use of a kitchen siphon (foam), gelling agents (like agar and sodium alginate) to make caviars and noodles made with cheese, veggies and fruit. Another element of this cooking style seems to be about deconstruction where traditional dishes are disassembled into their "individual sensory elements." (Dudek, p. 53) With Blais as a judge the Chefs were naturally put to the deconstruction challenge. As described by Chef Ryan Gallagher, during the show, deconstruction is the "same flavors that they [judges] would get from a classic dish but given to them in a totally different way."
We recently read an article on the topic of modern cuisine and the author made a joke that we rather liked. "The postmodern era of gastronomy will truly begin when a diner asks for bacon and eggs and the waiter nonchalantly replies 'ice cream or fried?'" (Dudek, p. 54) Richard Blais did offer some good advice to young Chefs, like 23 year old Jimmy Stewart whose dish was in the bottom, who attempt this cooking style. "When stuff like that happens [foam / ice cream on the plate with a chicken dish] it makes us all look bad in modern cuisine."
The quick fire challenge featured an array of cans with no labels and the Chefs had to use whatever they got using a 3 can minimum. We noticed that caterers are starting to serve dishes in cans and this trend seems to stem from Spain and be part of the whole molecular cuisine phenomena. Spain is home to Feran Adrià's, elBulli, that has spearheaded the Molecular Cuisine movement. We were recently reading the menu from Chef José Andrés' (who has worked with Adrià) new restaurant in South Beach Florida, The Bazaar, and came across this useful bit of information, "Although the technique (canning) was invented in France in 1810 by Mr. Nicolas Appert, Spain has become known for producing the highest quality canned goods in the world. At SLS [one of Andrés' restos] these dishes are prepared fresh daily, but we pay tribute to this groundbreaking practice by preparing selections typical of Spanish canning and presenting them in cans." 
We know that Cheftestant Ryan Gallagher said, "my dog eats out of cans," but do not be perturbed at your next cocktail your waiter hands you something in a can. You know the story behind the can and you can look witty in front of the other guests when you explain why your food is being served this way. In the quick fire challenged we were surprised with how good some of the dishes looked considering how nasty some of the stuff looked when the Chefs opened the cans. Chef Gallagher took the challenge with his Grilled Mackerel with Romesco sauce that was served in an oval plate sized can.
Catering Equipment: Canned Food coming soon to a cocktail party near you 
The elimination challenge asked the Chef to make deconstructed dishes. With the Chefs coming off of having just cooked for Susur Lee and now facing Richard Blais they really seemed to step up their game because there were some amazing looking dishes. There was also no added pressure of doing restaurant wars (service) like Susur Lee. Honestly, we have been waiting for Chef Chrystian to do cook like his audition video since the series began, he made a Turducken Tower. Chrystian’s Chicken Noodle Soup Terrine in this week’s challenge was the first sign of what we have expecting from the Chef. The same can be said of challenge winner, French Chef Xavier Lacaze, who finally did right by his country and its proud culinary tradition. Chef Lacaze served up a beautiful looking Quiche Lorraine made with shortbread and bacon cylinders with scrambled egg mousse and caramelized onions. If Lacaze and Chrystian keep this up they will definitely make it to the final no problem.
Despite all the brilliance there is of course the loser, Curtis Luk, who served up a Tuna Casserole Cannelloni. The idea of a tuna cannelloni makes us think of bad hospital food but perhaps that is just us. With only 6 years of culinary experience and no formal training, Luk's background is in science and mathematics, he is obviously a very talented Chef to have made it this far in the competition. Luk also displayed a very deft hand, except when he cut himself, with his desserts in the competition. 
Next week, the quick fire looks to be a skills competition. We noticed that they had not done this challenge this season. Last season, it was the first challenge and an almost a spoiler of who would be the finalists. Obviously we will be paying very close attention to this challenge. We also think that Chef Heinrich is the safe bet in this challenge if you are looking to us to make some predictions.
Work cited: Gastronomica, vol. 8 no. 2, pgs. 51-54 'Reading a Plate' by Nir Dudek.

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