We here at Grub Street have gotten pretty wrapped up in Top Chef, a fact that became apparent at the end of last season, when we indulged in a couple of late-night chats on the show, first with Red Cat and Mermaid Inn owner Jimmy Bradley, and then with New York’s own Adam Sternbergh. This season, we’re planning on kibitzing about the show every week with a variety of fellow viewers, all of whom will help us to dissect that episode’s round of flashy dishes and behind-the-scenes treachery. Last night’s guest: former Sumile and Jovia chef Josh DeChellis.
Ozersky: Were you impressed with any of the dishes you saw tonight?
DeChellis: It’s impossible to say intelligently without tasting them, but the uni rice with frogs’ legs made me say, "Mmm!"
Ozersky: What about the way the contestants cooked? Did anything they did stand out in terms of technique or approach?
DeChellis: I LOVED that one kid who said that he tried the gator a few different ways before he served it. I know a lot of professional cooks that would have gotten caught up in the garnish and not taken that into careful consideration. He failed, but it was nice to see that go through his head.
Ozersky: It must be so hard for these guys to work with ingredients they’re unfamiliar with. You, of course, use them all time. How might you have handled that snake and eel combo?
DeChellis: Snake fricassee bound with a smoked-eel sauce, Japanese-style, with dashi, mirin, shoyu, and some charred Chinese aliums or raw spring aliums. And fried eel bone for sure!
Ozersky: A lot of these dishes are ripped off. That sea-urchin panna cotta is something Terrance Brennan has been doing for years at Picholine, just to take one example.
DeChellis: Good call! That’s a hard topic for me, as I hate forged creativity.
Ozersky: What do you think of this whole idea of inventing and executing a complicated dish in a couple of hours? Is that something a good cook should be able to do? Or is it just a freak thing?
DeChellis: Who said it has to be complicated? Most of the best food isn’t.
Ozersky: But at the drop of a hat like that?
DeChellis: The dishes on my Sumile tasting menus were created purely from inspiration, by looking at the ingredients when I walked through the door that day. It isn’t easy and no one is born with that ability on that level. It’s a trained way of thinking by a professional chef. Or a food loon. And you know what? Being examined when you do it is a really big part of being a chef, and it is really hard sometimes. So this is VERY good training for them on how to personally deal with criticism.
Ozersky: They really take a lot of abuse. Especially Clay. The guy was so obviously in over his head, and so sure to get the mitten, that they ought to have been nicer to him.
DeChellis: Clay took it hard, and I guess he should have. But my friend Quinn Hatfield sold me on the lineup theory: You can pick out a solid cook from a lineup — or, more importantly, choose the shitty one.