Top Chef Season 5, Episode #1

This is not going to turn into a Top Chef review site. But last night’s premiere episode warranted some thoughts for today.

The first episode was brutal with TWO eliminations. That poor woman who was booted in the first 15 minutes will now have to face being in the opening credits for the entire season. Likewise for Patrick, the cute and gay student at the Culinary Institute of America.

Other blogs have lamented that a student has no business competing in Top Chef. Other, presumably more experienced and wise, chefs may have been denied their opportunity in order for this upstart to be there.

First, a little about the challenge that eliminated Patrick. Then my thoughts.

The elimination challenge had the chefs visiting different ethnic neighborhoods in New York to find inspiration for something to cook. They were assigned neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy, Brighton Beach  (Russian), Jamaica, etc. Patrick got Chinatown and his dish (a mirin glazed filet of salmon with black rice noodles and braised bok choy) was textbook Americanized Chinese food. No inspiration.

In his voice-over comments during the challenge he mentioned he had just taken a class in Asian cuisine, so he felt prepared for the challenge.

In the judging, Judge Tom Colicchio off-handedly said that Patrick needs to travel, to eat, etc. In other words, no amount of book learning will teach you about food. You really have to get out into the world and eat. The best option is to get out of the country and learn about food in the context of culture and history. In fact, it’s the same with learning a language. You really can’t experience a language unless you are immersed in it.

But the CIA is just two hours north of Manhattan, and the fact that there are even these neighborhoods gives any culinary student a rough primer on these cuisines. Poor fresh-faced Patrick acted like he’d never left campus.

My latent fantasy for a long time has been to go to culinary school. But unless I happen to win the lottery, I won’t be able to afford 24 months of no income plus $50,000 in tuition in order to achieve a $10-an-hour line cook job. But what I’m learning is that while culinary school is good for the basics–something I feel confident I possess when it comes to being a home chef–you simply can’t beat real world exposure.

Like Tom says,

If you’re in a creative field, everything you do out in the world will find its expression in your work.

Now…to plan our next trip somewhere!

Related stories:

Separating Cooks from Chefs, LA Times

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