Though I still think the latter may be true, my initial understanding of the format was flawed. Rather than having the rolling elimination competitions from week to week we’ve seen in Top Chef, The Next Food Network Star, and The Next Iron Chef, each week TCM gives two challenges to four chefs who compete for moneys for their chosen charitable groups and for the possibility of coming back for the finals competition to win even more moneys for their chosen charitable groups. Granted, this is not a radical departure from the other shows, but I thought it was an interesting twist since it shows what happens when highly regarded chefs are given unfamiliar limits and one opportunity to pull everything together. Somehow, it demystifies the celebrity.
Michael Symon had a performance in Octopus Battle I thought about for most of the week before I caught TCM. Symon didn’t win, but he performed well and produced such beautiful plates that I was a bit overawed. Comparing the work of a seasoned professional with the dalliances of an interested hobbyist is dangerous, especially when you don’t take into account that there are a lot of extra hands that go into his work, but I did.
TCM broke that spiral for me. It’s not that the chefs are not producing what looks to be great food or even that I think I could do as well under the conditions they face, but it’s interesting to see them struggle to bring everything together. Seeing Wylie Ducheyne making mistakes and losing his cool over not finishing a dish to his satisfaction was fascinating. Ducheyne has seemed unflappable in his appearances as a guest judge or while serving Bourdain his crazy creations at wd-50, but here he made mistakes and was frazzled enough to make copious use of expletives as things went wrong.
On some level all chefs are perfectionists, and this is especially true when looking at someone like Ducheyne who works in molecular gastronomy. If it’s done well, food that has met this kind of treatment is so rarified as to become exotic, but it is also so tortured that most everything one might expect from an ingredient has been changed by the time it reaches the diner. Chefs who work in molecular gastronomy seem not to be satisfied with the simple nature of their ingredients, and the transformation that occurs requires near perfect conditions and many extra hands to pull off.
Watching Ducheyne struggling on TCM reminded me of that. It also reminded me that everyone appearing on ICA has tremendous resources to draw from when approaching the 5-dishes featuring a "secret" ingredient to be prepared in 60 minutes format, least of which being a staff of trained professionals who have already practiced potential menus. Symon does good work and looks like he’s having fun while he’s doing it, but there is nothing godly about what is going on in Kitchen Stadium.
I’m actually feeling pretty good today, having had a part in making and stuffing three different kinds of sausage on Sunday, including a hunter’s sausage that's currently hanging in our kitchen curing. Dinner last night was part Noah’s mole poblano-inspired sausage and part my own chorizo, both smoked and served with garlic sautéed beet greens and a quick kohlrabi slaw. If nothing else, the house smells like pepperoni, and we eat quite well.