The Real Top Chef Masters
Two American-based restaurants rounded off the top 10 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Chicago-based Alinea ranked #6, and New York City’s Per Se stood at #10. Alinea owner/chef Grant Achatz’s cuisine has been described by many food experts as deconstructed food, unfamiliar flavor combinations and theatre to tableware, with dishes served in test tubes, cylinders and even multi-layered bowls that come apart. Recently, Alinea was awarded three Michelin stars, Michelin’s highest ranking, bestowed to only 97 restaurants this year, worldwide.
Chef Thomas Keller, owner of Per Se restaurant, notes his goal is to pique the sensation of his customer’s palate. Each day, two unique nine-course menus are created. He says, “We serve a series of small courses meant to excite your mind, satisfy your appétit and pique your curiosity.” Some menu items arecompressed strawberries and Persian cucumbers with Greek yogurt; and Applewood smoked liberty farm Peking duck (served with summer pole beans, pickled watermelon rind and Burgundy mustard). Food critics describes Per Se as an urban interpretation of Keller’s highly acclaimed other restaurant, The French Laundry, located in Napa Valley, California.
So, the question is can the same philosophy and culinary know-how of many top chefs be used in the manufacturing industry, to create outstanding retail food and beverage products?
Chicago-based Chef Charlie Trotter, whose restaurant has been rewarded the prestigious AAA Five diamond Award for 16 straight years, produces a line of retail, gourmet, smoked salmon products, each with a quality good enough to be placed on any high-end restaurant’s menu. There are two flavors, one is citrus-cured smoked salmon (made of salmon, kosher salt, natural cane juice, orange peel, lemon peel, vodka, assorted herbs, spices and hardwood smoke). The other flavor is Darjeeling tea and ginger salmon (made of salmon, kosher salt, brown sugar and five toasted spices). A fusion of Darjeeling tea and ginger is steeped with some fresh citrus zest and added to the cure. The salmon is then smoked, using a unique blend of fruit wood and Darjeeling tea leaf.
Both salmon flavors are packaged and sold in 4oz., 1-pound, and 2.5oz. sizes. They are sold in the refrigerated section of retail gourmet specialty stores, as well as Chicago-based Trotter’s To Go.
Last year, the ongoing trend of food trucks captured the attention of one of America’s top chefs, Daniel Boulud. His restaurant, Daniel (located in NYC), has also received a three-star Michelin rating. Boulud lent his name to promote the food truck business in New York City. He designed his food truck and served Tunisian Sausage, a lamb and mint merguez sausage -- both served with a bun, onions, tomatoes and cilantro, to the lunch crowd in Midtown Manhattan. Other menu items included the Frenchie Burger (topped with pork belly instead of bacon), as well as a classic French Croque Moisuer (ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches). Just like dining in a five-star restaurant, Boulud added some surprise/extras to these sandwiches, such as poached eggs and slices of truffles. The prices were between $6 and $9.
Reality cooking television has captured the attention of many up-and-coming chefs, each trying to make a path for themselves in the over-crowded field of “celebrity chefs.” As of today, there are well over 50 reality cooking programs, shown across the world, weekly. Just recently, Kenya saw the broadcast of the first radio-based reality cooking show, The Sunrice-Sungold Super Chef Competition. A carefully select group of chefs were tasked with creating complex regional Kenyan dishes, along with performing a host of culinary challenges.
Many food experts believe reality cooking television is here to stay; it will become more complex over time with even tougher culinary challenges. The next stage could challenge chefs with creating complex dishes and formulating them into products for manufacturing.
I often wonder if my friend the late Julia Child were still alive, how she would weight in on the complex world of reality cooking television.