Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Appreciation of Craft

I planned to post about cocktails tonight, and I'll certainly get to that later, but I'm in the middle of watching Top Chef: All Stars and I just had to stop and write about tonight's episode... and more specifically, about the Quickfire Challenge, which took place in the kitchen of Le Bernardin, Eric Ripert's great (or so I've read, and really, who the hell am I to question it?) seafood restaurant.

The guest/guest judge was ace fish prep chef Justo Thomas, the star of my favorite chapter of Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw... and perhaps the favorite thing I've ever read about food or cooking. I alluded to this chapter in my very first post here. It occurs to me that the reason I so love cooking "reality" shows is not just that I love food, but that I love craft, and I'm in awe of great craftspersons.

Bourdain clearly does, too: Beneath his crusty, punky cynicism is this: His most loving prose was left for this man, far from the glamour of the great restaurant, who is simply the best there is, in every way he can think of to be, at the humble but essential task of reducing up to 1,000 lb of fish per day into the perfect portions... the perfectly formed materials with which his fellow chefs will make their art.

The All Stars acquitted themselves well, both those who managed to cut their fish acceptably and those who humbly admitted they couldn't (you should pardon the expression) hack it. And the four finalists made dishes I wish I could've tasted... ironically, from the heads, bones, and other "waste" parts of the fish they'd just butchered. First craft, then art. What's not to love?

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