I had never heard of the Bocuse D’Or. Apparently it is the Olympics of classic French culinary competitions – put simply a really big deal. Gavin Kaysen, a former US entry into the competition was the guest judge for the Quickfire, and apparently an Indian woman wearing Seinfeld’s puffy shirt and dressed like a pirate was substituting for Padma (I guess she had a burger to eat). In 90 minutes, the chefs had to put together a version of his dish at that competition, a protein inside a protein inside a protein. Not turducken precisely, but the same concept. At this point, the five chefs really are good, and honestly, besides Eli, I could picture any of them winning the whole thing. That said, Jennifer over the past few weeks had been devolving from a serious threat to a nervy pile of goo. So it is with great pleasure to report that she won this quick fire – which gave her 30 extra minutes of cooking time for the elimination challenge – which turns out to be a Bocuse D’Or for the Top Chef contestants.
The Bocuse D’Or – 4 hours – 2 garnishes, 1 protein … a total test of French cooking technique. As we all know, French cooking is the epitome of world cuisine, and really the only cooking technique of serious culinary consequence. This originates from prehistorical times when the French were the first people to discover putting meat over fire to cook it. Prior to them, folks in places like Mesopotamia had to eat their game raw and with the fur on. Fires are meant to keep you warm! Why would would sully it by putting an animal on top of it! Bit I digress. Anyway, the big deal of course is that Thomas Keller, the only American Chef with two three-star restaurants at the same time, was hosting and sitting in on the panel.
Really, Kevin’s victory is only a surprise to those enamored with the classical form. Michael continues to be a strong threat, and perhaps has more raw talent than Kevin (certainly HE thinks so), but Kevin has put out the best food – consistently. This was a point curiously missed by my favorite baseball loving foodie (subscription required) Keith Law. Kevin now passes Hung from Season 3 for most elimination challenge wins. The real neat thing was him winning it executing a sous-vide which he had never tried before. Could he have reached for the sky more? Perhaps, but it came down to the food and his was clearly superior to the others. Kevin, as my horribly biased description probably hinted, is the guy I am rooting for to win. However, it was not due to him being a nice guy (really, besides Michael they have all been cast as some form of likeable), but because he has been underestimated all competition by the “classic” chefs – mostly because he looks like a lumberjack and has flourished in the South.
Eli’s ouster was not a surprise. The judges are specifically instructed to only evaluate this week. However, the body of work HAS to matter a little bit, in a close call. However, as Tom explained, the food was sufficiently bad:
Eli’s was uniformly horribly undercooked. It was raw, in fact. He was messing around with a technique with which he doesn’t have experience, and unlike Kevin, he didn’t manage to master it. And his garnishes were clunky, not at all impressive. Had he presented a beautiful little hollowed-out eggplant, maybe. But his topping was even bigger than the toast, and the garnish in general didn’t work. This is not to say that Eli isn’t a good cook, but his work to date has not been geared toward this much precision, and he couldn’t pull it off. And oh, again, that raw lamb. It was inedible; no one could touch it.
Eli to me was a matter of being the 5th best chef left, and appropriately he does not make the final 4. Really the Final Four are all very good, have all won elimination challenges, and all at their best can win this competition. However, Kevin has delivered the best food the most consistently – the only thing he might be accused of is pragmatism. Jennifer is clearly the one on the button next time out – but she is so talented (maybe the best tools of the bunch) that she can easily find a Hosea-like stretch of Napa Valley magic.