True foodie confession: I never watched the first season of Top Chef. I only discovered the series, when it was available exclusively on Bravo, at the beginning of season two. Or three(!). I remember the first Quick Fire Challenge was to create an amuse-bouche and one of the less experienced chefs provided the judges with an entire appetizer plate(!). The horrors.
Top Chef provided me with an inside look at the preparation involved in preparing high-end culinary creations that I will never be able to afford to eat at a three star Michelin restaurant, let alone be able to prepare. You also learn to speak the language of fine dining. When I was in Malaysia many years ago, my employer put me up in a resort that Saudi Arabian princes stayed at. In the off-the-charts high end dining restaurant, I had my first dining experience with a chef prepared “amuse-bouche”: a single bite of an exceptionally prepared bit of fish. But what’s the difference between fine dining and not-so-fine, other than the jaw dropping prices on the menu?
For pre-service teachers in the United States, a seminal book that’s discussed in training programs is Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Ruby grew up middle class, married a guy who grew up working poor, and then lived in a wealthy community. As a result, she was able to discern the cultural differences between how people viewed food based on their economic upbringing. In cultures of poverty, quantity of food is what’s most important. For middle class, it’s the quality of food.
And for the culture of wealth, the presentation is what’s most important. A braised squid in a red wine reduction dusted with a Chinese Five Spice blend and accompanied by grilled and charred Shitake mushrooms in Truffle oil. The dishes typically take at least a minute to describe because the components and culinary techniques used are of interest to the judges and other discerning palettes. There’s a level of pretention when viewed from outside, but within the world of Top Chef’s contestants and James Beard Award winning judges it becomes the language of describing mastery of one’s craft.
The entire series is currently available on Hulu and I just started watching episode five of season one. If you’re someone who actually roots for the pretentious, dispicable, but incredibly talented contestant Stephen, we probably won’t get along. But I’d still sit quietly watching episodes of Top Chef with you in your home.