On Sunday, in a light drizzle that just doesn’t seem to stop (it’s still going…), I got to hang out with Richard Blais and Eli Kirshstein, stars of the Cincinnati stop of Top Chef: The Tour, who did four shows on Sunday to the delight of one of the largest crowds the tour’s seen. I judged one round with Polly Campbell and an Enquirer winner who won a contest, a round with Donna Covrett and a guest judge plucked from the audience, and a third round with Donna, Jean-Robert de Cavel, and Jean-Francois Flechet from Taste of Belgium. They made the same dishes all three times, with lamb, the protein chosen by Cincinnati Facebook fans:
Richard: lamb braised in “gentleman’s relish” (Major Grey Chutney), served with turnip puree, kale and pickled radish
Eli’s dish was good in concept and simplicity– good spring flavors, and that pea puree was to die for, but the meatballs, except for the last round, were overcooked. Richard’s dish was great– lots of different flavors and textures, some sour and some sweet, and a bit of spice. It was my overall favorite (and he was the winner). For the round Jean-Robert de Cavel judged, they did something special– he was quite revered by both chefs– a dry-ice goat cheese ice cream. I think the table was divided 50/50 on it– I liked it, because it wasn’t too sweet, and the sour of the goat cheese was really brought out by the dry ice, which also added some effervescence– for an overall interesting effect that I enjoyed.
Eli and Richard are best friends, and that was noticeable in their banter. They get asked a lot of the same questions at every stop, so they had an answer for everything– barely missing a beat in their cooking. Here are a few notes I took (via Twitter) while judging:
Foods they won’t eat: Eli said he wouldn’t touch chicha, a Venezuelan wheat beer made with fermented human saliva. Richard says he won’t touch bugs.
First cooking jobs: Richard said he was a poissoniere at McDonald’s, Eli said he arrived on Richard’s doorstep in a “very large basket” (he worked at Richard’s restaurant as a teenager).
Richard, on Marcel: “He’s exactly as he seems on TV.”
Most intimidating judge: Eli says Joel Robuchon. Richard says that Padma is the person he cooks for, as she’s the only judge that eats everything they cook, as she’s present at the Quickfires.
Hardest challenge: Richard says the time he had to cook for 300 people in a Target store. Eli says Bocuse d’Or.
Richard on the “Stew Room”, where the “cheftestants” hang out for eight hours while judging goes on: “It’s like the perfect combination of jury duty and college: you’re in a room with a bunch of people you don’t want to be with, and you have a lot of alcohol.”
What they ate in Cincinnati: dinner at Boca (they know Jeremy Lieb) and they had Skyline– Eli said it was like a bolognese (true!) and Richard said he had a bowl of it.
Their advice for new chefs: Run around in a circle in place with your hands flailing for 14 hours. If you like doing that, be a chef.
Jean-Robert’s advice for new chefs: Become a lawyer and cook on the weekends.
Eli, on what he thought Cincinnati would choose, pork: “I like pork. I’m Jewish.”
It was really fun to judge and to see the dishes over three presentations. It was also fun to meet some of you guys, who said hi to me at HPFM! It was nice to meet all of you!
If you want to see what else they’re cooking in other cities, head to the Top Chef Tour website, where they’ll be posting recipes.