So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

A primer for would-be “Top chef” contestants

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It’s hard to go wrong with bacon.  Even with ice cream.

Never, ever tell a judge what you couldn’t put in a dish because of a screw-up unless you have to (it’s a listed ingredient). They might not miss it.

Always taste your dish right before service, especially for the presence (or lack thereof) of salt or acid.

Learn how to cook rice. Rice has been the downfall of many a cheftestant.

Never use frozen seafood or freeze seafood to get a certain effect.

Have a foolproof dessert in your pocket – one that you can make under any sort of circumstances. Try to avoid baked desserts because there are too many variables and too much precision required in measurements (unless you are drop-dead sure that you can execute it). 

Learn how to make a few Thai-influenced dishes, especially those that feature coconut milk as a primary ingredient.

Don’t proclaim that you are an expert in any particular type of cuisine, even if you think you are. It will be used against you as plot points, plus you will be teased unmercifully in forums and blogs everywhere.

It’s OK to fly under the radar for the first third of the competition. It is not OK to underperform though.

In restaurant wars, it’s better to be a team player than to be a team leader.

When planning a meal that has to be prepare at one site and transferred to another, don’t have any fried components of a dish.

Hone your knife skills (pun intended). Work on speed as well as precision.

Don’t overthink your dishes. And don’t second-guess a gut instinct.

Coming in second in quickfires in the first half of the season shouldn’t cause you distress. Just try to stay out of the bottom as much as possible and don’t worry about being “in the middle”.

Don’t “play the game” or try to game your fellow competitors to the exclusion of playing your own game.

A well-executed soup will get you far.

If you have to choose between simple and complex, choose simple. But always remember, that the simpler the dish, the more on-point you have to be with seasonings and ingredients.

When given a fellow competitor or celebrity sous-chef, remember – you are the chef, not them.

When fed a meal by the judges, pay attention to everything that’s said about the dish. Observe every facet of the dish that’s presented to you so that you can reproduce it later.

When given a challenge, listen to the challenge and pay particular attention to the rules. If in doubt as to whether you are breaking a rule, back away quickly. In the next tip, the cheftestant who did the sushi dish also screwed up the rules of the contest, plus he violated the “don’t proclaim that you’re an expert” rule. If in doubt, ask for clarification. Don’t lose the rules sheet that the production team gives you.

Pay particular attention to the people who will be served your food in a challenge and tailor your offering to them. Don’t do as one cheftestent did and serve an unconventional sushi dish to a bunch of firefighters, for example.

Learn to use a food mill instead of a blender.

Never tell a judge more than they need to know.

Every cheftestant will have a miss-fire occasionally. As long as it didn’t make you “pack your knives and go home”, move on. Ask yourself, “What’s next”?

Scallops are overused, but judges seem amazed when they are cooked correctly., so using scallops isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when they are cooked correctly, which ain’t hard unless you forget about them while you’re cooking.

Foams are soooo Season Two. What season are you in again?

On-air time is a double-edged sword, especially in the beginning of the competition. Don’t make it your goal to be the big personality of the season. As the field thins, air-time will come of its own accord.

If your ingredients total more than 7, that’s a red flag.

As the season progresses, try to maintain your own vision and try to keep your dishes distinct from everyone else. Collichio has complained that, all too often, at the midway point in the competition, “they all start feeding off each other and all the food starts to look the same. It’s kind of annoying”. He’s the last person that you want to annoy.

Ask yourself this – is the $100,000 prize worth compromising your integrity as a chef and a person?

And remember, while it might be “Top Chef” and not “Top Cook”, you need your “inner cook” in order to succeed.

If you win because of this post, I expect a good meal out of it.

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