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The Top Chef Effect | Manolo's Food Blog

The Top Chef Effect

Vegetarianism doesn’t seem to have penetrated snow country. Here in the mountain aerie of The Canyons at Park City, shining ersatz village on a hill, meat is what’s for dinner, in particular exotic meats like elk and bison. Salads are topped with bacon bits, duck confit, and other meaty delicacies. Although they won’t become local in Utah until global warming advances a bit farther, sea scallops, perhaps the richest food of the sea, routinely pop up on menus of fine restaurants.

If you want to live on vegetables in Utah ski country, you’re stuck with chili or bean burritos.

Since this town is younger than Mr. Henry’s Timberland boots, it might seem churlish to expect it to be steeped in authentic tradition. But why must every entrée arrive with a glaze, reduction, or coulis invariably too sweet?

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Mr. Henry blames Top Chef. The world has fallen under the svengali sway of Padma Lakshmi, television’s dark-eyed temptress and siren of oral pleasure. Today across the nation young men sharpen knives, grow a soul patch, and dream of seducing Padma with something on a plate. Young women, too, have joined the kitchen crusade.

The upshot of this competitive hedonism is that new chefs are using too many ingredients at once. Last night at The Westgate Grill, Mr. Henry ordered elk tenderloin (raised in New Zealand… no wasting disease there). In itself the elk was delicious, but it could not win a valiant fight with a syrupy blueberry sauce. Passed out beside the elk lay “drunken mushrooms” over-marinated in red wine. Steamed and broiled Brussels sprouts, the evening’s highlight, however, were perfectly prepared.

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The question remains: why must chefs insist on overpowering the palate with contrasting and, too often, conflicting flavors? Why can’t they let ingredients speak for themselves? Elk filet is sumptuously elegant and requires little in the way of adornment.

Typical of the Top Chef generation, the Westgate Grill’s salad chef got the look but not the taste. Spinach salad piled in a stack with blue cheese and walnuts looked beautiful and had the right combination of flavors, but it was drowning in dressing.

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Padma, hear us! The nation cries to you for balance, for restraint… for bridle, halter, crop and lump of sugar…yes, yes, yes.

6 Responses to “The Top Chef Effect”

  1. Trav Harvey January 3, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    The more often this is said the better. Ingredients are like notes in a scale: we aim to achieve a chord when the notes are played together. Often television’s take on what chefs do amounts to a cacophony of flavour. As Mr Henry say, good avocados, good guacamole. 15 years I’ve worked as a chef, and if there is a rule that dictates good food, that may as well be it. Keep it up Manolo.

  2. Trav Harvey January 3, 2010 at 11:07 pm #

    And before i forget, a little more good food from Mexico here.
    http://delatierrablog.blogspot.com/

  3. Bronwyn January 5, 2010 at 2:33 am #

    What is elk when it is at home? I live in New Zealand and we don’t have anything here that we call elk. Would it be an American name for some sort of venison?

  4. Bronwyn January 5, 2010 at 2:34 am #

    Wikipedia to the rescue. We call them wapiti.

  5. raincoaster January 23, 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    Which is funny. We have a cariboo on our quarters in Canada and when I was in Indonesia, the word there for water buffalo is more or less the same thing. I gave the kids some quarters and told them and now they think we have the WEIRDEST water buffalo in the whole world up in Canada.