On the first episode of season four of Top Chef, Tom Colicchio the head judge of the program chastised a contestant for not knowing how to make a chicken piccata. The contestant committed the error of breading the chicken. According to Colicchio every chef needs to know how to prepare the “classics”. My contention is that it isn’t necessary to know a recipe but it is more important to know technique and how to marry flavors.
If one knows how the different methods of applying heat, steaming, braising, frying, etc., as well as knowing how to match flavors and learns how to “plate” a dish then isn’t it more important than knowing a recipe. That piccata is not meant to be breaded isn’t really important in the long run.
And why is it only that Western dishes be the classics. Injera is pretty vital to Ethiopian food but I bet if I asked Chef Collichio to make me some he wouldn’t have a clue how to make it properly but if I told him the ingredients and what technique is used to cook the bread he would have a pretty good idea how to achieve decent results. You would probably achieve similar results if you gave a great Chinese chef who has never heard of piccata the list of ingredients and the fact that the chicken is sautéed.
I’m sure there were dishes that were classics 100 years ago that have completely gone off all menus and are only known to food historians. Does the fact that current chefs don’t know how the dish was prepared make them any less?
I’m curious to hear the opinion of others.