Last night the new season's Top Chef was interesting. One of the chef contestants decided to use seitan (a wheat gluten vegetable protein/meat substitute) in her stuffed pepper. The judges were not pleased. It's not that she didn't try to use a new ingredient, it was that the final taste was what mattered. She tried to use a product to be "different" to prove something, instead of simply incorporating her flavors in a dish in a way that made HER stand out. Instead she was the first one sent home, not a particularly high honor on Top Chef. The judges always want something that tastes good, that's number one, no matter what.
My culinary point of view definitely leans towards fresh gourmet ingredients, not always emphasizing the protein. If I never learn to cut a slab of beef properly I'll be ok. Does that make me lesser of a chef, perhaps I couldn't ever compete with the big guns because of that handiap. In saying that, I believe that I have to be true to my particular style of cooking, which doesn't come overnight. What I do recognize is that what matters when cooking for others is TASTE. Taste matters. Flavors and ingredients that people want MATTER. Yet, within those parameters creativity can flourish. I will not use an ingredient or create a dish because I think it will prove something to you. Instead, it's important to hear what you want and then I can can be the creative side to bring something to light that you envisioned and I executed. Sure it will have "my" visionary slant on it, but it still is lined up with what you want. Even if I use tofu it better taste good. If I use asparagus they better not be soggy or tasteless. My take on chocolate mousse will be just a little different than yours, that's a good thing!
So last night if the contestant was listening and watching prior shows she would have realized the significance of creating "tasty" dishes as one of the most important criteria. Just because a dish is fancier or more complicated or uses exotic ingredients does not necessarily win rave reviews from the judges. So in hindsight her own sense of trying to make a point had the judges making a point and sending her home. It was a tough one.
Food is a metaphor for life. Take anything you do in life and own it. Take something and make it your own. People pay attention and you stand out because your voice begins to be heard and people begin to listen to your song.
Always fresh. Always delicious. Always with aloha.