Baffled about the topic, I brought it up to my actor boyfriend (you might remember him as Prince Charming from last week's entry). He is classically trained, studied Meisner, done Shakespeare. We went out to eat on Wednesday to celebrate my signing with a new agent & this topic became part of our conversation. That's when inspiration struck. I thought he was going to drop some acting knowledge bomb on me and instead he basically said that Chekhov's Gun could be applied to food. WHAT?!?!
Simply put, One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.. Well, we hear it time and time again with the food shows that we love to watch (Top Chef, Chopped, Iron Chef, Next Food Network Star) If it's not essential to the dish, it doesn't belong on the plate. For example: if the garnish isn't edible, it doesn't belong on the plate (we've heard that from more than 1 culinary judge, but there is a great example to breaking this rule that I will show later). Not only do my boyfriend and I like to watch a lot of celebrity chef food shows, but we also like to eat at their restaurants when location, time and money permit it.
One of my top 5 chefs is NYC-based Alex Guarnaschelli of Chopped/iron Chef fame (and if you watched Gossip Girl, her restaurant Butter is where some serious drama went down about season 2). Well, on our last trip to NYC, we went to Butter and i had an amazing cocktail called a Calamansi. it is Grey Goose vodka, fresh watermelon ice cubes, torn mint and calamansi lime juice.
This cocktail is a great example of If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on a wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there..
Chapter one: you get the drink shortly after you order it. there are those ice cubes. just hanging out in the glass like the rifle on the wall. You take a sip. this is kinda strong vodka-y. Chapter two: you've let it sit for a couple minutes as your appetizer has arrived & you're enjoying it, but it's time for a sip. you stir it a little. not as vokda-y this time. Chapter 3: The ice cubes are about 1/2 melted. Take a drink now....yes that rifle definitely fired. This drink is incredible and you completely understand why this woman is one of the best chefs in the freaking world (and I might add, the only active female Iron Chef). Everything comes together to form a balanced, tasty cocktail.
Another great example is at Richard Blais' San Diego eatery, Juniper and Ivy. If you're a fan of Top Chef, then you know that Richard was runner-up in season 4 Chicago (only because he let his nerves cause him to choke) and then triumphantly returned to win Top Chef All-Stars about 4 season later.
Pictured is a sweet corn agnolotti with cotija cheese and walnut gelée (that's the brownish-black dollops in the photo). In this case, the gun is the walnut gelée. Chapter one is when it hits your table & the dollops are like little balloons just resting on top of the pasta. However, in Chapter Two (meaning: when you eat it) The gun/balloon must be "fired" (eaten) by popping it and smearing it on the agnolotti. Otherwise, you end up with a dish that is too sweet and unbalanced....as my boyfriend found out when he tried to do so. The nuttiness in the gelée counteracts the sweetness of the corn.
Now Blais is a bit of a rebel in the kitchen at times and does some insane stuff with molecular gastronomy. Remember what I said about "if the garnish isn't edible, it doesn't belong on the plate"? Well here's a case where while the garnish isn't edible, it's actually essential to the plate's concept.
This is raw oysters with a salsa verde and horseradish beads that have been frozen with liquid nitrogen (thus serving as the chilling agent for the oysters rather than ice) served on a solid piece of wood with seaweed garnish draped over them. Now a video would do this much better justice than the photo, but that is actually fog coming from the liquid nitrogen used on the dish. When it is placed on your table, it looks like something that was ripped straight from the cave of Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid which is why the seaweed (despite not being edible) is the Chekhov's Gun of the dish. You wouldn't get the same visual effect and emotion response if this dish was just fogging on a simple white plate.
Now that I think of it....fine dining is very much like theater. You have a beginning (appetizer, drinks), middle (your middle courses) that come to a climax (your main entree) and the end/resolution (dessert, coffee, after dinner drinks). The director/writer is the chef, the plot is the coursing of the meal, the set is the restaurant aesthetics, the actors are the ingredients and the props are the plating/garnishes.
Coincidentally, when Chekhov passed away, his body was transported to Moscow in a refrigerated railway car for fresh oysters. (interesting fact I discovered why researching the topic)
And this photo just for good measure because i'm still stoked we met Richard Blais: