This may be OT, but I just have a question about Top Chef for some of you pros.
In season 3, I think it was -- the one Hung won -- there was a challenge very near the end, when all the idiots and incompetents had been weeded out. They were at the French Culinary Institute, and were told to do something with the absolute foundational core: chicken, onion, and I think potato.
Result: Everybody was all over the place, trying weird new things, making stuff up, whatever. The woman chef, who seemed very talented, made coq au vin, except of course she didn't use a rooster or an old hen, she didn't cook it a long time, and all in all she made red-wine-stewed chicken. The judges, all classical French chefs like Soltner and so on, called her on this. Her response was basically, "hey, coq au vin isn't this or that, it's a kind of dish, you know, and I do my own thing with it, blah blah." Every other contestant did much the same.
What's with these people? I'm not a professional, but if you sent me into a French kitchen run by people like Soltner and Pepin and so on, and they said "do chicken and onion," I wouldn't mess around. It was totally obvious to me: they wanted to see if anyone could actually make things like poulet a la creme with duchesse potatoes, i.e. the old classic standbys that are easy to make decently and very, very hard to make brilliantly, the stuff they had (literally) beaten into them when they were apprentices.
Is it normal for people at this level to be so totally lacking in any kind of culinary history, by which I mean any kind of knowledge that doesn't go through the senses but through the mind? This is the thing that always bewilders me about Top Chef: nobody seems to know anything, they just do everything by feel and rule of thumb and "oh I did this thing once and...." Some are very good at it, some stink. But there's nothing else there: they ride on talent and experience, and brains are a matter of quick wits and emotional balance. Is this usual?