Culinary Masters Competition 2013: Making Edible Memories

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Five of the world’s greatest chefs have charged the most promising talents of the next generation with preparing five remarkable feasts that their guests will never forget. But only one of these up-and-coming artists will be chosen by our readers as Robb Report’s New Culinary Master for 2014.

In her autobiography, A Backward Glance, Edith Wharton reflected that, in the post–Civil War New York of her childhood, “the complex art of civilized living” depended on the “ancient curriculum of house-keeping,” the principal component of which was cooking. Not that Wharton’s mother, Lucretia Rhinelander Jones—by all accounts a woman in whom icy formality was as carefully instilled as good posture—ever made an appearance in the kitchen of the family’s brownstone in Gramercy Park; but this redoubtable member of Caroline Astor’s Four Hundred did understand that knowledge of food was essential to a hostess of her stature, and so, like an accountant poring over ledgers, she diligently studied her favorite culinary texts, which included Charles Elmé Francatelli’s The Modern Cook. In this tome and others were tucked slips of paper on which Jones penned family recipes—“Mrs. Joshua Jones’ scalloped oysters with cream,” for instance, and “Aunt Fanny Gallatin’s fried chicken”—as well as those of her two cooks, Mary Johnson and Susan Minneman, whose services Jones’s social rivals coveted, thanks to their genius at lading the table with such delicacies as creamed chicken hash, deviled turkey legs, canvasback duck, soft-shelled crabs in celery mayonnaise, and Virginia ham poached in Champagne. “The gourmet of that long-lost day,” Wharton writes, “when cream was cream and butter butter and coffee coffee, and meat fresh every day, and game hung just for the proper number of hours, might lean back in his chair and murmur ‘Fate cannot harm me’ over his cup of Moka and his glass of authentic Chartreuse.”

Such reminiscences remind us that, before the advent of mass agriculture, microwaves, and refrigeration, food tasted and smelled different, more subtle or intense, and that true culinary artistry—the ability to create the kind of sensory memories Wharton describes—relies less on complicated preparations than on the quality and purity of the ingredients. Certainly this principle has been palpably and delectably embraced by Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Masaharu Morimoto, Nancy Silverton, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the five incomparable masters of cuisine who were tasked by our editors with selecting the emerging chefs they believe to be the very finest of the next generation.

These up-and-coming stars, who ply their craft in some of the most exciting kitchens in the United States and abroad, will compete this fall in the second annual Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition. The following pages offer a preview of this event, which consists of five separate five-course meals prepared by these remarkable personalities and served to a fortunate group of Robb Report readers who have been kind enough to make donations to the favorite charities of the nominating master chefs. Here, the candidates discuss their inspirations, their philosophies of food, and the challenges of sourcing and remaining true to the best and purest ingredients. It is our judges, however, who, when the last plates have been cleared, will ultimately determine which of these talented artists will be named Robb Report’s New Culinary Master in the January 2014 issue. But whatever the fates of the competitors may be, the diners—having savored some of the world’s most extraordinary fare—will, like Wharton’s gourmet, certainly sit back over their coffee and liqueurs to mull over their newly minted memories.

For more information on the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition, go to www.robbreport.com/culinarymasters.

Photograph by Deborah Jones
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