A Pumpkin for one of the world’s greatest chefs, in 60 minutes…

Charles X Michel
Dec 4, 2018 · 5 min read

without rehearsal, no space for mistakes and on top of that, knowing that millions would be watching our every move…

Here’s a snippet on the creative process of the dish we had the chance to conceive and prepare in 60 minutes for Grant Achatz on Episode 5 of The Final Table.

We had been in LA filming for just over 2 weeks already. Great chefs had already left the competition and by then, any doubts we might have had about the quality and seriousness of the competition were long gone. We really had to cook our way up the competition, with extremely high standards, and under very real pressure: millions might be watching our every move. We had no choice but to trust our intuition, and be real. That day, for those of us who didn’t “hit the mark” of the Thanksgiving dish interpretation, a great moment in our culinary careers was about to happen (BTW I do plan to write an article on our Native American — decolonised — Thanksgiving dish that the judges didn’t understand — stay tuned).

By Episode 5, Rodrigo and I were, to say the least, emotionally drained by the competition thus far… but then everything changed when, in his pompous tone, Sir Andrew Knowlton described the carreer of the Chef that was going to be the judge. Before his name was even pronounced, all of us knew who it was… and that’s when the competition got elevated to a completely different level. At that point, in a glance, the fire in Rodrigo and I got reignited to its fullest expression. Here’s a bit of our creative process.

“Grant Achatz accepted Netflix’s invitation to be at the Final Table … this is serious!”

We wanted to show the richness of texture and flavour complexity that the humble pumpkin can provide, and elevate the product as much as we could. We intentionally decided to create a vegetarian dish, to focus on the subtlety of the varieties of pumpkin we were given, but also on the trend of creating animal-free gastronomy, that we thought Chef Grant would recognise and appreciate. We also needed “punch” and structure, both in taste, and aromas. Flavour works well in triads, hence, we went for ginger and orange, not only for the natural congruency of the colour palette, but because the aromas actually pair really well. Orange brought sweetness, sourness, lightness and fragrance. Ginger brought pungency, depth, and fragrance. After a first 5 minutes tasting all the varieties of pumpkin given to us, we went for the most interesting parts in terms of texture and aroma, and then, we jammed. Textural contrasts, delicate heat treatments, and knife skills were the leitmotiv.

We used skin, the fibrous strands, seeds and pulp. Parts were cooked in a dashi then glazed, slices were only marinated… the elements that put everything together were the orange, and ginger. The plating just happened naturally…

At Bocavaldivia, Rodrigo’s restaurant on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador, one of the signatures is to use natural elements in their entirety and with relation with ancestral uses. In other words, inviting nature and history to the table.

We’ve always felt that modern cuisine is sometimes too “refined” dépouillée is the french term for this: Too white, too square, too mechanistic. Food for us is a celebration of conviviality, and nature. This is why the concept of Ethnobotany — which I learnt from Rodrigo in the first place — became central to a few of the dishes we cooked during the competition.

Rodrigo Pacheco and I, bouncing ideas a few minutes before we had to start cooking for Grant Achatz on the fifth episode of The Final Table.

But the creative flow of this dish was not only about good flavour, but about being mindful about our use of natural resources #savefood

We often use only the flesh and best parts of the ingredients. Today, a large portion of the food produced by human agriculture is wasted throughout the supply chain, from initial production down to household consumption. Check out what the Food and Agriculture Organisation is saying. The FAO is a specialised agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger.

Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted. Source: FAO.

Given the water, carbon, and energetic resources needed to produce food, and the consequences of the climate crisis, it is of fundamental importance that every single one of us does a little effort to save food, whether it is by being more mindful of how we cook at home, checking how mindful about waste are the places we choose to eat at, or how we manage our fridge. We can wait on governmental organisations to act for us, or we can take a stance on a daily basis.

The Pumpkin dish we created with Rodrigo at The Final Table is a living example that parts that are often thrown away, such as seeds, skin or fibrous strands are not only nutritious, but absolutely delicious — worth being celebrated by some of the finest palates on the planet.

Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food. Source: FAO.

The magnificent produce we were given to create with at The Final Table’s 5th episode.

Dear comrade chefs, being mindful about waste is not only an ethical matter, it is also an opportunity to be creative and feed a growing demand for ethical food services. Let’s make food waste in kitchens a thing of the past! As you all know, there is a lot of work to do. And for those of you who are inspired to learn more about cooking, I look forward to sharing more ideas on how to reduce your food waste!

Charles X Michel

Written by

Educator, Culinary Artist, Experience Designer and Community Catalyst. Musings on food, art, science and society. Chef contestant on Netflix’s “The Final Table”