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If you haven't chosen a side yet for Bravo's big Top Chef finale tomorrow night at 10 p.m. ET, here's some intel to rev up #TeamNick. Philadelphian chef and finalist Nicholas Elmi, who specializes in classic French cooking with an avant-garde twist, took fans on a wild ride this season. He's been on the top, on the bottom and in more fights about pot placement and knife care than anyone else. But his talent and precision are undeniable. Here, he shares his secret-weapon cooking and plating techniques.
Remove the wishbone before roasting poultry. “When roasting chicken or any poultry, the first thing I do is cut out the wishbone so that when I carve it up, I get all the meat that’s always stuck underneath it that people miss out on,” he says. “After you whack the neck off, go under the skin there and use your fingers to pry it away and pluck the wishbone out.”
Don’t sous vide, slow roast. Elmi is anti-sous vide. Instead, he and the other chefs at Laurel, his Philadelphia restaurant, sear meat and then slow roast it in a 130-degree oven. “That way you have uniform temperature all the way through, but you’re not using a circulator so it doesn’t taste like boiled beef,” he says.
Dehydrate. “I think every home cook should have a dehydrator,” Elmi says. “If you have stuff in the fridge or fruit that’s starting to go bad, you can just cut it up and throw it in the dehydrator—then it’s good for the next couple of weeks.” Some of his favorite things to dehydrate include plums, apricots, chicken skin and herbs (which he uses to make flavored salts).
Think outside the flavor-pairing box. Throughout this season of Top Chef, Elmi paired ingredients rarely seen on the same plate: chicken with chocolate, opakapaka with chicken skin, salmon with hazelnut coffee caramel. Some of his favorite unusual pairings include rose and rosemary (a combo he uses in a pre-dessert marshmallow), horseradish and yuzu (especially frozen into a powder and sprinkled onto fatty raw fish) and artichokes and coffee.
Warm your plates. “Make sure your plate is super-warm and make sure you take your time when plating,” he says. “That way, you can focus on the dish and plate properly as opposed to rushing through it because you’re scared that it’s going to get cold. At Laurel we keep plates at 150 degrees because we know it’s going to take us two minutes to plate a dish.”
As an added bonus to Top Chef fans joining us for a virtual viewing party tomorrow night, we've scored a discount code for new diners to use on the online food-ordering superstar, GrubHub. Check back tomorrow for the code.