Episode 4 of the newest season of Top Chef Just Desserts brought with it the promise of revisiting the sublime Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (and not the abomination that was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!) and biding adieu to two cheftestants. Le Bernardin‘s Executive Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis shares his thoughts.
Michael, I’m not a candy addict, but this movie gets me every time and makes me wish I could eat endless bars of chocolate in search of the Golden Ticket, chew three-course gum, drink from the chocolate waterfall, and eat an endless gobstopper. I trust you have seen the movie – which cinematic confection most intrigued you as a child? And, which one most intrigues you now?
It’s funny, I have seen the movie, but it’s been many years. I’m familiar with all of the iconic references that still float in the culture 40 years later, but most of the finer details are fuzzy to me now. Like the chefs, I kind of wish I’d also had the chance to refresh my memory before the episode as well! And perhaps I’m in the minority among pastry chefs, but I almost never think about the film as it relates to my work; I probably remember it more for the themes that lie just beneath the candied coated surface — greed, patience, childhood innocence. I do think I need to watch it again!
Willy wasn’t this guileless nice guy. He was pretty jaded and a dark character. Can you understand how someone might wind up feeling that way after a long time in the food biz — insofar as it is easy to focus on the negative, the demands, and the financial aspects of the business rather than the delight of food?
I’ve never looked at Willy quite that way, but you’re right, and I think there is a parallel one can draw to the life of a chef. The business end of things can be grueling, so it’s not uncommon to loose sight of why you began cooking in the first place. It’s important to recalibrate every once in a while, to get back to basics. For me, it can be simple prep that I usually delegate to others, something monotonous, but altogether enjoyable.
Willy said, “Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.” How do you break down your ratio for invention?