Top Chef Colorado Recap
By Jason Lee
January 1, 2018
A familiar face greets the cheftestants as they enter the Top Chef Kitchen today—Curtis Stone, a man that the Top Chef producers have tried valiantly to employ for many years now. From hosting Top Chef Masters to Top Chef Jr., he’s returning to the Top Chef mothership to judge today’s Quickfire Challenge, which was previously done on Top Chef Jr.
The cheftestants draw knives and are assigned a standard “Kids Menu” dish—from spaghetti and meatballs to chicken fingers. Our cheftestants, like the kid contestants before them, are tasked with updating and elevating those dishes, with the winning chef getting immunity.
But that’s not the only twist. During their forty minutes, the chefs will only be allowed to use kid-sized equipment—from teeny, tiny cutting boards to itty bitty sauté pans. It makes for some hysterical sights, with chopping vegetables rolling off the board into adjacent trash cans and use of plastic standmixers that barely have enough horsepower to mix flour.
At the end of the forty minutes, Padma and Curtis are joined by three younger judges—the children of well-known Denver chefs. Their tastes and critiques are discerning, with knocks against the cheftestants’ flavor combinations and the texture of their dishes. In the end, three dishes are judged to have fallen on the bottom of the challenge. Carrie’s attempt to reinvent the corndog as little cornmeal-covered fritters is deemed too try, as is Bruce’s twist on fish sticks as cornmeal-crusted striped bass. As for Tyler, his take on spaghetti and meatballs through incorporation of flavors more familiar with Vietnamese pho deviates too far from the original dish.
On a brighter note, three dishes were smashing successes. Adrienne’s pizza with a cauliflower crust, crème fraîche was all around great. Fatima was creative in turning her grilled cheese sandwich into croutons used in a Caesar salad-inspired dish. And Tanya wins raves for her mac and cheese with gruyere, parmesan, and bacon (I mean, who doesn't like a little bacon on their mac and cheese?). In the end, Adrienne takes home the win and immunity.
With 3 ½ episodes complete in this season, we have yet to have a single repeat winner. Seems like it’s a pretty even playing field so far.
For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are asked to return to their roots. With a heartfelt nod to the history of this country as a place that welcomed immigrants in search of new and better opportunities, who brought their food and culture with them, the chefs are to cook a dish based on their own heritage and background. They’ll be visiting Comal—a community “food incubator” that helps to teach immigrant women who want to open their own business the ins and outs of running such an operation—as inspiration before cooking at the restaurant of Gregory Gourdet, runner up to Mei Lin in Top Chef Season 12.
Leading up to, and following, the cheftestants’ trip to Comal, it’s clear that many of them are taking this challenge to heart. Brother describes how he learned of only one recipe from his father’s background—dirty rice—before his father passed. Tanya recounts how her mother had dreamed of opening a gumbo shack in a day and age when women simply didn’t do that. And Moustache Joe shares a story of how his mother passed away while he was in college. Today’s challenge will clearly be an emotional one for them and other cheftestants.
But can they control their emotions long enough to get through the challenge? Carrie is up first with pierogies with herb crème fraîche and a fava bean, chorizo salad. The pierogi is a success but the rest is described as a distraction. Tyler serve alongside her with what he calls a “SoCal picnic” crossed with Swede—spiced tri-tip with pico de gallo next to a Swedish potato pancake and Swedish meatballs. He’s been struggling all day with how to approach this challenge, with little knowledge of his heritage and a bland, Southern California upbringing, and things don’t come together on the plate. The diners find it rather disjointed.