May 2, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Common Threads

My poor baby Alex has had a really crappy week. He's been sick and laying around since Sunday and is only starting to recover a little today after a miserable night last night. Since he's conked out after dismantling and rebuilding his Lego Chum Bucket, I thought I'd write down my thoughts about this week's Top Chef episode.

We begin with an Uncle Ben's rice quickfire challenge. I'm not a fan of microwave bag rice, most of them are pellet-like, greasy, taste terrible and are way over salted. But the contestants are given only 15 minutes for their entree and there aren't many ways to tackle rice in that short a time. At least it's better than the Kraft dressing challenge! I saw that Andrew was making his own wild rice flour and hoped this technique would work. Alas, he couldn't pull it off and his wild rice crusted fish ended up being too crunchy. Antonia wins immunity for her rice salad. I can see how the hard texture and heavy seasoning could work well as a salad accent and the majority of the dish was fresh vegetables.

The elimination challenge is revealed and the theme is the Common Threads organization. The contestants are given $10 to make a healthy meal for a family of four. Worried about cost the contestants fly to the meat counter for chicken, what a disappointment! Why not get the best looking, in season (and therefore usually cheapest) vegetables first and then decide on a small amount of meat to go with them or even forget the meat. I'm getting really tired of people planning meals around "the protein". I also thought it sad that no one picked pork. When making a mostly vegetable dish with meat as a seasoning, pork is as cheap as chicken and the flavor goes a lot further. At least Richard and Andrew pick chicken thighs instead of breasts. Stephanie looks pretty clueless and struggles to decide what to get. This does not bode well. When they get to the Common Grounds kitchen it's revealed that they will be cooking alongside the kids they will feed. I think this is a great idea to have the kids excited about trying the new dishes and help the chefs temper their creations and make them fit a child's palate. They all handle it very well and seem to genuinely try to involve and inspire the kids. I liked that Antonia was using whole wheat noodles and had high hopes for Mark's vegetable curry. Stephanie again seemed bewildered by the whole experience. Everyone gets their dishes done and serves them to the judges and groups of children, including their little sous chefs. I was amused by Andrew's server technique of squatting down to describe the dish. It's such a cliched trick he must have experience waiting tables.

At judges table, Andrew, Antonia and Nikki are called as having the top dishes. Antonia takes the win for her vegetable stir fried noodles. Stephanie, Mark and Lisa are called out as the bottom three. Things look bad for Stephanie and her mushy couscous and frenetic peanut butter and tomato sauce. Mark's "vegetable" curry is criticized heavily for being too sweet and not much more than sweet potatoes. His dish was found the most laking and he's sent home. At the end, we're treated to a glimpse of next week's wedding theme and the possible emotional and physical breakdowns of the contestants. We'll have to wait and see if they can deliver the drama.
This week's winning dish: Stir Fry Whole Wheat Noodles