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Sorry to be a bit late with my blog this week. I am just back from the 28th Annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, where, I am pleased to report, Top Chef had a stunning presence. Of course, Season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio was with us to redeem part of his prize—the chance to show his skills in a cooking competition against Top Chef Masters Season 1 winner Rick Bayless. Their Classic Quickfire was a 25-minute challenge in front of almost 1,000 people—and they both did an incredible job. Chef Rick took the title this time around, but Michael, assisted by celebrity sous-chef Allison Janney, still did us proud. In addition, Tom and I performed two cooking demonstrations titled “In the Top Chef Kitchen,” and many former contestants celebrated the culinary weekend with us, including Harold Dierterle, Sam Talbot, Eli Kirshstein, Jennifer Carroll, and Mike Isabella, not to mention Bryan Voltaggio too! It was great to catch up with all our friends in such a festive environment.
Now to the episode at hand. Before we get into the details of the Elimination, I have to give some credit to our producers for coming up with one of the most brilliant and entertaining Quickfire Challenges in the history of the show! It was such a smart way to demonstrate how difficult cooperation, in food prep as in politics, can be. Although I was not there to witness this Quickfire firsthand, I clearly remember Padma and our crew trying to explain to me afterward exactly what they had witnessed. When I was finally able to view the episode, I quickly understood just how hysterical and clever it was. I loved the “bipartisan” spin on making a sandwich—one of the most common and seemingly simple meals of all. I loved that the chefs were paired in the most random way and forced to share an apron, making it impossible to have any kind of personal space. But most of all, I loved seeing how they tackled splitting the work, from slicing bread to grilling chicken. Although I laughed out loud, it also brought to light how difficult compromise for the greater good can be.
Which brings me directly to the point of our second Elimination Challenge.
The quality and cost of school lunches in this country has been a heated topic of debate for many years, but never has it been more vital a cause than at this very moment. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years, which ultimately can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and more. In children! Simultaneously, one in almost every four children in this country has felt the pang of true hunger and is food-insecure in some way—again, that’s over 17 million children! Hunger means not being able to focus and learn, poor immune systems, behavioral and emotional issues, and a lifetime of health consequences going into adulthood. Lack of access to nutritious food, and education about food choices, is a big part of the problem. This is why funding for healthy, balanced and fresh school lunch and breakfast programs is so important—and why the First Lady started her Let’s Move initiative, with a goal of ending the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation. As a nation, we simply cannot afford to sit quietly by on the subject. As a food professional myself, I certainly cannot watch on the sidelines while the future goes to waste. Getting our kids fed well and keeping them fit is nothing less than imperative.
At the outset, I think our chefs were genuinely excited and impassioned by their challenge: to cook a school lunch for 50 children using the same allotted amount that the average public school is given each day, a whopping $2.60 per child. Watching them struggle at Restaurant Depot and in the Top Chef Kitchen with how to actually translate that amount into a healthy, well-prepared and kid-friendly meal was another story. They all quickly realized just how hard this challenge is and just how acute the problem.
Thank you for the writeup. Team Kelly's tray sounds wonderful. It is impossible to get a sense of how well they did from the episode itself, as it was dominated by drama, and extremely light on food.
Hopefully this EC will inspire some parents and school food preps to take steps to improve all our children's diets. Perhaps top chef can put together and post the complete recipe plan of the winning tray. I am planning to try making Kelly's carnita and pickled onion using Michael V wonderful demonstration video. But I would love duplicating the other dishes on the tray.
I think winning TC school lunch tray is makable for us mortal cooks, in contrast with Angelo's week 1 arctic char, impressive as it was to watch Michael V demonstrate it, there is no way I will try replicate it.
Some day i would love to attend the event in Aspen. It sounds like so much fun.
This was a great challenge. An important subject. As a nation we need to do more for our kids, especially in low income schools.
I hope Angelo doesn't win, he is a bad egg.
Wheras I certainly understand Jackueline (sp?) going honme for not following the spirit of the challenge as well as making probably a sickeningly sweet concoction, if the object is to follow the perameters of the challenge, how could Angelo win last week. Make a dish that reflects your homes regional cuisine?? I defy you to catch an arctic char in any waters in or around Connecticutt.
First of all let me congratulate you on your nuptuals. Second I enjoy this show very much, especially when you are on the panel. Your presence with Padma's add a sort of personality that is not there when you are absent.
Thank you for brightening up Wedensday Nights.
Thanks so much for your fantastic write-ups and insights. Not only do I love the way you describe the challenges, but this week I loved hearing about our old friends at the Food & Wine Festival. Looking forward to TC Pasteries!
What in the wide wide world of sports was Amanda thinking with that sherry? And she seemed so clueless on how inapropriate it was. To me she came off really selfish to cut into the budget like that.
I worked for a short while last year as a substitute in a middle school and a high school cafeteria. What they served there made me want to vomit, literally. The high school was nasty. Most of the kids went to the stations that sold junk like chips, gatorade, candy bars and crap. Chicken fingers, frozen pizza and gray meat were the norm. No wonder these kids are getting obese. Years ago I lived in Florida for awhile and the elementary my kids attended had the best school food I've ever tasted. They had a fresh salad bar, homemade biscuits for breakfast (I ate with them for those biscuits, seriously the best I've ever tasted!)The manager there had the right idea about a school lunch. Unfortunately it's just not the norm. Oh and Angelo, what a conceited jerk! Don't like him and not impressed with anyone so far.
I grew up in public school food!!!!!! They are not healty. I struggled all of my life with a weight problem. I cook now the way i wish our schools could. I am not a chef, but i love to coook fresh as i can. I just found oru fresh market in Jackson mississippi!! Thank you for this show!! I love the food which i could cook it to. I hope yall have many more seasons.
While I love the idea of increasing awareness about the First Lady's health initiative and educating viewers about the challenges of providing a well-balanced, nutritious meals in our schools, I couldn't help but notice conflicting messages. In fact, I was annoyed to the point of posting this comment at the number of times the contestants were shown smoking. Does it really make sense to tout the importance of good nutrition and instilling positive behaviors in our youth, but spotlight the same adults/role models participating in an unhealthy behavior like smoking? I don't get it.
I will admit you also show the contestants drinking wine (sometimes with their cigarette) and maybe I'm a hypocrit for not commenting on the alcohol consumption but, to me, unlike previous seasons, the prevalence of smoking was obvious and not appropriate giving the challenge of this particular episode.
I must say I was shocked at how Angelo tried to sink his team with celery and peanut butter after he had made much more complex dishes in all the other challenges. Having immunity and his chief rival, Kenny, on his team apparently was too much of an incentive for him to do poorly. An then Angelo had the nerve to complain about Kenny! That was bad sportmanship and one of the worse back stabbings I have seen on the show. Is Top Chef turning into Survivor?
While the sugary pudding was obviously a failure, the inappropriate use of alcohol in a school lunch should have trumped it. The other problem that was overlooked was the inclusion of pork. This meat is forbidden by several ethnic groups who are well represented in our country's public schools. Do we really want school children stuck on the horns of this dilemma?
I can not believe you all did not disqualify Amanda for using the Sherry, yes it may be cooked off, but if any parent knew their child was being served a dish that had Sherry in it, there would be a serious law suit. Great idea though for the competition.
I am the assistant manager of a middle school cafeteria and was excited to see this episode. The contestants made some wonderful dishes on their limited budget. The biggest criticism I have is in the real environment it would nearly be impossible to cook such lunches. They were given many hours to create & cook their dishes and they were only cooking for 50. We have, at best, 3 hrs to cook for 300 students. Not to mention the rules & guidelines from the govt. we must follow. That peanut butter dish would not even be allowed in the kitchen due to allergies. I know our staff tries our hardest to make healthy food given what we have to work with. love the show!!
I have to say, I am weary of all the political and controversial overtones this season. But if you want to discuss school lunches, let's do. My kids go to a private school (because our public school is a waste of time) and do you know how much is budgeted for their lunches? NOTHING. That's right. $0. It is up to their parents to pack healthy lunches and send it along with them. And we do. Last time I checked, that was still allowed in public school, too.
Well the fact that your child goes to a private school pretty much colored everything you had to say from there on. YOU obviously must live well enough to afford giving your child a nutritious meal. The parent's who have no choice but to send their kids to as you say waste of time public schools often neither have the time nor money to acquire that luxury.