Now, back to Top Chef Three and the "Upscale Barbecue" challenge our contestants faced in Episode Two. Thanks to Lee Schrager, director of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the addition of champagne to an already beautiful setting made it one of my favorite days on set. What could be better than smoky, grilled meat, chilled bubbly and Florida sunshine? As most people know, many cultures and regions, in this country and abroad, are fiercely protective, not to mention very serious, about their barbecue.
The term barbecue can mean many different things to everyone, and as we all gathered around the grills, I looked forward to discovering what each chef would prepare. Tom, Padma, Chef Norman Van Aken and I were interested in dishes that raised those slow-cooked, smoky flavors to new levels by interpreting them in high-end ways. We also wanted to see how our chefs would do so while interpreting what barbecue means to them, regardless of their obvious regional differences.
Almost all the contestants rose to the occasion. I personally loved Sara's Vietnamese Barbecue with Rib Eye and Cucumber Salad. The sweet and spicy beef was loaded with flavor, and when coupled with fresh radish, chilies, and rolled in a crisp lettuce leaf it created a cooling crunch. The perfect food for a hot summer day.