Padma Lakshmi

Rocco DiSpirito takes on Top Chef and Anthony Bourdain.

on Aug 5, 2007

The team in purgatory was Brian and Sarah N. Their dish should get special mention for including a delicious flavor packet in the bag. It was very good dish, but just not as good as the two top teams.

It would be difficult to write a list of skills a cook should possess to become Top Chef. The challenges are so varied and the parameters so random in many ways it reminds me of what its like to run a restaurant. You never know what's going to happen. Clearly, one has to know one's strengths and play out each challenge with that in mind. This challenge seemed easy enough; open a bag of Bertolli frozen dinner, look at it and duplicate it. The only team that did that won the trip to Italy. Kudos to them. I know Tre and CJ will benefit tremendously from the Italian sun and fun once this is all over.

The teams of Tre & CJ and Casey & Dale both found synergy in their respective partnerships and that's the name of the game when you're teamed up. This clearly wasn't only a challenge about frozen food, it was also about how well you can collaborate on the dime. Cooking is so difficult, so full of challenges you need to stack the deck in your favor every chance you get. So alienating your partner is a bad idea. I know this first hand.

Both teams chose ingredients that freeze well, like kale, and chicken, meatballs, orecchiette and pesto, all great choices. The meatballs were so happy to be frozen it seemed like they refused to defrost (I tried to tell them because I really liked their dish.). In addition to individually freezing the elements of their dish, Tre and CJ did what cooks have been doing for years. They reduced flavored liquids into concentrated bases and froze them in little blocks. Glace de veau, case in point. This ultimately was the key to their success. As for the other dishes, who wants to eat over cooked unscrewed-corkscrew pasta in 3 drab colors with bad tomato sauce? Apparently nobody. Not even for free. Or how about burned fusilli with a fennel vinaigrette? Its pasta, why a vinaigrette?