While shooting our seventh season of Top Chef in D.C. last spring, Padma, Tom and I were given the unique opportunity to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, which happens to take place in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel, where our show was headquartered. After dinner, Tom and I attended a party at the French Consulate. As I was entering, I felt a tap on my shoulder and, turning around, came face to face with teen heartthrob and musician Joe Jonas (known to me up to this point only from my two young nieces’ screams of delight while watching Camp Rock 2: Final Jam). We immediately launched into a heated discussion about food, our favorite restaurants, and the politics of the Top Chef Judges’ Table. I was impressed by his knowledge of and passion for the subject, as well as flattered by how much he said he enjoys watching our show. So it was no surprise that the Top Chef cast and crew welcomed him to our All-Stars set just a few months later. Unfortunately, I was not able to be at the Night at the Museum Quickfire Challenge that day, but was thrilled afterward seeing his enthusiasm come through in the episode.
Tiffani Faison won the Quickfire, in which our chefs were asked to prepare midnight snacks for about 150 tweens (a.k.a. the quintessential Joe Jonas audience) at the American Museum of Natural History, as part of a giant sleepover under the museum’s famed Blue Whale. Exhausted and beaten down by the onslaught of miniature sugar-addicts, our chefs received their next Elimination Challenge: sleep at the museum and cook an early-morning breakfast for the children and their chaperones. In the shadow of looming dinosaur skeletons, Tom explained that the two teams must execute a meal inspired exclusively by the diet of either the carnivorous T-Rex (meat, dairy, eggs) or the Brontosaurus, a herbivore (fruits, vegetables, grains). Tiffani, the Quickfire winner, got to pick the diet her team would use. Knowing that T-Rex was at the top of the food chain, she chose the carnivore option. Spike, captain of the opposing team, was left with the humbler vegetarian diet.
After what must have seemed like a mere few minutes’ sleep in the Hall of American Mammals, our chefs discovered exactly what ingredients were available in each team’s pantry. As much as T-Rex may have ruled the animal kingdom over 65 million years ago, Tiffani and her team actually found their breakfast choices extremely limited, with no herbs and few other flavorings.Their menu definitely had repetitive elements, but when they presented it we were happy to see that they managed to serve a relatively varied, savory breakfast, as heavy as it may have been.
Spike’s team jumped head-first into the diversity of the produce they were given, providing us with a lighter buffet that was certainly more colorful and imaginative. That said, even though it may have had many more components, our young diners were skeptical, to say the least. The line for the carnivore buffet was twice as long as everyone scrambled for what they liked best. At least at first impression, meat and cheese were more familiar, desirable and alluring, proving only that perhaps our human instincts are still quite primitive.