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Three Meals and a Baby

Tom Colicchio explains that just becausre you're cooking for babies, doesn't mean your food has to be plain.

By Tom Colicchio

First of all, I want to say how much I appreciate not only your enthusiasm for Top Chef, but also your interest in my blog and your spirited responses week after week. While I seldom have time to reply directly to any individual posting (it’s hard to even have time to write the blog itself!), I really welcome the feedback. Thank you.  
Work brings me to Australia for the next three weeks, and the blogs I submit from Down Under may be briefer than usual. I promise to say more in the ensuing weeks (when the heat will be up on those chefs still standing).
Obviously, this week’s Quickfire Challenge was a fun one for both Padma and myself. Tasting each dish invoked for us images of our babies, as we imagined what their responses would be to each spoonful. I was pleased overall with the chefs’ performances on this task. They thought well on their feet and produced quite a few dishes my chowhound 11-month old would gladly tuck into (and gleefully share with our puppy, too. So much for training her not to beg).
Contrary to popular belief, by the way, cooking for babies does not mean throwing seasoning to the wind. Babies crave taste sensations like the rest of us, and while we don’t want to shock their systems or upset their wee digestive tracks, we can start them off on a lifelong love of food by seasoning theirs, albeit with a lighter hand. Hence my pleasure in seeing the chefs experiment with fenugreek and licorice oil. We just need to be alert to food allergies and sensitivities nowadays (unfortunately!) and introduce new foods slowly enough and at the right stages of babies’ digestive development.  
The format of the Elimination Challenge was an interesting one. It was very high stakes, as it led to the elimination of two chefs, and it was structured so that each pair would sink or swim together. Whether each chef tried to pin blame on the other for a fault in the dish, they’d both be leaving if the dish were found to be the weakest. I appreciated this feature of the challenge – at the end of the night, it doesn’t matter which line cook might have erred if a dish misses its mark. Whether he or she is even on the premises, it’s still the chef who is ultimately responsible for everything that leaves his or her kitchen. I was glad to hear Lynne acknowledge that the pasta was undercooked, since apparently she was the one who insisted Arnold wait to cook it. On the other hand, Arnold should have insisted they put it up sooner.
With this format, we wound up presented with three dinner dishes that were all solidly good dishes. As has happened countless times in the past, we had to pick the weakest among strong dishes for elimination. Arnold and Lynne’s had larger flaws in the execution than did the other two dishes. Furthermore, one criterion of the challenge was to create a dish that Hilton could add to its menus worldwide. While tasty, Arnold and Lynne’s dish is not as widely appealing as were the two short-rib dishes. It is hard to eliminate chefs who performed well, but a team’s creating a good dish was not enough here:  In this tough challenge, where chefs had three chances to outshine their colleagues, Arnold and Lynne repeatedly failed to do so.  
More from Oz next week.

How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

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