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On the May 6 episode of Bravo's Top Chef, the contestants were shocked to discover Tom Colicchio would be their guest judge for the day's Quickfire challenge. As Producer Rich Brusa told BravoTV.com exclusively, "Tom doesn’t judge the Quickfires, so typically when they see Tom, they know something is up: There’s a twist, there’s something about to happen."
Padma Lakshmi explained that Tom would judge the 30-minute challenge because the chefs would "be working with one of his favorite ingredients: mushrooms." In addition to mushrooms from seven different regions of Oregon, the chefs also had Better Than Bouillon products (such as Roasted Beef, Roasted Chicken, Seasoned Vegetable, Roasted Garlic, Onion, and Mushroom) on hand to complement and enhance the flavors of their dishes.
The chefs "were all very excited to use the Better Than Bouillon products," Brusa recalled. "Using Better Than Bouillon was a way that they would be able to really add some flavor profiles and a complexity to the dish... in a way that they may not have been able to in such a short period of time."
Ultimately, many of the chefs thrived during the challenge, with the top three dishes being Gabe Erales' chanterelle taco with a mushroom bouillon tortilla; Dawn Burrell's wood fire-roasted mushrooms with tarragon mascarpone cream and chili vinaigrette; and Quickfire winner Gabriel Pascuzzi's seared foie gras with fried chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, oven-roasted figs, and herbs.
Here, get a step-by-step guide to making Gabe's next-level mushroom taco, with a tortilla that Tom raved was "beautifully made."
Gabe's Chanterelle Mushroom Taco
- 1 T Mushroom Better Than Bouillon Base
- 300 g masa flour
- Water, as needed
Chile Arbol Fig Jam
- 12 oz ripe figs
- 1 preserved Meyer lemon, cleaned and diced
- 2 Chile de Arbol, minced
- 4 oz water
- 4 oz riesling vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, zested
- 6 oz dried chanterelles, cleaned
- 6 oz champagne vinegar
- 2 oz water
- 1 T salt
- 1 lb golden chanterelle
- 1 bunch thyme
- 3 T butter
- Cilantro stems, minced
- Salsa matcha
- Preheat a nonstick pan or seasoned cast iron skillet to medium-high heat. In a mixing bowl, combine the masa flour and Mushroom Better Than Bouillon Base. Gently scoop 1 tbsp of Better Than Bouillion’s Mushroom base and then slowly add water to hydrate the masa flour. The masa dough should be moist enough so that it doesn’t crack around the edges when balled and pressed up, but doesn’t stick to your skin. Portion into 35 g balls and press using a tortilla press in between two sheets of parchment paper. After pressing, peel off the parchment and place in the heated pan cooking for 15 seconds before flipping. Cook on the second side for 30 seconds and then flip back and cook for final 30-45 seconds. Place in a tortilla warmer or clean towel to retain the heat.
Chile Arbol Fig Jam
- Place all ingredients in a saucepan cook over medium heat until the figs release their juices and the mixture becomes jammy.
- Bring all ingredients except dried mushrooms to a boil. Pour over dried mushrooms and allow to hydrate and pickle for at least 30 minutes.
- Place chanterelles, butter, thyme, salt, and garlic in an oven-proof pan. Place over medium-high heat until butter begins to melt and brown. Transfer to a 400o F oven and roast until caramelized and crispy. Season with salt and lime.
- On one tortilla place a small amount of the fig jam, followed by the roasted mushrooms, pickled mushrooms, salsa matcha, and cilantro stems. Serve with a lime.
Before the challenge even kicked off with Tom as the judge, the cheftestants were hit with another surprise: they had been "transported to some magic Top Chef kitchen forest," as Sara Hauman explained it. While the kitchen setup looked incredible with new greenery, tree stumps, and forest-like decor, it turns out that it wasn't originally the planned location for the challenge.
"We were meant to do this on location in a park. I had scouted almost every single park in Portland with a view," said Brusa. "Initially the challenge was going to be to take something called a Swedish [fire] log, that was going to be their heat source and their cooking surface, and they [would] have to light the stump themselves."
However, the crew quickly made plans to move the challenge indoors. "That was when the wildfires started to get a little out of control in Oregon. [I said,] 'This feels like this wrong timing.' Brusa recalled. "So we decided to pivot and instead of doing it on location, [did] it in the kitchen instead. As a result of that, the art department had to kind of go wild with trying to deck out our kitchen. I can’t think of another time that we really transformed the kitchen in this way."
The cheftestants were blown away by the transformation, but they weren't exactly excited to learn that the tree stumps weren't just decor, but their workstations. While Brusa admitted that production initially wondered, "Is this too hard? Are they gonna have enough space to actually cook?" when the challenge came to life, "Seeing everyone's different methods was probably the most fun part to watch."
To ensure a fair and smooth cooking process, the Top Chef team "got in touch with a logger, or a lumberjack... to cut each stump specifically the same height and make sure that [they were] coming from the same trees so they’re about the same width," Brusa said. "It’s important that everyone have as close to an identical station as possible. This way they’re all on an even playing field."
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