Friday, May 2, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Week Eight: Child's Play

This week on Top Chef Chicago, it was "take your kid to work day". Well, not literally. But there were a lot of kids... and a lot of talk about kids... and about single parents raising kids. Basically it was the Nikki and Antonia show. Hey, if last season taught us anything, food with a "story" (or "soul", per last season) always wins more points with the judges... and this week was no exception.

The show opens with another blatantly brand-sponsor focused Quickfire Challenge, which seem to have become commonplace in Top Chef. Sidebar: Really, do they need all of these advertising dollars to keep this show afloat? I think not. Yes, its a great marketing opportunity, but the vast majority of the product placement on Top Chef is interruptive and overdone, and therefore ends up having an negative effect on viewers such as myself. Those times that it's done well, it fits seamlessly into a challenge, and makes sense, as in the beer pairing quickfire or the Weber tailgate. But when we have a breakfast challenge utilizing a certain brand of blender, a challenge build around Bombay Sapphire gin, and in this case, a quickfire built around 90-second Uncle Ben's rice, it all seems a bit contrived.

Nevertheless, here I am, blogging about Uncle Ben's, further spreading the brand name, so it seems that the marketers have won. Anyway, back to the Quickfire: the cheftestants are given just 15 minutes and a sack of Uncle Ben's "Ready Rice" (ready in 90 seconds... which means it's probably not that good) to create a complete, healthy meal. Art Smith is the guest judge, and Dale, Richard, and Antonia come out on top. And surprise: Antonia wins with a rice-salad creation.
So the girl's got some game! I guess she's stepping it up in the wake of her recent mishaps.

Now we're on to the Elimination Challenge: guest judge Art Smith is all about easy, healthy cooking for the whole family. And apparently budget cooking as well, because he gives the cheftestants just $10 each to purchase food and complete meal for a family of four. After hitting Whole Foods, it's off to the Washburn Institute to cook the food (this is one of the places we thought might have been the Top Chef kitchen last fall. Not so!). And surprise! It's take your kid to work day in the kitchen, as Art Smith brings in some of the children from his non-profit, Common Threads, to be sous chefs for a day.

Antonia gets all teary from missing her daughter (apparently she's a single mom!), and Nikki launches into several anecdotes about her hard-knock life cooking for herself as a child. The chefs are actually great with the kids - I thought they would be more frustrated, but even in the commentary, it seems that everyone got a kick out of them. And they were soooo excited to be there! How fun.

When all the meals shake out, Antonia, Nikki, and Andrew are on the top. Art Smith gushes over Nikki's dish because of his love for "one pot wonders". However, the win goes to Antonia for her simple stir-fry with wheat noodles. A double win!

In the bottom are Steph (again! gasp!), Lisa, and Mark. I was worried about Steph all through the show, because she seemed so down in her cutaway comments. I was so worried that she was going to get the boot. And then we see why: Steph paired peanut butter, tomatoes, and lemon in her dish - which apparently didn't turn out so well. Mark made a curry with no protein - which may be popular with kids in Australia, but whose complex flavors have yet to win over Americans. And Lisa's underseasoned chicken dish impressed no one. Ultimately, its Mark who gets the boot, to a loud sigh of relief from the girls in my apartment. Steph lives to see another week, but she's going to need to step up her game if she wants to stay in it! To quote Christian Soriano, the competition is getting FIERCE!

Next week: the chefs cook for a whole wedding, which partially explains why they apparently need to stay up all night slaving in the kitchen. I spotted a friend of mine from work in the previews (imagine that! I love Chicago!) so check back for the inside scoop here on Thursday.


Amy said...

Uncle Ben's minute rice is REALLY good, FYI. I hate their marketing, too. But seriously, try the rice. Not as good as a rice cooker, of course, but it's foolproof and nice and moist!

Amy said...

PS: AHHH their marketing strategy is working! Darn you, Uncle Ben!