Top Chef Deathmatch: Uno

dsc01707Lately I’ve really enjoyed Bravo’s show Top Chef. The concept of the show is simple, so simple that it may not intrigue you upon first glance: It’s reality show to determine the best chef among a group of professional and semi-professional chefs. There’s not a lot of personal drama mixed into the show; mostly it’s just about cooking.

It’s utterly fascinating.

Each show consists of a “quickfire” challenge in which contestants are given 30 minutes and a theme (usually sponsored, like Quaker Oats) to create a dish, followed by a much longer, complex challenge. The winner of the challenge is rewarded, and the loser is sent home.

The finale was last week; I’m sure Bravo has marathons every now and then if you want to check it out. A warning: If you get into the show, you’re going to want to cook. And you’re also going to realize rather quickly that you’re not as good as the cooks on the show.

I have two friends in town that consider themselves pretty good chefs. Charles actually has a food blog, Judicial Peach, which I’ve mentioned before on this blog. Eric also has a blog, The Dirty Chronicles, but it’s not about food (he just happens to be a good cook). Although there’s not an ounce of competitive blood between the two of them, I proposed a top chef challenge to them to determine who the best cook is among my group of friends.

Thus the Top Chef Deathmatch: Uno was born.

The rules were as follows (nothing was set in stone; these evolved over the course of the night):

  1. Charles and Eric would convene with their girlfriends at my place on Saturday night, along with several other friends (the judges).
  2. The chefs were to bring two proteins, one for the appetizer, one for the entree.
  3. Each other guest would bring a secret ingredient unknown to all; these would be revealed at my place before the chefs started cooking.
  4. The chefs would then have the next hour and a half to create the best possible appetizer and entree using all ingredients, as well as whatever spices or sauces I had available in my kitchen.
  5. The chefs were allowed help with the dicing and chopping. After all, this was a social gathering–I didn’t want the chefs to feel like they were serving us. I think they ended up feeling like that a little bit anyway, but for the most part, the rest of us hung around the kitchen and helped whenever we were needed. Their girlfriends helped the entire time.
  6. The four judges would decide individually which appetizer they liked best and which entree they liked best, and the votes would be compiled as such.

The judging ended up being my favorite part of the night. We took it quite seriously, even though we had been drinking a little bit (perhaps because we had been drinking a little bit…we were complimentary of everything, but we didn’t hold back constructive criticism either). Each of us talked about each dish in detail–what worked, what didn’t work, texture, taste, creativity, presentation, etc.

And creativity was key, considering the secret ingredients involved. They were:

  • broccoli
  • eggplant
  • lime
  • bacon (Trevor almost brought raccoon, but though better of it at the last minute)
  • almonds
  • onions

The chefs brought filo crust, homemade sheets of pasta, chicken, and salmon. As I said, both made really high-quality dishes, but in the end, Charles was the victor.

We’ll be doing this again with different chefs. Look forward to Top Chef Grilloff Deathmatch in mid-April. For now, I leave you with two photos of the dishes that were made.

spinach and bacon wrapped in breaded chicken filets

eggplant wrapped in bacon, brushed with a pepper demiglaze