Top Chef: Episode 4.10 Gourmet or No Way?
This week on Top Chef 4, the chefs had the challenge of making a healthy and hearty boxed lunch that would satisfy the appetites of police officers. Making healthy food feel as satisfying as a typical full-fat to-go lunch was challenging enough. The chefs were thrown an additional wrinkle when the prize for the Quickfire Challenge – won by Spike Mendelsohn – was to select ingredients that would then be off-limits to the other chefs. He picked some of the most fundamental lunch building blocks: bread, chicken, lettuce and tomatoes.

Unfortunately for Spike, it would seem that the idea that limitations can bring out the best creative solutions held true in this case. He might have had the pick of the supermarket, but he used it to a boring end, while his competitors surpassed him with their more limited options.

So of the dishes offered, whose looked the best (Gourmet!) and the worst (No Way!)?

Gotta say, felt like this was kind of a ho-hum episode (other than the fact that Andrew's elimination meant he got more screen time, and he was always a source of some manic entertainment), and the food didn't particularly excite me either.



But if I were faxing over my order for boxed lunch, I think my first two choices would be Stephanie Izard's (despite how wildly unappealing it looks in this photo) and Antonia Lofaso's.

Stephanie's Mushroom-Leek with Meatball soup was said to be perfectly seasoned, and soup is a great way to give someone the sensation of getting a lot of filling food without necessarily bulking it up with calories. I also liked that she had a fruit dessert option; offering a couple of courses – even if they are small – is a good way to make people feel more satisfied by the meal.

Antonia's Curried Beef with Jasmine and Brown Rice was not called as one of the best, but her dish got some good reviews and I think it looks extremely hearty and filling. She too offered a fruit dessert.

Dale Talde's Bison Cabbage Wraps were the winner, so I am mainly including them because they must have tasted great. Personally, I hate these kinds of lettucey-wrap things. While I know they are a part of several Asian cuisines, I can never eat one without feeling highly aware that I am not eating the carb I really wish I was eating. Dale did include some brown rice, so that must have helped with that factor. It sounded like the flavor profile was spot on, so I am sure I would enjoy it if I ate it.



On the other end, I can't really argue with the Top Chef  judges on the worst.

As much as I was sorry to see Andrew D'Ambrosi go, I don't think I would have selected his faux sushi dish myself either. I disagree with the criticism that sushi itself is an insubstantial dish; although brown rice isn't traditional, if you make it with that, and include something like avocado and fish, you've got some hearty grains, fat, and protein there. I like the idea of riffing on this concept, but it sounds like this particular incarnation wasn't popular with the audience. I'm personally also not sure that I would feel as satisfied with the parsnip puree and pine nuts as I would with actual rice.

Even if Spike's chicken salad turned out to be tasty – which, according to the judges, it was not – it seemed like a failure of imagination. The purpose of most Top Chef challenge is to demonstrate some level of creativity and flair, and this dish just seemed lacking. There's nothing about it that would inspire me to order it.

The concept of Lisa Fernandes's dish sounds like something that I wouldn't mind having for my lunch, but it sounded like the flaws of the dish went beyond her rice, sabotaged or not. The feedback from the diners was that it was too spicy and the shrimp wasn't cooked properly either. All in all: not too appetizing.

 - Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Images courtesy of Bravo)