Top Chef: Episode 4.8 Gourmet or No Way?
Watching this week's episode of Top Chef 4 made me feel like a kid again. No, not the childlike wonder at learning new things, nor the youthful excitement at an interesting challenge. Instead, it was more like, “Brussels sprouts and beets? Yuck!”

But good for the chefs for trying to introduce the kids to new vegetables in such a way that maybe the kids won't grow up to have the same kind of vegetable aversion that I have. Involving kids in the cooking process is a great way to get them into food in a healthy and long-lasting way.

Most of the chefs I talk to, whether for my Top Chef 4 interviews or elsewhere, seem to have started cooking at a young age with their families. Even if the kids involved with this challenge or at the Common Threads organization don't grow up to be professional chefs, at least they'll have a good foundation of knowing how to cook interesting, varied, and healthy meals for themselves. Like learning a foreign language, it's possible to do this as an adult, but it's nowhere near as easy as getting all that knowledge as a young person.

But even though the kids made for a heart-warming show, Top Chef isn't kindergarten, and everyone can't win. Mark Simmons was still sent home this week, and I'll still take a look at the dishes to decide who seemed most and least appealing.



Antonia Lofaso had a lock on this episode from minute one, since she has a young daughter at home. I have never been too keen on the idea of kids myself, but when Antonia made the “Smell Mop Who” joke, it suddenly seemed slightly more appealing. You have a built in audience for sophomoric jokes, at least until the tween or teen years. That is a selling point.

And, apparently, having a kid can also inspire you to create quick, tasty and healthy dinners, as Antonia did with her Whole-Wheat Noodle Stir-Fry. While it's simple, it's well-balanced, kid-friendly, and the judges reaction showed it's quite tasty. Lee Ann Wong said in her blog that after re-creating the dish for the Wong Way to Cook video, she's now adding the dish to her quick supper repertoire.

Spike Mendelsohn Pasta Puttanesca, Carrot Soup and “Semi-Baked Apple” didn't make it into the top three, but I personally found his dish more appealing than Andrew D'Ambrosi or Nikki Cascone, in part for its multiple components.

First of all, pasta with tomato sauce is a near-universal kid pleaser, and he was smart to use the tomato sauce as a way to deliver extra vegetables. He also did a great job with stretching his dollar by also making a carrot soup and baking an apple for dessert. I liked that he provided multiple dishes in his dinner. I think having one nice, well-balanced dish is great, but I think having a few different ones is a way to keep kids interested and excited about the meal. Also, having a variety of healthy foods means you are covering a wider spectrum of vitamins and minerals as you reap the benefits of the many different ingredients.


Stephanie Izard's Braised Chicken and dish was a confusing mess to me. Couscous, peanut butter, and tomatoes all sounded challenging enough, but then when getting the photo from the website, I read that it also included chive yogurt? Wow, that just seems like a lot to process. I will note, though, that guest judge Art Smith actually appeared to like the combination in his blog, so maybe it could work for some?

And have to add Mark to the list as well. I like curry, and I thought that attempting a vegetarian dish was a good way to stretch the dollar. But I do have to agree with the judges that the nutritional value of the dish – in comparison to some of the others – wasn't as great. The root veggies have tons of good nutrients, but coconut milk might not be something a health-conscious chef would want to serve in a weeknight supper, saving its fat content for a special occasion meal. I also think the sweet-on-sweet of sweet potatoes in curry might be too “weird” for many young people. I think I was into my twenties before I lost that six-year-old desire to segregate the savory from the sweet.

I didn't add Lisa Fernandes because after reading the judges' and Lee Ann's blogs, it seems like she mainly just needed to season, and otherwise the dish – while not as immediately appealing as others – might have been serviceable.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Images courtesy of Bravo)