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Top Chef Season 15, Episode 4: 'Little Tools, Big Challenge'



We’re into week four of Top Chef Colorado, and 11 chefs are still standing, including Bar Dough chef Carrie Baird and Brother Luck, the Colorado Springs chef who owns Four By Brother Luck. They’re competing for $125,000, ink in Food & Wine magazine, an appearance at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and the title of Top Chef.

Episode four kicks off with Bruce Kalman, the chef from Connecticut, announcing that he and his wife are going to adopt a baby—a son who’s going to be born while he’s competing on Top Chef. Cue the heartstrings.

After that emotional declaration, host and judge Padma Lakshmi introduces the chefs to guest judge Curtis Stone, head judge of Top Chef Junior. Baird is awestruck. “He is so handsome,” she gushes. And, oh, the English accent! “And he’s tall—tall gets me going,” she sighs.

Things suddenly turn serious. “Until now, it’s kinda been child’s play,” scoffs Lakshmi, who then divulges the Quickfire Challenge: The chefs must update and elevate classic items from a traditional kids’ menu. To determine which dishes the chefs will cook, they draw knives. Baird chooses the knife labeled with a corndog, while Luck gets a burger.

Turns out that the Quickfire Challenge involves a twist: Three kids, including Lydia Patterson (daughter of Lachlan Patterson, chef of Frasca Food and Wine), Jack Seidel (son of Alex Seidel, chef/owner of Mercantile Dining & Provision and Fruition) and Nael Karpinski (daughter of Peter Karpinski, founder of Sage Restaurant Group), are appointed pint-size guest judges.

To the chagrin of the chefs, all of the cookware and utensils are teensy. “Baby whisks, mini grills, baby spoons—it looks like Barbie house just threw up all over Top Chef Kitchen,” quips Luck. “My cutting board is, like, four by four inches,” screams Bird. It’s all a bit gimmicky. Still, Baird acknowledges that the kids have sophisticated palates, so her plan is to cook a corn dog nugget that’s elevated. “I want to knock everyone’s socks off,” she says.

Baird’s corndog doesn’t impress Karpinski. “If this were on a kids’ menu, I don’t think I’d order it,” she announces. Awkward.

On the other hand, Luck’s ground buffalo burger with avocado with jicama fries is deemed “delicious” by Seidel.

Neither wins the Quickfire Challenge: The honor goes to Adrienne Cheatham, a New York competitor who made a pizza with, of all things, a cauliflower crust. The rascal kids love it.

Next up is the Elimination Challenge: “It’s time to get back to your roots,” says Lakshmi.” We want you to make a meal from your own heritage and backgrounds.”

The Elimination Challenge, she adds, will unfold in the kitchen of Departure, Gregory Gourdet’s pan-Asian restaurant in Cherry Creek, but first, the chefs head to the River North Art District (RiNo), home to Comal, an all-female food incubator that provides culinary and business-building skills to women, most of whom are immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador and Syria. “We’re taking you there for inspiration,” says Lakshmi.

On the way to Comal, Luck is reflective. “This is a tough challenge,” he concedes. His father’s heritage, he shares, was Creole, and in the fifth grade, Luck was asked to contribute a recipe for a class cookbook project. “I remember asking my dad for a recipe, and he gave me a dirty rice recipe, which made me so embarrassed because it had gizzards and livers.” His father died three weeks later. “The dirty rice is the only recipe I have from him, and I think that’s what this challenge is about for me— telling that story,” says Luck. It’s a poignant and heart-wrenching moment.

The chefs convene at Comal. “Every city in America needs something like this,” says fearless Top Chef competitor Fatima Ali, who was born in Pakistan and is now a chef in New York. The contestants, along with women of Comal, gather around the community table and feast on mole.

At Departure, the chefs share more of their emotional stories and concentrate on creating multicultural dishes that are close to the heart.

The judging panel, which includes Mexico-born chef Dana Rodriguez, owner of Work & Class and Slavica Park, who’s originally from Bosnia and now the director of Comal, congregate in the dining room of Departure, and the parade of dishes begins with Baird’s pierogi with herb crème fraiche and a fava bean-chorizo salad. “I grew up in Idaho, so I went heavy on potatoes, Irish butter, English cheddar cheese and pierogies, which my grandmother made, and I love,” says Baird.

Guest judge Nilou Motamed, who's from Iran and a contributor to Food & Wine magazine, weighs in: “I think Carrie’s pierogi was a success and the rest was a distraction.”  

Luck, worried that his dirty rice with stewed chicken and spinach, is too simple, has nothing to worry about. “The flavor is exceptional,” says head judge Tom Colicchio, who happens to be the only member at the judging table from the United States.

The Judges deliberate, and the winner of the heritage challenge is Chris Scott, whose lemonade fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits and collard greens, he tells the judges, goes back “eight or nine” generations. There’s no question that Scott is a viable contender.

Baird and Luck (surprisingly) land in the middle of the pack.

Connecticut chef Tyler Anderson, along with Kalman and Joe Flamm (Chicago), are in the bottom three. “It’s hard to send someone home when it’s this personal,” says Colicchio. Still, someone has to go, and it’s Anderson who’s told to pack his knives and leave.

Next week on Top Chef Colorado: The chefs go camping! “I hate camping,” snarls Holland. “There’s so much snow,” whines Baird. If the teaser is any indication of what lies ahead, cooking over a campfire is going to be rough for the chefs.

By Lori Midson

For its 15th season, Top Chef, the smash Bravo TV show that features 15 chefs from across the country competing in high-pressure culinary challenges, unfolds in venues across Colorado, including several locations in Denver. 

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