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Top Chef - D.C. - Ep.12 - Space Food Challenge, What would YOU have cooked?

Okay, I'm going to be crabby here, but it seems to me that not one single contestant had a clue of what the challenge conditions were: Had to be food that would freeze dry well, not too sweet, spicy and strong flavors go over well in weightlessness, no large chunks... Have I missed anything? And to a soul, they all made fancy schmancy froo froo dishes with stacked entrees and many many things that will never freeze dry! Personal opinion? Someone should freeze dry some steaks and make those contestants (cheftestants if you prefer) eat the damned things!

So what would you have made that fits the criteria? The first thing that popped into my mind was Mexican burritos. Hey, all of the astronauts spend time in Texas, so don't tell me they haven't had a burrito! I do know that space food can be re-hydrated and heated. And some things can simply be hermetically sealed. The sole reason for freeze drying is weight reduction. The first time I had freeze dried space ice cream I thought it was a plastic pillow of air until I opened it and found there really was something in it! So for presentation on the show, I would have packed two flour tortillas per serving in a plastic bag that had the air pumped out of it by the cryovac machine that does that for sous vide preparation. Then I would have fixed a nice pot of beans and picadillo with peppers and onions because ground beef does freeze dry just fine. And some cheese to go in it, that also freeze dries and rehydrates, and maybe even some avocado/guacamole and tomatoes because they will freeze dry well too.

For the show's earthbound guests and judges, I would have served it as an assemble yourself dish with the tortillas in a sealed bag and bags of the bean/beef filling and a smaller bag of shredded cheese. It would require the compromise of serving it hot and un-freeze dried, but it would give them some sense of what it is like to eat in space.

So what is your idea for space food that meets the criteria? As far as I'm concerned, every "cheftestant" on last night's show should have had to pack their bags and go! They all failed miserably to meet the challenge in my book.

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    1. I agree. I think that is probably why Tom C smirked when Angelo told him he has making short ribs. However I don't think that the challenge was explained well, and that these chefs probably don't have any idea as to what would freeze dry well, so just went with something they thought that would be impressive. I am not familiar with the mechanics of freeze drying food, but it seems that they should have had to serve their dishes side by side--a fresh version and one that had been freeze dried.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jules127

        I also think they cheftestants latched onto the fact that the food scientist said that well-spiced foods are highly favored. So they went with something that tasted good; just not something that could potentially be freeze-dried (onions rings - I'm talking to YOU, Kevin!)

      2. I'm totally with you Caroline1.

        As to what I've would cooked? I was thinking about this very thing this morning during my run. Probably spicy chili with corn bread, and some CHICARONNES for garnish on the chili!

        1. I think the chefs didn't have enough information. Why or how would they know which foods freezedry well or how to do it? If I had been the producer of this episode, I would have provided some samples of common dishes that had been freeze-dried and reconstituted, so they could get some kind of clue of what might make good choices for their presentation.

          I have no idea what I would have made, having not experienced freeze-dried food that I'm aware of, other than that nasty Tang.

          14 Replies
          1. re: ChefJune

            They did provide examples .. chicken fajita and a couple of others were mentioned by the astronauts at the ISS.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              nothing to taste, tho... Do you really think anyone could have won that challenge wit Chicken Fajitas? If Bourdain poo-pooed sirloin steak, he would have crucified fajitas!

              1. re: ChefJune

                Yeah, I agree with you.

                This is why I don't think the show really took advantage of the NASA theme/angle.

                I would've maybe given each chef a basket of freeze-dried goods and have them cook a dish incorporating each of those ingredients.

                Here's $200 to go shopping at Whole Foods, but whatever you make, you've got to use freeze dried ice cream, freeze dried chocolate cake, etc. Now, that woud've been interesting.

            2. re: ChefJune

              "I have no idea what I would have made, having not experienced freeze-dried food that I'm aware of, other than that nasty Tang."................ChefJune

              Tang is NOT freeze dried. It's simply powdered. But have you ever had one of those 99 cent cups of ramen noodles that many college kids live on because of budget restrictions? Well, if you've ever had one of those, ALL of the vegetables in the little packet are freeze dried. I don't think there is anyone in the country who hasn't eaten freeze dried food. Now, whether or not they know it is freeze dried when they eat it is another matter. But chefs SHOULD know! ALL chefs should know!

              My favorite freeze dried food is corn. It's as interesting as popcorn, and if you eat it without rehydrating it, it's crunchy and tastes really interesting! You can get large packs of it and other freeze dried foods from "survival" supply stores on line, as well as some commercial food wholesalers.

              1. re: Caroline1

                <have you ever had one of those 99 cent cups of ramen noodles that many college kids live on because of budget restrictions?> I tried one, once, but it was SO salty I had to toss it.

                1. re: ChefJune

                  Ditto that. I can't deal with them. They're not "Cup-O-Noodles" - they're Cup-O-Salt".

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    You could use just half of the seasoning mix packet...just saying...

                    1. re: huiray

                      You know what? I think even *that* would be too salty for me. And since I can afford something more than Cup-O-Noodles, I'll pass. :-)

              2. re: ChefJune

                Chef June I agree with you. I don't know if the chefs had more information or not, but as a viewer I wanted more info. Especially since I thought Angelo missed the mark with his short ribs.

                Caroline1, to answer your question, I immediately thought of pulled pork bbq kicked up a notch so it is smoky and spicy, but I never got beyond that.

                  1. re: lizzy

                    I have mastered pulled seitan and nominate it as the penultimate space food. Yeah, ok you guys I know you're all spelling is SAtan, but it'd be a perfect dish. I bake it with spicy, gingery bbq sauce to dry it out a little and give it a meatier texture. Starting from freeze dried might make it even better. And it's something for the occasional vegetarian astronaut to be happy about.

                    1. re: MplsM ary

                      Remember the pierced woman with the tattoos and stretched earlobes that made seitan chile rellenos on TC6? (I shouldn't judge her by her appearance, I know. I can get past the tats and piercings, but the ear thing weirded me out). It didn't go so well for her.

                      1. re: John E.

                        I do remember. .Tom said it would've been terrible no matter which protein she used. Don't blame seitan, blame Jen Z.

                        1. re: MplsM ary

                          I wasn't blaming the seitan, I was merely recalling the only time I've seen it used on Top Chef.

                1. I'm wondering if they will actually put Angelo's short ribs on the flight. It seems to be the opposite of what they instructed--big pieces, too sweet. I was also surprised at the fried food. Will fried food stay crunchy freeze dried? Or, taste crunchy in a good way?

                  The first thought I had was chili but too boring/common and would never win. The question is what does freeze dry well and that would help. OTOH, I haven't had a lot of freeze dried astronaut food but the few things I've tried were terrible.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chowser

                    <I'm wondering if they will actually put Angelo's short ribs on the flight. It seems to be the opposite of what they instructed--big pieces, too sweet.>

                    I wondered the same thing, chowser. After thinking about the challenge for the last couple of days, I came up with duck leg confit that might work freeze-dried and reconstituted, yet be considered "gourmet" enough for Top Chef. But not too much else. Maybe Boeuf Bourguignon.

                    1. re: chowser

                      < "I'm wondering if they will actually put Angelo's short ribs on the flight. It seems to be the opposite of what they instructed--big pieces, too sweet" >
                      ------
                      Yet when Anthony Bourdain praised Angelo's dish at the dining table and said that he could imagine it being amenable to being adapted for space travel the NASA food scientist at table nodded - in agreement, it would seem to me.

                      I could envision the dish being massaged without loosing the flavor or intent - e.g. the short rib (already boneless, remember) could be cut into smaller pieces (duh!), the toppings and sauce could be placed in separate bags, the sugar content scaled back a bit if needed etc etc before freeze drying. Regarding that "problematic sugar content" - recall that the NASA scientist said that the sugar content shouldn't be TOO high, not that it couldn't be sweet.

                      Angelo's worry about whether it was too sweet, and Tom's comment about it being sweet for him are not really meaningful in this context because we don't know how much sugar is too much for purposes of freeze drying.

                      (...and besides, I'm not sure I always trust that Colicchio's taste buds are calibrated properly)