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Top Chef Favorite Challenges

Given the rather pedestrian challenges given the chefs recently, I thought it would be cool to list all the challenges that made the show great just to remind us of what is possible.

The Snow White challenge. Cook a dish that reflects the story of EVIL in the Snow White story line. Outside of the fact that Charlize Theron was the guest judge, I thought this really gave the chefs a way to express themselves and do some outrageous things visually and thematically. it allowed them to go off the reservation for once and most of them rose to the challenge.

The tribute to the person who inspired you to cook. With Patti Labelle. I thought the emotional content of the challenge really inspired the chefs to cook and show where their passion comes from.

All the challenges involving kitchen prep work. It is really impressive to see some pros do their thing. Spike was never my favorite, but man can that guy butcher!! It was amazing to watch and admire.

I like the challenges where they threw in a change in plans so that they had to be creative and be flexible, not too many changeups, just one or two and that is it.. This year it was the conveyor belt challenge. in LCK where they had the switch their work station, ingredients and dish. There was the team challenge where they had to make a dish as a team, where one person prepped and got the dish started and then the next chef came in and had to make do with what the previous person had left them.

restaurant Wars is always fun, it feeds the imagination and the chefs really had to scramble to put something coherent together in a short tiem. I wish they would just leave the front of the house and the decorating stuff to the pros with input from the chefs but leave them to do their stuff.

The mystery ingredient challenge is always kind of interesting, which brings me to why I dislike Chopped. the concept is great, but it is a one trick pony kind of a show where they take just one challenge from many and work it to death. Now Iron Chef is the same way, but the kitsch and fun involved in Iron Chef makes it much more appealing than Chopped. They are just wa too serious.

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  1. -Tag team cooking skills challenge(Good times with Casey and the infamous onions).
    -Famous dish replication challenge(think it was Hung's season where the contestants had to replicate a potato encrusted halibut dish from Le Cirque)
    -Offal or exotic ingredients challenges.
    -There was one challenge where they had to last as long as possible on the line in Hubert Keller's kitchen during rush hour. That was a lot of fun to watch(think it was Lee Anne's season).

    3 Replies
    1. re: Evilbanana11

      That tag team challenge you mention was actually a QF Mies en Plas challenge. They have done some sort of knife skills QF just about every season I believe.

      The challenge where the contestants were cooking in Hubert Keller's kitchen occurred in the first episode of the first season of Top Chef. Keller kicked out of the of the contestants for sticking his finger in the sauce to taste it. The offending chef was also the first ever to be eliminated.

      1. re: John E.

        The freaky martial arts obsessed English guy.

        1. re: Phaedrus

          Of course I don't know if it was intentional or not, but to call and Irishman and Englishman, them's fightin' words. I looked him up, Ken Lee, from Dublin. The only reason I ever saw that first episode is because it was free in iTunes.

    2. I like the quickfires that are ingredient identification tests.

      I like when chefs are made to use canned or processed foods (unless it is annoyingly blatant product placement...basically, it's okay when there are several options), such as the vending machine challenge (Season 2 or Masters Season 1) or the cornfield challenge from the current Season 9.

      I like when they are forced to confront unusual ingredients that may be unfamiliar to them, such as the exotic surf and turf or being made to use cactus (season 6).

      I like when chefs are made to update mainstream American food such as the family favorites challenge from Season 3 or the 60s classic dishes from Masters Season 3. I do like to laugh whenever a chef demonstrates that they live in a bubble and are out of touch with middle America.

      1. The Ellis Island challenge on all-stars was a good one. I actually like the cookig out of the vending machines and the one were Hung did the Smurf dish!

        1 Reply
        1. re: wincountrygirl

          that's what i was going to suggest. dishes that mean most to the chef's.

          like that, i also liked the cooking for the mentors from tonights episode.
          seems like anything really emotional will work well.

        2. i generally am the biggest fan of the challenges that allow contestants to actually cook within their wheelhouse. The creative and strange challenges are all well and good, but i like to see what the chefs are really apable of when they are at full-power

          1. I like the blind taste test challenge. A nice twist would be to make a dish using only the foods the chefs could not identify.

            2 Replies
            1. re: dave_c

              i always like when they do this one on Hells Kitchen. because the contestants are always just awful at it.

              A twist on this one i like that they have done is the Identify the Ingredients challenge, where the cheftestants are given a dish and told to identify as many ingredients that went into it as possible

            2. I really liked the tag team cooking quick fire challenge from the Las Vegas season. It wasn't the tag team challenge where they had to do mis en place. It was the one where one team member started a dish while the other teammates were blindfolded, and then when Tom called time the next member started where the last member left off, and so on and so forth until the last member finished off a completed dish. The chefs had to kind of leave clues as to what they were conceptualizing and I found it interesting to see how some of the chefs interpreted the clues and the direction they took it.

              2 Replies
              1. re: yummfood

                I liked that challenge also. One of my favorites.

                1. Someone else complained in another thread about the conch challenge from Season 8, so I'll just say that I loved it and, in general, I love the idea of making the chefs cook somewhere other than a professional kitchen at least a few times each season.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: FoodPopulist

                    What was a bit funny about the conch challenge is that although they had to dive in about 5 feet of water to pick up the conch, all of those conch were planted there by some native diver as instructed by the producers.

                    1. re: FoodPopulist

                      that was me. and i wasn't "complaining" specifically about the conch challenge so much as expressing my general distaste for what appears to be a trend toward increasingly gimmicky and outlandish challenges and finales. the chefs this season have cooked in an open field; at a rodeo; on makeshift BBQ pits & in campers; in random people's homes; at a ranch; at a block party; at The Alamo...that more than covers "at least a few times" outside a professional kitchen.

                      sure, it's fun to see how adaptive and inventive they can be once in a while, but all these wacky challenges week after week detract from the food, and from the culinary talent of the chefs. it used to be that for the finale the chefs were told that it was a chance to cook the meals of their lives, and to do their food, their way. and each time the chefs all said that's why they were there, and that it was what they had been waiting for. this show is supposed to be about the best CHEF, so i'd really like to see who brings it when you strip away all the inane crap and just let them do what they do.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        totally agree with you. was happy that they got to cook something the way that they wanted to, with the ingredients they wanted to this week for the elimination challenge

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          While I agree to an extent, I just loved episode 1 of TC Masters..
                          From Wikipedia:
                          "Elimination Challenge: The chefs are challenged to create a three-course meal for the critics and a group of college students using only a microwave, a toaster oven, and a hot plate. They are restricted to a limited pantry and must cook in actual dorm rooms at Pomona College in Claremont, California. "

                          Watching people who had so solemnly participated as judges on Top Chef getting hit with the wacky stick just made me smile.

                      2. If the TopChef producers care at all about their viewing audience, they would make some changes for next season. By changes, I mean returning to the focus on the food. Hugh Achesom recognizes it. From his blog:

                        "Though there was drama, though there were emotional battles, though there was tension, we really did see great food and great chefs. You don’t have to love them all -- that’s not what this is about. Perhaps some of the challenges were over-the-top and exhausting. We hear you. Trust me when I say that the show’s aim is to showcase great food, and show that being a chef is sometimes a matter of working under immensely strange pressure. "

                        Now I understand that they are trying to keep it fresh but the truth is, it is getting harder and harder to come up with fresh new challenges without resorting to strange situations and ridiculous scenarios that lead to "strange pressure".

                        So what they really SHOULD do is solicit "Fan Favorite Challenges" just like the topic of this thread. Next season would be Season 10 which would be perfect. No ridiculous challenges and no fear of boring their audience with recycled challenges because the audience would feel some degree of ownership over the season's challenges. Hear that, producers? It's OK to re-use some challenges. In fact, we WANT to see some of the same challenges again with new talent.

                        I enjoyed the Asian tag team quickfire this season. And from Season all-stars (?), the tennis match was fun because it was a team challenge but still straight head to head, one against one. The team just had to strategize who to send against who. But bad uncooked beans not put into play should not keep you safe.

                        1. Agree that the Snow White challenge was the best overall this season.

                          I enjoy the mise en place relay races (all of them), but watching TC3's Hung breaking down 4 whole chickens - just amazing. Besides - he also made the Smurf Village. :-)

                          TC5's recreation of a 6-course lunch @ Le Bernardin after having had tasted these dishes. I mean come on - Chef Ripert was there. ;-)

                          TC7's Bocuse d'Or challenge. Quite simply, the most masterful cooking and presentation EVER done on Top Chef.

                          TC8 (All-Stars) where they cooked a dish in the style of the high-end restaurants they were cooking in (wd~50, Má Pēche).

                          I also kind of enjoyed watching TC8's preparation of a dish without utensils - remembering Mike Isabella grating cheese on the rack. :-)

                          For emotional factor, in TC8, the creation of a dish inspired by their ancestry after reviewing their family tree with family members on Ellis Island. I loved that no one went home from this challenge because of the high caliber of dishes.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            The season 8 quickfire without utensils was Fabio Viviani grating cheese on the rack.