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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Top Chef contestant's reference to low-carb

This December, the Bravo competitive reality series Top Chef aired a holiday special featuring a selection of contestants from the show's three past cycles in a one-day cook-off. This clip, which references a low-carb approach to cuisine, is around 30 seconds long. A transcript follows at the bottom of this post.



One the holiday special's contestants was Tre Wilcox, a contestant from cycle three, Top Chef Miami, which aired fall 2007. Tre is chef de cuisine at Abacus in Dallas, according to that restaurant's current Web site.

One of Top Chef's judges and hosts is chef Tom Colicchio, owner and executive chef of a string of restaurants including Craft, 'Wichcraft and Crafsteak. This clip is from a portion of the holiday special where Tom talks to all the "cheftestants" in the kitchen to get a sense of what each one is planning, and how they're coming along, on the event's main challenge. Each contestant must prepare his or her own three-course holiday meal for the panel of judges.

In the brief conversation between Tom and Tre -- or at least, the brief portion that was aired in the show -- Tre alludes to using less carbohydrate in his cooking than he did in the past. He says he wants to "get a lot leaner." He describes the reduction of carbohydrate as a way to "refine" traditional dishes.

Of interest is the fact that this professional chef is speaking of reduced-carb cooking in a positive light. He speaks of it as a means of improving the culinary quality of a dish, and also as a means of controlling overweight. (He looks plenty lean on this show -- one could easily guess that the low-carb living is working well for him.) Tre also refers to the traditional dishes as "pretty heavy," which has become, in the mainstream, shorthand for "high-fat." But in this context, he seems to be linking "heaviness" explicitly with starchiness.

Also of interest, although more tangentially, is the fact that during cycle three, one of the challenges involved remaking a classic American home cooking dish into something "more healthy." In the context of the challenge, that meant the usual, unfortunate, modern equation: less fat = better. There was no mention of carb content, or of the unhealthfulness of sugar and starch.

Tre's dish for that challenge was Roast Chicken Cordon Bleu with Bluefoot Chanterelles, Asparagus & Parsnip Sauce. If you read the recipe, you'll note that the only carby component is the parsnips in the sauce. I hadn't noticed it when first watching the show, but the dish is consistent with a low-carb perspective. Most other contestants' entries in that round used more heavy-duty starches, and much more prominently -- pasta, cous cous, potatoes, tortillas -- or else fruity sauces or compotes -- raisins, apricots. These reinterpretations of the American classics were much more in line with the mainstream vision: take out the fat, replace the missing energy and/or flavor with carbs in the form of starch and/or sugar.

TRANSCRIPT OF THE CLIP

TC: Hey, Tre. How's it going, man?

TW: How are you?

TC: Good to see you.

TW: Good to see you, bro.

TC: Happy holidays.

TW: Happy holidays to you, brother.

TC: Growing up in Texas, what were holidays all about? In your house?

TW: Holidays were all about just nice, comforting food. Pretty heavy, you know? I mean I'm trying to get a lot leaner now, so I don't do as much of the carbs and stuff now, but... Lots of ... lots of stuffings and macaroni and cheeses, mashed potatoes, things of that sort. So I'm trying to kind of refine that a little bit, you know? I'm not going to go too ... too down home. I am going to do some mac and cheese, though.

TC: All right.

TW: If I make it through the first round, I feel very good about my two meat dishes.

TC: Awesome. All right. I'll let you get back to it. Good luck man.

TW: Good to see you again.

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