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Top Chef: Las Vegas, Episode 3 – “I Forgot I Was In a Competition”


Before announcing the elimination challenge, Padma introduces Colonel Dave Belote. He is the impressively decorated Commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Home of the Thunderbirds, which is northeast of Las Vegas. The challenge will be to create a meal for 300 Airmen at back at the Base. Many of the Airmen (and women?) are just returning after being overseas, while others are waiting for deployment. He informs the chefs not to be fooled, that many of them have discerning tastes from eating all over the world. He also points out their need for nutrition. Laurine is already intimidated.

Michael V. answers my question; his little sister is an airman. He is looking forward to this challenge. They will have four hours to cook but, and will not know their ingredients or kitchen setup until they get there.

Back at the house, the chefs lay out a plan of attack. Jennifer, since she has immunity, will be the Executive Chef while everyone else works in a team of two. She will be there to help everyone out and keep things running smooth. Each team of two will be responsible for one dish, and they hope to have a continuous American feel to the dishes.

Ron L. suggests they pick teams. Preeti teams up with Laurine. Eli and Kevin pair up together, as they are both from Atlanta, and Kevin thinks they also have the fat kid bond. Ash wants to work with Ashley. Mike and Mike team up together. Bryan and Mattan are a pair, as are Robin and Hector. Jesse and Ron are the two kids left standing on the playground that no one else wants, so they pair up. Ron is worried. Personally I do not think that they are the weakest team.

The next day the Chefs arrive early in the kitchen and are greeted with lots of canned food – SPAM, canned veggies – yet no pots or stoves. Kevin seems the most comfortable, having worked in a military kitchen in ROTC.

The two Mikes seem to feel they have everything under control, so decide to do a second dish using shrimp and salad. Matten is doing a Franco American fusion. Jesse and Ron decide to do hot chowder. Having lived in the American Southwest for many years all I can think is “What are you thinking?” Ash and Ashley decide on a chocolate and peanut butter dessert. Laurine and Preeti are making a pasta salad. Really? That just seems so lame to me.

Jennifer is really in her element keeping people focused and on task. There is no doubt she runs her own kitchen back in the real world. Less than an hour is left, and Jesse and Ron still have not started reducing their cream for the chowder. Jennifer really does a great job keeping this kitchen under control and this group of chefs work well as a solid team. They now convoy the food and chefs across the base to a hanger for serving. Everything is so organized and appears to come together without a hitch.

Preeti and Laurine are getting a little nervous now that they are seeing everyone else’s dishes. Reality Cooking 101 – it never pays to make a simple dish in an elimination challenge. Eli is questioning the clam chowder served during a Vegas summer. I wonder why Jennifer wouldn’t have questioned it when she was told what they were thinking of making. Too late now.

The judges arrive and I just have to say wow, does Padma have a kickin set of legs or what? I just had to throw that in for Jeremy. It is a diverse group of people being served. Service men and women coming from and going to Iraq, civilian spouses and children, and the judges all go through the buffet line. They have two identical serving lines set up in the hangar with one member from each team managing their dish.

Mike I. makes a second dish

Laurine and Preeti serve a Pasta Salad with Broccoli, Peppers, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Artichoke Hearts. This is the vegetarian dish. Honestly, mine looks better.

Jesse and Ron prepare a New England Clam Chowder with Roasted Corn.

Hector and Robin present a Three-Bean Chili with Roasted Chicken. Chef Peel asks if they used canned or dried beans.

Eli and Kevin make a Georgia Style Braised Pork Shoulder and Potato Salad. Okay, this is the dish that makes me hungry. There is nothing better then barbecued pulled pork. The Colonel is very excited about this dish, and it reminds him of the potato salad he used to eat at every home gathering growing up. Kevin comments that they purposely did that to give the soldiers a taste of home. He is told that it is beautiful. Kevin is very proud to be serving the troops as his family is a military family.

Michael V., and Michael I. make Braised Pork Belly with Soy-Mustard Sauce and Peanuts. It is served on a Romaine lettuce leaf, and people are instructed to eat it like a taco. Chef Peel thinks it is lovely.

Bryan and Mattin serve Roasted Beef Strip Loin with Mushroom Demi-Glace and Cauliflower Gratin. I’m hungry again.

Ash and Ashley make a Chocolate Bread Pudding with Peanut Butter Sauce. This I need the recipe for. It looks amazing.


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