Top Chef Hoop Dreams review: Taunting is a kitchen foul


Did you watch the Top Chef Hoop Dreams episode? Which chefs should have been penalized for poor sportsmanship in this culinary battle?

Top Chef Hoop Dreams showed a different side to this season’s culinary competition. Throughout Top Chef Season 16, the chefs have been relatively supportive of each other. The backstabbing and game playing has been left to other television culinary competitions. In this episode, the chefs seemed to take the basketball reference a little too far.

Last week’s musically inspired dishes seem to have taken an emotional toll on the chefs. Michelle’s superb homage to her father had a huge impact not only with herself, but also with the judges. This challenge really showed that food, especially good food, has an emotional connection.

Moving into this week’s Quickfire challenge, the chefs had to use bouillon as the only seasoning in their dishes. While there was a “trivia” challenge to unlock the case of bouillon, the trivia aspect was a little gimmicky. The true challenge, using only bouillon.

TOP CHEF — “Hoop Dreams” Episode 1610 — Pictured: (l-r) Ed Lee, Padma Lakshmi, Michelle Minori — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

The most interesting part of this challenge was Eric’s explanation about bouillon. While only a quick reference, the information that he provided could make a difference in everyone’s cooking. Concentrated flavors, when used correctly, can be a great way to elevate a regular dish. Plus, it shows how much knowledge chefs have about their craft.

Looking at the top three chefs, the winning dish earned the prize because it blended creativity and flavor. The top dishes were Eric, Eddie and Sarah. It was obvious that Eric’s knowledge would earn him a top spot. But, Eddie’s gold-themed creativity earned him the win. While a mono-chromatic dish can be difficult to pull off, Eddie nailed it. Could his nickname from early in the season, Eddie Money, have played into this win?

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While the Quickfire was fun, it would have been nice to see Chef Ed Lee challenge the chefs in a different way. The Top Chef alum has been a standout in the Kentucky culinary scene. Plus, his line of Korean sauces is amazing. Maybe this slant would have been a little more culinary forward.

For winning the Quickfire, Eddie gets the day off, literally. He gets immunity and doesn’t have to cook.

The Elimination Challenge is two teams of three chefs in a head to head cook-off. The theme is to make “concession-like” food, but elevated. It isn’t often that Top Chef moves away from the pretty plated dishes.

Looking at the two teams and their dishes, the similarities are many. It is very surprising that the teams wanted to have a chicken and waffles battle. Why wouldn’t the chefs want to have different dishes so that their culinary point of view, flavors and uniqueness stand out? This situation was set to have some big fireworks. Eddie is lucky to have immunity.

TOP CHEF — “Hoop Dreams” Episode 1610 — Pictured: (l-r) Ed Lee, John Calipari, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Hunter Lewis, Graham Elliot — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Looking at the six dishes in this Top Chef Hoop Dreams episode, the winning dishes seemed to be influenced more by the head to head battle, versus the best dish in the competition. While all the dishes were good, the battle choices were key in securing a win for a team.

Kelsey’s dumpling showed her technical skill. Making all those dumplings in the short amount of time is quite impressive. Kudos to her (and any Café Boulad chef who has to make those every day). More importantly, the flavors exceeded her technical prowess.

Eric’s dish has a lot of technique in a simple dish. The idea of Frenching part of the wing and pulling back the skin is very creative. It is like a gourmet chicken wing. The crispy skin, bold flavor and combined textures made this chicken a successful dish.

Winning this week’s Elimination Challenge was Eric. His combination of elevated technique and creative flavors made his dish a winner. But, is this win a good thing for him in the competition? Winners have often found themselves losers in subsequent episodes.

The biggest controversy of the episode involved waffle mix. Sarah chose to use a store bought waffle mix as the base for her waffle (chicken and waffles dish). Now, it is believed that she “added” to the store boxed mix, but this ingredient became the huge focus of the episode.

TOP CHEF — “Hoop Dreams” Episode 1610 — Pictured: (l-r) Michelle Minori, Sara Bradley — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Sarah’s point in using a boxed mix was valid. It was a time saver and truthfully, the core ingredients in a waffle mix are all the same. Could you taste the difference between a homemade waffle and a boxed waffle in a blind taste test? The answer might surprise you.

The most disturbing part of this episode was the taunting and trash talking from the other team. It is hard to believe that throughout the entire season that no chef hasn’t used a short cut. Of course, Top Chef is a television show, but the taunting from the stadium was over the top.

The whole waffle mix mess overshadowed Sarah’s amazing fried chicken. Her chicken was better than Adrienne’s chicken. Still, no one will remember that fact because everyone was fixated on the waffles.

Michelle’s choice to cook ribs was probably a poor choice from the beginning. She even admitted that ribs are generally cooked low and slow. Braising ribs in an oven for just a couple of hours isn’t going to produce Top Chef worthy ribs. While the sauce was creative, the ribs weren’t technically strong.

The chef eliminated on Top Chef Hoop Dreams was Michelle. After winning last week’s challenge, it begs the question, is there a Top Chef curse this season? So many chefs who have won challenges go on to be eliminated in the next episode. Maybe chefs who haven’t won a challenge are better off this season? Is this Top Chef season showing that the “middle” is the ultimate safe zone?

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What did you think of this week’s Top Chef Hoop Dreams episode? Is there a Top Chef Season 16 curse?