Top Ingredients for Top Chef

Allow me to set the stage. Two college students interning at Fort Worth, Texas magazine for the summer were tasked with compiling pantry ingredients for the 2013 Top Chef competition. One of us likes to cook, the other can hardly make ramen noodles.

Armed with a 5-ft.-long generic grocery list, Kate Kirley and I barreled into Central Market with a mission: to purchase an entire pantry for some of the top chefs in Greater Fort Worth. All we had to do was pick up salt, pepper, baking powder, rice, corn meal… wait, back up! Rice? What kind of rice?!

With more than 13 types of rice to choose from, we debated whether we should play eenie-meenie-miney-mo to make a decision. We finally agreed on purchasing medium grain brown rice. We selected this rice, thinking “this is a healthier option,” and “the brown rice craze has taken off in the food industry.” What we did not realize during this shopping trip was that this may not have been the best choice. During the preliminaries, the chefs were given 30 minutes to complete their dishes. After minimal research, I discovered that brown rice takes a bit longer to cook than regular rice.  And here we are. The interns. Shopping for the Top Chef. Is it too late to call for backup? We were going to need some help.

Our next stop: spices. We only needed two items, chili powder and chili flakes. As we began to shovel scoops of each into small bags, a Central Market staffer turned to us and said, “You do realize we have larger bags?” Kate and I just laughed. Six large bags of flour, six bags of sugar, six bags of chili powder and six bags of chili flakes will guarantee some interesting looks from people cruising the store.
Undeterred by interruptions like “You must be planning a big party!” Or “So I’m guessing you will be doing a lot of baking this week?” We pressed on to find olive oil.

As we stood there, mouths agape, looking at a ton of different options, Kevin, a Central Market foodie, approached us and asked if we needed assistance. “Yes!”

We explained that we needed olive oil that was heavy enough to cook with, but light enough so as not to leave an unsavory aftertaste. We also had to factor in the cost per bottle. Our limit was $10. With Kevin’s help, we settled on Central Market Organics Extra Virgin Olive Oil (whew, what a mouthful). This brand of olive oil was given a B+ rating by reviews, but as we were informed it was less likely to leave and aftertaste (frankly, it was the best bang for our buck).

After more than two and a half hours of shopping, we were finally able to head to the checkout line. The woman at register stared at us in amazement then commended us on our ability to buy in bulk and budget accordingly. We purchased more than 130 items for less than $350 dollars. Best of all, we were able to buy premium ingredients for our Top Chefs.

Fort Worth, Texas magazine works diligently to pull off this extraordinary event. The day before the Preliminary Round, eight staff members and two interns, including myself, stepped away from their desks and drove to Texas Appliance in Hurst for a full day of set up. In this case, there wasn’t a moment where there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Shuffling around, all hands were on deck. We arranged vegetables, spices, special ingredients and utensils to make the kitchen comfortable. Each chef received the same tools and pantry selection, plus a cornucopia of ingredients to create their masterpiece. The rest was up to them.

Looking back, the only thing missing was a large sign that said, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Around 400 guests attended the Final Round at Cendera Center, August 15, to cheer on their favorite chef. Anthony Felli, executive chef at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, reigned supreme over these hunger games. Congratulations, Chef Felli!

Words by Rachaele Andrews