If only I knew then what we all know now: By episode 13 of Top Chef: Colorado, both Centennial State contestants, Carrie Baird (Bar Dough) and Brother Luck (Four by Brother Luck), would be out of the competition. Brother was sent home in episode nine for disappointing the judges with a spring roll featuring German flavors; Baird packed her knifes just last week after cooking a delicious update on beef Stroganoff that, sadly, didn’t make the cut. But way back last June, when I was invited to attend a taping of the show in Aspen during the Food & Wine Classic, I was still hopeful that Carrie and Brother were contenders for the Top Chef crown.
The historic T-Lazy-7 Ranch in the Maroon Creek Valley was the party place, so on that bright, hot, mid-June morning, my husband and I arrived at the property to find a long line of attendees being guided from buses to a check-in area near the creek…where they waited. And we waited. (Participating in a televised event is an exercise in patience, with plenty of hurry-up-and-wait thrown in.) Finally, my husband and I were escorted closer to the action in the meadow… and asked to wait some more with other media guests near the judge’s trailers. Culinary celebs like John Tesar (Element Kitchen & Cocktail), the jazz-playing Potash Twins, Gregory Gourdet (Departure Denver Restaurant & Lounge), and then Food & Wine magazine editor-in-chief Nilou Motamed milled about nearby, chatting and looking fabulous.
Then, without warning, an unscheduled bit of drama occurred: As Andra Zeppelin, then editor of Eater Denver, opened the door to one of the portable restrooms near the trailer area, a young woman inside appeared to be having a seizure, violently writhing on the floor. Zeppelin called for help, and immediately Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, who was standing nearby, raced to the woman’s aid, staying with her until paramedics arrived. The diagnosis? A panic attack, and possible dehydration. Fortunately, after resting and drinking water, the woman felt better and joined the event shortly thereafter.
Then, the true drama began, as we were all invited to walk into the meadow and taste the contestants’ dishes. As lines formed at the various tents and luminaries including Daniel Boulud, Jonathan Waxman, and Danny Meyer strolled by, we tried to guess which contestants were still in the running. That may sound strange if you’ve already watched the episode (spoiler alert!), because the final cut only showed the three competing teams of Adrienne/Bruce, no-mustache-Joe/Carrie, and mustache-Joe/Chris. But at the actual party, to prevent attendees from discerning who remained in the competition (and, I assume, so we could try more than three bites of food), the producers made every contestant participate in the challenge; Brother, Tyler, Fatima, Melissa, Claudette, and Rogelio each drew knives that put them out in the sunny meadow, while the other eliminated contestants helped prep before the event.
Despite the intense heat, long lines of hungry guests, and the pressure of serving the show judges and about a dozen acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs, Adrienne, mustache-Joe, and no-mustache-Joe cooked well that day. Adrienne’s corn pudding wrapped in Swiss chard leaves was rich yet delicate, and as judge Gail Simmons noted, perfectly seasoned. Baby face Joe Flamm’s baby zucchini with pesto and goat cheese was my favorite for its classic flavor profile, perfect char, and the stellar texture he brought to the plate via crunchy hazelnuts. The judges were right sending mustache-Joe home: His beet carpaccio with green bean-tomato vinaigrette, gooseberries, and sourdough toast didn’t mesh well, and the toast was under-seasoned and dry. (Carrie, the queen of “fancy toast,” would never have made such a mistake.)
The only question remaining is: Who will take home the title of Top Chef during next Thursday’s finale (airing at 8 p.m. MST)? Adrienne or Joe Flamm? We’ll certainly be watching, and will report back with commentary from our local favorites, Carrie Baird and Brother Luck, after the show.