I've always said our readers are a smart group of people. It was one smart reader (props to you Teleburst) who had his doubts about how I conducted my own $10 meal for the "Common Threads" challenge. In reviewing my notes I discovered two things. Well, actually only one thing, I already knew my math skills were atrocious. I made a simple math error while calculating my grocery store tape when subtracting the other items on the tape not related to the challenge. The real cost of making the recipe from the ingredients purchased from the cheaper grocery store was $16.72, quite a bit more than my original $12.45.
The second error concerned not paying attention to the details. You see I thought the recipe I pulled off the Top Chef site was for four people even though it lists it in tiny type right above the directions. It's a recipe that serves eight. This gives us all some insight into how they ran this challenge. My smart reader also pointed this out and it's by pure food cost. Take my total from the non-Whole Foods store cut it in half and you get under the $10 ceiling. If Nikki shopped at Whole Foods and found chicken on sale that day and made the dish to serve eight then she can meet the challenge by just taking half the cost. But as we know this doesn't really work for us in the non-Top Chef world. I can't buy half a cucumber, pint of grape tomatoes, onion, apple, or prepackaged herbs which is why I think they listed that recipe to serve 8. Plus there's still no indication of what the chefs were allowed to use from the well stocked Top Chef kitchen pantry. For all we know, Lee Anne, Purveyor of the Pantry may keep a large stock of fresh herbs for the chefs to use. She may even buy them in a large enough quantity that brings down the price way below what Nikki would have to spend at Whole Foods not to mention if there were onions, carrots and garlic back at the ranch. But as you can see from our very unscientific poll, fresh herbs is only slightly ahead of miso for dead last of items readers keep in their pantry. Again it's that unique Top Chef math.
Did the chefs actually meet the requirements of this challenge? Again attention to detail is needed. Was the requirement that they HAD to shop at Whole Foods or just that they were taking them to Whole Foods to shop for items not already in the pantry. Looking back at my tape I believe this is the case. They didn't walk into Whole Foods with a single ten dollar bill and come out with a bag of groceries and that's where I have my problem with the way this challenge was presented. This episode revolved around the organization Common Threads and getting families to budgeting and eating nutritious meals together. It wasn't aimed at the usual Top Chef high end, expensive restaurant (or this season, catering) food consumers. It was aimed at getting people to cook at home more. Shopping like a mother of two kids who only has ten dollars to get that meal for her family of four seems more honest than having the chefs spending whatever they spent, buying enough to serve eight and dividing the cost to come in under budget. I still believe that they did no favors to Whole Foods by giving the impression that you can easily make a meal for a family of four shopping at Whole Foods for just ten dollars.
Thanks again to our smart detail oriented Top Chef Crack Monkey readers. Keeping me on my toes and thinking makes bringing this blog to you all the more enjoyable! You'll have to excuse me now, my crow l'orange is getting cold...