Before the slicing and dicing can begin, producers search through thousands of viewer e-mails for the biggest fans of three top TV chefs— Tyler Florence , Ingrid Hoffmann and Curtis Stone . They select amateur cooks Emily, Madeline and Andrea to fly to Chicago and whip up something on The Oprah Show …but these cooks have no idea what else is in store!
As host of Bravo's hit show Top Chef , Padma Lakshmi , a cookbook author, actress and supermodel, is used to springing challenges on aspiring chefs. Just as Emily, Madeline and Andrea get settled, Padma surprises them with their instructions. "You will each be required to come up with an amazing, original sandwich creation," she says. "The viewer with the best sandwich will win a full set of Elite Line appliances for the kitchen from Kenmore."
The showdown contestants soon discover they won't be cooking solo…they're joined by their favorite celebrity chefs!
Tyler is teaming up with Madeline, one of his biggest fans. "Unfortunately, my mother was not the most domesticated person, so I had to learn everything the old-fashioned way, which is through TV," she says.
While Madeline was 27 weeks along in her pregnancy with her second daughter, she says doctors put her on full bed rest. To pass the time, she started watching Tyler on her favorite food channel every day.
Although Emily, Ingrid's partner on the pink team, hasn't been cooking long, she says watching Simply Delicioso has helped her add to her recipe repertoire. "My husband, he's a great cook. [He] cooked for me all the time," Emily says. "Well, he got very busy with work, so things had to change. I was either going to start [cooking], have McDonald's or have canned soup every night."
Thanks to Ingrid, there's been a chef shift at Emily's house!
On his show, Curtis ambushes unsuspecting grocery shoppers and then invites himself into their homes to help them prepare gourmet meals. Before becoming a television star, Curtis cooked for some of the biggest names in show business, including Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Andrea, Curtis's teammate, says she been cooking almost every day since she was 10 years old. What impresses her about her partner? "I love Curtis Stone. There [are] so many reasons why," she says. "He is an amazing chef, and he is capable of whipping up some amazing dishes in a matter of minutes."
When time's up, the showdown competitors head to Whole Foods for some high-speed grocery shopping. "The pressure's on," Padma says. "You have 30 minutes to shop for all of your ingredients."
While Team Curtis and Team Ingrid run from the seafood counter to the condiment aisle, Team Tyler does its best to keep cool.
Padma urges the contestants on over the loud speaker and keeps a close watch from the front of the store. "That was amazing!" she says.
Gayle King, an experienced taste tester and Oprah's best friend, checks in on the teams as the time clock ticks down. "I feel stressed and exhausted just watching them," she says.
Ingrid and Emily are busy putting the finishing touches on a decadent lobster sandwich, while Tyler and Madeline check on their pot roast. Curtis and Andrea are making not one, but two original sandwiches! "I figured out why my sandwiches are never good," Gayle says. "All I have is two pieces of bread, a knife and mayonnaise and mustard."
Padma says she holds the Top Chef competitors to an even higher standard. "We're judging it as a professional chef's competition," she says. "[Their restaurant] has to be a place that I'm willing to get dressed up for, find a babysitter for, go out and pay $50 for an entrée. … That's why we're often much more hard on the chefs than people think we should be."
Try original recipes from Padma's cookbook, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet .
Since Season 4 of Top Chef was filmed in Chicago, Padma says she's discovered great culinary experiences in Oprah's backyard. "Chicago's a wonderful culinary town," she says. "You have the Polish immigrant influence. You have great restaurants like Blackbird and Alinea. One of my favorite Indian restaurants is here, Vermillion. There is so much to eat in Chicago."
Tyler says their creation, the Ron-Trey Entrée, is named after Madeline's husband, Ron, and her son Trey. The main component of this sandwich is pot roast, which they made in a pressure cooker because of the time limit. The tender pork is served on a Parker House roll and topped with melted Taleggio cheese, sage and Cranberry-Onion Jam.
Get the recipe for Tyler's Ron-Trey Entrée sandwich.
Tyler and Madeline also found time to make crunchy Sweet Potato Chips and a refreshing Cranberry-Apple Cider Shandy.
"Traditionally, [a Shandy is] beer and lemonade, but since we're kind of reflecting some of the flavors we braised the pork with … it's hard cider," Tyler says. "And we have cranberry on the sandwich. So instead of lemonade, I made a cranberry slushy."
Get the recipe for the Chicalicious Lobster Sandwich.
"Since it is a very messy thing to eat, we made you these wet naps that were frozen with lime in them so that you get the full experience," Ingrid says.
To complement the sandwich, the pink team also made a Mangolini, which is a mango Bellini with basil, and Chica Chips.
First up is their earthy sandwich, which is made with falafels, fennel and cabbage stuffed in a pita. "It's street food from the Middle East, basically," Curtis says. "It's full of protein—great veggie snack."
Get the Earth Sandwich recipe.
The surf comes second. To incorporate more protein into Andrea's diet, Curtis introduces her to the Baltimore-style crab cake. The team mixes Alaskan king crabmeat with lemon zest, cilantro, homemade tartar sauce and apple before pan frying it. Served on a hamburger bun, Curtis calls this sandwich the Surf Sandwich.
Get the Surf Sandwich recipe.
To wash down both sandwiches, Curtis and Andrea also made a Mango Bellini.
"We liked all the sandwiches. We thought they were very creative, but [the blue] team did what every perfect sandwich—and, indeed, every dish—should do. It had something tangy, it had something spicy, it had something rich but something sweet [and] something tart with the cranberries," Padma says. "It was very comforting. It was satisfying."
Since all the entries were delicious, Oprah says Kenmore is giving Emily, Andrea and Madeline an Elite kitchen set. "Everybody's a winner!" Oprah says.
Gayle King's search for America's best sandwiches
Get more sandwich recipes