Exclusive: Top Chef's Valerie Teaches You to Make Papaya Salad
Wednesday’s Top Chef asked who was at the top of the food chain all too literally. Challenged to cater a cocktail party for employees of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, the 15 remaining contestants were split into teams of three — named, appropriately, after animals — and asked to prepare menus consisting of food in their namesake animal’s diet. Unfortunately for Chicago native — and Gorilla team member — Valerie, the chefs were less than enthralled by her dry olive blinis topped with root veggies. And while her elimination may be a disappointment, it hasn’t taken Valerie out of the kitchen.
After the jump, check out this quick and delicious recipe for Green Papaya Salad she has prepared exclusively for PEOPLE.com readers (without any consideration for gorillas, penguins, vultures or lions). And find out what she had to say about her inspiration for the dish, where she went wrong on the Top Chef challenge and who should have gone home in her place. –Brian Orloff
Valerie’s Green Papaya Salad:
INGREDIENTS2 cloves garlic 1 to 2 Thai or small red chilies 1 tablespoon crushed peanuts 2 tablespoons fish sauce 1 tablespoon each: tamarind juice, soy sauce, freshly squeezed lime juice 1 teaspoon granulated or brown sugar 6 grape tomatoes 1/2 each, seeded, cut into julienne strips: small green papaya, cucumber 2 ounces cellophane noodles, softened in warm water 1/4 pound small green beans, blanched
STEPS1. Combine the garlic, chilies and peanuts in a mortar, grinding with a pestle until finely chopped, or process in a food processor; set aside. Whisk together the fish sauce, tamarind juice, soy sauce, lime juice and sugar in a small bowl; set aside.
2. Combine tomatoes, papaya, cucumbers, noodles and beans in a medium bowl; add the peanut mixture. Toss with dressing.
Tell us about your recipe. What’s the inspiration behind it?After the show, I took some time and traveled in Southeast Asia — and that was my inspiration. Just eating food there inspired me. It’s a Thai dish with my own twist to it … It’s a very easy, simple dish and it’s very refreshing.
Let’s talk the dish you made Wednesday’s episode. The judges weren’t fans — and you said you shouldn’t have made it in advance. Were they right in their decision?That’s not a dish you make ahead of time. And sometimes when you’re in that situation you simply overlook things. Something that important shouldn’t have been overlooked — no doubt about it. But the thing is, the other girls Antonia and Stephanie were on my team and they could have easily said, “Wait, this isn’t such a good idea. Why are we doing this?” In fact, I don’t even remember it being my idea to make that dish. But I don’t believe it was a dish that should have got me sent home.
Who should have gone home instead?I think Nikki should have … because hers was basically unservable. It was overseasoned. It looked awful … and tasted awful to the point where they stopped serving it.
You and Stephanie were friends before the show — and seemed to want to work together. Were you ever worried about competing against your friend?Initially we were excited because we both know each other’s skill level. But then there’s another person thrown in the mix on the team that we’ve never worked with before, so then of course it brings out a little bit of concern. Essentially our attitude is, we’re a team. We’ve got to do this as a team.
You’re talking about Antonia. What was it like working with her … and how do you react to her comments about you in front of the judges?Watching it last night, it was funny to see some of the things she had to say about me. Ultimately, it didn’t end well and I felt like she sort of threw me under the bus. And she did. Had I not been sent home … we probably wouldn’t be the best of friends. Let me just put it that way.
Tell us: Did Valerie deserve to go home?