5 Cooking Tips We Learned from This Season of 'Top Chef'

You’ll never look at canned soup the same way again.

We're only one episode away from finding out who will take home the grand prize on season 18 of Top Chef, and what an exciting season it's been. We've watched the cheftestants head to Portland, Oregon, and tackle all kinds of challenges, from having to use tree stumps as prep stations during a mushroom Quickfire to cooking in an orchard and highlighting fruit in their dishes (with no vegetables allowed). As they created one show-stopping meal after the next, there were plenty of lessons to be learned along the way, too.

In this roundup, we've gathered five cooking tips from the show that you can easily apply to your own cooking, including cleverly repurposing a pantry staple and suggesting an ingredient you might want to make a pantry staple, if you don't already have it. And if you're looking to write your own recipes? There's advice in here for that as well. Read on for all five.

Chris Viaud pouring a can of Campbell's soup into a blender
Top Chef's Chris Viaud in Episode 1804, "Thrown For a Loop". David Moir / Bravo

1. There's a Lot You Can Do with Canned Soup

Canned soup is a classic pantry staple, and in episode four, "Thrown for a Loop," it's the star of the Quickfire challenge. The cheftestants have to take Campbell's soup and use it to create an elevated version of a dish that evokes a food memory for them. And of course, they only have 30 minutes to pull it off. While the first thing that comes to mind when cooking with canned soup might be green bean casserole (classically made with cream of mushroom soup), the chefs come up with all different kinds of creative dishes, such as turning the tomato soup into a vinaigrette, marinating cod in cream of chicken soup, and using cream of mushroom soup in a bread pudding.

Ultimately, cheftestant Chris Viaud wins the challenge with a twist on grilled cheese and tomato soup that guest judge Dale Talde called imaginative and modern:Grilled Cheese Panzanella with Tomato Soup Vinaigrette & Pickled Shallots.

2. Don't Be Afraid to Use an Ingredient Several Different Ways in the Same Dish

In episode 12, "The Cheesier the Better," the Elimination challenge is, well, cheesy. The cheftestants have to create a dish inspired by chef Massimo Bottura's iconic "five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures," which showcases five different preparations of the cheese. However, instead of using Parmigiano-Reggiano, they have to use Tillamook cheddar five ways in one dish. It was a difficult challenge that really pushed the cheftestants and also showed how versatile one ingredient can be. In the end, cheftestant Shota Nakajima wins for his Tofu Cheddar Manjū with Aged Cheddar Dashi, Smoked Cheddar Oil, Cheddar Tofu Miso & Cheddar Tuile.

Shota Nakajima cooking on Top Chef
Top Chef's Shota Nakajima in Episode 1812, "The Cheesier The Better". David Moir / Bravo

3. Writing a Recipe Isn't Nearly As Straightforward As It Seems

You might think that writing a recipe is a pretty straightforward process. However, as the Elimination challenge shows in episode nine, "Portland-ia," it's not so simple -- particularly when creating a recipe for home cooks. The cheftestants have to create and cook a 90-minute recipe that will also be tested by one of four All-Stars -- Kwame Onwuachi, Melissa King, Kristen Kish, and Gregory Gourdet -- to see how closely they can follow the recipe and produce the same dish.

"When you're writing a recipe for a home cook, you have to give them every single solitary step," cheftestant Dawn Burrell says during the episode. "Grab the bowl. Grab the spoon. Whatever you do has a finite measurement. And so if you write the recipe with that in mind, then you won't miss these very important steps."

Throughout the challenge, it becomes clear just how many factors you need to consider when writing a recipe, from the number of steps and ingredients called for to small details in the directions, and those factors can make or break how successful it is.

4. Add Citric Acid to Your Pantry

It's not a bad idea to have some citric acid in your kitchen, since it can do everything from add a "burst of sour flavor" to homemade gummies to decreasing the pH in when making canned tomato passata (and it also plays a part in this gorgeous vegan sherbet recipe). In the Quickfire challenge of episode 12, the cheftestants also find it comes in handy when they have to create a dish using only ingredients settlers would have had while traveling on the Oregon Trail. Per the show, "on the Oregon Trail, citric acid mixed with sugar and water could pass as a lemonade to stave off scurvy."

Both cheftestants Dawn and Gabe Erales use citric acid in their dishes as a replacement for fresh acid that you would get from, say, lemons or limes. Dawn makes "Trail Ride" Porridge with Fire Roasted Curry Squash & Hazelnut Bacon Relish, and Gabe makes "Campfire" Trout with Oregon Trail Salsa Macha.

5. The "Protein" of Your Dish Doesn't Necessarily Have to be Protein

Protein, be it meat, fish, tofu, or another ingredient, can often be the centerpiece of a dish. But you can also make a vegetable or fruit the main component. For example, Gabe prepares smoked & glazed plums in the episode four orchard Elimination challenge, and treats apples as his protein in the aforementioned cheddar cheese challenge. And in the mushroom Quickfire challenge of episode six, "Stumptown U.S.A.," some of the mushroom-centric dishes include cheftestant Avishar Barua's Fried Chicken of the Woods with Mushroom Cream & Grilled Pickled Mushrooms, and cheftestant Sara Hauman's Chicken of the Woods Schnitzel. If you want to give it a shot at home, we have all kinds of recipes to try, such as roasted broccoli steaks with tomato butter and tapenade and slow-grilled cauliflower with tahina and zhough.

Tune in to the Top Chef season finale Thursday, July 1, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

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