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Top Chef challenges that I’ve accidentally faced (and failed) in my own home

Sarah Aswell is a freelance humor writer who lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and two kids. Her words have appeared in places like The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Hairpin, and more.

Warning: Don't try these Top Chef challenges at home

Each season on Top Chef, some of the best rising chefs in the country are placed in high-pressure situations that test their skills, their knowledge and their passion for cooking. Episode after episode, they are given time limits, mystery ingredients and other insane challenges that test who is truly the best, all while Padma Lakshmi looks on, appearing to hover a few millimeters off the ground.

Warning: Don't try these Top Chef challenges at home
Image: Bravo

Honestly, it kind of reminds me a lot of my own kitchen, where my poor planning, two toddlers, lack of skill and absent-mindedness often result in food preparation tests that are on par with those of a cutthroat cooking competition. Here are just a few challenges I’ve weathered recently.

Make a quiche with the food in your fridge that has expired but still smells pretty OK

Every Top Chef fan knows that time is of the essence. So when I saw that my bacon was starting to gray but still smelled vaguely of bacon, I decided to step up to the literal plate. Sure, the bacon was two days beyond its best-by date, but perhaps that simply meant it was really, really good bacon instead of the best bacon. I paired it with some over-the-hill Parmesan (fuzzy green parts skillfully removed), some limp spinach and a clinically depressed onion to create an extremely passable, totally edible quiche. Look for it on the brunch menu at Emeril Lagasse’s newest restaurant (though you won’t find it).

Warning: Don't try these Top Chef challenges at home
Image: Giphy

Prepare breakfast while holding a toddler who is screaming, “No breakfast!”

In the past, the Top Chef contestants have had to perform while blindfolded or with one hand behind their backs. But that’s really nothing compared to Tuesday, when I had to prepare breakfast while holding a mid-tantrum 20-month-old. “Pancakes!” she screamed as I made waffles, deftly pouring batter onto the hot griddle with one hand. “Juice!” she screamed as I poured her milk and imagined Tom Colicchio curled in a ball and weeping. As the clock ran down to the exact minute I had to leave to get my older child to preschool, I realized I would never have time to plate my masterpiece. The judges were forced to eat plain waffles with their hands while sitting in their car seats.

Warning: Don't try these Top Chef challenges at home
Image: Giphy

Do something — anything — with the three-pack of enormous watermelons you bought at Costco when you were hungry

You should never go to the grocery store hungry. And you should never, ever go to Costco hungry. If you do, you might end up like me, staring down three watermelons in my kitchen as if they were live bombs 30 minutes before friends arrive for dinner. How about an elegant watermelon salad prepared with feta and mint, except without the feta and mint? How about I carve the largest watermelon into a basket and fill it with the smaller watermelons? How about instead of eating, our dinner guests experience food as art by smashing the melons against a blank canvas? Gail Simmons loves experimental stuff.

Warning: Don't try these Top Chef challenges at home
Image: Giphy

Where did this eggplant come from, and where will it go?

How has Top Chef never had a challenge in which each contestant is simply given an eggplant and told to make it taste good? Also, where did this eggplant in my kitchen come from? I vaguely remember picking it up at the grocery store in a sleep-deprived state, cradling it and then gently patting it on its eggplant bum as I bounced it over to the cashier. And now I am stuck Googling “30-minute non-slimy eggplant dishes that don’t involve skill or thought.” Can I just fry them and then cover them in cheese and marinara sauce? Or should I gently place the eggplant in my Ergo and sing to it softly as I pack my knives and go?

Warning: Don't try these Top Chef challenges at home
Image: Giphy

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

Warning: Don't try these Top Chef challenges at home
Image: Joe Kohen/Getty Images
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