Top Chef contestant + $10 at the dollar store = gourmet dinner

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by MIKE CASTELLUCCI

WFAA

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 6:44 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 18 at 9:09 PM

DALLAS –– What’s a former Top Chef contestant who has been featured in Gourmet Magazine, Modern Luxury Magazine and Food and Wine going to do with $10 and the grocery selection of a dollar store? 

Tre Wilcox –– whose first name spells out techniques, recipes, and execution –– will need all three to pull this off: create an entrée with limited ingredients, a tight food shopping budget, and then feed it to invited guests that include a well-known lifestyle blogger.

“I know food,” says Cynthia Smoot.

They presumed they were eating from the trough of the rich, prepared by a private chef who commands top dollar for his services. Not quite. 

“I’ve never been to a 99-cent store, this is a new experience.” Wilcox says, noticing a wall of Corn Nuts in front of him. “OK let’s go –– oh forget it, that’s $1.99. I can’t afford those.” 

Then after about 10 minutes of preheating that brain of his, he started cooking.  He figured out what his dish would be: “Southwestern braised chicken with sweet potato puree,” he said, tossing a couple sweet potatoes in his cart. “Chicken drumsticks. Spinach. Tomatillos. Nothing better than good ‘ol fashioned cream baby.”

Tre’s total: $8.38. 

“I’m not leaving with change,” Wilcox said. “I’m going to go back.

A single stick of butter boosted his total to $9.39. 

But what would the guests think? Would they think one thing as they were eating Wilcox’s delicacies and then another after being told the meal cost under $10 and came from a dollar store? 

“You all know why you’re here and who I am,” Wilcox said to the group. “Get these into the fire real quick. You know what these are, don’t you? Tomatillos! Start peeling them for me, please.” 

That’s what these folks were invited to do: Help Wilcox cook his faux-gourmet meal. 

Wilcox ended up putting together three entire entrees. He even went back to the store with an extra dollar for three more drumsticks when he learned his guest total went up.  

“I know when something is good, and this is fantastic," Smoot said.  

Other diners said the textures, colors and flavors were incredible. 

“Sometimes there’s swirl marks for bread, but I couldn’t afford bread on this one,” he laughed.

At this point, there was one thing left for the guests: the shock of the bill. It’s rare that bill shock comes because a fine meal was cheap –– it’s another to find out where it came from.

“I am shocked,” Smoot said upon seeing the bag from the dollar store.  

Others said they had no idea the 99-cent store had chicken. And they all said that the meal was an eye opener: if you remember, Wilcox still had 61 cents left over. 

E-mail mcastellucci@wfaa.com

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