'Top Chef-Inspired' Frozen Meals Sort Of Means Something

As a single person with a small appetite and an odd schedule, I eat a lot of frozen meals. I’m fond of the Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers line with the built-in colander basket thingies. A few weeks ago, I noticed that some of these meals had been branded as “Top Chef-inspired” and some hadn’t, even though the dishes were the same exact ones I remembered from before. Or were they?

My favorite by far is called Chicken Linguini with Red Pepper Alfredo. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: some chicken, some pasta, some broccoli, some red peppers, and a nice-tasting sauce. I buy them by the armful when they’re on sale, so I’ve eaten quite a few. The “Top Chef-inspired” meal tasted exactly the same as the old version. Was there a problem with my palate, or with my memory? (Probably.) Or was the “Top Chef” branding and “inspiration” an essentially meaningless marketing gimmick slapped on the package of an unchanged entrée? I reached out to what was sure to be an unbiased source: the ConAgra public relations department. They were nice enough to take me seriously and send an answer.

As a part of our exclusive partnership with Bravo and Top Chef, their culinary team met with our chefs to understand the inspiration behind our Healthy Choice meals, the high standards we must adhere to to be called “healthy” including the limits on calories, sodium, and fat, and took some of the already great flavors within our meals to the next level to reflect the essence of Top Chef. That includes combining exciting flavors and carefully selecting ingredients to give consumers exactly what they want – food that is both healthy and delicious. We made changes to existing meals based upon feedback from the Top Chef team as the first phase of our partnership, like using minced garlic instead of whole cloves in the Chicken Margherita with Balsamic to diffuse the flavor throughout the sauce, and adding more smoky essence to the sauce on the Barbecue Seasoned Steak with Red Potatoes to make the dish stand out in the category.

But as you noticed, there were a few standout dishes like the Chicken Linguini with Red Pepper Alfredo where the Top Chef team felt we’d nailed the flavor. The team felt the Chicken Linguini with Red Pepper Alfredo embodied the flavor and excitement that Top Chef is known for, while staying true to the fresh taste Healthy Choice brings to the frozen category with its patented Duo-Tray steamer technology. Look for more Healthy Choice Top Chef Inspired Café Steamers in January as the only brand in the frozen category that can call itself healthy expands its partnership with the top ranked cooking show on television.

Well, the first paragraph is correct in that the roasted and steam-microwaved garlic cloves tasted funny.

If I were to translate this from PR narrative to English, it would sound something like, “The Top Chef people thought that this entrée didn’t suck, so they left it as it was.” Which makes it Top Chef-Approved, maybe, but something can’t be inspired by a partnership that didn’t exist when it was created.