Top Chef + $10 At Dollar Store = Gourmet Meal

Dallas, TX -- 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 said, 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," Wilcox 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.

Want to try Wilcox's recipe? Here you go!



  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • sugar and salt, to taste


  • 3 chicken legs
  • 2 tablespoons red chili pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 poblano pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3 serrano pepper, chopped
  • 8 tomatillos, chopped
  • 1 quart water
  • 3 cups baby spinach leaves
  • salt and lime juice, to taste


  • 2 cups brussels sprouts, split and sauteed
  • salt and pepper, to taste



  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Wrap each sweet potato in foil and cook in oven for 30-35 min or until soft.
  • Heat cream and butter and combine in a blender with peeled sweet potatoes.
  • Blend until smooth, season with salt and sugar.
  • Keep warm.


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  • Season chicken with salt and chili pepper.
  • Sear chicken in grape seed oil using hot pan.
  • Place chicken into roasting pan after searing.
  • Quickly sauté the onions, poblano pepper, serranos and tomatillos.
  • Deglaze with water and pour mixture over chicken.
  • Cover with foil and roast for 1.5 hours.
  • Remove chicken and place cooking liquid into blender and combine with baby spinach.
  • Blend till smooth, season with salt and lime juice.


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment