Thursday, May 22, 2008

Top Chef: Season 4, Episode 11

Order Up: Make Me a Restaurant

Previously: Andrew is all crazy fired up, but that won’t last. The cheftestants make gourmet lunch boxes for a bunch of Chicago police cadets. Dale is named the winner, Lisa talks about “following rules” and Andrew is sent packing on his terms (he says).

The prize rundown. Hey, I don’t recall them ever mentioning that the finale will be in Puerto Rico. Is that new? Have I been missing it all along? Will Ricky Martin be a guest judge? So now we know Puerto Rico is where they’ll bestow the title of … TOP CHEF.

Cue the dance montage: gone, gone, gone, faker, gone, should be gone, think she’s going to win, gone, still here, gone, gone, first woman winner?, long gone, still here (for now), gone, and gone. Whew.

It’s nighttime at the home stand and Chef Tom Colicchio breaks into the house and scares up some cheftestants. He tells them that they’ll be heading to the best Chicago breakfast joint, but not for a plate of flapjacks but to work. It’s a Quickfire Challenge at the ole’ eggs station. Spike rounds up the troop with a “let’s get the egg out of here.” Faker.

Everyone’s already talking about the final four, but if I counted correctly, there are still six cheftestants left. So really, we can’t be talking about the final four for another week. Stop getting ahead of yourselves (Stephanie).

The final six arrives at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant, which looks like any diner/institution/set for a “When Harry Met Sally” remake. Antonia tries to pimp up the place by calling it the hottest breakfast spot in all of Chicago. We meet Helene, who’s the owner of the restaurant. Tom says she’ll be watching everyone work the egg station and will decide who she would hire, if any cheftestant can’t find a job after screwing up on Top Chef. (BTW, Helene is wearing a black pantsuit, which totally doesn’t say breakfast to me. It says more like “do you want cheese with your pasta?”)

The cheftestants walk back to the kitchen in single formation like a bunch of summer interns. Helene gives them the run down and Spike says she’s pretty hard-core. And even though it wasn’t her actual words, Spike in his fake mind hears the words “it’s hell and you’re all going to die.” Spike, maybe it’s the other voice in your head that you’re hearing?

Antonia is up first, and she gets an order for two eggs over easy. She looks pretty calm and really seems to be doing well. There’s no major mess occurring. Hey, I can’t really see clearly, but does her shirt say “Top biotch”? Wear it proud, girl.

Then in the next segment, they don’t go over each cheftestant but sort of does a montage of Spike, Stephanie, Richard and Dale. They keep jumping back and forth between all of them, and sometimes they look like they know what they’re doing but most times they look like fish out of water. Richard is not getting the diner lingo at all, and then it’s Lisa’s turn and she burns a Styrofoam box.

All this time the Helene woman is just staring, looking kind of mean. Maybe she is hardcore. But in the end she says that everyone did a remarkable job, considering the fact that they all suck. She says Antonia and Dale were the two who seemed to be the most in controlled or smooth, and she names Antonia the winner.

Of course, Antonia doesn’t get immunity but an “advantage” in the elimination challenge. Chef Tom says he can’t be there for the elimination challenge because he has to go to a “charity” event. WTF? Who pays his salary? All the cheftestants don’t believe him because they think he’ll probably do a sneaky comeback because really, Tom at a “charity” event?

Anywho, Chef Tom gives Antonia a post-it with a Chicago address and they’re all supposed to go and find Padma there. Even Chicago girl Stephanie doesn’t recognize the address and they have to do a lame pimp commercial for the GPS system they use to find the place.

When they arrive, it looks like some big warehouse. They all walk in carrying their knives and there’s Padma waiting for them. She was probably glad she didn’t have to wake up early for the Quickfire Challenge. She tells them that “restaurant wars” is back (was it ever gone? I mean, who fell for the fake restaurant wars is now wedding wars a few episodes back?). Even the cheftestants don’t look surprise that this is the restaurant wars episode.

Antonia has the advantage of choosing whom she wants to work with for her team. She immediately picks Richard and Stephanie, the two leading contenders for the title. That leaves Dale, Spike and Lisa as the other restaurant team.

Padma tells the two teams that they have to share a kitchen and make food for 35 diners with a budget of $1,500 for the food and $5,000 for the décor from Pier 1. (Ooooh, get ready for a lot of fake flowers and wicker.)

As the team breaks into groups, it’s apparent again that King Richard is taking the lead with his team. In fact, he’s made the executive chef for the restaurant. OK, so he did open his own restaurant. So really, what’s he doing here on Top Chef? Such a ringer. His team decides to go for a relaxed pub-like concept.

Dale, Lisa and Spike all gravitate immediately to Asian cuisine, and both Dale and Lisa were the alpha dogs wanting to be the executive chef but they tossed a coin and I guess Dale won. Spike says despite the fact that his team members all don’t like each other, it’s time for them to get along and come together and rise up to the occasion and other fakey shit like that.

Commercials. Starbucks has its own brand of chocolate. Get ready for Starbucks branded cheese.

It’s the day of the elimination and the teams are at Whole Foods buying their groceries for their dishes. This seems odd because what restaurant would get their produce from a retailer? In past seasons, they’ve been able to go to restaurant wholesalers. Seems like the producers this year are really skimping on restaurant wars. I mean, they don’t even have Madonna’s brother acting as a design consultant anymore for the two restaurant concepts.

Speaking of concepts, the groups decide to go with the name Warehouse Kitchen for Richard, Stephanie and Antonia, serving up modern American gastro pub food; while Mai Buddha is Dale, Lisa and Spike’s attempt at Asian fusion.

When they get to Pier 1, Spike and Stephanie takes the lead because they’re both working the front of the house, which means they get to dress up and not really sweat in the kitchen. I actually think Antonia would have been better in the front of the house because Stephanie seems like the better cook, but Spike is perfect for the front with all his fakery and cheesy smile. Spike is grabbing all the buddhas that he can find at Pier 1.

The cheftestants get back to the kitchen and start prepping their food and we get a better idea of the menu. Here’s what I could type really fast:

Warehouse Kitchen
First course: Beet salad with goat cheese or clam linguine
Second course: Trout with cauliflower or Lamb served two ways
Third course: Gorgonzola cheesecake or Richard’s banana scallops (gross)

Mai Buddha
First course: Shrimp lahksa or pork potstickers
Second course: Butterscotch miso scallopos or shortribs
Third course: Dale’s halo halo (frozen ice) or mango sticky rice

Antonia dumps on Dale and his “Chinese” restaurant that he’s opening, bringing up the tired old complaint that Dale only cooks Asian. Again Antonia, what’s wrong with cooking Asian all the time? I’m really getting a bit offended by her line of arguments, it’s almost like she thinks Asian cooking is inferior to the kind of cooking she’s doing. And anyway, other that the potstickers, all the other dishes on Mai Buddha’s menu are not Chinese.

On Antonia’s team, they’re making fresh pasta (oh, what a surprise, Antonia making pasta) and she’s worried because they’re doing it from scratch and it has to be perfect. In comes Anthony Bourdain, acting like Chef Tom but without the bald head. He says he’s bringing his warmer disposition as he checks out the two teams.

He first talks to Stephanie’s team and he seems shocked that Stephanie is doing the front of the house. (Told you, it should have been Antonia.) When he talks to Dale’s team, he tells them that he loves lahksa (which I only recently found out is a Malaysian coconut soup) and he takes his lahksa very serious. No pressure.

Tony summarizes for the camera that the two teams are offering two different approaches and that the team of Antonia, Richard and Stephanie is creating modest expectations so it’ll be easier for them to exceed their goals while the team of Dale, Lisa and Spike is taking on the challenge of cooking all types of Asian food in one night. It’s a challenge, because, he says, like Asia is really big.

Tony goes back and tells each team that they get one additional pair of hands, and in comes castoffs Jennifer, Nikki, Mark and Andrew. Dale picks Jennifer for her skills and Antonia picks Nikki because she wants her to make the pasta.

It’s three hours until service, and Dale is messing up his halo halo, which is his shaved ice treat he made a couple of episodes ago. He wanted to create an avocado puree to top it but his avocado mixture turned grayish brown, and doesn’t look very appetizing. Lisa says Dale’s all on edge because he can’t get his halo halo right and his edginess is throwing off the team’s mojo.

Rice sabotage II. Lisa finds that her rice pot was taken off the stove before it was even done cooking and she screams at Dale, telling him to chill out because he’s messing up in the kitchen. Dale says she’s so negative and I’m just really amazed that Lisa didn’t scream sabotage and go on and on like she did in last week’s episode. She says she’s trying to stay calm so as not to pull down the others. I give her props for doing that because I know that must be so hard for her.

Over on the other team, looks like the only major issue is some gritty clams. The waiters arrive, and Stephanie and Spike gives them the rundown. Spike looks pretty sharp in his suit and tie.

Back in the kitchen, Lisa is having problems with her sticky rice. The rice either isn’t the right stickiness or she cooked it wrong. Dale suggests some kind of pastry fix and her rice then looks like sticky goo. It’s really not looking good for Lisa.

They have 30 minutes left and it’s a mad rush before the doors open for service. No reservations needed.

Commercials. Carrie Underwood is playing some Nintendo game on her tour bus. Why is she so popular? Spoiler alert: Congrats to David Cook for winning American Idol. I so wanted him to win, and am looking forward to his second album. (Whoever buys the first album, which is that forced junk the AI producers create? Everyone knows the second album after they’re released from their contracts is usually the better one.)

The restaurants open and Stephanie shows guests to their tables. Spike is already telling a table of guests that his team is going to take this challenge. Maybe it’s his strategy to put some predetermined ideas into the guests’ mind. (BTW, no food blogger invited this year. Guess that New York girl from last season ruined it for all of us! LOL. Just kidding.)

In comes the judges, and along with Padma and Bourdain, there’s Ted Allen and guest judge Jose Andrews, chef and host of the TV show “Made in Spain.” (Never saw it.)

First up is the gastro pub of Warehouse Kitchen (BTW, stupid name). Ted looks at the clam linguine and says he doesn’t think pub food. Tony feels the beet salad was better than what he expected, and Stephanie lets it slide that she made the linguine dish.

Stephanie runs to the back screaming “2 of each for 45” and I’m thinking what kind of diner lingo did she pick up? Translation: she’s ordering two of each course for table 45.

The judges’ are all oooing and aaahing over the presentation of the next course, the trout with cauliflower and the braised lamb loin and shank. Bourdain is loving the lamb dish and Ted likes that they left the skin on the trout.

For the desserts, everyone is a bit nervous about the gorgonzola cheesecake but it seems to go over well. Richard makes his banana scallops with a brown smear in the plating and this is where the judges’ discussion hits a low point and you know Bourdain is behind it. He says he’s not a fan of the brown smear, and Ted says it reminds him of a New York City sidewalk. Hmmm, wonder what is something that’s brown that’s often smeared on the sidewalk. What could it be? Something brown. Something smeared. All I can say is the Mai Buddha team is fucked because the judges are going into their dinner with this brown smeared discussion still fresh on their minds.

When they sit down in Mai Buddha, they already start getting into the ugly purple napkins, with Bourdain commenting that he feels like he’s in Prince’s house. In the kitchen, Lisa is already taking the blame for her botched lahksa, while Dale is getting high blood pressure trying to get the dishes out to the tables. He’s a badass in the kitchen.

Tony tastes the soup and says the lahksa was too smoky. But Padma doesn’t care because she says she just ate some “slammin’ dumplings.” Oh Padma, you’re such the food connoisseur.

For the main course, Spike is trying to get some impressive plates ready for the judges and he’s wondering why the short ribs look so puny on the dish. Lisa and Dale’s are all “just go already.” Actually, I think Dale added in the word, “idiot.” There is just no love at work at Mai Buddha.

Padma loves the short ribs, and everyone likes the presentation. But everyone is scared of the butterscotch scallops. Bourdain labels it Willy Wonka food and one customer says she’s not even sure what she’s eating. (What do you care lady? It’s free.) They show Dale still screaming to get the food out of the kitchen. Really, at this point, that should be a reflection of Spike’s poor front of the house service, but seems like the editors aren’t focusing on that. Instead, they have Lisa interviewing that Dale’s unhappy and that he failed in his job as executive chef.

They serve the halo halo and sticky rice to the judges and I have to say on camera they look beautiful. Jose Andrews likes the halo halo and sounds like he’s going to steal the idea for his restaurant, but everyone dumps on the sticky rice, which Bourdain calls “baby vomit with wood chips.”

Commercials. Thanks Audi for making a creepy commercial for your “Summer of Audi” event with all those sad-looking kids.

Back in stew room, all the cheftestants are patting themselves on the back and drinking beer. Padma comes in and ask for Team Warehouse Kitchen.

BTW, do you wonder if the cheftestants clean up a bit after they sweating all night in the kitchen? I don’t think they do because they look pretty worn out and glistening from dried sweat when they’re at the judges’ table. And Richard is still wearing that odd headband that makes his faux hawk even pointier.

Padma tells them they’re the winning team and Tony gives them some compliments. Guest judge Jose Andrews says he’s naming the winner as the one who showed the most teamwork. How he judged this without being in the kitchen I don’t know, but he gives the prize to Stephanie. She wins a trip to Barcelona. Niiiice.

After congratulations all around for Stephanie, the Mai Buddha team goes in to face the judges.

Padma tells them that even the diners named them the weaker restaurant. Bourdain asked who picked the napkins, and Spike says all of them and you can tell Dale and Lisa wanted to say “not-uh.” Then Bourdain says some odd thing about the décor creating expectations and something about a greasy dumpling. I think he’s just having a flashback of all the bad Chinese restaurants he ate at before the Food Network and Travel Channel funded his eating explorations to Asia.

The judges ask more about the butterscotch scallops (Bourdain says it looked like a melted candy bar, he’s got loads of these quips) and Lisa takes responsibility for the smoky lahksa (which Bourdain says was like putting your face up in front of a campfire). They debate a bit about who came up with the lahksa recipes and then more about who did the short ribs. All the bickering prompts Jose Andrews to scold them, saying their attitude and lack of teamwork is not what restaurants should be all about. Bourdain adds more of a quip, saying “OK, you’re not talking to your parole officer.” In the end, Sneaky Spike is smiling because he’s been able to keep himself above the fray. He adds salt to the wound by saying he thinks there was a communication problem between Dale and Lisa.

After they leave, the judges deliberate a bit more. Chef Andrews calls out Spike for being astute enough to take the front of the house position to stay above the conflict, but Padma gives him props for doing his job properly. Ted Allen says Dale should go just for putting butterscotch on the scallops but also says that most of the group’s problems were linked to dishes made by Lisa.

In the stew room, Lisa is bitching about Dale with Spike the Faker and Dale is in front of them saying “I’m right here and can hear you.” A few bitch words are exchanged. We need some commercials right about now.

Commercials. Wal-Mart is offering a money-back guarantee for their steak. I wonder what they do with all the steak that’s returned? This is why I don’t buy hamburger meat.

Judgment. Tony says a lot of skills were called for in this challenge that the cheftestants haven’t faced so far this season, and everyone had to step it up (and dance?). He says Dale showed a lack of leadership when he knew he had a dysfunctional team, Lisa made smoky lahksa and baby food for dessert, and Spike, well, he was missing in action. Padma tells Dale to pack his knives, and I have to say I’m a bit shock because I really thought Lisa was and should be the one to go. Looks like the judges fell on the thinking that Dale was the leader and he failed to lead, but seems like Lisa didn’t help with her bad cooking.

Dale thanks the judges and leaves without hugging Spike and Lisa. In the stew room, the other cheftestants seem sincerely shocked that Dale is leaving, and in his exit interview Dale talks about how he’ll miss working with people like Richard, Stephanie and Antonia and then he … chokes up. And that makes me choke up at home, too. And I’m not talking teary eyes, he seems really like he’s bawling. Awww, this guy is real. He was just trying his best. Sure, the badass persona was for the show, but inside he really does care about people. I feel bad that he’s crying so much and now I hate Lisa ever more and Spike for sneaking his way into the final 5 when people like Dale should be there.

Next week: The cheftestants are going to be given something precious. Everyone is still taking about making it to the final four (and Puerto Rico), and Lisa is talking about sabotage again. At the judges’ table, they’re all holding hands like the Miss America contest. So that means the end is near.

Top Chef airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central) on Bravo TV. Check out videos and multiple blogs at the Top Chef Web site. Photos courtesy of Bravo TV.

3 comments:

David K. said...

I can't wait for Padma to send Lisa and her knives packing!

Hey Chef Ben, what do you think is the "precious thing" the contestants will be given in the next episode? Do you think it's an ingredient like truffles?

Chef Ben said...

David, I'm with you on Lisa. I hope she's next. But no idea on the "precious thing." But my gut says it's not going to be an ingredient like truffles or caviar, because while luxurious, I wouldn't describe it as "precious." So I think they're going to be given some kind of special equipment or something that would be "precious" to the life of a chef. But this is all conjecture. I wish I got previews!

Anonymous said...

i can't believe dale got kicked off!! and lisa and spike are still there?