Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top Chef: Season 4, Episode 2

‘I’m Just Putting Perfume on a Pig’

Previously on Top Chef: Everyone arrives in Chicago and we find out that one couple arrived together (the two ladies from San Francisco), Stephanie is shaky when saucing (say that 10 times fast), Richard releases smoke and aroma (um, the good kind you silly) and Nimma was really salty. She’s the first cheftestant sent packing.

Padma goes over the prize list again and they all compete for the title of … TOP CHEF.

Sunrise over the Chicago skyline and the lake. Obligatory joggers who are everywhere (you should see them around my neighborhood in the mornings). And Dale yawning. Stephanie is already up and working out. That girl can curl. Then we find out that Valerie, who’s from Chicago, knows Stephanie because they worked at a restaurant together years ago. This business is so incestuous. Next week we find out Andrew and Spike were separated at birth.

We check in on our favorite lesbian couple, Zoi and Jennifer, and they’re sharing each other’s black crocs. This is why I’m single. I would never share footwear with my partner. [Yes, famous last words. ;-) ]

Quickfire challenge: The cheftestants meet Padma at the local farmers’ market, Chicago’s Green City Market. Yay, I love farmers’ markets! And so does Valerie who thinks she has the home field advantage because she says she shops at the Green City Market all the time. Padma tells them their challenge is to find the freshest ingredients to make a dish, but they can only use five ingredients (salt, pepper, sugar and oil doesn’t count). Winner gets immunity.

The cheftestants are off and running, jumping over a few kids to get to the stands. Spike is chillin’ listening to music. He’s my new favorite; he’s totally funny. Richard is looking over some eucalyptus leaves. You’d think with only five ingredients, he’d maybe want something more edible. Is he cooking for koala bears? (Oooh, zoo animal foreshadowing without even trying.)

Everyone’s shopping for protein and apparently the Green City Market sucks when it comes to that because the cheftestants are disappointed at the frozen meat that’s on sale. Australian Mark is in his own time zone and he’s totally frustrated at how slow. everyone. moves. … at the. market. At one point he basically opens up a farmer’s cooler to see what she has, and she’s all like, “excuse me?” He is in such a rush that he leaves another stand without his purchase (after clearly asking for a receipt).

Because Mark’s accent can be so heavy at times, I couldn’t really make out what ingredient he left behind. I think he said leeks. It was some kind of greens, and he eventually substitutes it with butter when making his dish because if you don’t have salad, add fat.

Back in the Top Chef kitchen we meet this week’s special guest judge, the molecular master and bearer of odd haircuts Wylie Dufresne, chef and owner of wd-50 in New York. You just know Richard’s just ready to pee in his pants at his excitement over seeing Wylie.

The cheftestants have 30 minutes to make their dishes, and everyone’s off and running in the kitchen. Richard says he’s making a classic braised chicken dish but he’s going to pump it up with the fragrance of the eucalyptus leaves. Spike unpacks his tenderloin tips and says they look like dog food.

You know, I probably should have paid more attention at how the dishes looked when they were finally done instead of typing away trying to get all the ingredients. Sigh, recapping is hard when you’re not taping the show. (I can only tape one show at a time and right now I’m taping "Men in Trees." Someone has to watch it, 'kay.) Anywho, here’s what I could figure out:

Richard tells Padma that eucalyptus is edible in small doses. He makes a braised chicken soup dish with apples.

Ryan makes steak with lettuce and radishes and something else. You know having worked at a San Francisco café that he’d be good at making simple, quick dishes with clean flavors.

Dale makes an egg dish with mushrooms and shallots.

Valerie seared a rib eye with sweet potato puree. Wylie thinks it’s refreshing and juicy.

Spike did apples with his tenderloin tips that he’s already apologizing for. Wylie says he thought he was going to make a steak sandwich. Spike is all, duh, next time bro, just for you.

Erik pan-seared some lamb chops.

Mark made sirloin with turnip puree, mushrooms and peach cream. Wylie knows Mark left a bag behind and says he likes the sweetness of the peach contrasting with the savory turnip. He also tells Mark “nice sideburns” as he walks away. So inappropriate. It’s like how David Cook keeps winking at everyone when he’s being lambasted by Simon on American Idol. Huh, I think I watch too much TV.

Andrew made something that I don’t remember but it really doesn’t matter because apparently Andrew is the kid in class who doesn’t listen to instructions. He used balsamic vinegar as an ingredient but didn’t count it as one of his five because he thought it was one of the excluded items (like salt and oil). He’s scatter brain like that, he says.

In the end, Wylie doesn’t like Spike’s chopped meat that should have been a sandwich, Erik’s uncomposed lamb chops, and Richard’s eucalyptus-smelling chicken, which Wylie thought was a bit greasy. Richard’s worried his molecular gastronomy card is going to be revoked.

The standouts were Ryan’s simple steak dish, Valerie’s flavorful rib eye and Mark’s sirloin with peaches. Mark (and his “awesome” sideburns) wins immunity.

Commercials. It’s raining Hershey’s Kisses. Doesn’t that brunette look like Cameron Diaz? … I would find it annoying if my dog kept yelping “sausage” all day like in that Bud Light commercial.

For the elimination challenge, the cheftestants draw knives and they’re all confused because they’re seeing words like “vulture,” “lion,” “bear,” “gorilla,” and “penguin” printed on the sides. Some speculate that they’re going to be cooking these animals. (BTW, Andrew makes this funny growling sound like a big lion; he really should be a voice in an animated movie.) Turns out, those are the names of their three-member teams.

Padma tells them they’ll be catering a staff party for 200 at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The twist is they have to make dishes that are based on the food their animal eats. (Zoi’s all nervous because she’s wondering what vultures eat. She guesses road-kill and rats. Wow, can’t wait to see what kind of dishes she comes up with for that.)

Lucky for Zoi and the rest of her team that vultures eat fish, rabbits and lamb. Yum.

The teams start throwing out ideas for their dishes. Ceviche for Team Penguin, honeycomb with lavender for the Bears. The editors start to pull out the odd team dynamics. Most notable? Dale is a control freak and doesn’t want to play with his team. Antonia thinks Valerie isn’t pulling her weight and Valerie is basically just the quiet mouse on Team Gorilla.

The next day, they all wake up talking about what kind of animal they’d be. But I’m distracted because Mark is wearing this black headband that’s pulled way back and he looks like Joan Rivers after her 100th facelift. Dude, that’s such not a good look for you. I thought he was wearing it to get those curly hair of his out of his face as he washes up for the morning, but the dude is playing pool, people! It’s freaking me out.

The cheftestants are at Whole Foods with their budget of $500 shopping for ingredients. Spike is molesting the produce section, and Lisa falls down and squishes some kind of vegetable. Nikki is asserting herself in Team Bear and insists on spending some of the money for table decorations, prompting Dale to interview that this is not Top Design.

Back in the kitchen, there’s more running and now Dale is wearing a headband. It’s reproducing! It’s the invasion of the headbands! If Tom Collichio shows up wearing a headband, that’s it. I will not watch this show anymore! I mean it.

We start to see what the teams are making. Team Penguin is doing a charred squid ceviche and also Andrew wants to make a glacier out of jelly. Team Gorilla is making banana bread, of course, but Natalie is already stressing about the blinis.

In comes Chef Collichio (thankfully sans headband). He visits each team but he really doesn’t say anything interesting or noteworthy. Thanks Tom for visiting. BUH-bye.

You know, I’ve said before that Andrew and Spike look like twins, except Andrew is the jittery one. I think they’re both really funny. They have this funny exchange at the refrigerator where Spike checks out Andrew’s jelly glacier and he stabs at it with his finger. Andrew’s all like “you’re going to break it.” Spike’s like “you told me to touch it.” Andrew’s like “touch it, not stab it.” LOL, I don’t know why I find that exchange cute but I do.

Dale says the stuffed mushrooms his team is making looks weird, and Spike says they look like turds. Nikki made them and she’s trying to pretty them up with some chives or chervils.

Over at Team Gorilla, Stephanie’s crab dish is falling apart because her celery chips are soggy, so they end up making a salad for the base. Shaky Hands Stephanie is now Totally Stressed Stephanie on this episode.

The cheftestants arrive in this beautiful room at the zoo with a lot of brick walls. They spend an hour setting up their stations. Team Bear is still wondering about the mushrooms. Dale sprinkles some cheese on them, saying in his interview that “At that point I was just putting perfume on a pig.” Ha! Too funny.

Padma arrives with the judges, including the return of Gail Simmons. The guests follow soon after. Hey, I see a woman wearing a zebra-print blouse! Typical.

As everyone’s checking out the different stations, Team Bear decides to pull their mushrooms because they’re cold (and ugly).

Wylie and Tom are checking out Team Lion and Wylie likes the beet salad with yuzu and the bison tartar. (Isn’t it funny how the boys are checking out the food together and the girls, Padma and Gail, are off on their own checking out the food. I notice this always happens at cocktail parties. Why can’t the sexes eat together? Discuss.)

At Team Vulture, Mark made anchovies in a quinoa croquette. He says it’s like a “piece of New Guinea” but I can’t get past the fact that he’s still wearing his headband in front of 200 guests. Have you no pride, man? Padma and Gail love the lamb meatballs.

Things aren’t as pretty when Wylie and Tom checks out Team Gorilla. The judges notice that the crab salad is too watery and Valerie’s black olive blini with fennel marscapone sounds delicious but isn’t. The only things they do like are Antonia’s lamb with edamane and Stephanie’s banana bread with salted caramel.

When they get to Team Bear, they try the cheese with honey and salmon with soy glaze. Padma and Gail ask about the mushrooms and Nikki makes the fatal error of bringing it out just for the judges “if you really want to taste it.” OK, so you decide it’s not worth serving to the guests, but you decide to serve it to the judges who will decide your fate? Nikki should be sent home now just for that dumb logic.

The party guests interview about their favorites, and of course everyone gets a mention. Although one honest guest said that the olive pancake (the blini) “tasted like dirt.” Ouch.

The judges do a mini huddle to discuss their favorites, and you can already tell that the mushrooms with pecorino cheese and the blinis are going to be problems.

Commercials. Jason Stratham is always running in his movies. I will not go to see “The Bank Job.” Also, the Bravo poll for the week is whether Tom Collichio is a Gorilla, Bear or Penguin. Come on, we already established last season that he’s a “bear.” Where’s my trip to Napa?

Judges table: Padma calls Teams Vulture and Penguin. Everyone loves the anchovy dish by Mark, and the lamb meatballs. For the Penguins, they liked the fun glacier and Wylie really liked the squid dish by Andrew. And since Wylie’s the guest judge, he names Andrew the winner.

Andrew goes back and tells Team Gorilla and “DA Bears” (it’s Chicago, after all) that they’re wanted at the judges’ table.

Tom lets them know that the two teams are there because they made the three worst dishes of the night: the mushrooms, blinis and crab salad.

Dale says the mushrooms weren’t executed well, and Nikki recounts her debate about whether to hold back the dish or serve the turds. Dale says they looked like shit so he added the cheese, which Tom says made it worse. He asked if he tasted it after adding the cheese, and Dale says no because he does not eat shit.

Stephanie admits that she wasn’t happy with her crab salad and that she pre-mixed the ingredients instead of waiting until they arrived at the party. (The salt pulled out all the moisture from the crab, adding more water to the dish.) Valerie also admits that the blinis shouldn’t have been made ahead of time. They were soggy and soft and Tom felt the rutabaga overpowered everything.

Gail asks Antonia who she would hire—Stephanie or Valerie—based on the dishes they made tonight. Antonia, who already interviewed earlier in the episode that she didn’t think Valerie had any skills, chooses Stephanie. Valerie feels like she’s been stabbed in the back, and with a sharp knife, not one of those floppy blinis.

The judges debate a bit and this is the most boring discussion to date. The writing’s on the wall and try as they might, the editors can’t find any reasonable clips to throw us off the scent.

Commercials. The results are in and (told you) Tom is voted as most like a bear. (61 percent)

The two teams are back for judgment. Tom does the recap and we’ve heard this already so let’s just get to Padma. She sends Valerie packing.

Stephanie looks really sad, like she was partly to blame. In a way, I blame her too. She was the one who assigned Valerie the job of making the blinis. But I guess Valerie should have spoken up and argued that the blinis should be made at the party. Oh well, she was the weakest link. At least she doesn’t have to travel far since she’s from Chicago.

Next week: The cheftestants take a field trip and it looks like they’re at a kids’ party. Chicago’s own Rick Bayless is the guest chef, and seems like there’s some major bitchfest among the cheftestants and we’re only in week 3.

Top Chef aires 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.


Harland Crom said...

If you guys are really into Top Chef, you should check out this game. It makes watching the show more fun.

Carroll said...

Men in Trees, YES! No apologies needed :-)

Anonymous said...

Um, I watch American Idol, Top Chef, and more, much more. As long as you don't watch more tv than me...
Anyway, not sure if it works for you, but Bravo re-runs shows so much that maybe you could tape a later viewing (I think it usually repeats at 11 or midnight) if you want to take another look? Thanks for the recap!