Thursday, April 10, 2008

Top Chef: Season 4, Episode 5

Oh Just Make the F*@%ing Butternut Squash Soup Already!

Previously on Top Chef: The cheftestants went to the movies, and Antonia and Zoi’s “Talk to Her”-inspired dish wasn’t talking to the judges. Still, it was the team of Spike and Manuel that had poor box office reactions when their “Good Morning Vietnam” was more like “So Long Manuel.”

Yada, yada, French Alps, yada yada, Glad, yada, yada … and the title of TOP CHEF.

This week’s episode is as tense as those commute-hour riders on the L train. What happened to the pretty sunrise over the water? Times they are a changin’. Antonia says being in the bottom last week felt like shit. Zoi feels like she got jacked. Jennifer (Zoi’s life partner) thinks it’s ridiculous that the judges don’t see how talented Zoi is. And Ryan catches us up by saying two guys left and two girls left, so it’s time for somebody else to go. My guess is that it will be either a girl or a guy, or maybe a guy or a girl. What do you think Ryan? I’m glad he’s paying attention to how the game works.

The cheftestants arrive at the Top Chef kitchen to find Padma with a kind of long-haired Ming Tsai. (I love Chef Tsai’s show on PBS. He’s always really good about talking about wine pairing with his Asian-inspired dishes.) Lisa is also a fan of Tsai’s Asian fusion cooking, so she’s grinning from ear to ear.

Padma says the Quickfire Challenge is all about taste, so you know this is the episode where they have to eat stuff blindfolded and guess what it is. But the producers are mixing it up this year. Padma says a chef needs to be able to be sensitive to good quality ingredients, so they’ll be given pairs of ingredients and the cheftestants have to say which is the higher quality (or basically the one with the higher price tag).

Antonia’s all psyched because she says she would watch this at home every year and would always win this challenge. Hmm, I don’t think this is a game you can play along at home, Antonia, unless you have the patent to taste-vision that I’m unaware of?

So they do a run through of all the cheftestants and linger on Ryan and Stephanie who starts off, but they don’t show every item they taste so it’s hard to really recap what happened, or to even get a sense of who got how many questions correct. They tasted things like maple syrup, bacon, crab (yum), soy sauce, sake, and caviar. I’m sure there were more ingredients that were taste tested but this Quickfire was lightning quick on the editing.

In the end, Stephanie had the lowest score with six out of 15 correct, while the runners-up were Ryan and Jennifer, who both got 11 out of 15 correct. The winner with 12 out of 15 correct is our home viewer Antonia. She has immunity and, apparently, the patent to taste-vision. Woah.

Elimination challenge. Padma says the cheftestants will be cooking for the Meals on Wheels Chicago fund-raiser. But this time the fund-raiser isn’t leaving everything to these novices. Celebrity chefs are doing the main courses, but the cheftestants will have to come up with the first course, which is some pressure because it’ll set the tone for the rest of the dinner.

They’re going to work in four teams representing one of the four elements: earth, water, fire and air. (They should have knocked off water and just go with Earth, Wind and Fire. LOL.) The cheftestants draw knives to see which team they’ll get, and Australian Mark says “water” in this really funny accent. WAH-tah. Kind of like, “Sir, can you spare me a cup of WAH-tah?” (That was my Oliver Twist impression if you didn’t get it.)

They just have 15 minutes to plan their menu. Andrew, Mark and Richard are the water team, and already King Richard is taking the lead again. Team Air is Jennifer, Ryan and Nikki, so they’re thinking some kind of poultry because birds, you know, fly in the air. Spike, Zoi and Antonia is earth and Spike suggests butternut squash soup because, I guess, it’s earthy? Antonia doesn’t want to spend all her $500 just making soup, so she scoffs at that suggestion. Spike is annoyed because he thinks since Antonia has immunity, she shouldn’t be so bossy and should step aside for the others since this challenge will mean more to them.

Playing with fire is the team of Stephanie, Dale and Lisa. This group is all over the place, but really the editing just basically shows Dale making suggestions, Lisa knocking them down, and Stephanie looking stressed as usual. Dale wants to make a tartare. Lisa says no. Dale wants to make deviled eggs to play with the fiery hell theme. Lisa thinks deviled eggs are boring. Dale thinks Lisa’s a negative person. Lisa says she’s not.

Commercials. Gosh, I haven’t seen a movie in a long while. That “The Forbidden Kingdom” with martial arts masters Jet Li and Jackie Chan looks pretty hot. I love those costumed martial arts flicks, although is Jackie Chan wearing dreadlocks?

The cheftestants go to Whole Foods to shop for ingredients, but many of them are still figuring out their dishes on the spot. This doesn’t really bode well for the whole evening. Richard gets this brilliant idea to cook fish in—oh my, you can’t believe it—water. Not WAH-tah, just water. Can’t you just stand it? (Really, he’s going to do a sous vide method.)

Team Earth decides to do a carpaccio because Antonia says the dish should be all about quality. I’m thinking how hard is it going to be to slice a piece of beef? Spike isn’t enjoying it either and he brings up the suggestion of again, possibly, maybe in a shot glass, putting a shot of butternut squash soup on the plate with the carpaccio. Antonia and Stephanie don’t think it’ll go well with the meat.

Dale overhears that Team Earth is doing carpaccio, and I guess he was going to have a red-hot beef with his deviled eggs, so Team Fire starts to breakdown with Lisa stressing out over the ingredients and concept and Dale stressing over Lisa’s negativity. Stephanie, who is an expert at being stressed so in comparison she seems like the calmest of the three, suggests doing a grilled shrimp with fiery spices. Lisa goes for this idea because she wanted to add some Asian influence to the dish to kiss up to guest judge Tsai.

The day of the elimination challenge, the cheftestants arrive at the kitchen of the old Marshall Field’s building. I don’t really know this building, but Australian Mark says you could fit Yankees Stadium in the kitchen. OK, maybe the old Yankees Stadium. I’m sure the new one will be much bigger.

Team Earth is prepping their ingredients, which they say are all earthy tasting: sunchokes, mushrooms, beef. Spike starts slicing the beef fillets, but he’s still not enthusiastic and brings up, yet again, how he thinks they should have made the butternut squash soup instead. Enough already with the soup. I love butternut squash soup, but come on. Get with the program already!

Team Fire is working on their grilled prawns and bacon, and Lisa is really going on an on about how she’s preparing the bacon. She layers them on a roasting pan with all the fat on the same side with just the slightest bit of overlap. She says this way they’re shrivel up and do something. I wasn’t really paying attention because I’m not obsessive compulsive with my bacon like how apparently Lisa is.

Like I said, there’s a lot of tension in this episode, so it’s not really fun watching all of them rush to cook and pretty much making some visible mistakes that I can guess will be an issue at Judges’ Table. The only light moment comes when Jennifer of Team Air (Jordan) is busy cooking the duck and she wants them golden brown. When she pulls them out, she’s all “nice legs” and Pretty Boy Ryan standing nearby says “thanks.” (Small chuckle, I admit, in a very tense episode.)

The rest of the segment just falls into a lot of swearing and bleeping as Lisa gets mad at Nikki (who’s not on her team but I guess is taking up space on the stovetop) and that sets her off and Dale interviews that he doesn’t want to be around that fucking attitude. Lisa says she’s honored to wear the title of Top Bitch.

Tom Collichio makes a visit to this lovely day in the kitchen and asks Spike how he feels working on his team with two girls, and this is where I believe Spike is in this reality show for the celebritydom rather than to hone his cheffing skills because he puts on a big smile and says “I love it.” What a liar. He is now on my shit list. I can’t stand fakers like that.

Chef Tom checks up on Team Water and Richard is all excited about his “cooking fish in water” plan. Really what he’s doing is the sous vide technique of cooking the salmon fillets in plastic bags in tank of temperature-controlled water. I’ve said it before, I hate the sous vide trend. Sure, it makes food tender but they look like raw meat. You know who else doesn’t like sous vide? Chef Tom. He doesn’t say it but I can see it on his face. He’s giving Richard that “What are you talkin’ about Willis?” look. Richard feels the cold Chicago wind blowing up his pants because he says “The Richard Blasé charm is wearing off” on Chef Tom.

Chef Tom later interviews that he thinks Nikki, Jennifer and Ryan don’t have a clear idea of what’s going on their duck plate, he hopes Team Fire’s shrimp dish is not too spicy, and Richard is clearly having too much fun for a mad scientist and may be too overconfident.

Commercials. Another movie preview. Doesn’t that “Made of Honor” look like the male version of “My Best Friend’s Wedding”? But it’s really “McDreamy’s Best Friend’s Wedding.”

The cheftestants plating their dishes as people start arriving for the fund-raiser. I wonder how much were the tickets because those are some swanky attire. Andrew asks Richard if they should start plating their salmon dish, but Richard doesn’t want it to be cold when it arrives at the table. Then we get into the issue of Scale Mania.

Andrew spots a few fish scales on the fillets and all chefs know that’s a sin in the kitchen to have scales on a plate. (Me, I don’t really care since I rarely eat the skin.) Richard says he tried to catch them all but he’ll keep an eye out for any scales, but the way he’s stressing out, I doubt it. Andrew says leaving scales on a plate is like having the fish head still on. Yum.

The servers come to start taking the dishes and Spike feels Zoi’s mushrooms are under-seasoned. She thinks they’re fine. I think this is like a flashback of Nimma from Episode 1. Where’s the salt?

First up is the sous-vide Salmon with Parsnip Puree and Watercress Salad. Andrew made his faux caviar again from tapioca as a garnish. The judges take their first bite and already Ming Tsai is talking about the scales. Tom says some things should not be sous vide. So far, looks like Team Water is really swimming upstream.

Next is Team Fire’s Grilled Shrimp with Pickled Chili Salad. Padma likes the spice of the shrimp, and look, there’s that woman from La Brea Bakery in LA, Nancy Silverton. I love her bread. She thinks the shrimp is fiery too, which matches the team’s element.

Team Air serves up their Duck Breast with Citrus Salad and a Pomegranate aperitif. Everyone’s complaining about the fatty duck skin and Chef Ming says they need to score the skin to help render the fat. Oh. My. Gawd. These chefs seem to be missing all the elementary steps of cooking. Not seasoning right. Not cleaning off the scales. Not scoring the skin. So far, Season 4 not looking like a group of Top Chefs.

BTW, Chef Silverton isn’t a fan of the shot drinks on the side, and neither is Chef Tom. Don’t they watch Iron Chef America? They always serve liquor as a side to bribe the judges. I guess these judges aren’t falling for that.

Finally the last of the starter dishes comes from Team Earth with its beef carpaccio and mushrooms salad. Why is Ming eating from Gail’s plate? Chef Tom feels like it’s bland. He says they’re earthy ingredients but there’s nothing earthy about it. Chef Ming says they should have topped it with a sprinkle of fleur de sel. The camera cuts to some of the guests and one guy looks like he’s spitting out the meat onto the plate. I guess he's ... recycling?

Everyone seems to love the spicy shrimp, and Chef Ming is still stuck on the scales. No one’s excited about Air’s dish, and Chef Tom is down on the carpaccio.

In the kitchen, Lisa is very zen because she suggests her group burn their fire sign for good luck. As the card burns, they may get good luck or Team Fire may go up in flames.

Commercials. Those GNC vita packs look just like condom packets. And that commercial is so aware of that. See, watch them seductively put those vitamins into their mouths. Oh my. ... What was I talking about?

Judge’s table. Padma comes in asking for just Team Fire, and only them. Wow, this episode’s cooking must have sucked. You can tell Dale knows they’re the winners as he’s walking in because he’s totally smiling while the other girls are serious. But they start smiling too after Padma lets them know they’re the favorite dish.

The judges asks some questions, but it’s mostly to find out who did what. You can tell they’re trying to figure out who should be named the individual winner. And no wonder. The winning chef gets a trip to Italy (to some town that I couldn’t understand the name). Chef Ming announces the winner, and he gives it to Lisa for her OCD-bacon component in the dish. Oooh, Dale is soooo jealous. You know how I can tell? Because he said so.

Lisa sends in the Earth and Water teams. Jennifer stares at Zoi in shocked that her girl could be in the bottom. You know, it’s not like unfamiliar ground, so I don’t know why she’s so surprised.

Padma tells the teams that their dishes sucked, and they start to asks the questions to assign blame. Richard falls on his sword, admitting that he cooked the scaley salmon. Tom adds that he’s not a fan of sous vide for salmon. Andrew did the tapioca and Gail felt it needed flavor, even though the judges loved it last week when he made it in that other dish. Mark made the parsnip puree and the judges felt it didn’t complement the dish.

For the Earth team, ChefTom says the entire dish was bland from start to finish. Ming says every element needed more seasoning. Zoi says she doesn’t have a light hand when it comes to seasoning, but then says that she didn’t want to overpower the meat. Gail hated the rosemary with the mushrooms that Zoi made, and Spike says he would have added lemon to the mushrooms.

Then Spike brings up again that he wanted to make butternut squash soup, and adding fuel to the fire, Chef Ming says that would have been a brilliant idea. Spike is all, I told you so. (And adding more to his acting gig, Spike says he should have been an asshole but he was too nice and took a backseat. Yeah, backseat faker.)

The judges discuss the dish some more but don’t really add anything new. Chef Tom is back to his old cranky self because he says he would send both Spike and Zoi home because they were so bad. But you know that’s such a veiled threat because in previous shows he said before “they all should go home” and he never does because the producers would slap him back in line.

Judgment. Tom says the judges agreed with the diners who voted the Earth Team as the worst dish. Padma sends Zoi and her knives packing. The first person she hugs is Spike, but I think it’s more a proximity thing.

So you think that would be it as they play the sad goodbye music and Zoi talks about how she really wasn’t into competing but just wants to cook. Then she leaves.

And everything gets quiet as they cut back to the storeroom and the cheftestants are all still in shock with Zoi gone. You can tell some people really felt Zoi had a lot of talent, but then I wonder who they thought should have gone? Spike?

Of course, you know who’s mad. Jennifer. She is pissed. I guess I would be in her shoes. Which is probably why spouses and partners shouldn’t be on the show together because, really, how impartial can they be? Anywho, Spike gets into it with Antonia saying she had immunity and should have let them make the damn butternut squash soup. Antonia says he should have spoken up for himself, and really in the end she would have made the soup (although I don’t remember her really conceding that).

Then Dale wants a piece of the stewing and he tries to jump in to defend Zoi while Lisa’s all: “Dale, X-nay on the commenting.” Which totally blows him up because’s he all, WTF you can go around the last 60 minutes swearing and cursing and the one time I want to swear you tell me to shut it. This would be such a dramatic segment of the episode if I really knew what they were fighting about. Anyway, the only thing that gets the short end of this fight is the poor chair that’s slung by Jennifer. And … SCENE.

Next week: Dale is tired of Lisa’s constant negativity and tells it to her face, Jennifer is fighting on for the memory of her Zoi, everyone’s grilling, Ryan’s not a sports fan, and Spike and Mark is in some cheap porno.

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.


David Dust said...

Seriously Spike, GET OVER the Butternut Squash Soup already!

Very thorough recap!

Click here for DavidDust's Top Chef recap.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great review, and once again I am amazed how quickly you do it!

Anonymous said...

Thank you sooo much for your review! I nearly peed myself laughing. I missed this episode so was thrilled to find your blog.

Anonymous said...

Yo SIngle Guy Chef! Thanks for the summary! I want to hear your opinions too! Less Network, More Single Guy Commentary! Did the right person go home?

You do a great recap! Keep it up!

Frequent Reader, in Downtown Oakland!