Thursday, April 24, 2008

Top Chef: Season 4, Episode 7

Who’s Laughing Now?

Previously: Jennifer’s kicking some ass, winning the quickfire for her beloved Zoi. Spike cheers for lesbians. Australian Mark is a mess, but Ryan is inappropriate. So it’s back to Cali for the pretty boy (and apparently a lot of guest appearances at food events).

Has the prizes changed this week? I think not. Because it’s all for the title of …TOP CHEF.

Oooh, that’s a neat reflection of the clouds on that metallic bubble sculpture in downtown Chicago. Cool. At the homestand, Andrew jokes that the room is a bit uglier because Ryan Pretty Boy left. (See, I wasn’t the only one calling him Pretty Boy.) Jennifer says yet again that she’s going to go all the way for her Zoi, in case we forgot. Who’s that again? ZO-i.

The cheftestants arrive at the Top Chef kitchen for the Quickfire Challenge, and look at all those pastries and dessert! Oh. My. Gawd. I’m not usually a sweet person but they all look so beautiful. Speaking of beautiful and tasty, who’s that yummy treat standing next to Padma? Why, it’s this week’s guest judge, James Beard award-winning pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, declared by the New York Daily News as New York’s sexiest chef. I concur, especially after I saw that photo of him with his tattooed arm on his site. Go ahead, I’ll wait while you check it out. You know you want to. (Click on the “Who’s Johnny?” link) OK, are you back?

Iuzzini is executive pastry chef at Restaurant Jean Georges in Manhattan so you know this challenge has something to do with desserts, if the buffet table of cakes and pastries didn’t already give it away.

After Chef Iuzzini says something about advanced planning and preparations (and really, who’s paying attention when they’re distracted by his pretty face?), Padma peddles the Top Chef Cookbook, which includes recipes from cheftestants from the last three seasons. But she says one Season 4 cheftestant can contribute a recipe, and that will be a winning dessert recipe that they have to make … NOW.

Not everyone’s happy about making desserts. Big surprise. But this is Season 4, so anyone with a clue coming into this show knows they’ll have to make a dessert at least once during the season. So a few smart cheftestants are busting out recipes they’ve memorized prior to coming to the show. (I wonder what they’ll do if they make it to the finale?)

For Dale, he’s going to make a coconut dessert with shaved iced. I’m not really sure what the name was; it sounded like a Filipino dessert. But I have to say, when he just laughed right now, he looked so genuinely fun that I would totally hang out with him as opposed to the bad-ass Dale that we’ve seen so far.

Australian Mark is wearing some odd red flower behind his ear. I’m kind of worried about him. He seems like he’s bordering on a breakdown. He hasn’t really looked happy the last few episodes and haven’t been really doing well. Richard, on the other hand, looks like he’s been gaining weight. Or maybe it’s that pastel-lime apron he’s wearing.

So it’s no surprise that a lot of people are cooking with chocolate, and for some reason bananas. Spike came into the game with a recipe for molten chocolate cake, but he decides to take it up a notch by turning it into a soufflé. That seems kind of ambitious for a 30-minute challenge.

Chef Johnny and Padma do the tasting, and this is pretty much the highlights: Spike’s soufflé is sitting in a pineapple and looks weird but Chef Johnny likes that Spike took a risk by making soufflé, Richard is serving chocolate, guacamole and bananas (twisted IMHO but Padma likes it), Nikki does a buttermilk cake that looks really cute and well presented, Stephanie does a chocolate cake with a salt-basil ganache that looks really gooooood, and Australian Mark brings the down under up to the windy city with a pavlova tasting.

Chef Johnny doesn’t like the desserts from Antonia, Spike and Mark. But his favorites are Richard, Dale and Lisa’s strawberry dessert. He declares Richard’s pseudo scallops made of bananas the most original. So now you can check out that recipe in the Top Chef cookbook (but please don’t serve it to me because I still will not mix chocolate with avocado). Oh yeah, Richard has immunity.

(BTW, they didn’t do anything with the huge table of desserts that greeted the cheftestants when they walked in. That must have been a big sugar-rush day for the crew.)

Padma says they’ll learn about their elimination challenge later, but for now they get to go see an improvisational comedy sketch show by the famous Second City troupe. Everyone’s excited about getting the night off (yeah, right) and they’re all at home preparing to hit the town. For some reason Australian Mark is ragging on Richard wearing a pink shirt. I’m thinking, should one be judging Richard’s shirt choice when one wears blue briefs (with probably the Superman logo on the front?). That was such an odd sight.

At the club, the Second City comedians are working the crowd and doing a lot of improv about animals. Then they call out for suggestions from the audience about colors and feelings. The cheftestants are laughing at some of the suggestions. Then the comedians call out for cooking ingredients. Then the cheftestants aren’t laughing any more. They know what’s happening; the crowd is coming up with their menu. Heads and eyes are rolling all over the place.

One of the comedians announces that the cheftestants are in the audience and they have to cook dinner for the cast tomorrow night using the audience’s suggestions for inspiration. Things like Yellow Love Vanilla and Magenta Drunk Polish Sausage. Yummy. The cheftestants are laughing it up but in their minds they’re thinking, “we’re screwed.”

Back at the apartment, they put numbers of each course into a hat and they’re going to take turns picking which course they’ll make. They all choose their own pairs and most people go with people they say they respect for their cooking but it’s all a matter of who not wanting to cook with whom.

Commercials. SoyJoy is fortified with optimism. Yeah, take it next door sister because I’m not falling for that crap.

The cheftestants arrive at Whole Foods to go shopping, and they all seem really relaxed today. There’s no panic running for ingredients. Australian Mark and Nikki has Purple Depressed Bacon as their theme so they’re going to make pancetta and pork tenderloin. Stephanie and Jennifer have Orange Turned On Asparagus, so their cart is filled with asparagus. Jennifer asks the cheese guy for a particular goat cheese called bucheron and he brings out a whole log so she decides to add that to their menu.

Dale and Richard are teamed up for Green Perplexed Tofu, so they decide that curry is perplexing. Richard also asks the butcher for beef fat, and good thing to know: Beef fat is free from your butcher. They’re just giving fat away! Richard says he’s going to grill the tofu in beef fat to give it a meaty flavor and then he does this Jerry Seinfeld bit about how “this tofu tastes like beef.” You know, he’s kind of funny that Richard guy.

Lisa and Antonia aren’t happy with their Magenta Drunk Polish Sausage assignment. So they say they’re going to quote, improv, unquote, by making a dish with chorizo paired with sea bass. To me, that’s more like changing the rules of the game than improv-ing.

Andrew and Spike, of course, is the crazy team with Yellow Love Vanilla. I say crazy because they’re really just like a couple of goofballs at the market, and they’re just making up their dish on the fly.

The cheftestants arrive at the Top Chef kitchen, which already has a table set up with white table cloth and place settings, so a few of them foolishly believes they’ll be serving dinner there. This episode really should have been called Red Herring.

Spike starts cooking and guess what he’s making? Yep, butternut squash soup. That’s right, the boy finally gets to make his damn soup. It’s really not just butternut but also some acorn squash. Antonia, who a couple of episodes ago pissed over Spike’s suggestion to make squash soup, says she’ll vomit if Spike wins this challenge. Get your barf bag ready, girrrrl.

Dale runs to the back to get a big pot and he notices the pantry shelf typically filled with electrical equipment is totally empty. They’ve been robbed! What neighborhood is this Top Chef kitchen in? OK, so maybe the producers hid the equipment because they thought it’d be soooo hilarious. Oh, I get it. They want the cheftestants to improv on their cooking. LOL. What a riot. (<–sarcasm)

Dale lets everyone else know there’s no equipment, and Andrew runs in and starts jumping around with Spike and they’re all like “ooooh shiiiit.” They’re going to have a hard time making pureed soup without a blender (I would hate to give up my nifty hand-blender as well). But Spike and Andrew’s all “vanilla loooove” and says they’re making soup like the old days, with love. They’re actually using a ricer.

Australian Mark is pounding away since he has no spice grinder, and in comes Chef Tom Collichio. He lets them know that the comics will go to their house for dinner, so they’ll have to pack up their food and finish cooking at the apartment. Now the cheftestants scramble for the first time this episode as they grab their Gladware and coolers.

Commercials. Sorry, I didn’t watch the commercials because I’m flipping back and forth between Top Chef and the San Francisco Giants game against the San Diego Padres. The game is tied 1 to 1 in extra innings.

The cheftestants crowd into their apartment kitchen and Andrew says he’s glad they have the first course so they can cook their food and be done with the crowds. Spike is getting his soup just right so he tastes it and adds a pinch of salt or more vegetable broth here and there. Dude, it’s just soup!

The guests arrive and Andrew wonders if there’s any soup left because Spike spent the last half hour tasting it. They plate up their soup in pretty big bowls and serve their Yellow Squash Soup with Vanilla Crème Fraiche. Padma says she would lick the bowl if there weren't anyone else in the room. (You can't take that girl anywhere! The guy next to her jokes that he would lick everyone's bowl but really, he just want to lick hers I bet.) Everyone is digging the simplicity of the soup with the complex flavors. OK, I admit it. Nice call Spike.

Next course is Stephanie and Jennifer’s Ménage a Trios of Oranges, Asparagus and Goat Cheese. They’re like a comedy duo and this is the first time I’ve seen Stephanie laughing and smiling. Jennifer says they cut “sex-tions” of oranges and then they try to do this sexy dipping of the asparagus spears in the sauce and throws it down their throat in a very suggestive way that a couple of men can’t eat asparagus in the same way ever again. Everyone has a good laugh, but once they start eating the dish, the laughing ends. No one likes the bread served on the plate, and they don’t get the cheese. Ted Allen says it’s not really a ménage a trios but an orgy because there are so many things going on on the plate. (Woah Ted, can you take me to one of those orgies next time?)

It’s funny how only Spike the Faker has something bad to say about everyone’s dishes in this episode. Like he just said the tofu looks weird grilled like meat.

Dale and Richard present their grilled tofu in green curry for their Green Perplexed Tofu theme. Everyone is enjoying the tofu that tastes like swordfish or some other meaty ingredient, and Chef Tom is loving the spices in the curry. He says he would have been bummed out if he got tofu as a secret ingredient. (Tofu gets such a bad rap. I love cooking with it.)

Now come Antonia and Lisa’s Magenta Drunk Polish Sausage, except they come out and serve chorizo and Chilean sea bass. The “magenta” comes in the purple-ish puree underneath. Oh, and for the “drunk” theme, the two down a shot of tequila. A few guests stare at each other like, “What, you not going to share?” And the editors cue the scary music. I’ve come to learn that the scary music is really a sign of bad news to come and not just a red herring. I have to say the girls did a poor presentation because they justified changing their menu because it’s improv night, but they didn’t explain that to the judges and guests so they didn’t get it. They now just think the girls are lazy.

Nikki and Mark present their Purple Depressed Bacon, which is actually a pretty hard theme to deliver. Why is Australian Mark wearing sunglasses? I guess he doesn’t want the sun to interfere with his depressed state? Everyone seems to be enjoying the taste and one lady says this is comfort food that she would eat when depressed. A success!

The cheftestants pack up and get ready for judgment and Jennifer quips that it’s a bad omen that she’s packing her knives. It does seem like a bad omen, but then Andrew is also seen packing his knives, so maybe he counteracted Jennifer’s packing. Or did he?

Commercials. Giants are leading 3-to-1 in the bottom of 13th. When will this game end? Huh, there’s this weird commercial for a chip called Flat Earth but its logo is a pig with wings. WTF?

Judgment. Padma calls in Dale, Spike, Andrew and Richard. She tells them they’re the favorites (we get the pattern already) and the boys are happy. Spike says he took the improv challenge literally and just went into the kitchen doing what he does best. Chef Johnny says the soup was balanced, with just enough sugary goodness and savory taste. It should since Spike tasted it like 100 times. Chef Tom says it was “the best seasoned dish all season.” Now that’s some good seasons.

They talk to Dale and Richard about how they thought green curry is complex and tofu was dressed up like meat. Chef Johnny says he liked how they came out as a team, which I’m not sure how they appeared more like a team than the other pairs but does it matter? He’s so cute I agree with everything he says. Anywho, Chef Johnny names Dale and Richard the winners and they both get $2,500 worth of cookware from Calphalon.

The bottom chefs are called in, and it’s the girls: Antonia, Lisa, Stephanie and Jennifer.

Chef Tom asks Antonia and Lisa why they went with chorizo instead of Polish sausage. Lisa says the only Polish sausage she ever had was from a package and cooked over sauerkraut. To me, that doesn’t mean she had to make it that way. She could have done something totally different. I actually love kielbasa. That’s Polish isn’t it? Chef Johnny says they could have done sausages cooked in beer.

Antonia says “from now on,” and then we get that scary music as Chef Tom quickly adds “if there is a from now on.” Antonia was trying to say “from now on we’ll follow the rules instead of spitting into your face.”

Stephanie is back to her serious face and the judges question why they needed to add the goat cheese when it wasn’t one of the named ingredients. Chef Johnny also felt like the composition of the plate was a train wreck. (Train wreck is a pretty popular term in reality TV. Just like how Jason’s song on American Idol was a train wreck. I think I’m going to start using it more in my day. Boss: “Ben, did you finish that copy?” Me: “No, I had a train wreck of a day.”)

Jennifer tries to explain that they wanted to plate the asparagus in a phallic position because she’s literal like that. Chef Johnny makes this odd expression and I nearly fall over when he uses the word “erect” in a sentence. I should have rated this recap NC-17.

When they excuse the cheftestants to deliberate, Lisa is back with the group and getting upset that they had to cook meals based on what some drunk suggested. She’s not very happy. Antonia thinks the judges don’t get that they were improv-ing. Well, maybe you should have explained that? Antonia's a bit of a whiner.

In the judges’ room, everyone’s upset that the two teams didn’t use their secret ingredient as the star on the plate. Chef Johnny says Jennifer and Stephanie’s cheese dish was the least tasty in his opinion.

Commercials. Hidden Valley Ranch is trying to have us believe that a quart of their cheesy dressing is like eating your vegetables for the day. Ugh, and they’re showing kids eating salad dressing like ice cream. There should be a law against this.

Decision time. Chef Tom says both dishes went off track (but he doesn’t say “train wreck” but you know he wanted to). The sausage dish became a fish dish. The goat cheese became the focal point instead of asparagus. Jennifer looks confused. Tom says they’re all accomplished chefs and the dishes on their own were comparable, so all the judges had to go on was the technicality of who followed the rules. Since both teams didn’t follow the rule of enhancing their secret ingredient, Chef Tom says it fell on taste and he says Jennifer and Stephanie’s dish was the least favorite. Then Padma sends Jennifer and her already packed knives packing. Then there’s this collective groan from San Francisco and I just hope it’s not because the Giants blew it in the bottom of the 13th inning. (Whew, luckily no. Giants squeaked out a 3-to-2 win over the Padres.)

Jennifer gets hugs from everyone, and Richard seems especially shocked. (My guess is that the judges felt Stephanie is a more accomplished cook since she’s won several challenges already, so she was spared. I actually would have sent either Antonia or Lisa home because they really didn’t even try.)

Jennifer is upset that she couldn’t go further for her Zoi, but at least they get to be together again. Jennifer says Top Chef expects you to give 1,000 percent. Funny, I would have said a gazillion, but that’s because I try harder.

Next week: The cheftestants get munchkins as helpers! A kid is hitting a skillet on the table, and Australian Mark thinks Chef Tom isn’t giving him any love.

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.


Nanc Twop said...

''I actually would have sent either Antonia or Lisa home because they really didn’t even try''

I felt extra bad for Jen after looking at Bravo's supplemental video (from the ep) and two other sources that say her food was great. Link

sabrinasmom said...

Dale's Dessert -

Halo Halo

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting these amazingly detailed recaps, keep 'em rolling! Love your comic relief as well :)