Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Top Chef 4/23/08--"Improv" summary

Previously on Top Chef: Tailgating proved to be beyond some people. Nikki ran out of food before the judges arrived to taste her dish, and Mark flailed about and was a mess, but Ryan made some odd café food and went home for not following the challenge and also not making very good food. He was due, he was on the bottom a lot. Spike continued to be a jerk and Andrew was a spazz and Jen talked about Zoi. Oh, and Ryan told everyone that this show humbles you and teaches you that you aren’t important, but then managed to drop his name a bunch of times in his exit interview. (click for more)

Andrew says now his room is uglier because the pretty boy is gone. Hee. Side note about Andrew: Lee Anne calls him “Spazz McGee”, which is pretty fitting. We know a Spazz McGee, although he’s not as tall. At least he’s still there. Antonia starts talking about how they all have training and one of them just has to make one mistake. Jen discusses her love of cooking and all the things she’s going to do with the money. Just kidding, she talks about doing this for Zoi.

Quickfire challenge begins when everyone walks in to a giant table of pastry. Oo, tasty guest judge! Johnny Iuzzini, who is a pastry icon. (Kmanpat: “Tasty!“) Then Padma busts out the “Top Chef” cookbook, which clues me into the challenge: there was one dessert recipe from this season in that book. Now they all have to make dessert, and Padma says that if they don’t have a dessert recipe, they should make something up. Actually she uses the word “improvise”. Or, you know, go home; you should know by now that you‘ll need one dessert recipe on this show. It looks like they’re getting 90 minutes.

Antonia hasn’t come with any recipes or pastry experience. Dale, wonderfully, has a shaved ice dessert. Lisa somehow had decided before she came that she wouldn’t make pastry and she explains a very common thing with chefs: baking is much more precise and technical. Also you can’t tell it’s messed up until it’s done and unfixable. Richard babbles and something about bananas looking like scallops. He declares his wittiness and says that writing the menu is sometimes as important to him as the food. Sigh. Spike has come with several dessert recipes but he is trying a soufflé recipe, which is very interesting news in light of the first challenge.

Spike: pineapple rum raisin soufflé with toasted coconut. It looks like the soufflé is inside the pineapple rind. He gets mad props for risk. Richard: banana scallops with banana guacamole and chocolate ice cream. That…might be good, actually. Jen: Chocolate cake with frozen banana bites dipped in chocolate. Andrew: banana and chocolate ravioli with Nutella pudding. Yum. Nikki: buttermilk cake with berry sauce. Stephanie: chocolate cake with salted basil ganache. Huh? Dale: “Halo-halo”, which is shaved ice, avocado, mango, kiwi, and nuts. Spicy. Lisa, yogurt with fruit puree and fried wonton skins, with fresh strawberries on top. Mark: pavlovas, which are like meringues, made with wattleseed. Those are pretty small, though, and pavlovas should be soft on the inside. Wattleseed is an Australian ingredient that I think tastes like coffee or chocolate. Antonia: bruleed lemon curd with lemon cake. I could go get my cookbook and see who won, but…eh.

Johnny thinks people went into the challenge defeated and never really got anywhere. Antonia’s didn’t come together, Spike tried but failed, and Mark made great pavlovas but somehow didn’t make a dessert. It didn’t come together, I think. Dale had great flavors that worked well together, Lisa had a good balance, and Richard had the most original dessert. Richard wins. I do remember seeing that recipe, and thinking it looked good, but now that I know it’s Richard’s I kind of like it less. That’s bad of me, I know. But I take pleasure in the fact that yes, Richard did make it into the cookbook, but without his name on the recipe it’s not the same. Padma tells them they’ll find out their Elimination challenge later, but tonight they’re going to Second City. Nice. Although, the last time they got “a night out”, they ended up cooking in a roach coach in their heels.

Everyone gets all dolled up and goes out. Stephanie tells us it’s nice to just go hang out like friends. Mark for some reason is the clown of the evening, changing his pants in front of the cameras and pretending like he didn’t do that on purpose. (Oh, he had underwear on.) (Kmanpat: “Why is he wearing them? They should be on the floor. Next to MY bed. NOW. G‘day MATE.“). Mark also mumbles something about the men not wanting to clash, and Richard “obviously” wearing pink, because it “goes well with his skin tone, doesn’t it.“ What was that about? Everyone piles in the cars, which I have discovered they don’t actually do. They’re just for show and for the sponsor. In reality they get into big 15 passenger vans. I do like improv. There are some shots of the performance but without context they aren’t as entertaining. At one point, the performers ask for suggestions of different things. No one really notices, until they ask for ingredients you’d put in a dish. Everyone figures it out at the same time and most heads hit the table. Ha ha! Those reaction shots were awesome. Now they have to cook a meal, with 5 courses, based on the random audience suggestions. Like “yellow love vanilla”. I am very entertained.

Back home everyone draws numbers to choose their courses, but they get to pick their partners. The producers left it up to them, I guess, to figure this all out, and that was the fairest way. Spike and Andrew are making “yellow love vanilla”. Hee! That’s mostly because Spike avoids anyone with immunity. Stephanie and Jennifer have “orange turned-on asparagus”. Mark and Nikki select “purple depressed bacon”. Richard babbles about Dale having the same passion as him, and they have “green perplexed tofu”. Antonia and Lisa have “magenta drunk Polish sausage” but they don’t get to say anything, I guess.

They have $150 for shopping. Mark and Nikki for some reason they are making pork tenderloin and pancetta with honey and ginger. How is that depressed? Jen and Stephanie are making goat cheese, and asparagus, and orange. The cheese they’re getting has an orange flavor to it if you grill it, I think. Jen says something about a ménage a trios being in her future. Ew. Dale says something about perplexed and how curry is perplexed because it goes in all different directions. Richard asks for beef fat to marinate the tofu in. He tries to imitate Seinfeld and some producer laughs. Don’t encourage him. Lisa bitches that she doesn’t cook with beer, she won’t dumb down her food because of some drunk idiot, and…now they’re making chorizo. And fish. That’s stupid. Antonia refuses to make drunken Polish sausage also. At least they’re using tequila. I’m sorry, but at least keep it to sausages. Andrew and Spike seem to be buying random things and making stuff up. They keep talking about improvisation but I think they’re just flailing.

For some reason they’ve set up the dining room in the Top Chef kitchen. Jen says they’re expecting to serve there, so you know they won’t. Spike gets his wish finally to make butternut squash soup with vanilla in it. Or possibly acorn squash. Antonia is disgusted he might win with that. Dale and Richard are making green curry grilled tofu. Richard is grilling the beef fat to get the flavor. He really wants it not to taste like tofu. I wonder if I will feel the same about Richard that I feel about Stephen. Stephen annoyed me so much during his season but now I view him as an excellent villain. I like him better than Lisa or Spike, anyways. Dale runs into the back and encounters an empty set of shelves. Huh? He goes back into the kitchen and starts telling everyone stuff is gone, I guess stick blenders and regular blenders and stuff. Andrew goes to look for himself, almost gleefully says “Oh you dirty monkeys!“ (no really), and then he and Spike jump up and down and curse in unison. Heh, dirty monkeys. Andrew is confident he does not need a blender because people have been making soup forever, since before there were blenders. He compares the effort needed to rice the squash to the amount of love in the dish. Good point. Dale and Richard bought some curry at Whole Foods but they’re playing with it. Someone tells Spike he “knows how to work a sack“. Hee. Mark wants a spice grinder but instead he is pounding things. Stephanie is worried about the portion of grilled bread for their dish, which they are grilling right now. That seems…very early. Jen wants it to look sexual. Antonia doesn’t like her plating. Tom comes in with 1 hour and 20 minutes to go and tells them to pack it up. Dinner is at their house and they have 20 minutes to pack and 1 hour to cook at the house. Lisa pretends that she expected something like this, but I think she also says she was completely shocked. Also, shut up Lisa. It looks like everyone gets packed up OK. I don’t really think that was fair. They should be able to plan for transport. Also, setting up the dining table in the Top Chef kitchen? Very evil.

The house kitchen is really crowded and there are very small pots. Spike is fussing with the soup, for the entire last half hour of cooking. Andrew also says he’s tasted the food a ton of times. It looks like the chefs are serving each others’ dishes, because someone reminds them “Ladies first”. Immediate cut to Ted getting served. Sigh. Andrew and Spike have made squash soup with vanilla crème fraiche. They are quite proud of themselves. Everyone loves it, and Padma says she’d lick the bowl if she wasn’t on camera. Jen’s idea of “turned-on” asparagus is to prop them on bread. I don’t get it, but whatever. As she’s putting sauce on the plates, I was confused for a moment because I saw a shot of a big table full of plates--way more than they needed. But I think it was a mirror. They sell it really well, even though Stephanie isn’t confident in the bread. There’s also a salad. Both girls make as many double entendres as possible while they describe their dish. Now everyone is weirded out. Tom says the bread is not useful, it‘s hard to deal with. Ted says it’s an orgy, because there are so many things going on. Which is the point of an orgy, but everything is getting confusing, I guess. Dale is frying eggplant, and Richard actually admits to being impressed with someone else. During the presentation both Dale and Richard give their partner credit for different parts of the dish, but Dale is far less annoying than Richard. Spike never gets Richard’s food so he‘s all superior about it. But once again the judges love it, and Tom even admits that he wouldn’t know what to do with tofu. One of the actresses says that knowing your partners is important and she likes that they complimented each other. Antonia worries about her fish being the right temperature. Spike says the fish looks like turds, which it doesn’t. Why is he commenting on everyone’s food? Jen and Lisa just kind of tell everyone their dish is Chilean sea bass with purple potato puree, chorizo, and tequila sauce. Then they have shots of tequila, but none for the diners. Oo, bad form. Even though it tasted OK, the dish isn’t drunk enough, and has no Polish sausage. One guy says he was excited about the Polish sausage. Tom is already losing it as the guy tells Ted not to take it the wrong way, but Ted says that’s cool because he’s not Polish. Ha! Mark says their bacon is depressed to share the plate with brussel sprouts, which is kind of cute. Of course wearing his sunglasses indoors loses some points. He and Nikki serve pork loin with sweet potatoes, grape sauce, jus, and brussel sprouts, with the bacon also. Of course, bacon improves everything. It would be a good dish to eat while depressed, although one actress thinks they could have made the sauce with their tears. Hee. No one seems to have any guesses as to who is out.

So everyone had to go back to the kitchen to sit around. Dale, Spike, Andrew, and Richard get called in first. They look nervous, so I wonder if sometimes they call losers first. Spike proudly describes their improvisation at the market, and Tom says that their soup is the most well-seasoned thing they’ve eaten all season. Spike says his mom always told him the best test of a chef is a simple soup. You know, Ming Tsai said that a couple weeks ago. You’d think he might have brought it up then. Everyone liked that Richard and Dale stuck by each other. They both win. Andrew and Spike look pissed. They each get $2500 worth of Calphalon cookware. Sweet! Dale says that even though Richard came up with some good ideas, he let Dale drive, because when Dale was immune he let Richard run the show.

Antonia, Lisa, Stephanie, and Jen get called in. Antonia and Lisa get yelled at first, for not using Polish sausage. Lisa and Antonia don’t like sausage, apparently, and try to give some excuses. Stop laughing. Johnny tells them they should have cooked sausage in beer. Antonia tries to promise to change, saying that from now on she’ll do it differently, but Tom interrupts her to say “IF there’s a ‘from now on.’” Burn! Lisa is still confused as to why she’s up there. Tom explains that the dishes were good so they only have technicalities to go on. When asked about the asparagus dish Stephanie explains that they both like cheese. Yeah. Tom didn’t like that the goat cheese was more prominent than the orange or the asparagus. Johnny tells them the presentation was a train wreck so Jen is forced to explain the phallic asparagus/bread thing while everyone tries not to laugh. Lots of attacking the bread, the size of the portion, the texture, etc. Jen made the bread and cheese, Stephanie made the sauce and did prep. Everyone is finally dismissed. Backstage Lisa bitches that some drunk people are going to get her eliminated. They complain about “improv”, but if someone made a suggestion about firefighters and you start a scene about policemen, because you don’t feel like making something up about firefighters? You’d get booed off the stage.

The judges’ consensus about Lisa and Antonia boils down to this: they can’t change the challenge when you decide you don‘t like it. Lisa believes that if they had made sausages cooked in beer, they would have been in the bottom anyway for making bar food, but Tom says that he actually enjoyed their sea bass more than the asparagus that was closer to the challenge. So now the discussion is this: is it worse to make a dish that doesn’t taste that great, or to ignore the challenge? Tom fires back that Stephanie and Jen put too much cheese and the asparagus wasn’t the main ingredient like it was supposed to be, so they didn‘t do such a good job following the challenge either. The flavors were all muddled.

Antonia and Lisa basically served fish, and Stephanie and Jen served goat cheese. Tom reminds them that even though this is a technicality, that’s all they have to go on. Jen and Stephanie had the least favorite dish, and Jen goes home. She tells the judges she still stands behind her dish, but she’ll listen to the critique. Well, now she can go home to Zoi. Everyone else sits around freaking out that the margin of error is gone. Jen tells everyone to bring it like 1000 percent. Thanks, editors, for the heavy-handed foreshadowing after the Elimination challenge where Jen is packing her knives and calls it a bad omen.

Next week: cooking with small children. They have found an Asian child to give to Dale. Someone else has food with no seasoning. Mark says Tom doesn’t like him. They try to edit it to look like he’s serious, but I don’t like to believe the editing.

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