Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Top Chef 4/9/08--"The Elements" summary

Previously on Top Chef: the contestants had to demonstrate “culinary techniques” for their Quickfire, and then come up with dishes inspired by movies for their Elimination challenge. The judges actually took into account the theme of the challenge, for once, and judged some teams harshly for not matching their chosen movie. In the end Richard won, for the rather odd (and apparently delicious) combination of smoked salmon, wasabi, and white chocolate. A lot of the other contestants complained because they had decided that this combination was nasty, even though none of them had tried it. Spike and Manuel made a sub-standard summer roll that no one liked and was only slightly related to their movie, and since Manuel followed along and didn’t do anything, really, he was sent home. After watching the previouslies, I notice that Padma mentioned something about bold flavors, and I laughed because I just made a recipe from her cookbook (yes I bought her cookbook shut up) and the heat from the chilies almost overpowered everything else. It’s fixable, though, and it’s going to be good. (click for more)

Mark sharpens knives while others exercise. Antonia bitches about being in the bottom two. Zoi has woken up, even though she doesn‘t think she should have been in the bottom. Jen is like, personally offended that they called Zoi out because she knows she’s good and she‘s a fan. Ryan says it’s time for someone else to go home.

Padma is in the kitchen with Ming Tsai. Woo Ming Tsai! (Kmanpat: “His East can meet my West any day!” Me: “Shush, you stole that from my ex-roommates.“). Padma and Ming start talking about palates and training your palate. Oooo, blind taste test time! Antonia says this is her most favorite Quickfire ever. They’ll taste pairs of items, one high end and one not. That sounds suspiciously like a Hell’s Kitchen challenge. OK, I checked, and what actually happened is that the producers made fake foods, like pate that was really hot dogs, and then they fooled everyone because no one noticed. They darken the kitchen for ambiance during the challenge, and the chefs come in one at a time. Ryan is up first with maple syrup, one that is $2.99, and one that is $8.99. Bacon too. Yum. Stephanie gets fake “krab”, and real crab, and...did she just screw that up? Are you kidding? They don’t even have the same texture. Lisa complains that she can’t see and it would be easier if they could see. Well, duh. Dale got all the Asian ingredients right. Hee. He goes into a big spiel about how much caviar he‘s bought and consumed, which he then gets wrong. It’s impossible to tell how people are doing overall. Mostly people talk about how awesome they are, or whatever. Antonia certainly does, and Richard also. Blah.

Everyone comes back in. The lowest score of 6 out of 15, was Stephanie. She says she sucks at Quickfires. Runners up (with 11/15) are Ryan and Jen. Zoi is irritated that Jen beat her. Interesting, I was waiting for that to happen. With 12 out of 15 correct, Antonia wins immunity for this week.

They have to cook for the Meals on Wheels Celebrity Ball. They will make the appetizer course, and the celebrity chefs will do the rest. Ming tells them to keep it simple and execute perfectly. The theme is the four elements: earth, fire, water, air. They’ll work in teams of three, so everyone will get one element. And only 15 minutes to plan. Andrew, Mark, Richard are Water. Richard is immediately in charge. Jen, Ryan, Nikki are Air. They want birds, or mousse, but Nikki feels that’s cheesy? Or possibly not enough of a theme? I’m not sure. Antonia, Spike, and Zoi have Earth. Spike and Zoi both want soup, which Antonia doesn’t like. She thinks it’s not high quality enough for their $500 budget. She tells them that if they are totally into soup, she will make soup with them, but she doesn‘t think it is a good idea. Spike concedes, finally. He knows that he has to get there since Antonia is immune. Dale, Lisa, and Stephanie have Fire. Stephanie wants grilling, and Dale suggests a warm tartare, which Lisa shoots down. He wants to go with deviled eggs so as not to be literal. Devil=fire, as opposed to fire=fire, I guess. Lisa says it’s tiny and weak. Dale bitches that Lisa is too negative and he can’t work with her. Stephanie can totally see this problem as it happens. Lisa doesn’t like their idea about the eggs at all, but she’s not shown coming up with any of her own ideas. You can’t just shoot down everyone’s ideas without providing some alternatives.

Shopping time! Richard wants to make poached fish. Team Air seems to be making duck. Dale wants to “conceptualize” the dish with really spicy food. He also doesn’t want to do Asian, which Lisa wants to do because Ming is Asian and she loves to cook Asian food. Somewhere Josie is screaming, “No you fool! Don’t try to prove your Asian skills to Ming!” They’ve spent 10 minutes at the store arguing about the dish. Spike tells Antonia that he doesn’t want the judges to ask, “That’s it?“ when faced with their dish. Kind of like what they did to Spike last week. Antonia insists (in a kind of bitchy way) that they are going for high quality ingredients so it will be fine. Spike wants Antonia to shut up, because she has immunity and so in his mind he wants her to take a back seat. Why is he wearing a straw woven hat? It looks like a woven beach mat. At the meat counter, Spike is so set on his soup he asks if they can put a shot glass of butternut squash soup with the beef carpaccio. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, those two things together. Stephanie and Dale overhear them and change their dish again, so there won‘t be multiple beef dishes. Lisa freaks out and complains that they’re going home. Stephanie finally comes up with grilled shrimp with spicy marinade, in order to get Lisa onboard. She’s sort of OK with it. Finally everyone escapes.

In the morning they traipse off to the old Marshall Field’s building to do their cooking in their kitchen, which is so huge. Andrew and team literally hide in the corner to avoid everyone. Antonia wants to contribute even though she can’t be sent home. She is cutting everything up, Spike is slicing beef and making aioli, and Zoi is cooking mushrooms and frisee salad. Spike wanted to do butternut squash soup (he said it again, in case you forgot), but he wants to prove that he can buy into this too. Richard is making salmon sous vide, Andrew is making salad and tapioca fake caviar, Mark is making parsnip vanilla puree. Richard says he is responsible for making sure the fish is “ready to go”, so it couldn’t possibly be bad (oops! Spoiler!) The Fire team is making prawns and bacon. Yum. Dale is making chili salad, Lisa is making bacon in the oven in a big slab, Stephanie is doing the shrimp. Lisa is still concerned about impressing Ming with Asian. She’s laying out the bacon so she can cut it in strips later, with a miso glaze. Ryan says the Air team is doing duck breast with herb salad and prosecco with pomegranate. Jen knows this dish has to be perfect. Lisa bitches that Nikki has left her equipment in the middle of her station. Well…that’s a problem. She curses at her bacon. Dale says that this is how she usually operates and it‘s not good for him to be around. She wants to be perfect and she knows she can be a bitch. Ryan runs around and uses up all the pomegranate juice, so they have to juice more. Nikki tells him when he curses it draws attention to him. Who cares?

Spike pretends to Tom that he loves his team. Tom has to harass them to figure out the division of labor. Richard thinks rapport with Tom is important. He’s trying to joke, but Tom is cranky today or something because he just stares at everyone. Richard thinks his charm may be worn out. Tom tells us that team Air doesn’t have a clear idea, and he hopes team Fire isn’t too spicy. Water is overconfident, and that causes mistakes. Nikki breaks a glass. Zoi says 2.5 hours is long enough to make good dishes, and normally you would take your time with a dish but this isn’t her restaurant, so she has to compromise.

People start plating, except the Water team. Richard for some reason is worried because the dish should be warm. By now I think he should know about temperature and how to work it. Andrew notices scales. Are you telling me they didn’t scale the fish? Wow. Spike says that he thinks Zoi’s mushrooms are under seasoned but she wants them that way. Andrew is really worried about the scales. The Water team has their poached salmon, faux caviar, parsnip puree, and a watercress salad. Looking at the shot of the plate, it’s obvious the plastic that Richard had the fish in had a pattern on it. The fish looks like it’s been stepped on. Ming is amused by the tapioca, but not the scales. Also, salmon sucks when you sous vide it, apparently. Team Fire has grilled shrimp with pickled chili salad, deviled aioli, and miso smoked bacon. Padma loves the shrimp and she is licking her knife. Hot but excellent. (Kmanpat: “Which one? Oh…the food…right.”) Team Air serves duck breast with citrus salad and a pomegranate prosecco aperitif. Nikki (in interview her hair is like, Amy Winehouse tall) thinks it’s awesome, even though the drink could be better. No one likes the drink and they seem bored. I’m bored too. Team Earth: beef carpaccio with mushroom salad and sun choke aioli. Gail bitches about rosemary, and everyone else says it’s bland. Spike would have done things differently. Of course you would have. Shush. There are comment cards! This should be good. Some woman says she’d send someone home from the Earth team. Gail loved the Fire dish. And they all loved the bacon. The salmon had scales and it was mushy. The Air dish wasn’t exciting, and the carpaccio didn’t have seasoning. Tom is offended. Lisa wants to burn their sign that says “fire” for luck. Richard liked the concept they had, but the execution sucked.

Commercials. The weekly question is: “Which chef deserves a spanking for being difficult?” Antonia, Dale, or Lisa? I don’t want to spank any of them. (Kmanpat: “Can I spank Ryan? Better yet, can he spank me?”)

Richard doesn’t want to go home. Padma asks for the Fire team. By themselves. They’re the only winners this week. Stephanie says they all came up with the idea, and Dale did the chili salad. And Lisa made the bacon with miso. Tom says each component contributed to the overall dish. Padma drops a bomb: the winner wins a trip to Italy for 5 days. Damn. This was a new technique, with the bacon, and everyone loves bacon, so Lisa wins. Really? Dale is pissed, but at least he owns it. In all the blogs everyone is so glad that Lisa shot down the idea of a deviled egg, but she didn’t really come up with the idea of shrimp and bacon, either. But they know she’s a negative person and they all see where Dale is coming from.

Earth and Water have to go out. Air, I guess, scrapes by. Richard pretends not to know that there were scales on the fish. He says he ran it under water but it looks like he completely missed the whole filet. Richard likes the texture of sous vide salmon, but Tom thinks it’s mushy. Gail didn’t like the “caviar” so much, it was bland. Good thing she wasn’t around the other week. Mark liked the vanilla/parsnip combination, but Tom attacks him and says it was pointless. Time for Earth. Padma pointedly asks if Antonia and her “excellent” palate tasted the dish before it went out. Antonia says she tasted the dish, but the judges agree it was very under seasoned. Like every element. Zoi explains about not over seasoning so as not to overpower the meat, that she loved the mushrooms, and strong flavors. Too bad, Gail didn’t like the rosemary. Spike throws her further under the bus and says that he thought it could have used lemon. He boasts about his soup idea and outs Antonia, and she admits that she didn’t want soup. Padma is all confused because Antonia had immunity, and she says that’s not going to stop her from voicing her opinion. Spike cuts in and says it didn’t stop her at all, and then he smirks at himself. If I didn’t want him to go home before, I certainly want him to go home now. Ming says soup would have been a great idea. But butternut squash soup isn’t very exciting. Tom tells them that they’re not there for not making soup, their team is there because the carpaccio sucked.

Backstage Spike says he’s too nice and next time he’ll be a bitch and insist on his ideas. Zoi says 99.9% of this competition is saying what you think. So Richard thinks he’s screwed. The judges are still pissed about the fish scales and the texture. But the carpaccio got the lowest score. Padma wants to know if it would be Spike or Zoi, and Tom wants both of them to go. They should have stood up to Antonia. I don’t know, I mean, OK, Antonia doesn’t have elimination hanging over her head so if the dish is a disaster she won‘t go home. I don’t know that it means you shouldn’t listen to her at all. In his blog Tom admits that for the record, he doesn’t blame Antonia for sticking to her guns. They could have had an earthy dish with beef, mushrooms, and sun chokes, but they failed on the execution. The whole dish hinges on mushrooms, which Zoi made. Jen reassures Zoi that she is awesome but doesn‘t make eye contact.

The Water dish didn’t work, and the Earth dish wasn’t earthy. Tom tells them the Earth team was worse, and Padma sends Zoi home. Wow, Spike’s dodged a bullet twice. She says she knew it would be a challenge, because of the competition. Jen (and Stephanie for some reason) are totally shocked. Zoi thinks that she showed everyone that they could be a couple and compete, or something. And she’s fine with what she did, saying that the judges just didn’t get it. Jen is pretty upset. See, this is a disadvantage to being a couple.

For some reason now Antonia and Spike are getting into it, because Spike thinks she should have shut up and been considerate about other people‘s opinions, even though it sounds like he wouldn’t be considerate of hers. She counters that she never said she wouldn’t do soup, which is technically true, but it was a pretty passive-aggressive “well, if you guys really want to, I’ll do it, but I think it’s a bad idea.” She does have a point though. She just keeps shouting that he should stand behind his dish. Finally she reminds him it’s on film, which makes me laugh because it totally is. I hope Spike was watching that part. Jen all of a sudden jumps in and says he just put his teammate in the ground. I’m not sure if she’s aiming that at Spike or at both of them, and I’d also argue that Zoi put herself into the ground for not seasoning anything, but OK. Spike gives the exact wrong answer of “So what?“ which just makes Jen look like she might jump him and kick his ass. Dale joins in (seriously I can’t even tell what side he’s taking) and Lisa tells him not to make it worse. He jumps on her, because he’s still pissed about losing. He says she bitches and whines about everything, but he can’t say anything, and that‘s BS. She doesn’t respond at all (that we see). Jen kicks a chair.

Next week: Dale tells Lisa her negativity sucks, Jen complains that Spike is still there and Zoi isn’t, for some reason Mark and Spike are taking a bubble bath together. Also: Da Bears!

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