Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top Chef 4: Block Party!

by Xani and Erin

Four weeks into the season and things are starting to heat up... a little. Well, maybe not. This week's episode was a little disappointing. For the quickfire challenge, the chefs are asked to make tacos. But not just any tacos, fancy tacos. Chef Rick Bayless judged and proclaimed Richard's jicama taco filled with avocado, papaya and cilantro stems the winner. (Anyone else think it was weird that he made one for himself as well as Rick and Padma? Or was that badass? Can't decide...) Andrew's duck was also a favorite, but most of the tacos just seemed like regular old street food, not haute cuisine. Richard was rewarded with immunity and the honor of having his dish featured on the menu at one of Bayless' Chicago restaurants. Then, field trip time! The chefs split up into teams and brought to a residential neighborhood in Chicago and told to raid the pantries of the residents to gather food and use it to cater a block party the following day. Cameras inside the homes of the residents shows us the chefs' arrival is not such a surprise after all! After cleaning out the refrigerators the chefs get to cookin'. The blue team, unofficially headed by Richard, decides to go for a more "upscale" block party menu, while the red team, featuring Spike and Andrew, are all about classic, down-home party fare. Team blue serves "paella", mac and cheese, some kind of fancy ("sexy") drink, and a fruit dessert with a crunchy cinnamon wonton. Team red goes with corn dogs, sliders (!!), waldorf salad, pasta salad, and s'mores on a stick (this might be the most genius thing we've seen all season-- and what is that saying about this season??). In the end, Team Blue prevails (to Team Red's shock and dismay) and Stephanie wins again with her fruit and wonton dessert. Team Red mouths off (both Andrew and Spike) and while it seemed Zoi might get the boot for her tasteless and oily pasta salad, in the end it's Erik's soggy corn dogs that get him sent home.

Xani's Take: First of all, since I'm in California, I got an email with my Fafarazzi score report BEFORE the episode even aired! It was killing me not to check it, but I resisted. I don't know how you West coasters can deal! I didn't get to change my team from last week so again I had Nikki, Andrew and Richard.

I was feeling pretty confident when both Andrew and Richard were in Bayless' top three for the quickfire! Personally I thought Andrew's looked like a tastier dish, but I was happy when Richard won (3 points!). The eliminations challenge underwhelmed me... I'm already sick of them doing catering challenges instead of chef-ing challenges! None of the dishes (except the individual s'mores and maybe the sliders, because I am sucker for tiny burgers) really looked great to me, and the pasta and waldorf salads looked disgusting. I ended up with 8 total points, Richard's 3 from the quickfire and the other 5 from Andrew (for cursing and arguing with the judges)

Dish I wished I were eating: Andrew's duck and plantain taco. C'mon, duck and plantains?? Yes, please.

Favorite Chef at the moment: After Andrew's crazy outburst at Judges' Table ("This is MY HOUSE!") he's still on my team (I need the points) but lost his place in my heart. Stephanie's won two out of four elimination challenges, so I'm sure I'm not alone when I declare her my new favorite!

Erin's Take: I agree with Xani that I wish there were less catering and more real, gourmet (or at least truly challenging) cooking. I'm tired of the teams - let's let the chefs be individuals! I was disappointed in Erik that he broke the cardinal rule of catering/party-throwing: don't serve fried foods unless you can serve them right out of the oil. When Xani and I plan parties, fried foods always come up, and we always decide to cut them from the menu because we know they won't be good if they sit out. WTF, Erik??

Anyway, I switched it up this week and picked Richard, Mark, and Jennifer. Unfortunately, while I earned three points for Richard's quickfire win, I only earned one more point for Jennifer's cursing at the end. Lame! I guess I played it too safe this week. I suppose I should be picking Stephanie because she can win with a fried wonton!

Dish I wished I were eating: I thought all of the desserts looked good - the inside-out oreo, the s'more on a stick, and the mixed fruit with cinnamon wonton.

Favorite Chef at the moment: Although they were annoying at the end in front of the judges, Spike and Andrew were quite entertaining for the majority of the episode, especially when Andrew told that little kid that "these little burgers are full of awesomeness." I still believe in Richard though - I have a sneaking suspicion he is extremely talented and will go far in the end.

Let's see what goes down next week!

X & EP


  1. Where to start?!?? I agree with Xani on the duck and plantain tacos. Yum. Also that I too am sick of these catering challenges. Since when does a chef have to cater events?? Catered food almost universally is bad or good at best. These people are vying to be GREAT. Let's put them in situations that ALLOW them to be great. A stupid block party is not a GREAT event. C'mon producers. You continue to disappoint me.

    Apparently there is a written rule about serving fried foods of which I was not aware (I'm opinionated but not bright!). Eric being eliminated over the nearly retarded Zoe and her weak pasta salad, really infuriated me because I know his dish would have been awesome if prepared and eaten in a restaurant. Sounds like you two and others that I've talked to (I can't trust the judges anymore) feel that this was a pretty huge mistake. Still, screwing up pasta salad?? Can't we send them both home??

    Finally, I'm calling that the competition is going to come down to Stephanie and Richard. This is the first season that I've watched TC, so I don't know all the twists, but these two seem to have the most talent of this bunch. And I KNOW Stephanie can cook awesome food because I ate at her restaurant several times before she decided to close it down. Amazing food let me tell you.

  2. Oh, and I scored 12 pts this week!! Much better than my 4 last week. Steph and her 6 pts along with Andrew were at 5 were solid, but Date disappointed with only one cuss. C'mon Dale, I say more than that at the dinner table at Thanksgiving!!!

  3. this is great, thanks for the summary guys! I can also follow along this way :)

  4. On his blog Ted Allen (I have to read all the judges blogs the next day now. As the BCD girls would say- NORMAL!) mentioned that the neighborhood they were in was Ravenswood Manor. That is a very upscale neighborhood and happens to be where the governor of IL lives! Both teams could have been more interesting/innovative in the idea of elevating street food which seems like it was the concept of the whole show. I think the catering challenges are interesting but I agree that 2 in a row is bit much.

  5. I have to say I like Richard. Andrew? The boy never ceases to annoy me. OMG he is so FULL of himself!

    I do think it was stupid to let Spikey boy go due to soggy corn dogs. Given that: the losing team all seemed a bit full of itself, so it was actually sort of funny to watch their heads explode when they were told they were the losing team.

    And WTF was that about Spike's comment about Mexican food? "I don't think of Mexican food as upscale so screw you." NO dude, screw you! What cookbook bible states that Mexican can not ever be upscale? Oh brother.

    Last thing: as far as putting them in situations where they can be great? I disagree. These people can only be Top Chefs if they can prove that they excel at doing everything. A five-star restaurant, a high-school cafeteria, a Persian wedding or a silly block party: they have to show they can master them all.

  6. I'd LOVE to see Bayless in a high school cafeteria. He'd be as incompetent with those bland ingredients as he is annoying to listen to!

  7. Great recap of the show. I'm having my typical early season TC reaction. I forget that it's on, end up DVRing a bunch of shows over the weekend, catch up, remember how much I enjoy it, and then pledge to start watching on Wednesdays again.

    I haven't really warmed up to any of the participants yet. Some of the personalities are starting to emerge (maybe a few are emerging TOO much) and why does ever guy either have a shaved 'do or that ridiculous pixie bedhead fauxhawk? Am I the only one who thinks Richard -- at 35 -- is a bit old for that look?

    But forget all that... what's up with Bayless?! I've never quite forgive him for his role as a Burger King Baguette Sandwich (sic) spokesperson a few years back but his new, um, look is weird and spooky. I'd be willing to bet money he's had some work done. He's looking odd, but at least that seems to offset his screechy whine of a voice.

  8. Dan - you mean the foie-hawks? A couple of weeks ago, Best Week Ever wrote a post showing that a fierce foie-hawk is absolutely vital to a TC win. Seems true enough.

    I just got around to watching this week's show (apparently my big plan to recap every week will not be coming to fruition, as I am old and need my beauty sleep). But I was happy to see them get into the dinner partyish challenges.

    And, um, can we talk about Andrew for a minute? Every time he's on the screen, my husband gets agitated. He just keeps saying, "That guy is SO ON DRUGS!"

    Don't get me wrong - I'm not booting him from my fantasy team. But come on. He's just not right.


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