Thursday, April 10, 2008

Top Chef 4: The Elements

by Erin and Xani

Last night was the fifth episode of Top Chef and finally the claws (and the tears) have come out! All that fighting helped both of us gain precious points in our Top Chef fantasy game. But first, a quick recap:

Ming Tsai was the guest judge for the entire episode, and everyone was excited about him, especially since so many of the chefs cook with an Asian influence. (Side note: It's really too bad his show was taken off of the Food Network, it was good! Yet another example of the FN moving away from interesting, ethnic cuisine shows to more quick-fix, weeknight dinner shows...blech. But, I hear his show on PBS, Simply Ming, is quite good.) (Another side note: Our cousin Doug went to Yale with Ming! One degree of separation - sweet!)

The Quickfire was all about the chefs' palates, so they did a blind taste-test of 15 different ingredients. They were presented with two kinds of each ingredient, one cheap and one super-expensive, and the chefs had 20 seconds to pick which was the higher-quality ingredient. Ingredients included crab, maple syrup, bacon, soy sauce, chocolate, aged cheese, butter, caviar, pork, and olive oil.

Antonia won the challenge, getting 12/15 right! She was not shy about her incredibly sensitive palate.

The Elimination Challenge was another catering challenge: the chefs were divided into four teams of three, and they each had to make a first course for the Meals on Wheels Chicago Celebrity Ball. Each team was assigned a different element: earth, air, fire, and water. The chefs really tried to be creative here and incorporate their elements, and while some were successful, others failed miserably. There was quite a bit of bickering as well, specifically between Dale and Lisa on Team Fire, and amongst the whole Team Earth (Spike, Antonia, and Zoi).

The winners were Team Fire (Dale, Lisa, and Stephanie), who made a chili-marinated shrimp with a miso-glazed piece of bacon, atop a salad of pickled chilies. Yum! The judges found it to be very fiery and spicy and delicious. Stephanie is on a roll, but in the end, Lisa won the challenge for her innovative miso-glaze on the bacon, and as a special prize she and a guest get to go to Italy!

On the bottom were Team Water (Richard, Andrew, and Mark) and Team Earth. Team Water once again was led by Richard, but this time it didn't work out so well. They made a sous vide salmon (sous vide is where meat or fish is placed in vacuum-sealed bags and cooked in hot water) with a parsnip-vanilla puree and a salad, and MORE fake caviar made with tapioca! Richard cleaned the fish but not very well, as almost everyone had SCALES on their portion of fish. Ew! As Ming said, that can ruin a dish completely.

Meanwhile, Team Earth made a beef carpaccio with mushrooms and sunchokes which was apparently completely devoid of flavor (well, except some ill-fitting rosemary). Spike argued that he had wanted to make an earthy, butternut squash soup, but he was out-voted. Ming commented that that would have been a GREAT idea, saying the test in France for a good cook is: make me a soup. (Family members and others who have been to France: is this true??). This obviously pissed off Spike, this being his third time in a row on the bottom.

In the end Zoi went home for not seasoning the mushrooms correctly. When they got back to the back room where all the chefs wait (for hours I'm told by a certain Top Chef friend of mine), drama ensued. Jen (Zoi's girlfriend) was obviously upset, and then Zoi started crying, then Antonia started crying, and even Richard cried! Then began the fighting: Spike yelled at Antonia for not taking more of a backseat since she had immunity. Then Dale complained a bit and Lisa told him to stop, and he WENT OFF on her since she complained throughout the entire episode. Whew! DRAMA QUEENS!

Erin's Take:

I had Richard, Mark, and Dale on my team this week, and with all the drama, I earned 13 points!! (Speaking of points earned, I have to give a shout-out to the lovely Kit of Mango & Ginger who is playing along - she is in 37th place OVERALL!) I was hoping Dale would have won the challenge instead of Lisa (as Dale said: she made bacon and she gets to go to Italy??), but I was glad that neither Mark nor Richard went home, and let me tell you, they were CLOSE!

I thought the episode overall was good, though these themed dishes (zoo animals, films, elements) is seeming a bit forced to me. The best theme they have ever thought of was in the second season, where they had to cook a 7-course meal and each course was inspired by one of the 7 Deadly Sins. Brilliant! As I recall, my boy Michael had Envy and made something with a big fish and a little fish. In fact, I think he may have won that challenge??

Dish I wished I were eating: Well if Ming Tsai had never had miso-glazed bacon, then I sure as hell haven't. Bring on the fiery shrimps and bacon!

Favorite chef at the moment: Stephanie or Dale. Stephanie keeps a low profile but she is quite brilliant on the show (and in real life as my family members who have been to her former restaurant in Chicago keep telling me!). Dale I think is really talented even though he is kind of an ass. But hey, that's good television!

Xani's Take:

I kept my team from last week, and it was a smart move! I earned 12 points this week from Antonio, Richard and Andrew:

The fighting, cursing and crying really paid off!

And now, a confession... I haven't technically "watched" the whole episode, yet. I mean, I watched about 90% of it laaate last night, but it was after consuming a bit more akvavit than I maybe I should have, so its a little fuzzy. I also turned it off right after Zoi got the boot, so I totally missed all the fighting and crying that everyone is talking about (everyone=2 people)! I'll have to re-watch it again during one of the billion re-runs.

Dish I wished I were eating: None of the dishes really blew me away this week. I'd probably pick the bacon dish by default (I love anything with bacon!), but what I really wanted to do was try the palate test! So curious about how I would do...

Favorite chef at the moment: Hmm... this is tough. There's no one I really LOVE, yet. There's not even anyone who gets the eye-candy vote! Can I say my favorite chef at the moment is Sam from Season 2??

So, what did everyone think?

EP & X


  1. I'm also a huge bacon fan, but I was rooting for Stephanie to win with her shrimp (which I also love). Plus I had Stephanie on my team and put up 18 points without her victory! 24 would have been better though!

    But what was up with Steph only getting 6 of the ingredients right during the quickfire?? Wouldn't a monkey average 7.5? I was going to say that I would have been lucky to get 2-3, but the law of guessing says I'd get 50% right (not technically correct by the way, but I'll save the drawn out statistical explanation). Wow. I was really disappointed in her with that performance. Does anyone have ANY idea why that would be?? She seems to be such a great chef. Shouldn't she have the taste buds to match??

    Anyway, thank goodness Zoi is finally gone. Again though, the judges easily could have sent home hat dude Spike and should have. Hell, the one judge even said they should both go home. Show some balls and do it TC!! Send the lousy people home early and often!!!

    It seems like the dishes are getting better and more interesting though, so that's a plus. I'm convinced I couldn't even ORDER anything that was made!!

  2. God. I was checking back all day yesterday to see when you were gonna post. OK. I am now officially SICK TO DEATH of the team/catering challenges. Was it always like this in the beginning? I don't remember.

  3. I love Ming Tsai so I was glued to that episode. I'm totally annoyed he got booted from FN. Hmph.

    What was up with that random last fight scene? It seemed totally disjointed and it didn't fit in with the episode. I particularly enjoyed Dale's crotch-grabbing while yelling at Lisa, because, you know, doing that makes him totally right.

    I signed up for that team challenge thingie on Fizzle (Fazzle? Frizzle?) but I was too lazy to remember to do it each week. :(

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Sorry I deleted my previous comment - I put a bad link in it.

    Anyway, I've already said too much about this episode (yes I did a live blog again - probably not this week though). but my sister and I are having a "diagreement" about who should have gone home. As much as I think Zoi's ass deserved to be kicked out, I was still rooting for Spike to be voted off the island (ooh, wrong show). Every week the boy just grates on my nerves more and more. I mean, wasn't the beef dish the least favorite of any as far as the large mass of diners were concerned? As for them all being drama queens? Mhmmm, y'all sadly have a point. Now that I think about it, this must be where all the drama that was supposed to go to Project Runway 4 actually went instead.

  6. Thanks for posting about this fantasy game. I first heard about it from your blog and I've been having so much fun with it. This round I got 22 points! Woo hoo! Thank goodness for cursing :)


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