Thursday, April 24, 2008

Top Chef 4: Let's Get Improvisational on Their Asses

by Erin and Xani

In last night's Top Chef episode, FINALLY we were entertained with a truly interesting and creative challenge for the remaining 10 chefs. Whew! I was starting to think that the producers thought we were idiots, entertained solely by catfighting between contestants and the occasional bubble bath scene! Well, okay, maybe we do find that entertaining. BUT, as for the BCD girls and I'm sure many others, we mostly watch the show for the FOOD and to see the chefs be creative, and this week's episode did exactly that - hooray!

The theme of this week's challenges was "improv." For their Quickfire Challenge, the chefs were first introduced to guest judge Johnny Iuzzini, one of America's best pastry chefs and winner of the 2006 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year, and if I may say so, quite a looker. Ahem. Anyway, the Quickfire Challenge required the chefs to prepare a dessert in 30 minutes. Padma suggested that if the chefs didn't know a recipe off the top of their heads, they should improvise. Tricksy, she is.

The prize for the winning dessert is that the recipe would appear in the new Top Chef Cookbook (which has since come out since the taping). It was a shameless plug but as we know by now, that's how Top Chef rolls.

Anyway, Johnny's bottom three were Mark (who did a pavlova tasting), Antonia (lemon curd brulee), and Spike (who made a pineapple coconut souffle). At the top were Dale (who made some icy coconut thing), Lisa (who made something with berries and fried wonton wrappers), and Richard (who made banana "scallops" with guacamole and chocolate ice cream). Richard was chosen as the winner of the Quickfire and was granted immunity. His recipe is the only recipe from a season 4 contestant in the Top Chef Cookbook.

After the Quickfire, the contestants were told they were going to see the improv show at Second City! The chefs got all dolled up and headed out (naively thinking they were in for a night of fun and relaxation? Yeah right!). While sitting in the audience, the actors were asking the audience for colors, emotions, and ingredients. This immediately tipped (some of) the chefs off that their Elimination Challenge was being created right then by the audience! The Second City folks put together 5 different combinations of one color, one emotion, and one ingredient, which the chefs had to integrate into a dish. The chefs paired up on their own (no knife pull this time) and got to work.

Mark and Nikki paired up and had "purple, depressed, bacon"; Richard and Dale paired up and had "green, perplexed, tofu"; Jen and Stephanie paired up and had "orange, turned-on, asparagus"; Spike and Andrew paired up and had "yellow, love, vanilla"; and finally Antonia and Lisa paired up and had "magenta, drunk, polish sausage". During the challenge, a slight twist-- no electric equipment was available! This seemed to only really affect Spike and Andrew, who were making a soup. Jen and Stephanie had a bit of a laugh at their expense, but oh, how the table were about to turn....

After the meal (which looked like a really fun time), the judges made their decisions about their most and least favorite dishes. At the top of the judge's list were Dale and Richard, who made a green curry and then marinated the tofu in beef fat to make it taste like steak (it was "perplexed"), and Andrew and Spike, who made a butternut squash soup with vanilla creme fraiche. The winners were Dale and Richard! They each won $2,500 worth of Calphalon cookware as their prize.

First on the bottom were Stephanie and Jen, who made a dish with goat cheese, orange sauce, and asparagus, and while they were very funny in their presentation to the judges, the dish was criticized for being a mess and not highlighting the asparagus enough. Also on the bottom were Lisa and Antonia, who refused to use polish sausage in their dish (even though it was part of the challenge!) and instead used chorizo and tequila (and awkwardly did not offer shots to anyone else...) and a bit of sea bass on top.

In the end, Jen was asked to pack her knives and go. Everyone was pretty shocked and upset, saying she is such a great chef and shouldn't have gone home so soon.

Next week: CHILDREN are in the kitchen! Oh boy...

Erin's Take:

This week was a good week for me - I picked Richard, Antonia, and Stephanie for my fantasy team, which resulted in 12 points for both of Richard's wins and some cursing along the way. I'm now in second place in our BCD Group! I don't ever think I'll catch up to Kit though...

I thought it was a really good challenge this week. So interesting and fun to watch, and good opportunity for the chefs to be creative. I was annoyed by Lisa and Antonia, who should have just sucked it up and used polish sausage! Also, why has nobody hit Nikki in the face yet? She is so annoying sometimes. I was really sorry to see Jen go - I really liked her and I do think she is pretty talented. Why couldn't whiny Lisa go home??

Dish I wished I were eating: I would have liked to try the winning curry tofu dish - I love curry and I bet Dale makes a mean one. I am also pretty curious to see what Richard's banana "scallops" and guacamole tasted like. But, I suppose I could make it myself if I buy the TC book, right?

Favorite chef at the moment: Dale, Stephanie and Richard are my favorites right now. Although Richard's attitude is a bit ridiculous sometimes ("I'm very tongue-in-cheek and I'm very witty"...oy), I still think he has a unique voice and it's so fun to watch him because you really don't know what's going to happen when he starts cooking.

What I would have done instead: I was thinking about what I would have made had I gotten one of these combinations of ingredient, emotion, and color. One thing I thought of was that if I had had "orange, turned-on, asparagus," I maybe would have made an asparagus and orange ravioli (or other filled pasta) and then painted some beet juice or something on the pasta (or put beet juice in the pasta itself) to make it look like it was blushing! What would you guys have done??

Xani's Take:

Well, all I can say is I did better than last week!

I earned 12 points from Richard's wins and Andrew's potty mouth, but Antonia did nothing for me and therefore she is getting booted off my team! I also enjoyed this episode, lots of yummy dishes to drool over. I'm really picky about desserts (no flan, bread pudding, panna cotta, rice pudding, tiramisu, etc for me, thanks!) but I do like pavlova-- I was sad Mark's dish was in the bottom. During the elimination challenge, I really wished I was there tasting all the food, which is really the first time I have felt like that all season. This may have been due, in part, to the fact that my dinner consisted of three (ok, four) Natty Boh beers and some leftover potato and asparagus salad. Oops.

Dish I wished I were eating (the most): So torn between the winning two dishes! In the end I have to say the soup. I looooove butternut squash soup and the way the judges were raving over this one... it sounded amazing. I want the recipe!

Favorite chef at the Moment: I'm jumping back on the Dale train. He's back on my team and back in my heart. Um, wait, what??

What I would have done instead: If I were on the yellow/love/vanilla team I would have also used butternut squash but would have made a butternut vanilla risotto similar to this. Yummy...

Happy improvising,

E & X


  1. Hey Xani, you should have had more than 12 points I think. I had Richard and Dale (along with Stephanie) and recorded 17 pts. Richard and Dale were worth 16 pts. I've moved up to 133rd place even after missing the first week (maybe two??).

    Anyway, isn't anyone else outraged that Lisa and Antonia just completely ignored the rules of the challenge and got away with it?? If Stephanie would have been sent home, I probably would have hunted down the judges one by one. Talk about getting my blood boiling! What's the point of having these challenges if everyone's given a chicken and you can go make a steak? WTF?? Sure, Steph and Jen's dish wasn't great, but that's partially because the followed the RULES. I'm sure they could have made Duck a L'Orange if they knew they didn't have to follow the rules. Unbelievable.

    So once again the judges proved how ridiculous they are by choosing the wrong group. Antonia or Lisa or Spike have GOT to go next....and for the next two weeks after that.

  2. As much as I dislike Spike (hey a rhyme), I admit I would've liked to try that yellow love soup. As for the Polish-sausage-that-wasn't-Polish, it was pretty stupid, and those two should be smacked with a kielbasa for being so - as I say over my way - "snobby" about using Polish sausage. But apparently it tasted better, so what can you do? I desperately want to see Lisa and Spike kicked out on their keesters.

  3. I agree with Joe. I was way pissed that Lisa and Antonia didn't end up on the bottom for not using the suggestion. Lame!


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