Unfortunately this week, my lovely sister is out of town in sunny Cincinnati, OH for work and her fancy hotel DOES NOT HAVE BRAVO!? Blasphemy! So, this is a solo effort for now. Special thanks go to my BFF Lee who's in school up in Cincinnati, who graciously took Xani and her co-worker Mike out for a good meal. Thanks Lee!
Anyway, let's get to it! This week on Top Chef, the theme was all about "simple pleasures" and good, down-home eating. We also got a chance to see a little bit more interaction between the chefs in their fabulous house in this episode (including a bubble bath between Mark and Spike...no comment). After last week's episode with all the fighting and crying and carrying on, it seemed the chefs were still fired up from it. In particular, Jen vowed to cook her way to the top to avenge the kicking off of her true love Zoi. Dale and Lisa continued to fight (but this time without raised voices) about Lisa's negativity. Lisa told the viewers at home: "Dale can go f**k himself." Very nice.
Anyway, onto the cooking! The Quickfire Challenge this week began with guest judge Chef Koren Grieveson of Avec restaurant in Chicago (recently named as one of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs of 2008) and 16 pitchers of beer. The theme of the Quickfire was "simple pleasures," and the chefs had to pick a beer (they got to choose three to taste and then pick one) and make a dish that would be complimented by the beer.
On the bottom were Dale (he made a pork loin crusted with...pretzel dust??), Spike (who basically put some meats, cheeses, and clams on a cutting board), and Nikki (who made fried shrimp but apparently they were no good). At the top were Richard (who made a sandwich), Stephanie (who made mussels steamed in beer, amongst other things), and Jen (who made seafood beignets since her beer was an island beer). Jen won the challenge with her beignets and earned immunity in the Elimination Challenge. She said she used all of her anger to cook a kick-ass dish. If that's what works for you, honey, then keep it up! Those beignets looked DELICIOUS!
For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were tasked with catering a tailgating party at a Chicago Bears game! Everyone seemed really pumped about it, and it seemed like everyone was confident that they were going to be the winner. This challenge was a little different because the fans/tailgaters were to vote on the dishes, and the winner of the challenge would be taken from the top three picks, and the loser would be taken from the bottom three picks.
At the game, all the chefs looked like they were having a good time, although of course some people did better than others. In the top three were Stephanie (who made pork tenderloin with bacon and a rosemary vinaigrette), Antonia (who made jerk chicken with pickled onion, banana, and pineapple), and Dale (who made ribs but I can't remember what else). They were all praised by the judges (which included Paul Kahan, another chef from Avec and of another Chicago restaurant, Blackbird) but in the end, Dale won the challenge! For his prizes, he got a Bears jersey with "Top Chef" on the back (I'm sure he's gonna want to wear THAT to the games next season) and he got a humongous, beautiful gas grill (the same kind the chefs cooked on for the challenge).
On the losing end were Nikki (who made sausage and peppers but ran out of peppers and onions before the judges got there), Ryan (who tried to "California" it up with a panzanella salad, poached pear for dessert, and spiked hot chocolate), and Mark (who made a New Zealand corn chowder and a chicken skewer). Upon questioning, Nikki was criticized for not making her own sausage and for not preserving enough of the sauce and vegetables for the judges to try. Ryan talked and talked and TALKED about what he was trying to do but it didn't help anything and just made everyone dislike him more. Mark had a bit of an attitude about his chowder when criticized that it was the wrong texture, and he was really criticized for being so sloppy at his station and in his own presentation. It was rough. Mark was the only one of all of the chefs who used a charcoal grill instead of a gas grill (as he said, he was the only one with the "testicular fortitude" to use charcoal), but the judges were not impressed. In the end, self-proclaimed "metrosexual" Ryan got the boot, which he attributed to him cooking "too big." Um...yeah, I'm sure that's what it was, buddy.
Next week's episode looks awesome and like a lot of fun - they're doing improv, maybe at Second City??
This week I chose Dale, Stephanie, and Mark for my Fafarazzi Fantasy team, and I'm so glad I did! I earned 12 points with Dale's Elimination Challenge win, plus 6 more points from cursing by all of them. It was a bit nerve-wracking to have Mark in the bottom, but having 2 of my 3 in the top was great!
I liked this episode even though it was a catering challenge. Maybe I liked it because they weren't working as teams and therefore didn't have to sell each other out at judges' table? I also liked the Quickfire and I thought it was a good, non-pretentious but still challenging...challenge. And who doesn't love beer? No friend of mine!
One of my favorite parts of the episode was when Dale got to serve several former Bears players (and legends, I'm assuming) and he was clearly honored and starstruck. Cute! It definitely showed that Dale has a heart, since up until now he's been sort of emotionless (minus the emotion of severe anger).
Dish I wished I were eating: Either Jen's quickfire dish (the seafood beignets) or Stephanie's pork with bacon and rosemary vinaigrette. Two kinds of pork on one plate? I'm in!
Favorite chef at the moment: For once I am starting to like the lady chefs a bit more - Stephanie and Antonia seem like cool chicks and you can just tell they are super-talented. I still like Richard and Dale and think they'll go far, but I didn't pick Richard this week because of last week's "Scale-Gate" debacle. He may have earned his way back onto my team for next week with his "Pate Melt" (as he says, "yet another way for me to be a wise-ass" - you got that right!) which sounded awesome and delicious.
So, what did everyone think? How are everyone's fantasy teams doing??
ps. I read yesterday on the Cupcakes Take the Cake Blog that there is a bakery in Chicago called The Bleeding Heart Bakery that is making Top Chef Controversial Cupcakes of the Week! Read the story and see pictures here. Thus far they have made a white chocolate with wasabi cupcake and a super spicy chocolate cupcake with ganache and a "bacon" rose! This is genius. I hope they keep us informed each week!
pps. Check out my good friend Alex's new food blog, The Smoking Kitchen! He just launched it, and it's so hilarious. He lives in Chicago, so does that make this any less of a shameless plug because it's tangentially related to Top Chef Chicago? I vote yes.