Well, here we are folks-- almost to the end of season 4 of Top Chef. It's been a good run, and aside from a little (ok, two week) slip up we actually managed to post about most of the episodes! Who says this generation has no attention span? And did you see the previews from the next season of Project Runway last night?? Wait, what was I saying...?
Anyhow, let's get to the show. We're left with two superstars, Richard and Stephanie, and two "ho-hums", Antonia and Lisa (not that they are hos, but you know what we mean). They all arrive in San Juan after the hiatus ready to cook and compete. In no time they are faced with their Quickfire Challenge, to create frituras, or little fried treats, for the judges to enjoy with beer. The twist is that they must make two different preparations and each must feature plantains, a staple ingredient in Puerto Rican cuisines. Wilo, the guest judge, is a big-time chef in PR, but has no connection to the movie Willow, as far as we know. Antonia prepared a fried yellow plantain with spicy slaw and some crispy oysters on top of a cilantro plantain jam. Lisa made a plantain and chorizo fritter and a tostone (smashed piece of plantain that is fried) with duck and mango-papaya salsa. Richard prepared plantain chips with plantain salsa (served in a measuring cup, to boot!), and little pork meatballs with a plantain sauce. Lastly, Stef made pork and shrimp fritters with lime and basil and tostones topped with seared tuna. Yum!! But, Richard and Antonia end up in the bottom, mostly due to their use of uncooked plantains, which can have a slimy texture. Stephanie and Lisa come out on top-- and then Stephanie gets her very fist quickfire win, and a "very special" advantage in the Elimination Challenge.
After a pointless (and at times awkward) scene at a welcoming party, we head to the main event. For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are presented with their main ingredient-- a whole pig! They must create at least two dishes out of the pig for a cocktail party the next night, and to help them, out come four of the eliminated chefs: Spike, Dale, Andrew and Nikki. Stephanie's advantage is that she gets to assign the sous-chefs. She takes Dale for herself (eliminating a whole mess of potential drama right there), Richard gets Spike, Antonia gets Nikki and, ruh-roh, Lisa gets Andrew! Then the chefs are told that they must remain in the kitchen with butchering duties, while the sous-chefs go to market to pick up all the fresh ingredients. They're not all that happy about it, but luckily they've got 60 pounds of pork to take their aggression out on! The hack, saw, chop, and carve the piggies into component parts. Then the sous-chefs return and everyone gets to cookin'! After a few hours of prep, they pack everything away... OR DO THEY?? In the harsh morning light, turns out Dale left Stephanie's pork belly un-refrigerated all night. He's totally horrified and frustrated with himself, completely devastated, as he should be. Stephanie seems (understandably) shaken by this, until Dale comes up with an idea to save the day: salad with chicharrones (crispy pork skin). (This begs the question: What salad is complete without a serving of pork skin??) All the chefs are hard at work and finally, evening rolls around and the party begins!
As the judges tastes all the chefs' creations, you can already see them identifying the highs and lows. They like Stephanie's salad and the plantain blini, as well as Richard's Malta-glazed ribs and pressure-cooked pork belly. We can already tell Lisa and Antonia haven't made as good of a showing-- the sauce on Lisa's relleno dish is too sweet, and Antonia's pigeon peas are undercooked. There's blood in the water (not literally).
No surprises here, Richard and Stephanie get called back as the top two (hey, don't they usually switch it up one episode and call back the losers first to shake everything up? I don't remember that happening this season), both are praised and then Richard is announced as the winner! And he's won a new car! I half expected Bob Barker and his (litigious) Beauties to come out and pose by it!
Then Lisa and Antonia face the judges. Lisa didn't make the pork the focus of the dishes, and her tostones were poorly cooked, in addition to having the overly sweet sauce. Antonia had those undercooked beans (although I can sympathize with her preference for "al dente" beans-- I like mine that way too Antonia! Love, Xani) as well as a "rustic" plating style that Chef Tom obviously hated. Cue the dramatic theme music... Antonia must pack her knives and go. Gasp!
Post-elimination drama is minimal, but Lisa does give Richard and Stephanie a hard time for not congratulating her. AWKWARD! Since when does the one who doesn't get kicked off get congratulated?? And we're off to the finale next week!
Well, I earned 12 points this week in our Fafarazzi game, but honestly its looking like a lost cause at this point-- I'll never catch up to Kit and EP!
Really enjoyed this episode-- I mean, fried treats with beer AND pork, what's not to love? I was glad to see Andrew back and wished they would have highlighted more of his craziness (him speaking spanglish at the market was funny, but I wanted something along the lines of the infamous "culinary boner" line). I cringed when Lisa made her forced attempt at a joke re: Jews cooking/eating pork-- I hate her! And I can't believe she is in the finale. WTF?! You know?
Dish I wish I were eating: So many good choices! Probably Richard's pork belly, because I am a major sucker for pork belly. Or, Stephanie's pork satay on sugarcane, which sounded absolutely delicious. I was eating a second helping of "leftovers fried rice" (with asparagus, bacon, peas, shallots, white rice, bulgur, and other assorted random bits... this is because I'm moving in ONE WEEK. When every item you don't eat becomes something you have to move or throw away, you find ways to get them eaten!) and was drooling over all the delicious pork creations.
Favorite Chef at the moment: My pick for the big winner is Stephanie-- she's likeable and obviously a talented chef. I certainly won't mind if Richard wins, either, b/c I also like him and now that EP has been to his restaurant, I like him even more! I will be FURIOUS with Bravo if Lisa wins... she's unbearable. "I want to punch her in her eyebrow ring," as a wise person once said to me.
This week I earned the same 12 points as Xani since we picked the same people: Stephanie, Richard, and Antonia. I'm still in second place in the league, which is fine with me. I don't mind being second to Kit!
I/we earned points for Stephanie's Quickfire win and some cursing on her part, plus points for Richard's win, but those were cancelled out by Antonia's loss (though I earned three points for Antonia's crying!). Overall, I really enjoyed this episode and thought the chefs produced both creative and incredibly delicious-sounding and -looking foods. Having to butcher a whole pig is something we've never seen on the show before, and it was great! Interesting that Stephanie had never butchered a whole pig before and yet still came out on top! She's mighty good, folks.
I shuddered with awkwardness when Lisa made the Jew joke - gives us all a bad name! Also so awkward/sad when Dale left the pork out overnight...you could just feel his heart sinking. But, the fact that he and Stephanie worked together to think of something amazing to make with the remaining pig parts proves that they are Top Chef material. I loved watching Dale cook again - I'm sad that he's not in the finals!
One thing I'm confused about is whether they will kick off one more person (ahem, LISA) and then have the final two duke it out like in Season 2 (Marcel v. Ilan), or whether they will have the three chefs go head to head like in Season 3 (Hung v. Casey v. Dale)? I would guess the latter but sometimes those Bravo producers can throw a curve ball!
Dish I wished I were eating: All of the fried delicious snacks in the Quickfire looked pretty awesome, especially Stephanie's pork and lime fritters with lime, basil, and brown butter. Gimme!! The mains looked great as well: I would have loved to try Richard's Malta-glazed ribs and Stephanie's salad with chicharones. Speaking of chicharones, we order these whenever we go out for Salvadoran food (my most favorite of the Latin American cuisines), but it's not pork skin, but instead it's tough little pieces of (often fatty) pork, served alongside fried yucca. Anybody know what I'm talking about here? In any case, I would have eaten pretty much anything the chefs prepared - everything looked so delicious!
Favorite chef at the moment: I'm admittedly torn between Stephanie and Richard. Now that I have tasted Richard's food for myself, although it was not as innovative as what he produces on the show, I feel I have a bit more of a connection to him. He seems like a very smart chef and I really like him and his style a lot. On the other hand, Stephanie is so cute I want to shrink her and put her in my pocket! She's also one hell of a chef. Her flavor combinations are almost always a hit and she is calm under pressure. I'm jealous of my cousins and uncle who have eaten at her restaurant!! I am going to bet that Stef takes the Top Chef title, although I would love if Richard won too. If Lisa wins, I will never watch Bravo again! (Oh who am I kidding?? I can't resist Project Runway and Step It Up and Dance!)
We look forward to your comments!
X & E
ps. Any word on when the (presumably QUITE heated) reunion will be??