Monday, May 12, 2008

Top Chef Chicago, episode 9

This episode began with the women remarking that this is the first time that four women have made it to the top eight. So you just know a woman will be eliminated in this episode.

First, the Quickfire challenge: a culinary skills relay race, a favorite challenge from past seasons. They draw knives to choose teams. On one side: Dale, Nikki, Spike and Lisa. On the other: Richard, Stephanie, Antonia and Andrew. This season's tasks: to peel and supreme five oranges, to clean and turn an artichoke such that a neat heart and stem remain, to clean and filet a gigantic monkfish, and to make a quart of mayonnaise. The hot potato is the mayo.

Nikki and others say they haven't made mayo since chef's school, because they usually make it in a Robot Coupe. This is the second time in the show I've heard the chefs talk about a Robot Coupe. Since the line is subtitled, I have enough information to Google Robot Coupe. I find out it's a commercial food processor. Did Robot Coupe pay for that product placement? I can't decide. If they did, they are one of the smarter marketers in this show, because the chefs mentioning the product intrigued me enough to look it up. If those comments were accompanied by a three-second close-up of an actual Robot Coupe, I would have been annoyed by what was clearly a paid placement. Glad should take notes.

But I digress. Back to the relay race. First, Lisa and Antonia face off on the orange task. Lisa gets her team off to a huge lead and it looks like the apparent underdog team will prevail. Next up are Spike and Andrew on the artichokes. Spike breaks an artichoke and blows his team's lead. When it's time for Dale and Richard to cut into the monkfish (a fierce looking creature), it's neck and neck. Dale and Richard finish in a dead heat. Then it's on to mayo, and Stephanie prevails over Nikki. Major celebration! Wahoo -- maybe this will help Stephanie get her mojo back! Dale slams a locker and yells the f-word. I probably should think that's terrible but it does show that he's a fierce competitor.

The prize for the Quickfire isn't immunity. No, it's supposedly a chance to get an advantage in the elimination challenge. They introduce two guests -- a couple getting married the next day. Each team will serve 125 guests -- one, the bride's guests, and the other, the groom's guests. The winning Quickfire team gets to decide who to work with, the bride or the groom. They are given no information about either person. Huh? That's the prize for the Quickfire? I don't like the implication at all -- in other words, let's all stay away from Bridezilla.

Richard announces that it's the bride's day and they'll pick the bride. That is so cool. I can't decide if he's a master strategist or just a nice guy, but I love that.

When I saw the preview about the wedding, my first reaction was to wonder what kind of crazy couple would have their wedding catered as a reality show challenge. Then they mentioned that the two of them own a restaurant and wedding location! Ah ha! They are using their wedding as PR for their business. How very romantic.

The teams will be working through the night to cater the wedding the next day. Come on -- what purpose does that serve? I stopped watching Survivor because I felt too guilty watching the contestants starve for my entertainment. I don't want to feel guilty about watching Top Chef, too.

Andrew has a "culinary boner" about working all night. What a wonderful picture that puts in my head. Ugh.

The bride and groom meet with their teams, and it turns out that the groom likes Italian food. This makes Nikki grin from ear to ear. She hits it off with the groom right away, and remarks that they have a similar palate. Plus, everyone likes Italian, don't they? Maybe the weaker team will pull it off.

The bride likes potatoes, pasta, pizza, chicken "if it's fried," steak and blue cheese. She is from Georgia and Richard lives in Atlanta, so that teams seems to have a good client as well. They decide their theme is meat and potatoes/the Midwest meets the South/comfort food. Sounds like an unexciting theme for a wedding buffet. I'm thinking the groom's team has the advantage when it comes to theme.

And, by the way, the teams get to make wedding cakes, too! One for the bride and one for the groom. I wonder if the couple had to pay for any of this. Sounds like a steal to me.

The bride's team seems to work well together. The only fly in the ointment is Andrew, who seems to be either jealous of or threatened by Richard. Or maybe his culinary boner is lasting for hours, like in the Viagara ads, and it's making him grumpy. (Yeah, that was terrible. I couldn't resist.)

The groom's team isn't feeling the love. They look to Nikki, the resident expert in Italian cooking, for leadership and direction, but she isn't giving it. I see trouble brewing for Nikki. Dale becomes more and more irritated as the night goes on, but channels his pent-up frustration into working like a dog.

To me the people who take on the cakes are the brave ones. Lisa is doing the chocolate-hazelnut groom's cake. The cake is rectangular and squat but looks and sounds delicious. Stephanie does the wedding cake, chocolate with lemon, and smartly uses flowers to decorate it. Looks gorgeous, but chocolate and lemon -- ewwww! I do not like chocolate and citrus together.

The guest judge is Gale Gand -- finally! As Stephanie said, she is one of the top pastry chefs in Chicago, so she should be there. I was lucky enough to be around her for a couple of hours a few years ago (terrible picture of me but I couldn't resist), and found her to be a friendly, down-to-earth person. I would be very surprised if she wasn't fair and kind toward those chefs.

The wedding is at a pretty location. Wonder if the bride and groom own it? I'll bet they do!

The bride's food seems to be well received. The filet and brisket get favorable remarks. The least favorite dish is Andrew's chicken nuggets. Seems as though they got kind of ... flaccid, maybe? ... as they sat in the chafing dishes.

The groom's food isn't faring so well. Nikki's homemade pasta is too sweet and "not good." The roasted veggies are unoriginal.

After it was all over, the chefs are the picture of exhaustion. Do you think they could have let the chefs go to sleep and had judge's table the next morning? No, let's continue torturing the chefs. Or maybe the chefs wouldn't have been able to sleep, waiting for the judges' table. Either way, I felt sorry for them.

The bride's team gets grilled first. Here's what's cool about Richard. The judges didn't care for the taste of the star anise that was in the team's creamed spinach. Even though Andrew made it, Richard owned up to having suggested the star anise. No matter, the team won. And the winner was Richard, for his leadership and cooking. Richard chose to give the win to Stephanie for making the wedding cake. Shrewd or nice? I'm not sure, but I agree that Stephanie deserved it. The prize: $2,000 to spend at Crate & Barrel. I wonder if how Richard's wife reacted when she saw that episode. If I were her, I might have told Richard he'd have to wait a while longer before they got started on making Baby Blaises! Product placement or no, Crate & Barrel rocks!

The groom's team loses. They ask who was the team leader and Nikki washes her hands of all responsibility. "In no way am I playing executive chef for this," she says. Dale is frustrated because he felt like he did more than his share of the work. They showed some debate but the decision was a no brainer. They chose the person who should have stepped up to being the leader -- Nikki. I agree with the decision 100%. Arrivederci, Nikki.

This is where the show gets interesting. Richard is clearly the front runner, but unlike many chefs from previous seasons, he comes across as a personable guy. It would be very satisfying to see Richard win this thing. In fact, I'm beginning to think that any other result -- other than maybe Stephanie coming from behind -- would be a major disappointment. Go Richard and Stephanie! Let the nice chefs finish first!


Emiline said...

Yeah, I agree with Nikki deserved to go. It was her chance to step up and show her stuff.

I HATE the idea of chocolate and lemon together. Those are two flavors I never mix.

I love Gale Gand. She's so sweet. I miss her Sweet Dreams show.

I wonder if Stephanie and Richard will really split the C&B money. I went into C&B in Chicago, and it was amazing. I think they had a spiral staircase or something.

Judy said...

All the chefs I've worked with call a food processor a Robot Coupe, sort of like calling a tissue a Kleenex. But, then, the processors actually are Robot Coupes, and frightening things they are. It took me many uses to get half-way comfortable using them.

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