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Top Chef 4, Premiere — Cauliflower Catastrophe

Hello and welcome to Season 4 of Top Chef!! This time with a whole lot less Miami and a whole lot more Chicago. Let me start by saying that by recapping this show, I now am recapping a show with tons of food and commenting on another where contestants eat bugs. Somewhere in the middle is a nice picnic.

Let me also add that my uses in the kitchen are essentially limited to getting things off of top shelves. I watch this show for a couple of reasons: 1) My wife loves it and any food insight that is more advanced than “It looked yummy” comes from her, 2) It is a well made show and 3) I have a massive crush on Padma Lakshmi. I am not ashamed of it and my judgment may be clouded at times as a result.

Lastly, in these early episodes I will NOT be describing every single dish (32 in this episode alone) because I simply do want to be writing this article for a week and a half. When they pare out some of the contestants, I will describe all of them.

OK – so welcome to CHICAGO! We whip quickly through a montage of images from the Illinois Tourism Bureau. Padma (sigh) describes that we will be watching 24 challenges this season and we briefly glimpse Tom Colicchio (best reality judge not named Cowell), Ted Allen and Gail Simmons of Food and Wine Magazine (I always thought that was her full name).

We start meeting contestants in the airport – and I won’t spend too much time here. However, Ryan worked in a restaurant when he was 11 – and somewhere Kathie Lee Gifford feels vindicated. Nimma is from Atlanta and is devoid of personality. Zoi is bringing a “softer style” to the game, which appears to involve pig snout. I still don’t know what she means – maybe she cooks with Cottonelle. Mark is from New Zealand and apparently didn’t win an Oscar for Return of the King; I just assumed everyone did. He is putting blood, sweat and tears into his cooking and I REALLY don’t want to eat that.

Now we come to Pizzeria Uno – home of many, many delicious deep dish pizzas and more reality show contestants. Richard combines the hairdo of Dale (Season 3) and the methods of Marcel (Season 2). Jennifer is from San Fran, as is Zoi. I wonder if that will come into play? Erik is from SF too – it looks like half this season is from Frisco. Andrew is my nemesis for this season as he curses so much I think he might not realize that this is televised. Stephanie is an instant favorite with her Yoda backpack and resemblance to Lia from last season.

Zoi and Jennifer take this time to announce that they are a couple and I think I speak for many viewers when I say…YAWN. Seriously, I don’t really care. I can only see one real advantage and that is that neither will experience much homesickness that others feel. Spike (who?) thinks that they can go home together. Spike’s name is actually Evangelos – he reminds us that it is Greek.

Commercial break! – David Beckham for Sharpie. The Brits must be proud.

QUICKFIRE! Padma (sigh) comes in with Tom and sends them off to the kitchen. We learn here that contestants were able to bring $200 worth of ingredients that they can put in a locker, so I hope none are perishable. The challenge is to make a deep dish pizza in 90 minutes. GO!!! And much crazy cooking commences…

We meet Dale – who looks like Hung, has Dale’s name and curses like this season’s Andrew. Great. Valerie is from Chicago and looks just like Rachel Dratch. Manuel works at Los Caminos in NYC and my wife ate there once. Nikki is also from Gotham and has decided that pizza is not good unless it has more dough than Bill Gates.

Mark reveals that he brought Marmite as an ingredient – all I know of this is that it is supposed to gross and Men At Work once asked if he speaka my language. And he just smiled and gave him a vegemite sandwich.

Jennifer reveals her Harvest Pizza with grapes, bacon, fontina and rosemary. Which looks awesome and reminds my wife of some meal we had at the place, near the thing, where we went that time. We meet Antonia and Lisa and will see very little of both for the rest of the evening. Andrew learns that Richard stole his deep dish pan and then curses more than Sam Kinison did in his entire career.

Commercials 2 – No, I do not want watch Make Me A Supermodel. I already said that I write about a show where no one eats.

The Top Chefers deliver their pizzas to Rocco Dispirito – award-winning chef, author, star of NBC’s The Restaurant, and source of many a witty comment. They present their food and Mark sneaks a bite of his own. I expect many disasters based on what we saw in the kitchen. I will say that these looked good to me:

Zoi – Pizza with broccoli, pesto, and lamb sausage.
Andrew – Pizza with smoked marinara with proscuitto, onions and cheese
Jennifer – see above
Spike – Pizza a la Greek (natch) with onions, feta cheese, olives and sausage

Of course, Richard and Mark were called out as the top dishes:

Richard – Peach Taleggio Pizza with Sweet Tea Sauce
Mark – Pizza with chicken, zucchini and marmite molasses

Stephanie and Nikki are the worst – although Nimma’s was called out for having not enough salt. Remember that.

Stephanie – Pizza with melon, tomato sauce, goat cheese and proscuitto
Nikki – White Pie with mushrooms and truffle oil.

No one gets immunity and they all get split into two sides of eight. As we later learn, it really makes no difference in the immunity challenge, so I will not go into more detail here.

The town house where they delivered the food is their new digs. Mark says it is a step up from his shoebox apartment in Manhattan, but I guess a step down from Minas Tirith. Andrew continues to talk smack. Nimma is keeping to herself and saying how she is not here to have fun. I am sure she will make for compelling TV.

Padma as gorgeous as ever stands before a blackboard and has them draw knives. Not in a West Side Story sense, you get the picture. They are having a head to head cook off. Not much matters here except that Richard chose Andrew and puts MF boy in a place where he has to put up or shut up. And that Erik and Zoi are stuck with cooking a soufflé, which seems to be infinitely more difficult than anything anyone else is cooking. Erik thinks he could go home.

Commercials 3- I hate the Bravo polls.

Shopping trip – my wife loves this part, I don’t. Whole Foods loves it. Mark thinks duck + orange = simple. It may not work that way, dude. Dale is asking for a “chunk from the head” and is doing something “avant garde” and I am confused. He is cooking Steak Au Poivre – a French dish involving a strip steak being cooked in peppercorns and accompanied by a pan sauce of some kind. Thanks Wikipedia.