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Top Chef 4, Premiere — Cauliflower Catastrophe


Lisa has made breakfast since the dawn of time, so she is confident about her Eggs Benedict. Ryan is remembering Chicken Piccata as something that is not really Chicken Piccata at all. That should go over well on a cooking game show. What was he learning at age 11? Nikki wants to redeem herself. Zoi is making dessert – that seems to have backfired on many a past contestant. Andrew used air quotes on “competitor.” 34 minutes in and he is already dead to me.

Everyone starts to cook. There is much running, chopping and other cooking activities. Richard is doing a “play on cole slaw” which may find an audience Off-Broadway. Antonia is paying a lot of attention to her scampi sauce; Nimma is paying a lot of attention to salt and a badly done cauliflower flan. Ryan is continuing his disaster of a meal. Someone is welding – not sure what that will help with. Nikki is making fresh pasta. I was skeptical about that in what is likely a time problem. Stephanie is flaying her duck. That was just cool to say. Andrew is lost. Perhaps he will find Desmond pushing a button. He also has no mayo. He is making his own mayo and using sarcasm badly. Richard bought his, so I pray that I will not be writing too much about mayo controversies this season. Please, Bravo.

Erik and Zoi bond over their fears for their soufflé dishes. Nimma makes an audible at the line and changes her flan into a scramble. Surprisingly, that almost works as a football analogy. Richard is infusing North African spices into his dish with a smoker device. Stephanie is shaking like a leaf.

Commercials 4 – Seriously, we have an Elizabeth Berkley sighting. Where is Screech?

Head to heads. We have Padma (sigh), Tom, Rocco and Anthony Bourdain. I will give the results of each head to head – but I’ll just show the dishes for the top and bottom four.

Mark vs. Stephanie – Duck a l’Orange. She kicks his butt. Mark’s progression confuses Bourdain, who loved Steph’s.

Richard vs. Andrew – Crab Cakes. Both are good dishes. Andrew talks obnoxiously with his hands and describes Richard as “kid” and calls him a “cat” – my wife thinks he is like Seth Green in Can’t Hardly Wait. And I cannot disagree. Richard wins.

Jennifer vs. Nikki – Lasagna. I will say, both looked good. But Nikki’s was the one dish of the 16 that I wanted to eat after the show. Both were strong, but Nikki wins. Her homemade pasta rocked.

Antonia vs. Nimma – Shrimp Scampi. Antonia’s looks real good and Nimma’s looks like something I can do. And that is NOT a complement. Antonia sails through, Nimma’s was wildly salty and Rocco would have sent it back.

Spike vs. Lisa – Eggs Benedict. Both looked good here, but Lisa’s looked amazing and was my second favorite dish of the competition. Bourdain thinks it was a better hangover dish. Lisa wins.

Dale vs. Manuel – Steak au Poivre. Dale’s looks good, Manuel’s was greasy for Tom. Dale wins.

Ryan vs. Valerie – Chicken Piccata. Yikes. Ryan made the wrong dish! Neither dish worked for anyone. Valerie gets lucky and wins because hers tasted better. But neither made Piccata.

Erik vs. Zoi – Soufflé. Erik made… well, nachos. Zoi’s looks pretty good with her rice pudding. Neither has made a soufflé for quite some time and screwed it up. Zoi’s tasted better and she wins.

Commercials 5 – Stop-Loss, another Iraq movie that no one will go see.

We return and Padma brings in the top 4:

Antonia – Parpardelle with shrimp, lobster, tomatoes and squash blossoms
Richard – Blue crab, brussels sprouts & apple cole slaw with smoked Ras Al Hanout
Nikki – Classic Lasagna with sheep’s milk gouda
Stephanie – Duck breast and duck spring rolls with mushrooms, bok choy and orange-soy glaze

Each are told in varying ways that their dishes were awesome. Tom is so happy with the top 4 that he is as giddy as I have ever seen. Rocco tells Steph that she wins – no prize, or immunity, so there is that. She gets bragging rights that she won the first challenge of Season 4.

Steph sends back Mark, Erik, Nimma and Ryan as the bottom 4:

Mark – tangerine and soy glazed duck breast with Enoki mushrooms
Erik – Pepper jack cheese soufflé with avocado sour cream, black bean puree and salsa
Nimma – shrimp scampi with cauliflower scramble
Ryan – Chicken cutlet with lemon – Potato gnocchi & warm herb salad

Erik gets hit for using mashed potatoes as a base since a soufflé is supposed to be light and airy. His soufflé dropped underneath his tortillas. He made “glorified nachos” and “is not proud of it.” That made Bourdain smile, and I think saved Erik.

Nimma clings to cauliflower flavor. That is not good. Tom gets her for messing up the flan, and Rocco teams with Bourdain that the shrimp shouldn’t have gone out.

Mark is hit for being silly and pretentious by Bourdain. Tom thought the duck was overcooked, as Mark removed fat from the duck. Seriously. Even I know that you don’t do that.

Ryan is hammered for making Chicken Milanese instead of Piccata, and not even making good Milanese.

Erik was “sweating like a beast” – and I realize that he sounds just like Vince Vaughn.

Judges confer. Ryan’s in trouble for not knowing something simple and for giving bizarre explanations. Rocco thinks he was as dense as the gnocchi. Nimma’s Salty Scampi as per Padma – not a great idea for a dish. Rocco thought it looked like baby food. Erik’s was sloppy and messy according to Tom. Back in the Glad Storage Room, my favorite exchange happens:
Erik – “My nachos just didn’t cut it.”
Ryan – “I breaded… chicken.”

I just loved their acceptance of their mistakes and that they could find some humor in it. Very endearing to me at least.

Padma didn’t think she could find figure out that Mark’s was duck a l’orange in a million years.

Commercials 6 – Horton Hears a Who – because all of the other Dr. Seuss movies have been SOOO good.

Firing Line:
Ryan – you have to know the classics
Mark – got way ahead of yourself
Nimma – flan never worked, too much salt
Erik – you need to be able to make soufflé to win Top Chef.

Padma asks Nimma to pack her knives and go. Oh well, she was quite dull and I liked the three guys in the bottom, so I was ok with that.

This season – looks of cooking, lions, tailgating, half-naked Kiwis, cursing and a new classic of “Stand By Your Dish!”


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