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Top Chef Chicago, Episode 2 – We’re Gonna Cook Penguin, That’s Dope


Padma comes in and my heart skips. Our judges are Padma, Tom, Wylie and Gail Simmons making her first appearance this season.

GUESTS! The Penguin team made a little penguin. They got into this challenge. Andy Richter’s thinner cousin is there and Team Bear pulls the mushrooms off the menu because someone bit into a cold one. Shudder.

Wylie likes Team Lion and Gail likes their chicken. I am skeptical of Team Vulture’s anchovy dish, but Gail likes it as well as the lamb meatball. As do other random folks.

Tom is curious about what happened to Team Gorilla’s chips and is told about the problems. Wylie didn’t like the crab salad. Yep, I told you. Val’s blini is described and Wylie says, “It sounds delicious.” (He eats … pause… ) and Tom says, “Sounds.” That was cold. The lamb and the cake are good however and I would pay good money to see a gorilla eat a lamb.

Padma likes Team Bear and has great difficulty eating the salmon and my heart needs defibrillation. Nikki gives the judges the turds so they can get the flavor of it, even though they are not pleased with the dish. Wylie comments, “… but you will give it us anyway.” HA! Team Penguin gives Wylie a taste of the glacier and Tom says hysterically, “Ok, let’s have some food now.” They love the squid and the shrimp, and I think all four judges were doing shots before coming into this party.

Dr. Shana Lavin, the nutrition manager for the zoo, thinks they used the fish well on the Penguin team. A guy with a Where’s Waldo tie liked Team Gorilla except for the one pancake that “tasted like dirt.” Elizabeth Bruccoleri, the zoological manager from the bird department, thinks some veered off from the actual animal’s diets and she liked those that were true to the animals. Ahem, like gorillas eating lamb.

Tom and Padma think Nikki’s mushroom was forgettable. I think it was quite unforgettable, like the Spanish Inquisition. They liked Team Lion’s tar tar. Tom liked Team Penguin and thought the squid was tasty. He liked Mark’s anchovy dish on Team Vulture. Tom’s least favorite dish was Team Gorilla’s cold blini with no flavor. If you didn’t think Val was going home here, I don’t know what to tell you. Team Gorilla is Dead Gorilla Walking.

Commercials – The Bank Job – an actress named Saffron advertised during Top Chef. Appropriate. Where’s Ilan when you need him?

JUDGE’S TABLE! CONTESTANTS’ MEAT LOCKER OF WORRY! There is much fretting as usual.

Padma with a straight face says, “We’d like to see the Vultures and Penguins.” HA!

Manuel made the Vulture Chicken, Tom loved Mark’s anchovy and liked Zoi’s meatball as well. Tom thought Team Penguin’s glacier was fun and that they had a nice black and white theme throughout. Wylie really liked Andrew’s squid. Wylie announces that Andrew wins the challenge. He says it is humbling and keeps the earmuffs in his pocket for once.

Andrew sends the Gorillas and Da Bears (HA!) back. So Team Lion can sit back and enjoy their third place finish. These teams had the three worst dishes – the mushrooms, the crab salad and the blini.

Dale says they didn’t execute the mushrooms. Maybe they would in Top Chef: Texas. Nikki is sporting some bizarre glasses on her face right now. Tom says the cheese overwhelmed everything. Dale said that it looked like EARMUFFS and he put cheese on it. Padma asks if he tasted it. Dale says no. Tom’s face says WHAT? Nikki didn’t taste the “garnish” and even I know that cheese is certainly not a garnish. She calls it a group decision and Dale says he wasn’t happy with the dish. Spike chimes in that Dale should’ve done something about it. To her credit, Nikki is not deflecting blame, however, she is not accepting it either. Dale is teetering real close on throwing Nikki under the bus.

Steph agrees that she is not happy with her creation either. In the “pre-mix” it was “watery.” Val did the blini ahead of time and did not expect it to get soggy and soft. Tom says her rutabaga was overpowering and not cooked. Gail didn’t see the connection with the dish’s various components. Antonia is put on the spot and asked who she would hire between Steph and Val based on this challenge. She says Steph and you can actually see the moment if you freeze frame where Val’s heart is broken.

Tom thinks Val’s dish was bad and Wylie says that you must cook and serve blini right away. Tom says that Steph knew there was a problem and seasoned too early. By doing so, the salt drew out the moisture and made it into a soggy mess. Wylie thinks she redeemed herself with good banana bread. So, here we know Steph is safe.

Gail said that Nikki made the mushrooms, but Dale made them worse. Wylie called it a fundamental error. Gail thought it looked like something a bear would produce rather than eat. See, point made and no earmuffs.

Commercials – I want that shower from the Kohler commercial. Even if it would make me feel like Karen Silkwood each time I used it.

KNIFING TIME! Tom says that Team Bear made poor stuffed mushrooms that Nikki was responsible for and didn’t stand behind the dish. Team Gorilla made a crab salad that was dressed too soon and that blinis don’t work in advance. Decision was made based on these factors.

Padma tells Val to please pack her knives and go. In the Meat Locker of Doom, Erik gives her a huge Bear Hug. Perhaps she was on the wrong team. So bye bye, Debbie Downer!

Next week – Field trip. Lots of hats, pig tails and tears.

Best and Worst dishes:

Quickfire, Top 3 – Mark (winner), Val, Ryan
Mark – Sirloin steak, turnips, mushrooms, peaches, butter
Valerie – Ribeye steak, peaches, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, arugula (looked great – shame about the blini)
Ryan – Lettuce, radishes, potatoes, sirloin steak and Dijon mustard

Quickfire, Bottom 3 – Spike, Erik, Richard
Erik – Lamb chops with potatoes, baby carrots, mint and garlic (I thought this looked good)
Spike – Tenderloin tips, apples, bread, apple cider, and rosemary
Richard – Chicken soup with chicken (duh!), apples, apple cider, eucalyptus, and butter

Elimination Winner – Andrew
Squid ceviche with soy-balsamic tapioca with Yuzo and mint “glacier”

Elimination Top choices – Mark, Zoi
Mark – Marinated Anchovy on a Quinoa Croquette
Zoi – Moroccan spiced lamb meatball, ricotta, pomegranate syrup and pistachio

Elimination Loser – Valerie
Black olive blini with mascarpone

Elimination runners-up – Nikki, Steph
Nikki – Mushrooms stuffed with blueberries, walnuts and pecorino cheese
Steph – Roasted pear and crab salad with celery root. She was saved by her banana bread with salted caramel sauce and meringue.

Comments? Send ‘em to Jeremy at jeremy@realityshack.com. Just hold the earmuffs. And the mushrooms.


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