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Top Chef: Chicago, Episode 4 – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Wasabi Sauce


Previously: New York City rats. That’s how we roll. Manuel is a universal disappointment. Hmmm… Spike thinks we kicked their ass. Padma thinks you didn’t.

You can win Aspen! And interlocking lids!

Credits: Zoi is trying to look tough in these shots. Later on tonight she looks very small instead.

Jen brushes her teeth and Zoi puts on earrings. At least they are out of bed today. Manuel laments the exit of Erik; he’s a big guy, with a big heart. Manuel also says that this show is tough and he misses his sons. Attention Top Chef Editors, stop infusing these early scenes with so much obvious foreshadowing!

They are all in the kitchen. I wonder how they figure out who cooks breakfast each day? That’s like the original Dream Team figuring out of the shot should go through Jordan, Magic or Bird.

Jen says that everyone is missing their loved ones and she is trying to be respectful since she and Zoi get to touch one another. Spike loves them, but it is time for one of them to go. He feels that it is a slight disadvantage to everyone else. I wonder what the heck he is talking about. Most of the time they aren’t even on the same team. Maybe that stupid hat is sucking all of the brains out of his head. Spike then does the devil horns as they leave – he is now beyond dead to me. He is undead to me. Spike is a zombie. Maybe he should have done Night of the Living Dead and served brains. But I am ahead of myself here.

QUICKFIRE!! Padma tells everyone that if they don’t know the guest judge then they should get out of her kitchen. Daniel (pronounced Danielle) Boulud is one of the best French chefs in the world, according to Richard. He owns Daniel in New York City, which was once rating one of the 10 best restaurants in the world. Wow. At first glimpse of him, my wife gasped. So he must be pretty awesome. Way to go, Top Chef!

Daniel says that without good technique, you cannot accomplish great cooking. The challenge is to make a beautiful vegetable plate using three techniques to impress Daniel. Lisa is not classically trained and is worried. Daniel reveals that Richard and Ryan once worked in his restaurant. Ryan says it was for a short time, and it wasn’t his style. My wife says that Daniel features an amazing tasting menu, it is extremely fancy and that Boulud has amazing technical skills.

Nikki is intimidated because she feels she falls the shortest in technique. Manuel thinks he has strong knife skills but this is a daunting task.

COOKING! CHOPPING! SLICING!
Richard says that this is not just about knife skills; this is about being a chef. The other chefs are not doing that, it is like culinary school. Andrew’s hands are shaking, might still be the withdrawal. Zoi is also not classically trained but has a unique style. Frodo gives a time update – thanks Frodo. Lisa and Dale are using the same technique on the cucumber. They are tourneeing it. Which was described to me, dumbed down to my level thankfully, that it is like making a HoHo but thinner.

Speaking of technique, in my Wikipedia search on cooking, yes, I am that unskilled, one technique listed is microwaving. How awesome would that have been if someone trotted out some microwaved burrito or something here?

Lisa bailed on her cucumber because Dale was whizzing through it like soft butter. Nice analogy, Lisa. Spike was trained in France and has a cool device for cutting up scallion curls. Maybe he keeps it under his hat?

As the judging commences, my wife says that this is a truly difficult challenge for those not classically trained, which makes the inclusion of one of the top three even more impressive to me.

Zoi is told that her chiffonade is very well done and paper thin. Her dish looks very well presented considering the short amount of time and her lack of classical training. Well done.

Dale’s plate looks even better. He used his Japanese skills and completely transforms his avocado into something unrecognizable. Daniel is very impressed indeed.

Lisa marinated her zucchini in olive oil and salt. She is told it is “back to basics.” That’s not good.

Richard kisses up a bit and says that Daniel taught him restraint and that the radish is a beautiful thing. I hear Fraggles agree with that. Daniel says that it has nice, different tastes and textures.

Spike’s plate looks nice and is told by Daniel that he “definitely showed the different styles of cutting and all that.”

Manuel uses an endive fennel frond and is told that is not a technique.

Nikki grilled her vegetables and should have used seasoning on them.

Daniel tells the chefs before revealing his decisions that they should have taken five minutes to come up with a plan. Or in other words, one-sixth of the time allotted.

Bottom Three:
Nikki – A plain piece of endive as a boat is cute, but not enough. Dude doesn’t care for endive apparently.
Lisa – no train of thought given on the combination of all of the techniques together.
Manuel – This was Level One technique and if he is to compete for Top Chef he should push it more past Level One. Ouch.

Top Three:
Zoi – the poached egg was perfect and it was composed into a dish that you can serve.
Dale – made plain that his knife skills are amazing. He pushed it as a chef should, especially the avocado.
Richard – amazing presentation and the mushrooms (yuck!) were very interestingly prepared.

Dale is the winner, I think mainly because Daniel calls him out for making a plan. Dale’s was really good, but I think Zoi deserved even more credit for doing as well as she did with no training. But regardless, my good will for Zoi gets shot to hell later on in the episode anyway.

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE! The Chefs must cook a course inspired by their favorite movie for a party thrown by Chicago film critic, and Ebert partner Richard Roeper and actress Aisha Tyler (who filled in for Ebert for a few episodes if you thought that was an odd pairing). Aisha will forever be Ross’s girlfriend on Friends when they tried so desperately so show that New York was not as lily-white as the first several seasons implied.

Antonia is excited because she is a movie buff. Ryan is discouraged because he has seen two films in the last three years. Both of the comments will reflect in movies chosen, by the way. Daniel says that he would choose Casablanca and be reminded of Morocco and go from there. That should be enough for these morons to understand that the challenge is to pick a movie and then work on inspiration from there, instead of picking a cooking style and picking the movie to fit it. Right, Spike?

They divide into pairs from random knife selection which also indicates which course they are to cook. Dale gets to pick the team he wants to join thanks to his Quickfire win. He picks Richard and Andrew’s first course team. Antonia says that Richard is an amazing chef whose food tastes good. Hands down. Dale says that he was chomping at the bit to work with Richard who shares his aggressive, forward-thinking background. Andrew is worried about having a third wheel, and that the weak is choosing the strong. Um, Andrew, Dale just won the challenge. Not sure if he qualifies as weak!

Commercials – Thank God, I don’t have to use Match.com. I am sure the choices presented to me would look just like the lady in the ad, too.

We are back with a shot of the Sun Times building for Mr. Roeper. We now go into the movie picking portion of the show.

Richard suggests that his team pick a movie that they are all familiar with. They all agree on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I assume the original with Gene Wilder. Richard says that this film is all about imagination, about making a gumball taste like a roast beef sandwich and that turns into a blueberry pie. Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet!

Now for the fateful discussion for the second course. Manuel suggests that because of his Mexican roots he would like to choose Like Water For Chocolate – a really awesome movie, by the way. Spike of course has never heard of it. Spike says “I don’t want to kill people on their mouth on their second course.” That is what he said. Kill people on their mouth. That would be the craziest challenge ever. Spike adds that Manuel has nothing to offer and that he has cooked Vietnamese food for two years. Manuel says that his style is “embedded” in his Mexican roots, but Spike is cool so he goes along with him. Spike picks Good Morning, Vietnam to fit his own cooking style. It is here that I was certain this team would suck. One thing about that film, it doesn’t inspire me to eat. They might as well have picked Hamburger Hill, if you wanted to cook about the Vietnam War.

Jen says that both she and Nikki have Italian styles, with Nikki actually being Italian. They pick Il Postino, a really, really good movie that was nominated for an Oscar in 1995. It is about a postman in rustic Italy, and really, I won’t say much more. Rent it. Trust me. Jen says that they could hold hands during the film. Nikki laughs and Zoi looks on with a bemused look that is likely edited in from a different scene. Jen doesn’t like competing against Zoi, so of course, they entered into an individual cooking competition. To my knowledge, they did it without a gun to their heads.

Antonia says that Zoi cooks like her and they pick Talk To Her by Pedro Almodovar. If I recall correctly, he won the Oscar for Screenplay in 2002 for this one. Zoi says it is about two creative women and it represents them.

And now we come to the little bit of awesome that is Ryan and Frodo figuring out their film. I guess it was too much to ask for them to make a hobbit-style meal, but that’s ok. Ryan isn’t sure if Frodo is from New Zealand or New England. Ryan jumps in right away and says that he loves Dumb and Dumber! HA! Of course he does! I think that is a very funny film as well, but really, what do you cook? Although if memory serves, the boys go to Aspen in that film.

Frodo counters with To Kill A Mockingbird, which a) amazing film, and b) would be a great scene. Not sure if Whole Foods carries mockingbird, but maybe they would get quail for that one as they eventually do anyway. They could serve girl scout cookies with it. Get it… Scout… never mind.

Ryan throws out Old School and Frodo gives us Crazy Bad, which isn’t even in imdb.com, and I am now surprised that I had to refer to imdb.com while recapping Top Chef. Frodo interviews that Ryan has never seen Once Were Warriors, Mad Max or Bad Boy Bubby.

This from IMDB – Bad Boy Bubby is just that: a bad boy. So bad, in fact, that his mother has kept him locked in their house for his entire thirty years, convincing him that the air outside is poisonous. After a visit from his estranged father, circumstances force Bubby into the waiting world, a place which is just as unusual to him as he is to the world.

Wikipedia adds that it included scenes of incest and cruelty to a cat. Yummy. Good idea, Frodo.

Now, the full transcript of the following exchange. Sorry I am spending so much time here, but I loved this.

Ryan – What about the Christmas movie?
Frodo – Which one?
R – Oh oh. What’s the one about the kid who gets shot with the BB in his eye and they go get Asian food instead? You know what I’m talking about?
F – No.
R – He takes the glass leg from his mom’s Christmas and he puts it in the window and they go and get Chinese food and have duck…
F – I don’t know.
R – …instead of normal turkey because the turkey was f****d up.
F – No.
R – It’s a normal Christmas movie. Do you know what that is?
F – No.
R – (pause) It’s a Christmas f***ing movie.
F – Yeah, what’s it called?
R – And they sit down at the table… (snaps fingers and goes for help) What’s the Christmas movie, guys? (Sings) You got your eye shot out?
Manuel – A Christmas Story.
R – Got it. Duck.

And scene. Frodo adds that A Christmas Story is one that everyone has seen (HA!)… and I believe it is a comedy (Double HA!)

Lisa doesn’t want to make dessert because they just made a cobbler in the last challenge. Steph thinks Lisa is strong and bold. They elect on Top Secret! (awesome!) because Lisa loves the scene where Val Kilmer and another guy are dressed in a cow suit and are… um… greeted, by a baby cow. So, they apparently are cooking Val Kilmer.

They have $150 to shop with and 30 minutes. Frodo takes a ride on his cart. Dale asks for “scale off, skin on and de-boned” meat. My wife loved that part and loves the shopping segment. Spike thinks that sea bass is a great fish and that he needs to compromise with his employees (Manuel apparently). Shut up, Spike!

Antonia says that a rack of lamb is “muy muy” expensive and that they are going to be precise with the cutting. Frodo tells us that like the film, there was no turkey. Or duck. They have quail instead, which is more flavorful. They also get “first of the season” cranberries, which is like Christmastime apparently. I hope they chop off the head at the table as well.


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