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Top Chef: Chicago, Episode 5 – Stand By Your Dish


Previously on Top Chef: Oompa Loompas. Richard takes leadership. Spike likes Vietnam… or Robin Williams. Not too sure which one. Zoi and her timid flavors, I wonder if that will be important tonight? Richard wins, Manuel gets knifed.

Padma’s intro. She has sure worn blue quite a bit this year.

Credits. I have already forgotten everything about Nimma.

Sunrise in Chicago and someone (Ryan, I think) is doing pushups. Someone else is sharpening knives. Antonia woke up and thought about what it felt like to be on the bottom in the last challenge. She didn’t like it. Zoi feels like she deserves to be here today and is trying not to be irritated about getting “jacked” in the last challenge. She thinks it will light a fire under her ass. I wonder if these early quotes will foreshadow anything tonight.

Jen knows Zoi’s talent and can’t understand how she could get called out. She’s more like a fan – a very close fan with benefits, I guess – and asks in a high pitched voice, “What’s going on?”

Ryan calls the chefs to head to the kitchen. He THs that there are two men and two women gone and it is time for someone else to go. He mouths that it won’t be him. Spoiler alert: he’s right.

QUICKFIRE! Padma has stopped with the blue outfits only a couple of paragraphs after I mentioned it. Oh Padma, our first fight. She is with Ming Tsai, who owns Blue Ginger in Boston. My wife was recently in Boston and really, really wanted to go there. Lisa is all grins because Ming is there. Spike is still wearing that damn hat.

Padma says that one of the most important weapons for a chef is their palette. If it’s in a fight, I would rather have a knife. But that’s just me. Ming says that if your palette is not trained, you might as well pack your knives and go home. I think Padma’s got that copyrighted, Ming! Padma breaks out a blindfold and a devilish grin and I go back to the last challenge and start thinking about 9 ½ Weeks.

Sorry, zoned out there for a moment.

This is the taste test Quickfire and Antonia tells us that this is her favorite and we also learn that she is a couch jumper. The challenge is to tell which is the high end ingredient and which one is not. Andrew says that it is very important for a chef to season their food properly because if you can’t taste good food, then “you suck.” Is it wrong that I am starting to dig Crazy Andrew?

Ryan goes first and tells us that he had no breakfast so he has a clean palettte and this is his chance to shine. He is looking for anything heavy and salted, or overly sweetened or with lots of fat. Those would be the mass produced items. Oh, poor Mrs. Buttersworth! He gets syrup and bacon right. Mmmm. Syrup and bacon.

Padma puts the blindfold on Steph and her “big puff of hair.” Steph says that the fish is fishier and the soy has more flavors on the high end items right before she gets the crab wrong. Lisa spills her water everywhere. Dale says that he is looking for the high fat content on the chocolate. I would be looking for the word “Chunky” to decide which one is the mass produced one. He is also looking for bitterness, rather than Hershey. He gets it right.

Lisa adds that the challenge would be easier with no blindfold. Really? She says that good quality butter looks different – and probably doesn’t come in a giant tub. She says the aged cheese has “crunchies” in her mouth. I think that was the Chunky. She gets the cheese right. Dale is proud to get the Asian ingredients right, but he loves caviar and it killed him to get it wrong. Maybe it was tapioca, has anyone seen Andrew?

Ah, here he is, along with a quick montage of most everyone else. Jen does a fist pump when she tastes the best pork. Shut up, out there. Lay off the easy jokes. Richard says he has great hands and skills and is technically sound (I said, lay off those jokes!), but if you were in the bottom three here it would be embarrassing, as he gets the olive oil right.

Antonia says that her palette is very good and that she took her time and tasted with one finger, swished her water and went to another finger. I hope she had food on those fingers because in a room with Padma and Ming, I am sure they had the high quality fingers.

Zoi and Nikki get questions right. Andrew is wrong.

Ming announces that last place was six out of 15 right and Steph cops to it immediately. She says she sucks at Quickfires. She is right, but she rocks at the Elimination challenges and that’s what counts. Ryan and Jen each got 11 correct and Zoi is irritated that she lost to her girlfriend because of bragging rights. Antonia got the win with 12 of 15 correct.

The Elimination Challenge is to cook the first course at the Meals on Wheels’ Celebrity Chef Ball. Celebrity chefs, apparently not Ming or Tom, will do the other courses. There will be about 80 people there. I totally thought they were going to have to do Meals on Wheels deliveries which would have been an AWESOME challenge.

Steph says that the diners here expect high end flavors and Ming instructs them to be simple and to execute properly. Taste, taste, taste.

Padma divides them into four groups of three based on the theme of the evening – the four elements. They have $500 to shop – so they should be going high end here based on the Quickfire and the budget. They draw knives and Spike has another damn hat on.
Water: Richard, Andrew (again, these two; people may start to talk), and Frodo.
Fire: Dale, Steph and Lisa (who?)
Air: Ryan, Jen, Nikki
Earth: Spike, Zoi and Antonia. Remember Spike harping in recent weeks about working with Chefs that have immunity. Do you think that was advance foreshadowing?

Teams have only 15 minutes to plan their menu. Boy, it takes me longer to order an appetizer at the Airmont Diner. Richard agrees that 15 minutes is not enough time for a meal of this magnitude and volume. Andrew thinks they have a strong team, even though it is his first time with Frodo. Richard is already taking a leadership role.

Jen’s thoughts immediately went to duck or chicken or something that flies. How about a bat? (Read my Survivor article for that one!)

Spike is thinking about butternut squash and I am thinking, yuck! Antonia reminds him about the $500 budget and the need to go fancier. She THs incredulously that they just had a challenge based on high quality and that they are going to make soup. She is against it, but she says, “If you two are totally into soup, I will make a f****n good soup.” Remember that quote, Spike!

Spike is freaking out that she is against it. Antonia shares with him about the need for quality and Zoi kills the soup. Antonia suggest Carpaccio (thin sliced raw beef with vinaigrette made with olive oil and sometimes lemon juice) as more elegant. Spike THs about being vulnerable because of Antonia’s immunity.

Steph thinks they need to use fire techniques. Dale suggests seared beef tartare and Lisa says no. He then suggested seared beef around a deviled egg. He THs that they shouldn’t be too literal and thought Fire=Devil=Egg. Lisa doesn’t like the presentation and thinks it’s weak. Dale THs about his concern over her negativity. Steph foreshadows that Dale is talented but she is concerned about Dale and Lisa butting heads; she has a strong personality (bitch) and he is a self-proclaimed asshole (asshole). Lisa thinks a deviled egg is an hors d’ouvre. She is right. It is here that I predict in my notes that Lisa will be out.

Commercials – I do not like that woman in the Verizon commercial that promises to talk on the phone and gossip. She will totally be in line in front of me at Starbucks.

SHOPPING! Rich is getting fish to poach in a controlled water bath. As opposed to when I bathe my son – an uncontrolled water bath where I wind up just as wet. Ryan wants to serve cold duck. Team Fire is STILL discussing the dish. Dale thinks they get points for conceptualizing and suggests they go real spicy. Lisa wants to do Asian food and Dale disagrees. Lisa THs that she wants to do Asian because of Ming and because that is what she likes to cook. She wants to knock his pants off. Maybe she can borrow Padma’s blindfold too. My wife thinks doing Asian here is a bad idea BECAUSE of Ming, and I agree that it is very risky to do a dish in the guest judge’s style.

Spike wonders if they are going to get screwed by doing only Carpaccio and vinaigrette and a salad. Antonia reminds him again of the high quality ingredients. Spike AGAIN thinks she should have taken a back seat. Spike suggests doing a shot of his soup and Antonia wonders if it would go together. Spike THs about taking the two women and strangling them. That’s just wonderful. Spike is the kind of guy not smart enough to debate his opinion and who secretly hopes to be able to say I told you so. Have I mentioned how much he bothers me? And I haven’t even mentioned the NEW F****N HAT! This looks like it is made of a Chinese kite and has a visor the size of a hang glider. Seriously, how many hats did this guy pack? Did he have a coupon at S**tty Hats Emporium?

Team Fire bails on the filet after seeing Team Earth about to buy their Carpaccio of Doom. Lisa refuses to go home over this. Dale wants to tell her to “come on, it’s going to be ok” but in a much more aggressive and less soothing tone. Steph saves the day again with a suggestion of shrimp and using fire from the grill and from the spices. She also sends Lisa to get thick cut bacon. I think Steph is my official favorite from Season 4.

They get to the kitchen and Frodo comments that it was huge and they could fit Yankee Stadium in there. In about nine months or so, you probably could. Spike pushes a slicer around, just like Antonia pushed him around. Oh, snap! Andrew says Team Water wanted to segregate themselves so they could better screw up their dish. Antonia says that their dish is based on elements from the Earth. Damn – I was hoping for Romulan Butternut Squash Soup. Antonia has doubly screwed us.

Richard is cooking the salmon sous vide (French for vacuum packed, which sounds like space food to me) in vacuum bags and he is cleaning the fish. Andrew is making the tapioca caviar… again. That just sounds like a bad idea.

Lisa describes her method of cooking the bacon as pressing them down nice and flat and pretty. She puts the fatty side in the same direction so that when it cooks it shrinks up and fuses together. Now they are overlapped and she can cut into perfect strips. The glaze is “gooey, sticky” miso flavor that changes the flavor of the bacon. That sounds real good.

Ryan and Jen cook their duck. Jen says “nice legs” to the duck and Ryan thanks her. Cute. Lisa takes out the earmuffs and curses a whole lot and Dale says she has observational negativity. Pot and the kettle, Dale, pot and the kettle. Lisa says she could be the bitch everyone hates, but she will only serve perfection.

Nikki is talking but I am totally distracted by her Marge Simpson hairdo. What the hell is that? And judging by the previews, it’s like that next week too! Anyway, Ryan messes up the pomegranate juice and Nikki scolds him for cursing. Thanks Nikki, there are some others that need a good talking to this season.

Tom drops by for a visit. He asks Spike about their team and Spike is glad to be working with women, I guess before he strangles them. Tom has to pry out of them who’s making what, it is all pretty annoying. He then visits Team Water and has an amazing exchange with Richard. Richard thinks he must have a good rapport with Tom. Why? Got me. I always had the impression that Tom could care less about any of them and that’s why I love Tom. Richard says they have blue aprons for being Team Water and asks who poaches fish anymore and other classic esoteric questions. Tom shoots him a look that can only be described as, “Oooooookaaaayyy.”

Tom says that Team Air does not have a clear idea of their dish. Team Fire may have made theirs too spicy, which is not good for a first course because it will affect the palette. This is a good point, and I wonder if it played into the criticism that got Team Earth into such hot water. Speaking of water, they seem overconfident and cocky and that can lead to mistakes.

Ryan is tense as we get lots of quick cuts before commercials. Zoi says that normally you would taste your dish and try to make it better, but in this setting, that’s a compromise she will have to make. Not for long, sister.


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