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Top Chef: Chicago, Episode 7 – A Night at the Improv


Previously: Jen won a challenge. Somewhere Zoi cheered. Ryan doesn’t like sports. Frodo was sloppy. Ryan wasn’t very good and got knifed.

Padma’s intro and credits. I would like my own white coat please.

Spike makes tea and Antonia stretches her feet. Andrew puts on socks as Rich takes Jen’s usual lounging position. Boy, this part is so much fun to describe. Andrew thinks the room got uglier with Ryan’s booting and sheds some fake tears. Frodo shaves. Lisa and Antonia prepare to get to the kitchen as Antonia states that despite all of their pedigrees, that there is no room for error. Spike quietly puts on his coat as Jen tells us…well, you know, Zoi.

Quickfire. Nikki points out the sweets. She is one of those people that must order multiple desserts when they go out. I hope she shares with her friends.

Padma and the guest. I have placed a freeze frame on a shot of Padma in her pink, frilly top and grey skirt. She’s totally sexy in a professional manner. See if you can find the shot of which I speak. That is your quickfire challenge.

Anyway, Johnny Iuzzini is the guest judge. He is an award winner and executive pastry chef from Jean-Georges, and author of Dessert Foreplay. Frodo calls him a Pastry Icon; another great business card title. Padma plugs Top Chef the Cookbook. I am picturing the merchandising scene from Spaceballs with Spaceballs: The Toilet Paper. Padma reminds us that pastry challenges have spelled the doom of many a past contestant. This is a simple challenge: make a delicious dessert. As opposed to a repulsive one, I would imagine. Padma foreshadows that if they do not know a recipe that they should improvise.

The winner of the challenge gets a recipe in the book and the editors are not-too-subtle with a cut to a smiling Richard.

Cooking! 90 minutes on the clock. Someone chops butter. Andrew bites off the foil from what looks like syrup. Antonia reminds us that no one is a trained pastry chef and she in fact is totally lacking in skills with the pastry. Rich is shown with a whole mess of limes. Andrew is spooning out Nutella and I like him a whole lot more right about now. Nutella = yummy.

Frodo rubs something, and someone thinly slices a kiwi. Not a Kiwi, because I do not want chocolate cake with slices of Frodo. Dale knows one dessert which seems to include a bizarre looking coconut and shaved ice. Dale is disturbingly endearing in this interview. That felt dirty.

Flames and sliced strawberries lead to Lisa’s sharing of her desire to not do any pastry in the competition. I am glad they are making them do it. Top Chef Winners should be well rounded and not one-trick ponies that cook with saffron. Oops.

She adds that baking is technical, it is not like you can “add a little of this, a little of that, you have to measure. If you miss an ingredient in a pasta sauce you will be able to fix it and taste it right away but if you miss baking powder in a pastry (as we see Frodo mull his over) then you’re f****d.” I add that whole quote because Lisa really encapsulated why great chefs do not always make great bakers.

Rich slices limes and breaks eggs and also claims to not be a pastry chef before awesomely telling us that he became inspired to make his dish while chopping bananas and noticing their resemblance to sea scallops. That is great – this means he was randomly chopping food with no idea what to make and all of a sudden, BOOM, there it was. Rich may be a bit much to take at times, but he is really good, especially in the Quickfires.

Spike talks about his balls and somehow this relates to him deciding to make a soufflé. Spike obviously doesn’t want immunity.

Plating! Here are the Quickfire entries:
Andrew – Banana and chocolate ravioli and pudding. Verdict – YUM.
Antonia – Bruleed lemon curd with lemon cake. Verdict – No
Dale – Halo-Halo with shaved ice, avocado, mango, kiwi and nuts. Verdict – not my cup of tea, but I trust the judges here. Also, obviously it was Dale slicing the kiwi.
Jen – Chocolate cake with chocolate dipped banana bites. Verdict – YUM
Lisa – Yogurt with fruit puree, fried wontons and strawberries. Verdict – I guess ok.
Frodo – Pavlovas made with wattleseed. Verdict – Wha?
Nikki – Buttermilk cake with berry sauce. Verdict – nice, but kinda boring.
Richard – Banana scallops with banana guacamole and chocolate ice cream. Verdict – YUM, and I don’t even care for chocolate ice cream.
Spike – Pineapple rum raisin soufflé with toasted coconut. Verdict – No, plus I hate coconut, thus putting my future as a Survivor contestant at risk.
Steph – Chocolate cake with salted basil ganache. Verdict – pretty nice looking.

So without actual tasting, my top three would be Andrew, Richard and Jen.

Judging
Padma thinks Spike’s dish is interesting and Johnny is glad someone went there (soufflé) as Rich takes a drink in the background.

Padma thinks Rich’s guacamole is strange and delicious. That pretty much summed up most of Rich’s dishes so far this season.

Jen loves chocolate cake. I hear she loves Zoi too. Johnny likes her chocolate. Not sure if he likes Zoi too.

Andrew tells his dish and gets no shown input.

Nikki’s dessert is pretty according to Padma.

Johnny thinks Steph’s is very tender.

Dale gets praise for having lots of spice.

Lisa is apparently cooking with a team when she says “we have.”

Frodo says some words in English, but none that I have ever heard. Something to do with some Australian seed. Insert your own Russell Crowe joke here.

Antonia also simply describes her dish with nothing added.

A much better Padma freeze frame here, folks. Forget what I said earlier. Johnny thinks some Chefs were already defeated by the challenge. I must say that just about all of the dishes looked pretty darn good.

Johnny’s bottom three:
Antonia – didn’t come together for him.
Spike – not for effort, and again praises Hat Boy for degree of difficulty.
Frodo – who is a bit surprised, by the way, not really what Johnny would classify as a dessert.

Johnny’s top three:
Dale – dude must be butter because he is on a roll! Johnny thinks all the flavors worked well together.
Lisa – very summery. Strawberries were very fresh. So she gets credit for when the fruit was picked. Odd.
Rich – Most original. Duh! Liked the play on scallops and guacamole.

Rich is obviously the winner. He is honored to be the only Season 4 contestant in the Top Chef cookbook. He is pleased to show he is not a one-trick pony. Seriously, I think he could cook a one-trick pony and make it taste like filet mignon.

They are all going to Second City; according to Padma, the birthplace of Improv Comedy in America. Groundlings fans shudder across California. Full disclosure: I am an improv comedy fan. I am a proud member of Game On Improv from Shippensburg, PA. Frodo rattles off some of the All-Star Second City cast (Belushi. Murray, Colbert, Carell, etc) leaving off tons of some of the best comedic actors we have ever seen.

Getting ready montage. Rich and his pink shirt. Frodo shirtless and strutting for Spike. Spike is not only wearing a hat, but he is also HOLDING one. Oh no, is he going to wear two hats tonight? Or does he actually always carry a spare?

Dale painfully puts on his jeans. Dude, cut down on the desserts. Steph puts on her makeup and takes a shower, presumably edited out of order. Nikki irons while in her bathrobe. Lisa and Antonia are half dressed in the walk-in closet. Please cut to the next shot. Thanks. Oh great, it’s Pantsless Frodo. Not what I had in mind. Andrew washes his hands and Frodo gets his jacket on and comments on how Blais is going with the pink to show off his skin tone.

Second City and random scenes from the actors making jokes about monkeys and pigs. Finally we get to the part of the show that these Chefs should have seen coming. Didn’t they see the clubbing challenge from last season? The actors ask for colors, emotions and ingredients from the audience and it is clear that the challenge will be to use these in the dishes. In fact, that is exactly the challenge. Actually, it seems that it isn’t until they ask for ingredients that it sinks in. Spike is the first shown to be getting the joke. Then the trio of Rich, Lisa and Jen bow their heads in acceptance. Nikki articulates it for us that she knew right away that was the challenge.

The Chefs are pointed out and told they are in fact making these dishes and making it for the actors the next day. Lisa’s immediate thought requires EARMUFFS!

The moon passes over quickly – one might call that a creative use for passage of time. I call it a lunar catastrophe. There is no knife selection for teams and Frodo puts numbers 1-5 in a hat for course selection. Hey, a use for Spike’s hat! They team up.

Spike doesn’t want Rich on his team because Spike’s an idiot. He teams with Andrew and I don’t care how good they wind up being… that is one screwed up team. The ass and the mental patient. Jen teams with Steph because she is smart and Steph is awesome. I don’t care what happens later, it is not for lack of a good teammate. Mark and Nikki are a team and I have fear for the potential train wreck here. Rich and Dale are on the same wavelength. Rich says they share a passion for similar flavors. Maybe it’s the pink shirt.

Jen tells Steph she is confident about caramelizing the cheese. That may be important later on, perhaps.

The teams and their challenge words:

Andrew & Spike – Yellow, Love, Vanilla (Squash Soup with Vanilla Créme Fraîche)
Steph & Jen – Orange, Turned On, Asparagus (Menage a trois of orange with goat cheese, asparagus, salad and olive tapénade)
Rich & Dale – Green, Perplexed, Tofu (Tofu “steak” marinated in beef fat with green curry)
Antonia & Lisa – Magenta, Drunk, Polish Sausage (Sea bass with purple potato pureé, chorizo and tequila sauce)
Frodo & Nikki – Purple, Depressed, Bacon (Pork loin with sweet potatoes, grape sauce, jus and brussels sprouts)

Not sure about the “Emotion” of drunk or turned on… but we’ll go with it.

Commercials – some schlock movie with Wolverine, Obi-Wan and Michelle Williams. I would pay good money for an Obi-Wan/Wolverine movie. Michelle can play whatever she wants in that film.

Shopping – $150 and 30 minutes. Frodo and Nikki work the sunglasses like a European couple on holiday in the French Riviera. Steph gets a “supersizer orange juice” which sounds like a McDonald’s breakfast choice. Jen goes to the cheesemonger. Yet another title I wish I had on my business card. No one messes with a cheesemonger. Jen buys a whole lot of cheese. I hope she doesn’t regret that now. But how can you mistrust a monger? Jen adds that the dish sounds like a ménage a trios and points out that she feels good about having one of those. Steph is like, “what?” and somewhere Zoi is like, “hey!”

Dale thinks he and Rich bring perplexed to the table often. He thinks curry represents that emotion due to the heat and spice “in so many directions.” Rich gets no charge on beef fat, another smart move, and plans to marinate tofu steaks in beef fat. Because they are “perplexed.” Get it? Way to go with the challenge theme, Blais. To his credit, he usually does. Then he goes and ruins it with one of the worst Seinfeld impressions ever. Stop making me regret liking you, dude.

Antonia and Lisa then bury themselves. They do not want to do Polish Sausage despite it being their key ingredient. Lisa is not “gonna dumb down her food, because of what some drunken schmuck screamed out.” So they are going to use fish and chorizo. What? Antonia calls this their “interpretation” and implies that they are improv-ing. Obviously, these two have never done improv.

Let me quickly explain… In improv the whole frakking concept is to take a random word, situation, etc. and make do with it and try to make it funny or moving emotionally (improving drama is also quite interesting and difficult. We used to do just that with a Second Personalities therapy class. But that would take longer to explain). By changing the ingredient, they are no longer improving. It would be like if I were playing Film and Theater Styles and someone shouted out reality cooking show and I started doing bits from The Amazing Race. Not the same thing ladies, and before these teams even start cooking, I know they are in the Bottom Two.

Andrew and Spike comedy team shops. Andrew is thinking about yellow foods and tells us he loves bananas. He also tries to juggle his food, quite badly. Spike reveals they it is truly an improv dish because they are making it up as they go along. My message to Spike this episode – I will lay off making fun of you, this was a good episode for you and one that was thankfully light on the hats and light on the attitude. Keep it up and we may be ok.

Cooking! There is an elaborate dining room table that might as well have a big sign reading “Red Herring” on it. Steph asks Jen for shallots and Jen does some exposition for us. Spike is finally getting to cook his damn squash soup. Maybe he’ll finally shut up about it. Sorry, Spike, just that last one. Lisa and Antonia are laughing about it. Antonia says that if he wins with that soup, she’s gonna “vomit in her mouth.” Thanks for sharing.
Andrew has a hilarious line that I missed the first time about how he will “take the vanilla, split it and put in my armpits.” Dude is just really strange.

Rich renders fat and Dale makes the curry – because it is the most complex of the spices. It is the “Lost” of spices. Rich is grilling the fat for the grill and carbon flavor and so the tofu tastes like meat to make it perplexed. Brilliant.

Dale goes into the back and notices that all of the electrical equipment has been removed. Cool! More improv for the Chefs. For everyone that dislikes Rich, remember that he immediately clued Andrew in on the lack of equipment because he knew they were making soup. They could have kept it quiet and potentially screwed them over. Andrew thanks him with a “good call,” and calls the producers “dirty monkeys.” There are many curses thrown about, of course.

Andrew is now putting the squash through a ricer as he improvs making the soup. He says that people have been making soup since “I don’t f****n know when” and that the twist makes him more convicted to get it done. Dale is using every burner he can find to make the curry without the technology. Spike is working with some sack and string. Frodo is banging his spices with a pot.

Steph is worried about Jen’s bread as Jen tells us how they are going full on with the penis jokes in this plate. Antonia is worried that the plate is not coming together.


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