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Top Chef: Chicago, Episode 8 – The End of All Things for Frodo


Previously: Improv comedy. Spike’s long-awaited soup, which surprisingly didn’t suck. Antonia promises to be true to herself from now on. Jen gets the boot.

Aspen and credits – Andrew actually doesn’t look like a mental patient in the credits.

Lisa is smoking on the balcony. Man, I miss Marcel’s raps and rants from on the balcony. Steph brushes her teeth and is lamenting about Jen’s absence and on how tough the competition is and how she now knows what it is like on the chopping block. Steph seems to be going through a crisis of confidence that will manifest itself later on. We also see the lonely empty bunk that was once the home of many Jen/Zoi snuggles. Poor sad bunk.

Antonia has a red towel on her head like a turban. She is the anti-Steph and is now fired up and has a f**k everybody attitude now. Frodo is also brushing his teeth. This episode brought to you by the American Dental Association… and apparently Uncle Ben’s, Glad and 400 other brands. He is also shirtless for you hobbit fetishists out there. He always thought that he would come to America and run a kitchen, to convey his Shire-style to American audiences. Of course, Frodo knows how plentiful curry is among American palates, right? But I am jumping ahead…

QUICKFIRE: Spike’s hat is back. Wonderful. Padma is here with Oprah’s chef Art Smith (also owner of Table 52) who kind of looks like the guy that played Otho in Beetlejuice. Dale knows that Art likes to cook simple and healthy. We are also going to be cooking with gobs of Uncle Ben’s rice. Padma calls speed and efficiency to be two vital parts of being a chef. If one chef on your line messes up, the whole thing can crash and burn. LIVES ARE AT STAKE!!! Art calls one minute in the kitchen to be equivalent to 10 minutes to a diner. Or some formula similar to the on-island, off-island time issues on Lost.

The challenge: a “fabulous” entrée in 15 minutes. Lisa expects chaos. Padma gives us a long commercial for Uncle Ben’s that I zone out of instantly. Can I mention the jeans, Padma? Because they have my attention more than the rice.

COOKING! Lisa’s prediction is correct. Rich calls this his worst fear; it is not conducive to his methodical style. Let me add right here that I loved these two challenges because they are truly real world cooking. We all know that you sometimes have only 15 minutes or so to cook dinner and it’s either do something like this or order from the local Chinese family, pizza place or Chicken and Rib Crib (don’t make fun, they exist and are all kinds of awesome).

Dale is making fried rice because Asian food is quick requiring “high intense heat, you dump it in a pan, shake it up real fast and it’s done.” Pretty good plan, actually. Steph is making some random sauce and thinks of a seafood pancake. We have a place called the Country Pancake House in Ridgewood, NJ that we go to now and again that have about 80 different kinds of sweet and savory pancakes. All delicious. I find it hard to think about a kind of pancake that is not delicious… until now. Steph doesn’t know how it will taste and as we will see, doesn’t bother to even check.

Spike is using his Greek roots to make stuffed peppers and tomatoes. Antonia is also digging deep to use her mom’s recipe for rice salad.

Much chopping and blending leads to the five minute mark. Rich says with the time constraint the dishes cannot be refined, but need to be complete and tasty and other contestants didn’t stop to taste.

Dishes

Antonia – Rice salad with skirt steak, arugula and cherry tomatoes. Padma is a little surprised and Art likes the cold and hot contrast.
Nikki – Vegetable fried rice with mushrooms, zucchini, snap peas and eggs. She put soy sauce all over it which instantly kills it for me. Art thought it was comforting.
Richard – Tuna steak and tomatoes, with truffle oil and Yuzu vinaigrette. Art loved the tomato and that surprised Rich somewhat.
Steph – Brown rice pancake with scallop and vinaigrette. Steph has never made this before. Good. Art thought it was clever and Steph expresses her desire to win immunity once.
Spike – Tomatoes stuffed with rice and veal with a port rice wine vinegar sauce. Art thinks it was wonderful, even though it looks like a train wreck to me. It must have been pretty tasty to overcome that.
Lisa – Shrimp with Santa Fe rice, corn, beans and peppers sautéed in tequila. She went the Southwest way and used tequila. Mr. Cuervo and I shared many an interesting evening together back in the day. Anyway, Art thinks the lime makes a big difference and likes the use of acid instead of salt
Dale – Fried rice with scallop paste & pineapple; Grilled scallop with Chinese long beans. Art likes the long beans, a much underused vegetable. Dale kisses up a bit and calls it one of his favorites.
Frodo – Miso glazed turkey on salad with sugar snap peas, grapes and tomatoes. Art thinks it needs sauce and Padma thinks the chicken is tough. Except Frodo used turkey. Frodo is sure he will not be in the Top Three. Good call.
Andrew – Wild rice crusted fish, with an almond and sun dried tomato pesto with honey and olive oil. Art thought it was crunchy and clever. This one was actually my favorite.

Bottom 3
Frodo
– Art really wanted to like it and he gets credit for getting it all done in 15 minutes, but he didn’t enjoy the dish. Why is he getting credit for doing it in 15 minutes? That was the challenge after all.
Steph – Art loved the idea, but the pancake was heavy and the scallops unnecessary. I think the big problem was that it was a pancake full of fish. What kind of syrup do you use?
Lisa – Pretty, but not original. The dish, folks, the dish.

Top 3
Dale
– Art loved the dish, it tasted good and was complete
Richard – Rich raises his hand as his name gets called! Don’t know why I found that funny – it’s like he’s been called on to do the math problem on the blackboard. The dish was delicious and balanced.
Antonia – Art says she made a believer out of him for the unorthodox dish.

Antonia wins and she reiterates her newly found “staying true to yourself” mantra.

Elimination challenge. Oh, Padma is wearing tall boots with those jeans. All she needs is the baseball cap with the pony tail sticking out and she completes the set for me. Art’s charity called Common Threads is all about families eating together and that is going to be part of this challenge. Antonia loves the charity as she used to eat as a family as a kid and now does the same for her kid. Growing up, I ate as a family as well and that would not be a selling point for me. Meal times were a tad chaotic in our humble abode.

Padma says that families need simple, nutritious and affordable meals. The challenge is to make a complete dinner for four that is simple enough for a child to help. Already I know the twist – and not because I saw the credits last week. They must also do this all on a budget of $10 and must make it accessible for most kitchens at home. Great frakking challenge.

Andrew wants to know how the f*** is he going to buy dinner for four for $10, it is impossible. He will apparently not be making lobster tureen as a result. I really hope Andrew is joking here because families around the country each day have no choice but to make meals for about $10. Or less. If they are lucky.

Antonia is going to “make it work.” Somewhere Tim Gunn is calling his lawyer. Rich thinks that this challenge will be tough to do with food being expensive these days. No kidding – and this was filmed last autumn before prices went insane.

Commercials – Next week on Top Chef… wedding wars. And you may have thought the reason for the Iraq War was crazy, imagine going to war over the Chicken Dance.

Whole Foods. Wow, $10 at Whole Foods. Now I am impressed. They should have made them shop at ShopRite or A&P to make this authentic. Dale and Rich haul ass into the store. Rich asks if something is “super fresh,” which I guess would indicate it was just killed in the back. Lisa wants to see what “four would be.” She adds that chicken is healthy, low fat and cheap. Unless prepared by the Colonel. Andrew wants to know if it is cheaper for the bone in the breast. Shut up, I wasn’t gonna go there.

Andrew tells us that his mom was a very good cook and she raised him by herself and taught him to cook in different styles. The philosophy: simple, old, new. Keep it simple, take an old idea and add a new concept. Pretty good philosophy there, it also shows Andrew as not just your usual escaped mental patient.

Dale thinks chicken was an easy out and he wants to step out of his boundaries and show he can do more than Asian food. He is not a one-trick pony. I already made my joke about the one-trick pony last week. He says that they are in Chicago, so he is making bratwurst. I say, good choice, Dale.

Steph is nervous and is wandering around the store like an Alzheimer’s patient. She grew up on gourmet food and is apparently unable to think like us peons. Rich shouts the time; Steph continues to ask for help and Nikki shops.

Antonia likes the challenge because she has an edge as a single mom. She is making kid-friendly stir fry pasta. Frodo is getting some flatbread and is making curry, as he tends to do for his lady when money is tight. Spike and Antonia are over budget and Antonia starts to strip her bok choy.

Frodo is playing the didgeridoo and I am amazed that he packed that. I doubt he picked one up in downtown Chicago. Antonia calls home and I am stunned that we don’t get a cell phone product placement like we get with GLAD! She “can’t stop smiling” now as she talks to her kid. Little Antonia tells her not to come back unless she won. Ha! Antonia tells a bad “knock knock” joke with the punch line of “smell my poo.” Children’s humor – still funnier than Kathy Griffin.

Unloading onsite. Padma and Art ask the chefs to gather around and meet their extra help. In walk nine kids with giant chef hats, all Common Threads students who apparently picked for partners off camera and are thusly united with their contestants. Of note, Antonia is already tearing up and says that if she gets a girl she may cry throughout the challenge. It’s a good thing she has immunity, although it is rendered moot when a boy joins her. Rich seems to be smiling uncontrollably. Dude is getting a serious case of the “daddies” here. Steph also points out that her kid is about the same height as she.

Spike leads his kid to their station and Antonia asks hers if he’s ever been to California. He hasn’t. Frodo tries to explain New Zealand to his Mexican partner and Rich does something else endearing. He gives his girl his spare green apron and asks if it looks good with her blue shirt and pink shoes.

Lisa ditches her garlic because the kid doesn’t like it. As we see later on, bad idea Lisa. She THs that her girlfriend’s kid likes to cook with her. Huh? Is this how we learn about her sexual orientation? Did the producers decide to reveal that only after we lost the other lesbians in the competition? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Lisa says that you let kids stir the noodles and put in the butter, but draw the line at the big knife.

Rich explains beets to his kid and while I think Frodo’s use of curry was a mistake, I must admit to thinking that Rich was in error with his inclusion of beets. It is a testament to Rich’s talent that he not only made them edible, but enjoyable to the kids. Antonia violates Lisa’s Law and lets her kid chop things with the big knife.

Spike’s kid cuts himself with the carrot peeler almost instantly – probably something to do with the God-awful technique he is using. Spike brings him over to wash it out, and according to Lee Ann’s blog on the Bravo website, Spike spent a good amount of time treating the kid and dressing the cut with no time credit on the challenge. So, I have given the Mad Hatter a lot of crap so far this season but for the moment, good job Spike.

Frodo explains his curry dish to his kid and Lisa THs that curry was a bad idea because of its complicated nature. Nikki was raised by a single parent and says she learned to cook at an early age. She is making a one-pot chicken and veggie meal that she learned to make as a kid. She is also putting the most evil of non-mushroom veggies in this dish: the brussel sprout. Fewer things in the world are as vile to taste as this hellish creation.

Dale is bonding with his kid because of their lack of height. Dale lost his NBA dreams when he stopped growing in the seventh grade. Andrew tells us about his weight problem as a result of unhealthy, cheap food. He apparently had a Jared-like transformation into the mental patient we know and love.

Tom comes into the kitchen and Rich introduces him to “Chef Abigail.” The kid recites in a very kid-like manner that they are making “chicken and we’re making a salad and beets,” and are “letting the onions sweat.” Tom and Rich nod at the cuteness. Tom asks if the onions were put on a treadmill and the kid doesn’t get the joke.


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