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Top Chef: Chicago, Episode 11 – Baby Vomit and Wood Chips… Yummy!


Previously on Top Chef: Andrew is still crazy after all these years. Gourmet lunch boxes for Season 2’s Sam. Lisa is paranoid. Chicago police need more than bad sushi. Dale wins and Lisa feeds Andrew to the lions.

Intro. A trip to Puerto Rico for the finals is at stake… just in time for the pivotal Puerto Rican primary! I also think Spike is shirtless during the opening credits. Never noticed that before.

Night in Chicago. It is 5:45 a.m. and no one is stirring, not even a mouse. Hey, there’s Tom Colicchio breaking and entering!! Steph says that she was sound asleep and heard a strange man’s voice. Enough with Steph’s sexual fantasies please! Tom turns on the lights and we see Spike’s bare torso and I begin to pray to Gods of TV that he doesn’t stand up. Dale is wondering, “Are you serious?”

The Final Six look awful as they gather in the kitchen. Tom tells them that they are going to breakfast. But wait, Tom isn’t treating, they will be working the egg station for a morning shift. Awesome challenge. Similar to last season’s breakfast challenge when Padma got the early morning wakeup duties. As much as I like Tom, she would be a lot more fun to wake up with.

Spike says that cooking eggs is the most precise kind of cooking, especially on the short order line. Lisa looks remarkably good in these kitchen shots. That was surprising. Antonia would be sad to make the Final Six and fail to get to the finals. Steph’s goal is to get to the Final Four, yada yada. Spike says they should get the “egg out of here.” Whatever.

QUICKFIRE. They are at Lou Mitchell’s which Dale calls an institution. They have been around since 1935 and usually have a line out the door. Thus, it is intimidating. Antonia calls it the hottest breakfast spot. And I now know where I want to get breakfast when I am in Chicago in July. I know at least one of my traveling companions reads this column – you up for it, dude?

Helene is the owner and the guest judge and will be selecting the chef she would most likely hire for short order cook. She looks – how do I say this properly as to not offend – EXACTLY how you think she would look. Tom is sitting at the counter with coffee and the paper and I have a great urge to join him. Fewer things are as relaxing as sitting at a diner counter while enjoying the paper and a cup of Joe.

Spike “grew up in the industry” and was a short order cook for 6-7 years. So, this should be an easy win for him, right? The chefs get a quick intro to the kitchen from Martine, who looks like a character, and Spike adds that Helene looks more hard core than any of the chefs that he has ever worked for. He thinks he may die.

Antonia is first up and she thinks this will be a great test of her capabilities. I will not relay the various orders that come for the six of them. Needless to say that they get many rapid fire orders for eggs of all sorts, sausage, etc. It is as chaotic and insane as you think it would be. This is not Mel Sharples calling Vera for a pickup. Antonia seems to be holding her own and is even getting some good flips with the pan.

Next is the montage of chefs taking their turns. Spike says that the key to being a short order cook is to be methodical in your movements. That is surprisingly insightful. Spike gets some of those nuggets out there now and again and I think I may have liked him if not for the poser attitude and Cast of 1000 Crappy Hats.

Steph gets a poached egg order and finds a “giant cloud of leftover egg whites” in the poach pot. She then totally mangles a flip of her eggs and has to start over. Helene looks like she may hurt poor Steph. I guess she won’t win another Quickfire.

Rich is totally working the head band and his fauxhawk is taking on the appearance of a giant rooster. For the rest of this episode, Rich will be known as Foghorn. He tries to butterfly a sausage and seems to struggle. He says he had a difficult time dealing with the audibles coming in. Helene shakes her head and plots revenge. Foghorn adds that he was hearing diner lingo that he hadn’t heard in a long time, or at all.

By the way, it seems that besides the quickness of the orders that the other huge obstacle for them is the giant pile of potatoes that seems to be taking up the griddle. That must make cooking the eggs rather awkward.

Lisa burns a plastic box while cooking, so that’s it for her. Spike gets an order wrong, so I would imagine that didn’t help him. Dale has four orders waiting and says that he feels like he can handle that. Basically, it appears that everyone sucked on this challenge except for Dale and Antonia.

Helene disagrees with me and says that they were all wonderful doing such a tough job. Antonia was calm, controlled and took direction well while Dale was smooth and also did a nice job. Antonia wins and Dale has a frozen look of shock on his face as he loses what will turn out to be a crucial loss. Antonia says in her TH, “I won the Quickfire, dun, dun, DUN.” It is her fourth Quickfire win, so good for her.

Tom stuns us all by saying that he is going to a charity event and will not be in for the rest of the episode. WHAT? That’s like the Amazing Race without Phil. American Idol without Simon. Countdown with Keith Olbermann without…well, Keith Olbermann. Foghorn says it all with a cocking of the eyebrow. Tom gives them a clue to go see Padma for instructions. Perhaps they will have a Detour waiting for them; you know, a choice between two tasks each with their own pros and cons. Foghorn thinks it is all very James Bond. No, Phil Keoghan, try to follow along.

ELIMINATION. Spike says that they entered a huge empty space and found the lovely Padma there. Hey, Hat Boy, lay off my imaginary girlfriend. Padma tells them that they worked in someone else’s kitchen this morning and they think it is only fair to let them run their own kitchen the next night. That’s right folks, Restaurant Wars is back!

Lisa is excited and says that making it to RW was her goal, and clarifies that she wants to get through RW, not just participate. The teams will be sharing a kitchen which will later be edited to look like they were in their own. Good job editors, I totally forgot about this until I went back to my notes. They will be serving up to 35 diners and will have $1500 for food and $5000 for décor from Pier One.

Antonia’s reward for winning the Quickfire is that she gets to pick her team. To no one’s surprise she chooses Steph and Foghorn. She explains in her TH, but do we really need an explanation? I am picking a baseball team and can choose from A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds and two sales clerks from Sears. I am taking A-Rod and Pujols and leaving the talented headcase and two morons to fend for themselves.

Dale says that he would have picked Foghorn and Steph too, which would have made this challenge a LOT more interesting to see how Antonia fared with Lisa and Spike, and he feels better than during Wedding Wars because although it is the same team minus Nikki, he has one less person to deal with.

Foghorn tells us that he once opened a restaurant called Blais Up. Nice. It took him four months to do it and they have a day. They are calling their restaurant the Warehouse Kitchen (I like that) and will be doing fine dining but in a relaxed atmosphere.

The other team is calling their Mai Buddha, which sounds like the combined name of Dale and Spike’s workplaces, and Lisa says that she and Dale both wanted to be Executive Chef. They flipped a coin and Dale won. He THs that as an Asian man with an Asian cooking background doing an Asian theme, the pressure was on.

My point: why did they both fight for Exec Chef? They had to know from Wedding Wars that the three of them do not play well together. If it was me, I would have stepped back and let the other one have it. If you won, well, you may have given up a chance at the prize. But if you lost, as long as you cooked well enough, it was likely going to be the Exec Chef that took the brunt. It struck me as stupid, short sighted and really egotistical.

Anyway, Lisa says that Dale pissed off a lot of people and has two of them on his team. They try to plan a soup, and for some reason Spike isn’t making the soup. One thing about him is that he can make a good bowl of soup. Spike explains that they all have Asian backgrounds and so are cooking with an Asian theme. He hopes they rise to the occasion.

Commercials – Toyota commercial with a radio announcer asking if you love or hate high gas prices. Find me someone other than Dick Cheney who loves high gas prices.

Whole Foods. Antonia tells us that the kitchen has no provisions and so they load up the cart. Lisa cannot find white vinegar and Dale cannot find sticky rice. He finds something for rice pudding to use instead. Remember that.

Spike will be working the front of the house and is out looking for décor at Pier One. Steph orders 30 bowls and she calls her plan to make things warm and inviting. Spike is getting crazy with the Buddhas. REJECTED ARTICLE TITLE NUMBER ONE: Antonia says “They got a lot of Buddha.”

Back at the site, Steph is opening boxes and Lisa and Dale start to bicker already over who gets which workstation. I wonder if Spike insisted on doing the front of the house, because it is a ridiculous idea to have Lisa and Dale working side by side in the kitchen with (they assume at this point) no buffer between them.

Spike is hanging up flowers and paintings and says that he doesn’t expect anyone to help him. For perhaps the only time this week – Shut. Up. Spike. Of course no one will help you, there are only three of you and two of your team has to cook the frakking meal.


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