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Top Chef: Chicago, Episode 12 – Where Simplicity Meets Perfection … and then Runs Away Screaming


Before the entrée, we see Tom berate Rich for a while about being slow. “Come on Rich, you’re dragging, you’re killing me.” Rich says his food is intricate and there are 19 things going on at once so don’t rush him. He says that he will take slow and perfect over quick and half-assed every time. How about quick and perfect, Rich? Is that asking too much?

Entrées

Richard – Prime beef fillet, potato puree, turnips & red wine with pickled brussels sprouts
Gail gives an “oh wow.” Hung thinks that is a “rare piece of meat.” Ilan is wary about the tenderloin. Harold says that once you get all the elements together in this deconstructed dish that it works. Padma wonders why not serve them together, and Harold agrees. Ilan does not think this a relaxed dining experience; he thinks it is a project.

Lisa – New York Strip Steak, spicy apple caramel sauce, & peanut butter mashed potatoes
Gail is nervous when she sees the dish. Rick is “digging the mashed.” Harold is dubious, but he likes the smokiness of the beef and the “pop” of the green apple. The dish is working for him. Ilan has a problem with his beef; it is completely under-seasoned. Really, Lisa under-seasoned something? Hung thinks his is tough. Gail does not think the dish is entirely balanced and that the meat is very thin.

Spike – Tomahawk chop, sweet potato puree, blanched brussels sprouts & Cipollini
Ilan thinks the meat is better alone with nothing else on the plate. He thinks the crust is nice, but can do without the sides. Gail thinks he added honey to the potato puree and finds it to be too sweet. Ilan says that in the episode before the finale that you should “blow my mind” and apparently this fails to do so. Rick says “uh… yeah… it was ok.”

Steph – Beef tenderloin with Salsify puree, wild mushrooms and apple sauce
She says that she hopes it doesn’t look stupid. Padma thinks it is gorgeous. Right back at you, Padma! Harold wants to finish his whole dish. Hung likes how it is compact and can get everything in one bite. He loves it.

Antonia – Bone-in ribeye, roasted fennel & Cipollini onions, shallot & potato gratin
She says how much she liked working with Tom in this setting and that he was fun to have around. She is serving what she would eat in a steakhouse and she is a “super picky” eater. Ilan likes the fattiness on his meat, he is in fact “falling in love” with it. However, it is all somewhat rich. Rick says that of all the entrees he is “really digging it.” Rick likes the word “digging.”

Tom gets his food to taste as the service wraps up. Antonia says that nobody knows what will happen. However, I can’t even believe how obvious it is that Spike is doomed here based on the judges’ comments.

Commercials – It seems the chefs made a goofy band called Mise En Place on their downtime and Frodo has an interesting fake mustache. I do not care enough to view the Verizon-sponsored footage.

Meat Locker of Doom. Spike gets the wine, and Lisa needs Xanax. They toast and Lisa says, “We have all been through a s**tload, all really rocked the challenge, and everyone is f****n awesome and they should stay in touch.” I say, three of you rocked the challenges and two of you basically sucked at most of the challenges. Can you figure out which is which?

We get no peek at the judges’ conference as Padma fetches all five remaining chefs for judging. They line up and Rich is asked how he felt he did. His answer is “Generally, I felt I did… why don’t you tell me?” Funny.

Padma asks him if he ever made that appetizer before. He has not. Tom asks if he would put it on a menu, Rich mentions a tweak or two. Rich is told that it was one of the judges’ favorites and the only criticism would be for more sweetbreads. Gail thinks the main course had problems, it was undercooked and inconsistent.

Tom tells Steph that at no time does she ever show that she is under pressure. Padma chimes in that is the case, “except for right now.” Steph says they are freaking her out. Rick thinks the sweetbread was cooked beautifully – lush in the middle and crispy on the outside. He loved the sweet and sour. Padma asks if she was happy with the entrée. Steph thinks that she could have used more acidity and that she had never made it before.

Gail liked the lemon in Lisa’s appetizer and that it had a nice technique. She wishes the shrimp was warm because butter on a cold dish can taste congealed. Rick struggled with the dish and couldn’t get his “arms around it.” I think he may be eating it wrong.

Lisa says she has made the entrée before and Rick says how much he wanted to hate it, but didn’t. He does say that if it was technically better it would have “really exploded.” Tom didn’t like the way the steak was prepared, it was cooked more on the top side than the bottom. He is a stickler for this. She needs to better focus on her ingredients.

Antonia says she went with what she likes in a steakhouse. Rick thinks the eggs were perfect. Tom thought the main course looked like a steakhouse meal and was nicely charred. Rick thought the ribeye was fabulous.

Spike is told by Gail that the steak was cooked very well; it rested well and tasted good. Tom tells him that he doesn’t understand how you can get this far in the competition and then use frozen scallops. He should have sent them back and chosen something else. He thought it was terrible. Rick says that a chef is defined by his choices and that you need to monitor what comes into your kitchen.

Spike unloads this gem, “With all due respect, it was here in your walk in.” Damn, Spike. I was thinking exactly that when Rick was talking, but that is something you think, not say. This guy is one of four votes regarding your future in this game. That was unfortunate for him. Spike adds that he didn’t think it would “make it in the walk in if not high quality.” Both Tom and Rich are dumbfounded by Spike’s comments.

Rick responds well, “I’ll take that shot, bro. I had frozen scallops in my cooler, but you take the shot that you used them.” In fairness to Spike, why the heck were they there? However, Spike deserves all the hits for actually using them when there was plenty of fresh food to use. As they leave, he shakes Rick’s hand and says it was an honor. Nice, but the damage is likely already done. Back in the Locker of Doom, Spike is baffled that he actually said what he said.

Tom thinks this was a great challenge as it self-contained the chefs and thus they had no excuses. The Three Amigos were impressed. Gail implies that all the dishes were good.

Rick thinks that Steph was the most well-rounded and “spot on.” Gail thinks she served something new to get excited about. She served something they would remember. Tom thinks Rich did well with the first course, but Padma thinks the main course wasn’t as good and should be “greater than the parts.” Gail thinks the appetizer was the best dish of the 10 served. Rick couldn’t stop eating Antonia’s entrée. Tom thought it was the best of the steaks. Gail says Antonia is an insightful cook, she cooks from the heart and it shows on the plate. Not literally, that would be gross.

Tom had issue with both of Spike’s courses. “When he talks about what is important to him, he says simplicity. I love simplicity, but it needs to be perfect and he made a bad decision with the scallops.” Rick loves his spunk and fire. No, I will say nothing here. Rick adds that he was expecting more from Spike after the Quickfire.

Tom says that what bothers him about Lisa is that she is slightly apathetic to what she is doing. If you are doing rustic or refined food, you need to do it right. Padma gives her credit for an amazing palate but she needs to focus more on technique. Tom thinks technique is how you get flavor. Rick quotes my favorite Tom quote about this being a cooking competition. Tom thinks the shrimp was terrible and asks if it was the least favorite of the night. Rick says yes, Padma says no. Gail thinks Spike put more work into his appetizer, and Tom thinks he put in too little on his entrée.

Commercials – Can anyone tell me why you would want to eat a soy candy bar? By the way, Dale was the clear winner in the poll.

Final Judging. Tom says they all did a great job. Padma lets Rick give the good news. Steph is the winner of the challenge and she is really giddy and surprised over that. She gets his book. She says she has the first one. HA! She also gets the GE appliances that they used all season. She thinks it is “friggin awesome.” I would have given good money for her to use “frakkin” there instead. All in the NBC family.

Tom tells Richard that his appetizer was the favorite and so he is going to Puerto Rico with Steph. He exhales deeply and Steph blows him a kiss.

Antonia is told that her entrée was the favorite and she is going to Puerto Rico. The clear-cut Top Three get sent away and they jump up and down once they exit the room. Antonia says that she thinks it is awesome to be in the Final Four and she made it through “all of the bulls**t.” In the Locker of Doom, the three celebrate.

Tom says that Lisa has been on the chopping block five times and Spike seven times. Wow. Lisa is told that she is not focusing on her ingredients and what she is doing. All of a sudden, Tom is paraphrasing Yoda. Lisa looks like she is about to explode in rage. Tom says that they didn’t care for the shrimp dish and to hear her talk, they know the passion is there, but they don’t see it.

Spike is told about how awful his decision on the scallops was and Tom repeats for Spike his line about doing simplicity perfectly.

Padma knifes Spike. It is long overdue, but to be honest, I think Spike deserves to survive more than Lisa. Neither belongs in the finals in my mind, but whatever. Lisa gives a huge exhale and hugs Spike. He thanks them all for a fabulous time. Lisa says she is going to “bring it” for the Finals and I say, she had better. She is really lucky to be there and is going to be a huge underdog.

The Final Four yammer on for a while, but nothing interesting. I think Spike may be a cool guy in real life, but on this show he came across as a Bourdain wannabe. It seems like everyone liked him, so I will say that TV character “Spike” was unbearable and wore bad hats, but the real Spike is probably kind of nice… and wears bad hats.

Next week: The Finale. Puerto Rico. Beaches. Drums. Dancing. Lisa’s haircut. Slow motion. Richard sawing. And at long last, the winner of Top Chef.

You can contact Jeremy at jeremy@realityshack.com.


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