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Top Chef: The Way To America's Heart Is Through Its Palate

erik.jpgTwo girls have been eliminated thus far in what's still looking to be a female-driven season. Perhaps it's just trimming the fat? Let's hope so. Although there are few at this point I'd truly have a problem with winning...but wait until it's down to ten. The true colors emerge.

This episode opens with a shirtless Spike horsing around with Andrew. Thank you! My two favorite guys in the competition (yes, I have forgiven Spike for his initial d-baggery) being complete and utter goofballs. Richard makes some anti-social remark about being "all about the food", but in a way that it's hard to dislike him. Stephanie discusses how it was sad to see Valerie go, because that's one less woman to achieve the title of first female Top Chef. In my opinion though, it was just cutting off the dead weight. Valerie was a sweetheart and probably a terrific chef, who just wasn't much for competition. Besides, the remaining six ladies are fierce and not to be messed with. Zoi chats about her relationship some more and about breaking hurdles, both as a lesbian and a woman to break stereotypes about people's image of a chef. You go, girl.

Andrew gets more screentime as usual, and no complaining here. He tells us how part of being a chef is being an entertainer...which is incredibly true. A chef needs his or her personality to be resonant in the dish that they're creating and we can bet that no matter what Andrew does, it will be some dorktastic, wiggerish food with more personality than some humans in your lives.

The cheftestants arrive in the kitchen, where Padma is waiting with Rick Bayless--whom all the chefs are very familiar with. They must be pretty akin to his Cajun flavors, because Stephanie blurts out "Oh crap, Mexican food". The Quickfire Challenge is to revitalize the classic taco...being original and unique in their creation and elevating the taco to a fine dining experience. Erik is quite peeved over this, as he doesn't equate tacos with fine dining. Manuel feels he has a leg up in this challenge, however, being Mexican and having experience with its respective cuisine. Spike decides to keep it real and "street", so as not to detract from the true origins of the taco. Or perhaps that was his clever way of telling us he was baffled on how to make a taco appear expensive.

Andrew decides that he's going to incorporate plantains and duck into his taco...which made my mouth water instantly. And not just because I was watching Andrew. He does his usual crazy techniques and "brings awesome" to every dish he makes. You are my hero, man. Richard decides to do a vegetarian taco with a jicamo encasing, which almost makes me want to convert (nice try, but I'll never convert to that cult).

Bayless makes his way around the tables, stalked by Padma, of course. Manuel presented a traditional taco, which may have been tasty but unimpressive. Lisa used caramelized onions. Ryan used pomegranate apples, which didn't appear to be very successful. Andrew's seemed to be a success, and left my boy delighted, while Erik's dish was a mess, as usual (it's as if he sneezed out his platter).

When the worst were announced, Erik turned up rather quickly, but unsurprisingly. He was frankly uninspired by the entire challenge, and said Rick could go "*bleep* himself". I love what a laid-back hothead he is...much easier to embrace, and so much more badass than a blatant jerk. Lisa and Ryan were also called out as being unsuccessful in this challenge.

But good news came the way of Andrew, who had a spazz attack upon hearing this news. For all his big talk, it's refreshing how genuinely surprised he is when he scores high. Richard was also noted as being impressive. And then the third favorite...was Spike (much to Manuel's chagrin). Bravo tried to dramatize that...subtly, of course. Rick loved his street-style dish. But the winner wound up being Richard, which Spike complained was a sham as it wasn't even reminiscent of a taco whatsoever. Hehe.

After this, the chefs were asked to divide themselves into two teams at their own discretion. Several chefs flocked towards Richard, which is really biased bullshit. And Spike agrees with me. You usually should avoid the one with immunity, as they tend to be a bit more complacent. So Spike stayed with the couple, while some of the other over-achievers headed Richard's way. The Red team was comprised of: Jennifer, Zoi, Andrew, Spike, Dale, Ryan, and Erik. The Blue team consisted of: Richard, Stephanie, Antonia, Lisa, Nikki, Mark, and Manuel. As for the challenge...they were kept in the dark, albeit with one little clue: they're going on a field trip.

They all piled into their name-dropped Toyota Highlanders and had no idea where they were headed. The vehicles arrived at a random array of houses, where Padma met them to give away the secret. The aforementioned trip was to Chicago's Annual Block Party, sponsored by They must cook for the attendees, with one major catch: they are not allowed to shop...exactly. Instead, they will be obtaining their materials by going door-to-door and finagling donated items from willing participants (who were indubitably notified before the challenge of these strange, white-coated humans lurking about their premises).

Andrew jokes about how Ryan is being deployed to request food from people, since he's good-looking, charismatic, and an articulate speaker. (If you recall from the first episode, at the judges' table, he even confused the crap out of Tom in an effort to save his life. Yes, he's awesome.) When they invade the house, the woman tells them how lucky they are that the farmers' market was just this morning. Gee, how convenient! They grab a few peaches, among other things, and amscray. Nikki, meanwhile, tells us about mac and cheese being one of her signature dishes. Of course, sometimes that is equivocal to doom.

Andrew states that the teams are scurrying in and out of houses like NYC rats (now there's an image), which is precisely what I thought the moment they began. Aww. In one couple's house, they have a heavily-stocked pantry full of goods. Spike thinks they're preparing for a world war...but he ain't complaining. The house is still quite aplenty with usable items, but he tells the Blue team as they attempt to enter that he was just in there and they were wiped out clean. Telling them it was empty doesn't feel like sabotage to Spike...but I think it will to karma. Karma's a out, dude. I sense he is capable of much naughtier things in episodes to come.

When planning out their menu, the Blue team decides to bring a little upscale element to their basic comfort food platters. The Red team, however, decides to keep things classic, focusing on incorporating more delicious flavors to dishes the people will be familiar with.

Nikki is instantly worried about her mac & cheese, fearing that her Velveeta cheese sauce will coagulate by the time they arrive on the block. Stephanie makes a last minute decision to make her wontons a dessert item. Sounds scrumptious. The Blue team seems to have its ups and downs, as does the Red. Erik is frustrated that there is no real leadership role being assumed...although hey, you could've done so, couldn't you? Never go along, always speak up. Tsk, tsk. He also mentions how he pities his friend Zoi's misfortune of doing a pasta dish, which she's not at all inspired by. Dale also expresses concern and says he'd rather push instead of play safe. Uh-oh.

The Blue team is excited by their "sexy drink", which, if I didn't watch tonight's episode, I'd assume to be an Andrew concoction. Erik has similar concerns like Nikki about his dish--corn dogs, which are on his menu at his restaurant back home--because they're likely to get soggy during transportation. But like Nikki, he foolishly hopes for the best.

When the chefs arrive at the Block Party, they're in a "mad rush", says Andrew, to plate their meals. Spike wants to make it the most memorable event they've ever had. Richard concurs and thinks it's a step above their usual feasts...although perhaps not so much for Erik and Nikki, whose worst fears are confirmed. They do whatever they can to salvage things, as the festivities begin. Andrew chats about his "sliders full of awesomeness" (Marry me), which are only one component of a very appetizing menu from the Red team (their dishes include the mini-sliders, a taco salad, pork skewers, Waldorf chicken salad, corn dogs, pasta salad, and s'mores on a stick).

The Blue team's sounds equally as delicious (theirs include the sexy drink, a BBQ sandwich, mac-and-cheese, a paella, fruit crumble, the sugary wontons, and an upside-down cookie). However, they're feeling rather demolished and are just trying to comfort each other on the hard work that they did. Antonia hugs Richard and says "It's over"...or is it? But why are they feeling so down-trodden? Because of how nonchalant, fun, and charismatic the Red team is appearing...they're definitely working the crowd, and even participating with the kids and locals in the activities. Andrew played some hoops and jabbers about throwing a ball...with his mind!

But perhaps the Red team inflated their heads a tad too much, because Padma walks into the waiting room and calls the Blue team in. Andrew rants that there's no way it's a loss. The Reds look generally aggravated, but rightly so. But before the Blues feel too enthused, Tom expresses how disappointed he was with both teams. It was an extremely uneven and unimpressive display of chefsmanship apparently, but they still won by a very slight margin. Before any favorites are announced, Richard is scolded for his paella, which was, to the judges, really more of a rice pilaf. Nikki was also reprimanded for her poor dish. But the judges did offer some compliments, sent the way of Stephanie, Antonia, and Mark (they stated that they loved the entire dessert menu, which I assume includes his cookies). And then, a very surprised Stephanie was named to be the winner...yet again! Oh man, that was a great moment...she must really be something. So far, she's won 2/3 challenges and is clearly the woman to beat. She's so cute and modest about it too, because she didn't expect to win a second time--especially not so soon. This season is going to be something....

And in came a very dejected Red team, in much shock and disbelief. Spike contests how astounded he was that they were the losing team, after how well the worked and satisfied the crowd. Andrew twitches with boiling rage and exclaims security will have to drag him out of there, because "This is MAH house!", and then he slapped Denzel Washington. No, not really, but in that moment he certainly embodied his inner Ruby Dee (Recent Oscar-nominee for playing Denzel's mama in American Gangster...anyone?). But neither of those two gentlemen really needed to worry about much, for their dishes weren't dissed. It seemed as if Jennifer and Dale were in a safe haven, too. The most displeasurable, for the judges, were Ryan's Waldorf chicken salad (lacking crunch; had too much chicken), Zoi's pasta salad (uninspired and bland), and Erik's soggy corn dogs (which Tom noted he should've been more prepared for, since it's a regular feature on his menu).

Before elimination began, something took place that was slightly unexpected. Erik decided to let the judges know that Zoi was stuck with her dish against her will, because that was all that was left, and he didn't feel it was fair for her to suffer because of that. I was impressed. That was such a genuine and gentlemanly thing to do, and it proved how much class and professionalism he truly possesses underneath it all. Zoi was tense and upset that she didn't speak up about the dish before the challenge began, but she needn't have worried. He probably saved her by speaking up at the table. Great integrity...and it was a wonderfully high note to leave on, when he was told to pack his knives and go. And really, on this show, that's the best way to go.

Posted by on March 27, 2008 12:12 PM
Permalink |

erik is so awesome to stick up for zoi. its a good thing jennifer didnt do it, because then the judges would say its biased but since he did it, it was a genuinely nice move.

-- Posted by: Kev at March 31, 2008 11:02 AM

James, that is a great review and you show a fine tuned sensitivity to the
emotional undercurrents of the event,especially in the
last paragraph.



-- Posted by: Fran Civile at April 1, 2008 1:59 AM

so informative, thanks to tell us.

-- Posted by: DedoVioheds at September 29, 2010 8:36 PM

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