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Top Chef Fodder

Top Chef: The Kids Are Alright

mark.jpgTo all of my readers out there, I am deeply sorry for being so behind in my work these past two episodes. I've caught the flu and it's been a wee bit of a nightmare, BUT I'm back and so are your recaps!

So, the chefs are still recovering from the aftermath of last week, which turned out to be one of their toughest challenges yet. The girls, in particular, crashed and burned and Jennifer found herself one of this year's shocking eliminees. Stephanie frets over her departure, as well as her recent faltering, and says she needs to prove herself. Antonia is equally revved up, as she "wakes up on fire", ready to attack the day. Rah-rah! Oh...and Mark says something about the American dream again. Is New Zealand really that bad?

When the cheftestants arrive in Top Chef Kitchen, they see Art Smith--Oprah's personal chef. Oh, good Lord, is there anything the Queen of the World WON'T profit from? Dale clearly detests them as much as I do, which finally earns him some awesome points as he prattles on in a sardonic tone about who Art is. Padma tells us that this challenge is all about micro-management, On the table are numerous packages of Uncle Ben's Whole Grain Rice. (It's priceless to see the befuddled looks on some of their faces.) The Quickfire Challenge is to create a fabulous entree, using one of the recipes on the back of the Uncle Ben packages--in 15 minutes. Dun dun dunnnnn. This is, apparently, Richard's worst fear...and he proceeds to harp about his methodicalness and I am not even going to bother.

Chefs are stampeding all over the kitchen like Naomi Campbell's maid staff in a mad dash to get their thoughts and meals prepared in half the time they spend on one individually. But Dale, that tricky dicky, has a pan ready. He's going Asian, because their food is cooked fast with intense heat. Stephanie wants to win a damn Quickfire already, and decides to make a scallop pancake--without tasting it...hmm. Antonia, meanwhile, flashes back to her youth when her mom made her a rice salad. This sounds pretty interesting, as I've never thought to combine the two before.

Padma and Art make their rounds, as usual, and taste everyone's dishes. When they're finished, Art announces his Bottom 3: Mark, Stephanie, and Lisa. Apparently, the acidity of Lisa's dish was appeasing, but just didn't make the cut. Stephanie suffers another setback, as Mark's was found to be too dry. However, Art fancies Dale's longbeans, Richard's complete meal, and Antonia's cold/hot mixture. And in the end, it's Antonia who leaves the best impression, as she wins her second challenge AND immunity. However, this time, for the Elimination Challenge, she's gunning for the win.

And speaking of the Elimination Challenge, it's all about bringing families back to the dinner table together in this episode. Antonia is psyched, because let's not forget--she's a single mother, raising a daughter all by herself. The challenge requires a delicious, yet nutritious, meal to feed four--with a budget of only $10. SAY WHAT?! Oh, yes. Andrew babbles on about how impossible this is, but Antonia says she can make it work. Richard's scared--that, gosh, he won't be the best for once. Oh, deary me.

When they arrive at Whole Foods Market, everyone makes a mad dash to the cooking counter. Dale notes that right away, people snatch up the chicken. He decides to take an alternative route and fetch some turkey bratwurst. Hm, sounds daring. Andrew shares his own common thread with Antonia, as he was also raised by a single mother (who was not Antonia, for the record). Stephanie is nervous and feeling crazy/unhinged while shopping. She's just scraping random goods and putting them into her mystery basket.

At the register, this show suddenly morphs into a screwball comedy, as we watch cheftestant after cheftestant go over budget. Antonia finds herself a measly 23 cents too exorbitant and begins to whittle leaves off from her sprig. Some others follow her lead and all manage to come out fairly unscathed. They then head back to their house for the night to relax and prep for tomorrow. Antonia gives her daughter a call and you just know they're working her fan angle into this. But it's pretty cute to see a softer, less cunning side of Antonia as she chats on speakerphone (and makes the camera's presence known, kudos) to her daughter. She misses her and they exchange cute banter and knock knock jokes, like "Smell mop"..."Smell mop who?" Get it? Smell mah-poo. (It's okay, you can giggle. It won't make you 10 again.) Antonia feels a bit of confidence from this, as her daughter tells her "don't come home until you win". Awww.

Next day completely capitalizes on this. The chefs arrive at the kitchen, where Padma calls in 9 children from the Common Threads program, which teaches kids how to cook. Antonia feels a rush of emotions upon seeing these youngsters, of course, and says that if she gets a girl, she'll just completely lose her so many words. Fortunately for her, she gets a boy (as all the mini sous chefs were assigned to specific contestants). His name is Jeffrey, and he loves to cut food (emo alert), so she allows him to take care of things in the chopping department.

Lisa has Andrew and it reminds her of her girlfriend, who has a kid. Aw, awesome. Lisa has taken over for Jennifer and Zoi, thankfully, because every Bravo show needs at least one gay for the majority of its airtime. It's the truth! Richard has Abigail, and is having fun teaching her--it's bringing out the daddy in him. Spike's got Alex, who cuts himself almost instantly, but impresses Spike by wanting to continue on (after they clean up the wound, of course). Mark and Jesuseta (I hope I spelled that right) work together to make curry, which Lisa instantly notes is a "bad idea" for an accessible and healthy home-based challenge. Tsk, tsk.

Nikki's got Amarice, which reminds her of when SHE was raised by a single parent. I'm getting a good feeling about all of this, suddenly. She's keeping her meal simple but loaded with variety and flavor. It's a tricky challenge, but since this is her skill area, I feel she can definitely pull it off. Dale has managed to garner more attention from me, not to mention eliciting some happiness. He bonds extremely well with his sous chef, Manuel, and tells us how he reminds him of himself when he was a kid whose dreams of pro basketball were crushed when he plateaued at the great height of 5'5". How adorable. For once, Dale drops the d-bag and picks up some balls of sunshine.

Andrew further raises the adorable bar, recounting his youth of being the overweight, unhealthy kid who used to be over 200 pounds, until he started eating healthier food. Awww, where are the pictures of this? And why do I always fall for former fatties? He's also having a fun time with his sous chef. Stephanie, however, once again gets painted as the in-danger person for this challenge. She's planning a dessert and couscous--and something with tomatoes covered in peanut butter. Er....

Tom makes his rounds and meets all the sous chefs. For the most part, everything seems positive. One of the kids is a chopping maniac, and Tom yells "Watch your fingers!" He inquires what another kid likes about cooking, and he says "Um...eating." This episode practically overdoses on the cute. And then, they're ready to present--to the kid chefs and their friends. One by one, they deliver their meals. Richard's chicken skin was deemed unnecessary, Lisa got mixed reviews, Dale needs to be more universal, and Spike's was simple but tasty spaghetti (which his kids loved). Unfortunately, their apples were a bit undercooked and may have undid their main course.

Nikki feels pleased with her meal--and so do the judges! Yay, she's back on top! It's been an uphill battle, but she made it. Smith praises her chicken and vegetable in one dish-dish, stating how he loves one-pot wonders. Gail notes that it was complete and healthy--and outdid Spike's meal. Oh, snap! Mark comes out with his and fails by comparison, as his is too sweet, sugary, without enough protein. Antonia's, however, earns praise for putting her real-life passions into this dish. Andrew also earns compliments for his well-executed meal, but Stephanie disappoints and shows "telltale signs of a restaurant chef not cooking at home enough". Uh-oh.

While the judges make their final decisions, the chefs discuss how much fun they had. Richard comments to us how he'd like to go home and make some babies--or, "little Blaises". Sure, then plant them all on Top Chef Season 32--but hey, the sooner you go home, the better! Padma then comes out and calls Andrew, Nikki, and Antonia. They are the favorites for this challenge! Antonia notes how embarrassing it would be if she can't cook for kids, what with having a daughter and all. Nikki is lauded for having very smart, seasoned, flavorful food and Gail calls her use of brussel sprouts "bold". Andrew made fruit flavorful in a supper dish. And they loved Antonia's dish, calling it delicate for children, yet flavorful for adults. So it's no surprise that the winner of this challenge is...Antonia! Hooray, her first one, and what a great one to start off (hopefully) with.

Of course, bad news is always around the corner. Lisa, Stephanie, and Mark are called out as the judges' least favorites. (Speaking of which, why does it always seem like the girls are the polar extremes in each challenge?) Stephanie's was not simple enough; the peanut butter and tomatoes combination was repulsive; and her couscous was overcooked, which she was aware of. Before Mark can be criticized, he says "I think Tom doesn't like me", to which Tom expresses a look of astonishment. He make his objectivity clear, and then proceeds to tell him that his meal was too sweet, not nutritious, and it lacked enough vegetables. Lisa then gets told that her black beans were bland and underseasoned, which she defends by saying it was accessible and canned. She doesn't take criticism well, but at least gets complimented for making her meal healthy and nutritious.

Lisa feels on the edge, and is sure she's going home. Stephanie feels similarly and is quite anxious. But in the end, the judges decide to send Mark packing. Before he goes, Tom clears up any misconceptions and tells Mark that he does like him and when the reunion episode comes, they'll get a beer and catch up. Mark leaves on a positive note, as I ponder why Richard and Stephanie have escaped elimination for such vile offenses (Richard's scales vs. Zoi's blandness--just add salt; Stephanie's peanut butter tomatoes vs. Mark's lack of protein, etc.)...could Top Chef be planting as much as American Idol? While that may be impossible to answer, I'm nevertheless excited about next week's episode. The drama and stakes look to be more tense than ever, and it seems as if Dale is heading for a d-bag meltdown. Don't miss, as I try to get next week's article back on schedule!

Posted by on May 1, 2008 9:16 PM
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