Sunday, May 25, 2008

Top Chef: Chicago, Episode Eleven: The Global War on Restaurants!

We start this episode with Tim Gunn showing up at the apartments early in the morning:

Tim Gun: "Wake up, designers! We're going on a field trip!"

Nick Verrios: "If it isn't a fabulous penthouse apartment then you can just drop dead."

Just ignore Nick. Tim takes the designers to another Chicago institution. Because if anyone needs to be institutionalized it's the contestants on this show.

The designers have five minutes to make a garment out of fried eggs.

Tim Gun: "You know what I always say: you can't make a garment without breaking a few eggs."

Tom Colicchio: "Cut it out! It's too early in the morning for this crap!"

Well, obviously it's too early for Padma. Sorry, Tom. I'll stop joking around. The chefs have to work the egg station at Denny's.

Lady who owns the Denny's: "It's not Denny's!"

Whatever. Dale and Antonia did a good job and Antonia wins it! She will actually get a real advantage in the elimination challenge. Seriously; it will really be an advantage!

We learn that Tom will not be around for the elimination challenge because he just has better things to do.

Tom: "It's a charity event!"

Yeah, that's what I always say when I'm trying to get out of something, too.

Tom: "Well, you're an asshole. I actually have to go to a charity event."

Fine! So, the chefs have to advertise some phone with a GPS device for absolutely no reason:

Kiefer Sutherland: "Padma's been kidnapped by terrorists and the chefs only have one hour to find her. Minus commercial breaks. Oh, and there's probably some sort of dirty bomb involved."

OK. The chefs find Padma tied up in a warehouse:

Padma: "The only way you can stop the terrorists is by creating a really good restaurant. You must stay the course. You are either with the restaurant or you are against it. Otherwise the terrorists will have already won."

That's right: the Global War on Restaurants is back! So, the chefs have fifteen dollars for food and five million dollars for scented candles from Pier One.

Padma: "Antonia, as winner of the quickfire, you get to choose your teammates."

Oh, my god! That's a real advantage!

Padma: "You sound surprised."

I am! So far, the "advantages" have always sucked but this one is really good!"

Antonia picks Richard and Stephanie to be on her team. Dale thinks that was a good decision:

Dale: "If I were her I wouldn't have picked me either."

Antonia, Richard, and Stephanie are doing fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere. That's a pretty lame-ass theme but I'm sure they'll pull it off.

Team Loser (Lisa, Dale, and Spike) will be totally making kick-ass Asian. A slightly more specific and yet still equally pathetic theme.

So the chefs have 24 hours to create restaurants and also capture al-Qaeda operatives and possibly stop Tom from killing the president at a charity event.

Kiefer Sutherland: "You've never actually seen 24, have you?"


Somehow Team Loser is unable to find any Asian ingredients at Whole Foods. Does Whole Foods really not sell Calrose or a similar variety of rice? I find that hard to believe. But maybe that's why Andrew didn't have rice in his sushi last week. Anyway, they end up buying rice pudding instead! Seriously! They're doomed.

The teams end up with five hours to set up and decorate the restaurants and make all the food. That seems like less time than previous restaurant wars.

Bourdain is in the house!

Bourdain: "Antonia's team is not setting very high expectations so if Dale's team can pull off their menu it will be quite an accomplishment. They won't, of course."

The teams get an extra set of hands. Dale picks Jen and Antonia picks Nikki because she needs someone to roll out pasta.

Team Loser is messing up all their dishes. Dale screws up his guacamole and, for the second week in a row, someone sabotages Lisa's rice.

Lisa: "Son of a bitch! Why is it so hard for me to make a goddamn pot of rice?!"

Lisa starts freaking out because she thinks Dale is freaking out:

Lisa: "I'm not going to be all 'Let's go play baseball!' Know what I mean?"

No. I really have no idea what you're talking about.

Team Antonia's restaurant looks pleasant enough. Everyone loves all their food.

Team Loser's restaurant is pretty tacky looking. Of course, it is decorated from Pier One. The judges hate all the food except for the dumplings and the halo halo.

Spike: "I think I was the best member of our team."

What a shock.

There are no surprises at judges' table. Antonia's team wins. Stephanie wins a trip! Congratulations, Stephanie!

Team Loser loses, of course. Bourdain either loved or hated the decor. I honestly couldn't tell:

Bourdain: "The decor was a major problem because it made me expect that the restaurant would be a place where I wouldn't hope to be delighted by being served a greasy dumpling."

Um . . . what?

Lisa and Dale argue about who grabbed the rice pudding boxes off the store shelf, as if anyone cares. They also argue about everything else.

Spike, of course, took the easy way out by staying out of the kitchen but the judges couldn't actually find anything wrong with his performance so he's safe. Lisa and Dale both made horrible dishes but since Dale chose to be executive chef he gets the blame.

Dale is out. You know what Dale will miss the most? The people. Because he's a people person.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Top Chef: Chicago, Episode Ten: insert tossed salad joke here!

Last week Nikki was asked to pack her knives and go.

We start this week's episode as usual, with the groggy chefs wandering around the house. Stephanie makes the requisite comment about it being too bad that Nikki had to go but, honestly, she doesn't sound that broken up about it. We learn that Dale goes commando under that white chef's coat. Seriously, not even a t-shirt under there? Gross.

Nine out of Ten Top Chef contestants agree: Dale is a little bitch.

Andrew is either going to stab somebody or he's going to make some amazing food. I am so excited to find out which one it will be!

For the quickfire challenge, Padma introduces the guest judge:

Padma: "I'm sure you all remember That Guy."

That Guy: "I'm not That Guy!"

Yeah, you are.

Antonia: "That Guy is really hot!"

That Guy: "I don't want to be That Guy!"

Too bad. Saying you aren't That Guy doesn't change the fact that you're totally That Guy."

Anyway, That Guy tells us how we need to bring the sexy back to salad.

Justine Timberlake: "Fo shizzle!"

Padma: "Salads have fallen on hard times. I'm sure you've noticed that Caesar with alcohol on its breath at 9:00 in the morning or that Waldorf standing in front of Denny's begging for spare change. Well, you have 45 minutes to change all that."

Chefs: "We have 45 minutes to make a salad? Are you serious? Are you sure you don't mean 45 seconds?"

Padma: "No, really; you have 45 minutes. Have fun with it!"

Chefs: "Why are you being so nice to us? We're scared!"

After the chefs get over their shock, they get to work:

Spike: "I'm going to make a salad so good that the entire world will give me a blow job."

Richard: "The word 'salad' is so interesting, I'm going to write a very witty poem about it."

Lisa: "There are people who don't deserve to be here because their personality sucks."

Wow, Lisa's being a little hard on herself. She's not that bad.

Lisa: "I'm not talking about myself, shit-for-brains! My personality is fine!"

Of course it is. My mistake.

That Guy hates the salads made by Richard, Stephanie, and Lisa:

Lisa: "Can you believe that asshole?"

That Guy loves the salads made by Spike, Dale, and Antonia:

Antonia: "Oh, My God! Did you see the way he ate my salad? He's so cute! Do you think he likes me? Does my hair look OK?"

Spike wins! Congratulations on not winning immunity, Spike! Instead of immunity, he wins the opportunity to pick ingredients that nobody else can use:

Spike: "OK, I'm using protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and dairy so you can't use those things. Oh, and I'm using salt so don't even think about using salt."

Actually, he has to be more specific than that so he picks chicken, bread, lettuce, and tomatoes. Those seem like perfectly normal things to pick but he's still defensive:

Spike: "I didn't use those ingredients just to mess with everyone else. It's always been my dream to make something using bread."

The chefs have to make a healthy boxed lunch for police officers because, obviously, they usually just eat donuts.

Lisa is making shrimp. Andrew reminds her that shrimp is really high in cholesterol so Lisa is a little worried even though shrimp isn't unhealthy. Shrimp is higher in cholesterol than chicken but lower than many other foods and may actually help lower cholesterol levels. Ted Allen apologized last season for perpetuating the myth about lobster, which is only high in cholesterol when it is soaking in butter. Anyway, shrimp is perfectly healthy if cooked the right way so I hope the judges don't give her a hard time about it.

Tiffani Faison sneaks into the kitchen and sabotages Lisa's rice by turning the burner up to high.

Tiffani: "Bwahahahahaha!"

The chefs pack up their lunches and take them to the police academy:

Steve Guttenberg: "The new police recruits. Call them slobs. Call them jerks. Call them gross. - Just don't call them when you're in trouble."

The police beat the crap out of Steve Guttenberg. Finally!

Richard: "The question of the day is: do you like donuts?"

Stephanie and Dale are the top two. Dale's bison was good and Stephanie's soup was substantial. Dale wins a bottle of wine and the chance to see where his bottle of wine was raised. Congratulations, Dale!

Spike, Lisa, and Andrew are the bottom three. Spike made an OK chicken salad but Tom didn't like the taste of olives with grapes and all the judges didn't like that the lettuce and tomato were just sitting there in the box (as opposed to singing and dancing like a Burger King commercial). Lisa's rice was undercooked. Andrew made a miniature sushi roll but without rice or anything else that would be good.

Andrew argues with the judges about whether the meal had to be satisfying in addition to being healthy:

Andrew: "Did it say that in the rules?"

Padma: "Yes, actually, it did."

Spike learns that Tom's opinion matters.

Lisa's sparkling personality is showing again:

Lisa: "Look, Padma, you brought me here so why don't you just tell me why I'm here instead of making me guess. Stop wasting my time."

Padma: "Before we begin deliberations, are there any other accusations anyone would like to make?"

Lisa: "Well, I don't want to be That Guy, but someone didn't use a grain."

Sam: "Oh, my God! You're totally That Guy!"

That's right, Lisa takes the title of That Guy from Sam.

Well, we know that Andrew didn't make amazing food so that only means one thing:

Andrew stabs Lisa.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Top Chef: Chicago, Episode Nine: War Bride: or Downing the Ante!

Last week Mark was sent home and the other boys are taking it badly. Spike and Andrew are comforting each other by rolling around in bed. Well, everyone grieves in their own way, right?

Andrew: "Now that Mark is gone, it's going to be a little less entertaining, shall we say?"

I don't know; shall we say that?

Andrew: "We shall."

The women are talking about being women:

Women: "We're here, we're women, get used to it!"

Tom is the guest judge for the quickfire. But before we learn what the challenge is, Padma makes an announcement:

Padma: "This week we are upping the ante; no more immunity!"

Maybe I'm missing something because I don't play poker, but how exactly is that "upping the ante"?

Padma: "Because now there is no immunity!"

Yeah, but how is that raising the stakes? By taking away immunity you are actually lowering the stakes in the quickfire. There's less to win, right?

Padma: "Fine. We're 'downing' the ante. Can we just get on with this? This week we are bringing back two Top Chef favorites: the relay race and restaurant wars. Except that we won't be doing restaurant wars so we are actually only bringing back one Top Chef favorite and I don't know why I said we were bringing back two but it could be because I'm off my medication."

So the chefs split into two teams and they have to prep oranges, artichokes, monkfish, and mayonnaise.

Dale is completely freaking out that the people on his team are not used to whisking mayo by hand because they usually use an electric mixer. Meanwhile, I don't see him offering to do it.

Antonia is up against Lisa with the oranges. Lisa wins that segment. (No pun intented. Really.)

Spike is up against Andrew with the artichokes. Andrew makes up the time so both teams are even.

Dale and Richard tie on the monkfish.

Stephanie is up against Nikki making mayonnaise. Stephanie is faster and her team wins.

Dale has a total meltdown.

I just feel so bad for those poor, hideous monkfish. They gave their lives for a challenge on a cable television show. How humiliating.

Padma: "Well, it is the number one cooking show on cable."

I guess there's some comfort in that.

So, the winning team of Antonia, Andrew, Stephanie, and Richard will get absolutely no advantage in the elimination challenge, for which they will be cooking for a wedding reception.

Padma: "They get to choose whether they cook for the bride or the groom."

Like I said, they will get no advantage. Anyway, we are introduced to Corey and JP. They are getting married:

Andrew: "Oh, my God, why?"

All the chefs seem equally stunned to learn that these two people are getting married. I don't understand; they seem like they will make a lovely couple.

Padma: "The chefs are probably surprised that they have to cater the entire wedding banquet in one day."

Oh, that's probably it.

Padma: "Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you that Corey and JP run their own restaurant and wedding venue so there is no way I expect you to believe that they would be willing to ruin their real wedding banquet by having you prepare it. This entire challenge is completely fake. I mean, the gay couple in the first season was totally believable; but not this."

The winning team goes with the bride. Spike and I were both shocked by that decision. Why would you want to risk getting stuck with a bridezilla?

So, the chefs will be cooking all night. Andrew has a culinary boner:

Andrew: "Working through the night is the perfect challenge for me! I haven't slept since 1994!"

The groom's team of Nikki, Dale, Lisa, and Spike will be making Italian food so Nikki is in charge:

Nikki: "No, I'm not!"

Spike and Lisa are actually being really good team players and are ready to let Nikki tell them what to do. Dale is being a pain, of course:

Dale: "Personally, I hate it when I'm at a party and I have to pick up an hors d'oeuvre with my hand and put it in my mouth and then use a napkin to wipe my hand. Who has that kind of time? I want hors d'oeuvres that can be served intravenously."

Seriously, I can understand why Nikki would not want to deal with telling Dale what to do. But she was obviously in charge so she really needed to take responsibility for things. By taking the lead and then not wanting to make any decisions, she really hurt the team.

Stephanie makes the bride's cake and Lisa makes the groom's cake:

Lisa: "I didn't want the groom's cake to look as nice as the bride's cake."

Tom: "Well, congratulations. It doesn't."

Stephanie's cake is very pretty. I'm impressed. I don't care how it tastes.

Spike: "I have to give it up for the two ladies who made cakes."

Lisa: "Who are you calling a lady?"

The two cakes remind me of the wedding on Frontier House on PBS. Did you see that? apparently, making separate bride's and groom's cakes is a tradition and the families trying to live like nineteenth-century pioneers made two cakes. And they looked a lot like the cakes we have here: the bride's cake was a lovely tiered cake and the groom's was an ugly brown brick. I really enjoyed that show. Sorry for going out on a tangent, there.

OK, so the wedding looks real. It's very convincing.

The groom's team makes bad bruschetta. Everyone blames Dale. The judges don't like Andrew's chicken. But, in general, the judges like most of the bride's food and are not impressed with much of the groom's food.

Judges' Table:

Guest judge: "Catering a wedding is hard, even for someone who is good at it, like me. I can't imagine how hard it was for people who are not as talented and amazing as I am."

The bride's team wins. They love Richard's brisket, Antonia's pizza, and were very impressed with Stephanie's wedding cake. Richard wins but he gives the win to Stephanie, which was pretty nice of him because he didn't know what the prize was going to be:

Padma: "OK, then, Stephanie, you have won a Toyota Highlander!"

Richard: "Son of a bitch!"

Just kidding. The prize is actually a $2,000 gift certificate to Crate and Barrel, which Stephanie then offers to share with Richard, who quickly accepts.

The groom's team lost:

Dale and Spike argue about who did the most work.

Tom: "Who was in charge here?"

Nikki: "Well, it definitely wasn't me, if that's what you're thinking. I had nothing to do with any of this. In fact, I'm not even here right now."

Nikki is out. See? I told you! I predicted weeks ago that, unless she ended up winning the entire thing, she would be sent home at some point. Wow, my psychic abilities are almost frightening!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Top Chef: Chicago, episode eight: I believe the children need a suture!

So, last week Jen finally went to a better place; she's with Zoi now in Top Chef heaven and we can all get on with our lives.

The guest judge for the quickfire challenge is Art Smith, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for feeding Oprah.

The chefs have ninety seconds to microwave a bag of rice.

OK, actually they have fifteen minutes to make a dish using Uncle Ben's microwavable rice:

Padma: "In a restaurant we all have to work together and if someone is too slow blah blah blah so you should make microwave rice and you'll save so much time and blah blah blah Uncle Ben's is a miracle of modern science blah blah blah."

This challenge is really embarrassing but we get some interesting results. Stephanie's rice pancake is "very clever" (but not good); Spike just stuffs the rice into peppers, which really took no effort or creativity but apparently the sauce he used was delicious (I still don't think it's an entree); Andrew's rice-crusted fish is, again, "clever" and it looks really good but, unfortunately, the crust is too crunchy.

Dale and Richard are in the top three but Antonia wins immunity with her "rice and salad":

Antonia: "I was almost committed to an insane asylum for that combination but it's really good!"

Other Eric wants to go on record as saying he knew it would be good. Congratulations, Eric! Oh, I mean Antonia!

For the elimination challenge they are creating dishes for Common Threads, an organization with a mission to "educate children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being, and to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity through cooking." I had to look that up because I did not get that from Padma's explanation. Padma made it sound like it was an organization to get families to eat dinner together, which seems to be only part of their mission. Maybe Padma is thinking of

And I don't see what's so hard about getting the family together for dinner. Just turn the television on and have everyone sit down to watch American Idol. See how easy that was?

So, the chefs have to make a healthy and nutritious dinner for a family of four that is simple to prepare and they have a budget of $10. Well, my first suggestion is to not waste money on stupid microwavable rice. My second suggestion is a can of tuna, a box of Tuna Helper, and you're done. What? That's what I ate growing up and look how I turned out.

Andrew says shopping with $10 is impossible. That's the spirit, Andrew. Dale get sausage because everyone seems to be doing chicken. Stephanie is just randomly throwing things into her basket. Mark is making a vegetarian curry because that's what he makes for his lady when he's strapped for cash. Never mind that the challenge isn't about cooking for your lady when you're strapped for cash; it's about cooking for a family on a regular basis.

The chefs have to pull leaves off their vegetables to cut a few cents off their purchases.

Back at home, Mark is playing his didgeridoo. Even he can't seem to remember that he isn't Australian. I give up.

The kids from Common Threads come in to help the chefs. Antonia is crying:

Antonia: "I just hate children so much!"

Spike's helper cuts himself.

Tom comes in and says he's going to be in the kitchen the entire time even though they are already half done when he gets there. Well, I still appreciate that he's going to be looking at the involvement of the children, which is part of the challenge.

One thing I don't understand is that they seem to be preparing more than four dishes. I thought they had to make dinner for four. But the chefs seem to be plating for eight. That's a lot of food for $10. I think they were given extra food.

Bravo: "What's the hardest part of this challenge? a) a fifteen minute time limit, b) a $10 budget, or c) comparing two things that were not part of the same challenge.

Richard and Abigail made roasted chicken with black beans and an apple, avocado and beet salad. The judges like it. It looks like something that is healthy and nutritious but wouldn't scare children too much.

Lisa and her sous chef Andrew made roasted chicken with edamame and black beans and a dessert of peanut butter and apple on white bread. Because nothing says healthy eating quite like white bread. The judges don't like the chicken dish but they think the dessert tastes good.

Dale and Emmanuel made turkey bratwurst with potatoes, onions, red cabbage and apples. Bravo shows us a shot of a girl saying it's good but I agree with the judges that it is not something most children would eat.

Spike and Alex made pasta alla puttanesca (children love the pasta of Italian whores), carrot soup and not-really-baked apples. The judges love the pasta and, as Tom points out, he really got a lot for his money. Now, I love carrot soup and it's pretty simple to prepare but it seems strange to pair it with that pasta dish and I'm sure kids would just ignore it if it were sitting there next to a plate of spaghetti. I'm also worried some parents would want more protein in their children's dinner.

Nikki and Amaris made roasted chicken and vegetables with a tomato and cucumber salad. The judges love it. It's a very simple dish to prepare so it was a good choice for this challenge. The only thing I question is the tomato and cucumber salad. Kids probably won't eat it and it doesn't really add much nutrition to the meal so it seems unnecessary. She could have gotten some fruit for dessert, instead. But not apples. There are already way too many apples in this episode.

Mark and Jesucita made a vegetable curry with cinnamon rice and cucumber salad. The judges think it is way too sweet and doesn't have enough protein. He should have at least added tofu if he was going to do a vegetarian curry. But it really wasn't a family-friendly dish at all.

Antonia and Jeffry made chicken and vegetable stir-fry with whole wheat noodles. The judges love it.

Andrew and Miguel made chicken paillard with a fennel, apple and orange salad. It looks delicious. I would want some type of starch to go with this dish, though. The judges love it.

Stephanie and Arlynn made couscous with a peanut butter tomato sauce that makes the judges puke.

The chefs all had a good time with the children. It was very sweet. It made Richard want to go home and have sex:

Richard: "Well, that just sounds wrong. What I actually said was I want to go home and make babies."

Isn't that how you make babies? I admit I don't actually know much about the process.

Padma calls in Andrew, Nikki, and Antonia. She's very serious, as usual. Padma, everyone knows they are the top three. It's the exact same thing every week. You can cut the act.

Congratulations to Nikki for being in the top three! I've been predicting her elimination for the past four weeks so good for her for finally bringing it this time. Oh, and I predict she'll be eliminated next week.

But Antonia wins the challenge this week! Congratulations Antonia!

Antonia: "If I hadn't won that challenge, I would have vomited in my mouth."

Hey, didn't she win anything?

Antonia: "Yeah, what's up with that?"

Lisa, Stephanie, and Mark are the bottom three.

Padma asks Mark why he thinks he's there:

Mark: "The only reason I can think of is that the obvious sexual tension between Tom and me makes him uncomfortable."

Tom: "That's ridiculous! I don't know what he's talking about!"

The judges tell Lisa her dish is bland:

Lisa: "God! They act like they've never had bad food before!"

Stephanie is the only one who accepts the criticism:

Stephanie: "I agree that my dish could have been a little less shitty."

Stephanie probably should have been out because her dish was inedible. But I guess the judges' reasoning (other than the fact that they wanted to keep Stephanie) was that Mark's dish not only didn't taste very good but was also a really bad choice for this challenge. Mark is out.

Tom: "Just for the record, Mark, I agree with Spike that your curly hair and accent are absolutely adorable and I'd love to take a bubble bath with you. Did I just say that out loud?"