Lions, Penguins & Bears…Oh My!

Top Chef: Chicago
Zoo Food

I haven’t been a super big fan of the team challenges in the past, but I am enjoying them this time around. I like that they show them working together, but they still have a chance to make a dish on their own so they can showcase or fail on their own.

Quickfire Challenge

The challenge is to create an entree using fresh ingredients from the Green City Farmer’s Market, but they can only use five ingredients total for their dish. Salt, pepper, sugar and oil will not count as one of the five ingredients. Any other item, even items found in the Top Chef pantry will count as one of the five ingredients. They had 30 minutes and $25 to shop.

Mark is getting very stressed out by the time limit while Spike is lounging around listening to a local guitarist play. Mark gets fed up by long lines or vendors taking too long to get to him, throws down whatever he is holding and runs off elsewhere. Spike has the attitude that he’ll spend his time at the farmer’s market like he always does, which is very leisurely. If he doesn’t do well on the quickfire, then he’ll do well on the elimination challenge. Mark was so harried that he paid one vendor, got his change and ran off before he got his bag of stuff he just bought. Freak!

Back in the kitchen, they are introduced to the guest judge for the challenge, Wylie Dufresne, the chef/owner of wd-50 restaurant. He is a molecular gastronomist. Richard also calls himself one of these crazy chef people.

Richard is making a classic dish with molecular gastronomy to give it a little twist. He’s making braised chicken legs flavored with the eucalyptus he picked up at the market. He says that molecular gastronomy is not just “whiz bang gizmos”, but taking traditional items and using science to make them better.

Mark left behind his lettuce, so he is going to replace it with butter. He said it will enrich the other ingredients he picked up at the market. Spike thought he picked up tenderloin tips, but the meat ended up looking like dog meat. I guess lounging around was not the way to go at the market!

“Chicken Soup” with Chicken, Apples, Apple Cider, Eucalyptus, Butter

Padma seems a bit wary with the eucalyptus and asks if you can eat it. Richard says you can in small amounts, but he used it to add aroma to the dish. Wylie said the eucalyptus is subtle.

Lettuce, Radishes, Potatoes, Sirloin Steak, Dijon Mustard

Wylie said it was properly cooked, simple and nice.

Mushrooms, Shallots, Radishes, Eggs, Butter

Wylie said the mushrooms were great. It was very nice.

Rib Eye Steak, Peaches, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Arugula

Wylie said it was refreshing and very juicy.

Tenderloin Tips, Apples, Bread, Apple Cider, Rosemary

Spike tells them that he thought he would get tips and was surprised when he opened the package. I’m thinking that it proves he didn’t pay attention to what he bought. Wylie started to cut into it, saying he thought it was going to be a sandwich. Padma agreed. He said it would have been a good sandwich and Spike agreed.

Lamb Chop, Baby Carrots, Potatoes, Mint, Garlic

No extra comments besides “Thank you.”

Sirloin Steak, Turnips, Mushrooms, Peaches, Butter

Mark said he left some lettuce at the market, but didn’t think the dish needed it afterall. Wylie really liked the turnips and peaches. He also complimented Mark on his sideburns.

Lamb Chops, Peaches, Onions, Mint, Potatoes, Balsamic Vinegar

Andrew described the dish and Padma caught on that he used six ingredients. Andrew thought vinegar was one of the ingredients that didn’t count. He was disqualified and called himself an idiot.

Other dishes that were not shown on tv:

Seared Ribeye with Celery Root Gratin & Brussels Sprout Leaves

Pepper-Crusted Sirloin Steak, Heirloom, Peppers, Toasted Garlic & Tomato

Ribeye Steak, Beets, Fingerling Potatoes

Lamb Stuffed Anaheim with Cipollini Mint Marmalade

Vegan Entree

Grilled New York Strip with Turnips & Apples

Grilled Hen of the Woods Mushrooms with Kabocha Squash Puree, Sauteed Purple Kale & French Chestnuts

Padma asked Wylie who his bottom three were:

  • Spike – The beef wasn’t what he was expecting, but that gave him an opportunity to be creative and he wasn’t.
  • Erik – It was not a composed plate. It was a piece of meat, a row of carrots and a group of potatoes.
  • Richard – He was pulling for him, but the dish was too oily. He thought it could have been refined a bit. Richard told the camera later that he thought Wylie would appreciate he went in a different direction. I am thinking who cares about the direction, it still has to taste good, so if it is too oily, it is too oily.

Padma asked who stood out to Wylie:

  • Ryan – The dish was moist, juicy and well done. It was well executed.
  • Valerie – She managed to pull a lot of flavor out of those few ingredients.
  • Mark – The bitterness of the turnip played off the sweetness of the peach nicely.

The overall winner of the Quickfire Challenge was Mark. Wylie really liked the way he dealt with leaving something behind, since that has all happened to us before. He is now immune from being eliminated.

Elimination Challenge

Padma has all the chefs pull knives out the block. Manuel goes first and his knife says vulture. Everyone is confused and a bit petrified. Manuel doesn’t think anyone is going to want to eat vulture. Dale is next and pulls out bear. Antonia is trying to figure out what part of a bear you could braise. Ryan pulls out lion. Richard gets lion too. Andrew is spazzing to the camera about how he’s a lion and he wants a lion and blah blah blah. Then he pulls out penguin. He thinks it is awesome that he’s going to cook a penguin. Antonia pulls out gorilla and knows it is illegal to cook gorilla so she knows they are not cooking these animals. The rest of the chefs pull out the knives and get into groups of three based on their animals.

The teams will be catering the staff of the Lincoln Park Zoo. There will be 200 guests. The main catch is that each team has to base their dishes around the main diet of their animals. Zoi is wondering what the main diet of a vulture would be: rotting carcasses or road kill. They have three hours to prep and cook the following day before heading out to the zoo. Their food budget is $500. The teams have the rest of the day to read from an outline of what their animals eat and to figure out what they want to make.

Team Vulture
Manuel, Mark and Zoi

The diet of the vulture:

  • Quail
  • Rabbits
  • Small Fish
  • Chickens
  • Lamb

Mark said it was similar to his own diet.

Team Gorilla
Antonia, Stephanie and Valerie

The diet of the gorilla:

  • Leafy Greens
  • Root Vegetables
  • All Fruits
  • Eggs
  • Corn
  • Wheat/Oats/Soy Beans

Antonia and Stephanie were throwing out ideas and Antonia noticed Valerie was a little quiet. The first two wanted to add meat into the meals and figured that would be okay if they incorporated the diet food into it. Valerie wasn’t too sure of that, but decided to go ahead with it.

Team Lion
Erik, Richard and Ryan

The diet of the lion:

  • Beef Steaks / Ribs
  • Buffalo / Bison
  • Beans
  • Chicken
  • Eggs

Richard talked about some gizmo he brought that he could use on the chicken.

Team Penguin
Andrew, Lisa, and Jennifer

The diet of the penguin:

  • Crabs
  • Squid
  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Shrimp

Lisa said they can do crab cakes and ceviche.

Team Bear
Dale, Nikki, and Spike

The diet of the bear:

  • ?? no idea

They never showed the list and didn’t talk about the food much. Nikki mostly talked to the camera about how she had to prove herself more as a woman in a male-dominated field. Dale talked about how he doesn’t like working in groups, since he is still trying to be Hung Part Deux.

On the day of elimination, the teams shared their menus:

Team Gorilla
Antonia, Stephanie and Valerie

  • Lamb & Edamame Lettuce Cups
  • Banana Bread
  • Crab Salad on Celery Root Chip
  • Black Olive Blinis with Mascarpone

Stephanie runs her own restaurant, but has never catered for 200 people before. She is nervous, excited and confident with her group. Antonia is not sure about Valerie’s dish since she isn’t sure she can pull off making 200 blinis and plate them before heading over there.

Team Lion
Erik, Richard and Ryan

  • Bison Tartare
  • Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Foam
  • Chicken Sate
  • Prime Rib with Horseradish Foam

Richard said the prime rib was going to be itsy bitsy “Honey I Shrunk the Prime Rib” tiny, except when it came time to show the food later on, they never showed it. Hrm…

Team Bear
Dale, Nikki, and Spike

  • Venison Loin with Squash
  • Seared Salmon
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Cheese & Honeycomb on Bread

When they were at the store, Nikki was talking about they needed some decor and they had to put some of the food items back since they could not have a bare table. She said that food was the most important, but table presentation was also important. Dale said he was a chef and not an interior designer. I’m with Dale on this one.

Team Penguin
Andrew, Lisa, and Jennifer

  • Thai Shrimp & Crab Salad
  • Roasted Zucchini
  • Squid Ceviche
  • Yuzu & Mint “Glacier”

Andrew said he had a thickening agent that would work at room temperature so he used it with the ice to make some kind of jello mold thing to go with the penguin theme. Lisa thought it was cool and Andrew wanted it to be a nice cleanser before someone moves onto the next table.

Team Vulture
Manuel, Mark and Zoi

  • Braised Chicken on Tostada Chip
  • Moroccan Lamb Meatball
  • Anchovy on Quinoa Croquette

Tom stops by and asks Manuel what he thinks about having Mark on the team when he has immunity. Manuel thinks he is strong addition to the team so he is fine.

Spike is checking out Andrew’s glacier mold. He’s unsure about it, but he doesn’t know much about the molecular stuff so it could win big points if it turns out. Dale is worried about his team’s mushrooms since they do not look good and only taste okay. They look like burned pieces of poop to me. Nikki is saying they should just take them and see what they think when they get there. I am not sure how she thinks they are going to improve by moving, but okay. Stephanie was trying to put the crab salad on the chips but they were soggy. They threw them back into the fryer and realized they had not been cooked all the way through the first time. She is worried that some stupid mistake like that might send her home.

They arrive at the zoo and have one hour to set up before the event begins. Dale is saying they need to make a decision on the mushrooms now. Nikki is saying they just have to make them pretty. I have made stuffed mushrooms before and they were pretty out of the oven. I don’t understand. Dale is adding cheese to them, saying he is adding “perfume to a pig.” Valerie is still unsure about the blini. She would have rather made them on the site, but it is her dish so she is going to make the best of it. She is more worried about the celery chips, which are still soggy. Stephanie doesn’t want to serve them. They decided to improvise and put a pea shoot down with the crab on top of it and they are serving crab salad. Done!

The party begins with guest judges Wylie, Tom and Gail Simmons. One guest says something is good and I think they are at the penguin table. Over at the bear table, one person bit into a mushroom and they were cold so the team decided to pull them.

Team Lion
Erik, Richard and Ryan

Beet Salad with Yuzu, Ras Al Hanout & Goat Cheese Foam

Wylie really liked the beet salad.

Bison Tartare with Tarragon Coulis

Gail said it was seasoned very nicely. Other people were saying the bison was their favorite.

Chicken Sate

Gail really liked the spices in the chicken.

Team Vulture
Manuel, Mark and Zoi

Marinated Anchovy on a Quinoa Croquette

Mark talked about how anchovies are not a big seller by themselves. Gail loved the bite and Padma enjoyed the acidity to it. Guests were impressed with the anchovy.

Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Meatball, Ricotta, Pomegranate Syrup & Pistachio

Padma said it was delicious. Gail loved the sauce and the colors. Guests were saying the meaball was fantastic.

Braised Chicken on Tostada Chip

His dish wasn’t shown or talked about on the show.

Team Gorilla
Antonia, Stephanie & Valerie

Roasted Pear & Crab Salad with Celery Root

Tom asked what happened to the chips and Antonia explained that they were soggy so they removed them. Wylie told Tom that he thought it sounded very interesting, but it didn’t follow through.

Black Olive Blini with Fennel Mascarpone, Rutabaga & Beets

While Valerie was explaining the dish, Wylie said it sounds delicious. Tom was already eating it and said “Yeah, sounds.” Wylie asked if they made them ahead of time and then did not look too approvingly at the answer.

Lamb & Edamame in Lettuce Cups

Wylie came over when Padma and Gail were shoving the lettuce cups in their faces saying that the lamb was really good. Gail agreed and loved the spices.

Banana Bread with Salted Caramel Sauce & Meringue

Wylie was a fan of the banana bread and encouraged Padma and Gail to try it.

Team Bear
Dale, Nikki, and Spike

Chimay Cheese & Honeycomb on Cranberry-Pecan Bread

Gail & Padma loved the cheese and honeycomb. Gail said the bread was just the right size.

Salmon a la Plancha on Lettuce Cups with Pickled Vegetables & Peanuts

Padma made a face when she was eating it, but that could have been her trying to get it off the skewer or the flavor. Hard to tell.

Mushrooms Stuffed with Blueberries, Walnuts & Pecorino Cheese

Gail and Padma asked about the mushrooms. Nikki told them that they were not as hot as they would have liked so they pulled them, but she would let them try them. She said the same to Tom and Wylie when they came by and Tom joked after she said they were not as hot as they would like, “But we’ll give them to you anyway.” Spike thought she never should have gave them to the judges and said they pulled them. She should have left them alone. Tom told Wylie that the cheese (that they added to make them not look like turds) got in the way of the other flavors.

Venison Loin with Squash

This dish was not shown or discussed on the show.

Team Penguin
Andrew, Lisa, and Jennifer

Yuzu & Mint “Glacier”

Tom tried it, smacks his gums, and said “Okay, let’s have food now.”

Squid Ceviche with Soy-Balsamic Tapioca

Wylie said it was very nice.

Thai Shrimp & Crab Salad with Watercress

She said it had quite a kick and it looked like Wylie and Tom agreed.

Roasted Zucchini

Her dish was not shown or discussed on the show.

Random guests were asked their favorite teams. One lady said penguin was her favorite because they incorporated fish very purposefully. Another guy loved the gorilla station except for the olive pancake which tasted a little bit like dirt. Ouch! Another lady didn’t like the teams that strayed too far away from what the animals ate. She liked the ones that stayed true to the animal diets.

The judges talked a bit about what they liked and didn’t like. Wylie really liked the beet salad that Ryan put together. Tom thought the entire vulture team was strong. They weren’t big fans of the gorilla team, especially the cold blini and the tasteless crab salad. Everyone was unimpressed with the mushroom from the bear team with the cheese that killed it. Padma loved the squid and tapioca from the penguin team and Wylie said that was probably his favorite dish.


Padma called in Teams Vulture and Penguin. Tom raved about Mark’s anchovy dish. He also said Zoi’s meatball was well flavored and well executed. For Team Penguin, they liked that the glacier was fun and how there was a black and white theme carried throughout. Andrew said he wanted to try something different that was also edible. Padma and Wylie pointed out they loved the squid dish. Wylie liked the different textures. I think Andrew was going to pee his pants with excitement from one of his chef heros liking his dish. Wylie picked the overall winner as Andrew.


Teams Gorilla and Bear were called in, which meant that Team Lion was middle of the road. Tom said they had to pick the three worst dishes and that’s why they called in two teams. Oops! The three worst dishes:

  • Nikki – mushrooms
  • Valerie – blini
  • Stephanie – crab salad

Padma asked Dale what he thought went wrong with the mushrooms. He said that he thought they looked like poop. Nikki said the problem was they couldn’t decide if they were going to serve them or not. I was thinking that was her issue since she was the one that said to bring them when Spike and Dale were ready to leave them behind in the kitchen. Dale said he tried to make them prettier with the cheese and Tom said the cheese killed it. Padma asked Dale if he tasted the mushrooms after adding the cheese and he said no. Nikki said she wasn’t aware that making the mushrooms prettier made them worse. She said she didn’t taste them either. Padma wanted to know who was responsible for the dish. Nikki said it was a group effort, which means, she is responsible in take-no-responsibility speak. Dale said he wanted to pull the dish. Dale said he did not produce the dish, but Nikki did.

Stephanie was shaking her head and said she was not happy with her crab salad. She said she pre-mixed it, which made it watery. Tom pointed out she had an hour before serving at the place. Stephanie agreed and said she didn’t know why she did that.

Valerie said she wished she could have made the blinis to order, but that didn’t happen and what she tried to do fell short. Tom said the preparation wasn’t everything. He thought the rutabaga overpowered everything. He thought it was undercooked. Gail wanted a connection between the dry blini and the crunchy vegetables on top. Valerie pointed out the fennel mascarpone in between, but Gail said she missed that connection.

They asked Antonia if the two on her team made their dishes for a job in her restaurant who would she hire. After a pained expression on her face, she said Stephanie. Valerie looked hurt. The teams were sent out.

Judges’ Table

Tom said Valerie’s dish was not very good. Wylie said that blinis have to be cooked and served, not made hours beforehand and everyone knows that. Duh! Both Wylie and Tom commented again on the rutabaga being so bad. Tom said that due to Stephanie salting her dish hours ahead of time, it drew out the moisture and made it into a mushy mess. He said she knew what she did was wrong so I think that might have saved her. Wylie said Stephanie bailed herself out with the banana bread. Gail asked what was worse with the mushrooms–Nikki who made the mushrooms and stuffing or Dale who made them worse by adding cheese. And then neither one of them tasted them. Wylie said that if someone doesn’t taste their food, they shouldn’t even continue in the competition, and the entire team was guilty of it.

The teams are called back in. The bear team was there because of the stuffed mushroom dish. Tom said that they felt Nikki was responsible for the dish. They were cold and underseasoned, but the worse part was no one on the team stood behind the dish. The crab salad was dressed too soon and the blini should be made to order and Valerie should know that. The flavor combination also did not work well. Valerie was told to pack her knives and go. I was not surprised and thought she would be the one to go, but wouldn’t have been surprised if Nikki went either. I keep expecting Nikki to leave soon.

Photo Source: Top Chef


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