Top Chef: Soggy Sadness

Top Chef: Chicago
Block Party

The chefs are talking about two chefs being gone and a few of them comment about another woman chef gone. I agreed with the choices about who left so far, but I do hope that a woman chef wins this time around. There has usually been one woman chef in the finale, but they never make it that last step. I’m still for the overall best chef winning, but I always root for the women a bit more. 🙂 I’m still trying to figure out who I liked this season. Antonia is impressive, but I also think Ryan, Richard and Mark are interesting too. I don’t know what to make of Andrew yet since he is such a spaz.

Quickfire Challenge

The guest judge for the episode is Rick Bayless, who is a Chicago chef and owns Frontera Grill & Topolobampo. I read a recap recently where someone asked why there hadn’t been any Chicago guest judges in this season yet since they are in one of the food capitals, and here you go! Padma informs the clueless people at home (me!) that Bayless is responsible for fine dining Mexican restaurants gaining popularity in America. I love Mexican food so I say “Yay!” for that guy.

Their challenge is to take a staple of Mexican cuisine and redefine it as a fine-dining dish. They will be making an upscale taco. Yum! I’m drooling already.

Stephanie is thinking “Oh crap, Mexican food” when she hears about the challenge. Apparently she isn’t good at it. Erik says it bugs him that they are making Mexican food fine dining since it is about the people and the streets. Hrm? Okay, Erik! I haven’t been too impressed with him so far and wondering how he got on the show, but I’m waiting for him to wow me. It hasn’t happened yet.

Manuel feels he has a lot riding on it since he’s Mexican and works in a Mexican restaurant. He equates fine dining with the right ingredients so he decides to use cactus petals, which not many people know how to prepare. Spike says he would not have a taco at a fine dining restaurant so he’s making a “street” taco using ground beef. He knows that is not upscale, but he’s not going to be someone he isn’t. It sounds like he’s going to be someone that doesn’t follow directions and loses the challenge. Mark agrees since he is looking around and seeing a lot of street food. He doesn’t think that is very upscale. I would think you are correct sir!

Andrew is going to use duck and plantain. He also says that he’s going to win Top Chef because he comes up with crazy ideas and is always trying new techniques. Richard latched onto the “reinvent” idea since that is what he always does, so he wants to make a taco that someone wouldn’t even recognize as a taco. He’s making the taco shell out of jicama. Ryan thinks of the taquerias he eats at in San Francisco, so he wants to use fresh ingredients and step it up a bit. He’s making grilled squash tacos.

Chorizo Tacos with Picante Verde,Cilantro & Goat Cheese

Manuel wanted to be traditional with his taco. Padma jokes that it isn’t the first taco that Manuel has made.

Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos with Caramelized Onions, Pineapple & Cabbage Slaw

Rick takes a bite of her taco and can’t bite off a piece of the steak. I hate that! Padma just laughs as he tries to rip it apart with his teeth. Uh oh!

Duck Breast Tacos with Plantain Jam & Cotija Cheese

Even before he tries it, Rick says that one of his favorite tacos in the world is a duck taco. Andrew responds with, “That’s what I’m talking about.” Oh, he’s so weird.

Chipotle Braised Chicken Taco with Avocado, Pomegranate Salsa & Guacamole

It doesn’t look very appetizing, but Rick says they are very traditional flavors. I’m not sure if that is a good thing since they were supposed to reinvent it, but he could have done that and kept traditional flavors.

Ground Pork Tacos with Tomatillo Sauce

Spike asked Rick if he liked it. He said, “If you’re going for street style…” and Spike responded, “Success!” I don’t think so dude!

Grilled Squash Tacos with Stewed Chickpeas

Ryan’s taco was a bit messy so Ryan had to hand off a towel to wipe up Rick’s face.

Jicama Tortillas with Avocado, Papaya & Cilantro Stems

Richard said he thought of it as a perfect starter meal. Then he asked if he could eat one of the three tacos he made. Padma said sure since he made enough for all of them.

Other dishes that were not shown on tv:

Crispy Fish Taco with Warm Tomatillo Salsa, Jalapeno Passilas & Garam Masala

Tuna Tacos

Coho Salmon Taco with Tomatillo Salsa

Taco Muelle Fuelle

Shrimp Taco

Grilled Beef Tenderloin Tacos with Truffle-Poblano Vinegar

Crispy Taco Napoleon with Blackened NY Strip Steak, Seared Scallop & Cactus Salad

Overall Rick said that he thought there were good flavors going on, but he said the challenge was to take the humble taco and turn it around into something that could be served in fine dining. He said a lot of the dishes were street tacos.

The losers:

  • Erik – It looked like a train wreck. It doesn’t look like anything that would be served in fine dining. To the camera, Erik says he doesn’t think Mexican and fine dining go together so Rick can go screw himself. I think that’s pretty insulting to an entire culture there Erik. I hope he gets the boot soon!
  • Lisa – Rick had issue with her skirt steak. He said you never serve it rare since no one can bite through it.
  • Ryan – Rick did not like the piece of paper that Ryan wrapped around his taco on the plate. He said that would never be in fine dining, so for him it wasn’t the food. He got knocked down solely on presentation. Ouch! I guess Erik did too, but he made the food a mess. Ryan just had a piece of paper at the edge of his plate around the end of a taco. Bad move!

The winners:

  • Andrew – When his name was called, I thought he was going to explode again. Oh my god, it’s like he just ate a pixie stick. Rick says his flavors were very refined and the presentation was beautiful.
  • Richard – It was very simple. It tasted like Mexican street food, but the package was pure fine dining.
  • Spike – His food was “super soul satisfying.” He said each bite made you want to come back for another bite. Wow, I called that one wrong!

The overall winner: Richard.

Spike could not believe that Richard won immunity over his taco after it was just described beautifully. I think that Richard got the point of the challenge more than Spike did and that’s why he won. Rick says he is going to take Richard’s taco and put it on his menu at Topolobampo. Richard was thrilled that his taco that had no taco shell won in a taco challenge.

Elimination Challenge

Padma asks the teams to divide themselves up into two teams (red & blue) since they are going on a field trip. The red team: Zoi, Dale, Erik, Andrew, Spike, Ryan and Jennifer. The blue team: Antonia, Richard, Nikki, Lisa, Stephanie, Mark and Manuel.

The teams jump into their cars and end up in a random Chicago neighborhood. Padma tells them that they are going to be creating meals for the neighborhood block party. There will be 40 adults and 70 kids. They won’t be shopping for the challenge. They have to go door to door and collect all the groceries they can from the families that bought food for the party. Tomorrow they will have three hours to prep and cook before heading to the party, but now they can go around and meet the neighbors while taking their food.

The red team sends Ryan and Jennifer to get the food since he’s a pretty boy and speaks well. Andrew also thinks that if they sent Erik, he’d scare people. Ryan and Jennifer find a house where the people just went to the farmer’s market so they lucked out there. Over on the blue team, Nikki and Antonia find a house with a lot of pasta, so Nikki is thinking of making her signature mac and cheese dish she makes at home all the time. Spike and Andrew (who look so much alike even though their personalities are so different), hit the jackpot with a lady who has such a huge pantry. Spike thinks she is ready for a world war with her food supply.

After getting all their food, the two teams discuss what they can make. On the blue team, Richard and the crew decide they want to go upscale, but not make it “white tablecloth” upscale. They just want it to be food people are familiar with, but with an added “wow” factor. He doesn’t want just hot dogs and hamburgers. Over on the red team, they are talking about hot dogs. Spike said that they should make different kinds of toppings for the hot dogs and elevate it a bit. Zoi says because there will be so many kids there, they want to do classic Americana with tiny corn dogs and sliders. I think that both teams have good ideas and just different ways of going about it.

Blue Team
Antonia, Richard, Nikki, Lisa, Stephanie, Mark, Manuel

They decided to make a menu where each person works on one item.

  • Paella – Richard
  • Slaw – Lisa
  • BBQ Pulled Pork – Manuel
  • Bean Salad – Antonia
  • Inside-Out Cookie – Mark
  • Sexy Drink – team effort
  • Fruit Cobbler – Stephanie
  • Mac & Cheese – Nikki

Nikki has Velveeta cheese as her main ingredient for her dish. She says the challenge is to make it into a sauce that doesn’t coagulate when they get there. Richard is making a paella, which he says is great, but not typical block party food. He hopes it doesn’t come back to bite him. He does have immunity though. On the day of block party, Stephanie wanted to change her dish from a fruit cobbler to more of a streusel-type dessert.

When Tom stops by to check on the teams, he asks Nikki what she is making. She points at her mac & cheese, which looks almost done. She said Manual and Stephanie are making a sexy drink with lavender and some other stuff in it and they would be carbonating it on site. Tom asks what makes it sexy. Nikki responds the lavender does. Tom is amused that lavender is considered sexy.

Red Team
Andrew, Spike, Zoi, Dale, Erik, Ryan and Jennifer

The team decided on a menu together and then had one person in charge of making each item:

  • Sliders – Jennifer
  • Corn Dogs – Erik
  • Pork Skewers – Dale
  • Sangria – Andrew
  • Waldorf Salad – Ryan
  • Pasta Salad – Zoi
  • Taco Salad – Spike
  • S’Mores – made on the spot with a portable burner

There is no team leader. Erik is working on corn dogs because he is used to making them at his restaurant. He feels bad for Zoi since she got stuck with pasta salad because everyone else picked the thing they wanted to make. I’m wondering why she couldn’t make something else if she didn’t want to make that and no one else really did either. Dale is concerned that they are not being as elegant as they should be, but I guess he didn’t voice this concern with anyone else.

Tom asks Erik why mini corn dogs is the winning dish. He says everyone is putting their heart into it. He does mention that he makes lobster corn dogs at his restaurant so it isn’t a new thing for him. Tom talks to Ryan and Jennifer about what they are making. Ryan says he is making waldorf salad, but since it is going to be so hot, he didn’t make it with mayonnaise like his grandmother did, but with a balsamic vinaigrette. Tom says that the mayo is what keeps everything fresh. Ryan looks panic-stricken. Jennifer says they had some apples for a creamy element. Apples are creamy? What?

When everyone is packing up, Nikki talks again about her mac and cheese sitting in the hot box in transport and then sitting at the block party. The sauce could dry up. Erik is concerned about the corn dogs getting soggy in the hot box and it is not the ideal way to transport crispy items. Don’t people think of this when they come up with their menu items? Padma tells them exactly what is going to happen with preparing and transporting food. Silly people.

Blue Team
Antonia, Richard, Nikki, Lisa, Stephanie, Mark, Manuel

Ted and Padma made the rounds for a few blue team items.

Paella with Clams, Oysters, Sausage & Shrimp

Ted is glad that there is sausage in there somewhere since it is a block party.

Barbecue Pulled Pork & Chicken Sandwich, Ribs with Mexican Chocolate Barbeque Sauce

Ted liked that Mexican chocolate was used in one of the BBQ sauces.

Mixed Fruit Crumble with Cinnamon Sugar Wontons

Ted liked the idea of the cinnamon sugar wontons. Ted seemed to just like getting food in general.

Rick and Tom paired up to try the rest of the blue team food.

Macaroni & Cheese Topped with Bacon & Breadcrumbs

Rick asked what kind of pastas she found in people’s houses. She had elbow and farafelle.

Cookie in a Cookie

Mark made a cookie with the outside of the Oreo and then took the inside of it and made a cream for a happy face on the top. Rick loved the look of it.

Team Effort
“Sexy Drink” with Citrus, Pineapple, Mint, Lavender & Soda Water

No comment was really made when Tom grabbed the drink and walked away.

Other blue team items that were not shown on tv:

Bean Salad

Lisa’s slaw was not shown or talked about in any capacity.

Red Team
Andrew, Spike, Zoi, Dale, Erik, Ryan and Jennifer

Padma and Ted finished their blue team food and headed over for some red team nibbles.

Taco Salad with Chorizo, Avocado, Shrimp, Jalapeno, Cabbage & Lime Dressing

Spike said it was a cold taco salad. Is that good? I don’t know, but I’ve never tried it.

Mini Sliders with Bacon & Provolone Cheese Sauce

Ted asked if they had steamed their sliders. Jennifer assured him they were grilled and there are grill marks on them.

Grilled Pork Skewers with Pineapple & Smoked Red Curry Barbecue Sauce

Padma and Ted seemed very impressed that Dale made his own bbq sauce.

Team Effort
S’Mores Lollipops

The twins, Andrew and Spike, were demonstrating how they flambe the marshmallow. Padma enjoyed hers, but she dropped half of it on Ted’s shoe.

It was now time for Rick and Tom to make the rounds for the rest of the food.

Waldorf Chicken Salad

Spike was selling it as a classic.

Corn Dogs with Pomegranate Ketchup & Spicy Mustard

They pointed out that everyone wants corn dogs at a block party. They also showed off their dip bar, which was huge.

Other red team items that were not shown on tv:


Pasta Salad

The block party guests were eating the food. One lady really liked the pork skewers that Dale made. The same guest was most disappointed in Richard’s paella. One guy really liked Jennifer’s sliders. Another guy thought maybe he took too long to get to Erik’s corn dogs, but he found them a bit soft overall. Another woman thought Stephanie’s fruit dessert was to die for. She found it really refreshing and elegant.

Judges’ Table

Back in the kitchen, the blue team gets called in first. Before this, the red team was super confident in their dishes, but start to second guess themselves when they aren’t called in first. Andrew says it means nothing who was called in first and they nailed it. Spike agrees. Ryan, Jennifer and Erik aren’t really buying into it.

When they get in there, Tom said it was very close between the two teams, but overall, he found many things wrong with the team. He said after the first two challenges, he expected a lot more from the chefs.

Padma asked if there was a leader for the team. Nikki said they worked as a team with no need for a leader. Rick asked what was her dish, and she responded, “the lovely mac and cheese.” Rick said it seemed like she didn’t know what to do with the Velveeta cheese. Nikki said it turned out really well, but it hardened when it sat out too long. Rick corrected her that it turned into a brick.

Tom told Richard that his paella was not a paella. Richard looked stunned, but said, “Okay.” Tom said they were expecting a crusty top and bottom, but what they got was rice pilaf. Richard asked if it tasted okay and Tom said the flavors were fine, but they were concerned if he knew what a paella really was. Richard said that the best part of a paella is the crunchy part at the bottom of the pan. Tom seemed satisfied.

They asked Stephanie what she was in charge of and she said she conceptualized the dessert and worked on the drink. There was a super long pause before Padma said that they loved the dessert and they were the winning team by a very small margin. They were overthrilled with winning, even if it was barely. Tom told Antonia that the bean dish had great flavors and Padma started raving about the dessert and the wonton. Padma said that dessert was why the team won and Stephanie was the winner of the challenge. She seemed taken aback and then thanked them.

Stephanie has now won two challenges. Nice!


When Stephanie comes out to tell the red team that she was the winner, they were shocked. Probably not for her winning, but that meant they were the losing team. Once in front of the judges, Padma told them they were the weaker team. She asked Ryan what he thought brought them there and he said that he honestly couldn’t tell her. Spike agreed and said he thought they kicked the other team’s ass.

Padma asked if they thought that was a good corn dog. Erik said that it was the best he could do with hot dogs. Eh? Rick told him they all tried it and it was a “universal disappointment.” Now that is an awesome putdown. Erik blamed transporting it on why his corn dogs were soggy. Ted pointed out that they knew they were going to be transporting it. Zoi spoke up and said they wanted them there because it was middle America with kids. Tom commented that was fine, but it did not mean they needed to dumb down what they did.

Ted asked Ryan if he thought the salad held up. He said he put it out in spurts where the blue cheese was on ice and everything was assembled there. Rick commented that when he thinks of Waldorf salad everything is crunchy and crispy, but there was so much chicken in it, he found it to be soggy.

Spike pointed out that the four judges have great palettes and they were cooking for the neighborhood that might not have as sophisticated tastes. Ted said they could make a jelly donut or something fancy sounding (I can’t spell what he said), but the judges can tell if the chefs made something the best it could be made. Spike still tried to sell the judges on his team saying they tasted everyone’s food and their team “made” the block party. Tom’s comment was if they all tasted Zoi’s pasta salad, and if they all thought it was good, then they all have poor palettes since it was oily and bland. Ouch!

When Tom said they had great camaraderie as a team, someone was going home, Andrew spazzed and said they would have to drag him out with security guards since he wasn’t going anywhere. This was his house! Okay, spazzoid. Since they didn’t bring up his sangria as horrible, I’m guessing he is safe.

They sent them out to discuss who would go home. Tom was shocked that they were surprised they lost. Ted brought up how they said they were selling to the crowd and not the judges. Rick said that good food sells to everyone. They discussed the weakest food items. Rick said that Ryan’s Waldorf salad was so heavy with moist chicken that it watered down the dressing and became a soggy mess. Erik’s corn dogs looked great and probably tasted great right when he made them, but he knew they would be steamed in transport and still made them. Zoi’s pasta salad was a disaster. Rick said if you could go to a grocery store and buy a pasta salad that is more satisfying, that’s saying a lot right there. Ted said he realizes it is not the dish she wanted to make, but it was her dish.

They called them back in. Tom told them the challenge was pretty simple. Ryan’s salad became a watery, unseasoned, unfocused dish. Zoi was stuck with a pasta salad, but with her talent, it should have been better. Erik knew that his corn dogs would not hold up for two hours after being made, so he shouldn’t have made them. Erik was asked to pack his knives and go. Hey, it was who I wanted to leave at the beginning of the episode!

Photo Source: Top Chef


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One thought on “Top Chef: Soggy Sadness

  • March 31, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    I think this is the first episode that I would actually have wanted to eat most of the foods. I love the taco challenge! I love crazy tacos very much so I think I would have tried all of them except the fish ones, and maybe the duck one, if they put all cojita cheese instead of duck I would love it!
    I am sad the tiny corn dogs didn’t win, but I agree that soggy is bad. I was very excited about the smores. I also thought it was very funny that the had to get food from the people, they would have been sad if they came to my house!

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