Top Chef: Bland Elements

Top Chef: Chicago
The Elements

Here is a quick run down on the two challenges:

  • Quickfire Challenge: Identify the higher quality ingredient in a blind taste test.
  • Elimination Challenge: Create a first course inspired by one of nature’s four elements: earth, fire, water and air.

Quickfire Challenge

The guest judge for the episode was Ming Tsai, Chef/Owner, Blue Ginger Restaurant in Chicago. Lisa was very excited about him being there since she loves cooking Asian food, which is his specialty. The quickfire challenge would be a taste test. Ming said that if a cook does not have a good palette and they cannot figure out what tastes good, then they should just pack up their knives and go. Antonia told the camera that she loves the blind taste test challenge when she has watched the show, so she has just been waiting for it.

The actual test would be tasting two different kinds of 15 different ingredients. Each ingredient would have a lower and a higher quality and each person will have 20 seconds to pick which one is higher quality. Examples of ingredients: syrup, pork, crab, soy sauce, olive oil, caviar, butter, sake.

Andrew and Lisa complained about how hard it is to do without seeing the food. Dale sailed through all the Asian ingredients, but I guess he didn’t do so well in other areas. Richard said whoever was in the bottom three should be embarrassed.

When it was all said and done, the person that scored the lowest with 6 out of 15 correct was Stephanie. There was a tie- for runner up, which was Ryan and Jen, with 11 out of 15. The best palette with 12 out of 15 correct was Antonia. She had immunity from the elimination challenge.

Elimination Challenge

The chefs were cooking for the Meals on Wheels Chicago Celebrity Chef ball. It was catered by Chicago’s best-known chefs who wouldl be preparing the second through fourth courses. The Top Chefs were in charge of the setting the tone for the meal by creating the first course. Ming’s advice was to keep it simple, execute it perfectly, and taste taste taste. The theme of the event was the elements: earth, fire, water, and air. They were broken up into four teams by drawing knives to decide who will be working on which element for 80 guests. Once the teams were picked, they only had 15 minutes to plan their menu before they headed out to go shopping with $500.

The Teams:

Team Water
Andrew, Mark & Richard

Team Air
Jen, Nikki & Ryan

Team Earth
Antonia, Spike & Zoi

Team Fire
Dale, Lisa & Stephanie

Team Water felt confident and looked like they have a good team. Andrew had worked with Richard before so he knew he liked to step up to be the executive chef of the team. Team Air thought about using birds to go with air, which Nikki didn’t get. Oh why is she still here? On Team Earth, Spike wanted to do a butternut squash soup, but Antonia doesn’t think it is high enough quality, especially if they have a $500 budget. She said she would make it if they both wanted to make it, but Zoi said they should make something else besides soup. Antonia suggested beef carpaccio.

On Team Fire, they could not make up their mind on what to do. Stephanie brought up grilling something for the fire element. Dale says they could do a beef tartare, which Lisa shoots down. He comes up with a deviled egg idea, which Stephanie liked, but Lisa thought was weak. To the camera later, Dale does not like Lisa. He finds her too negative. I am finding her that way too, and even though Dale was so confident and annoying in the first episode or two, I don’t see that coming across when he deals with the other chefs. He seems open to trying other ideas, and at times doesn’t speak up enough to give his point of view. He usually stays quite unless he is on a losing team, and then blames others on his team, even though he never brought up his concerns earlier. At least Lisa was bringing up her concerns. With all this drama on Team Fire, I was thinking that they are going to be the losing team for being so unorganized or they would win just to make it a twist. Why else would the camera be spending so much time on them?

At the grocery store, Team Earth was still arguing over soup. Spike thought Antonia should step back since she had immunity. Zoi agreed with both Spike and Antonia’s idea and didn’t seem to have her own opinion. Spike finally gave up and they went with the beef carpaccio.

Team Fire didn’t know what to buy since they couldn’t make up their mind on what to do. Dale thew an idea out there that Lisa said she liked, but didn’t like. Huh? She wanted to go Asian, but Dale didn’t. Normally, I would think Lisa needs to make something else besides Asian because that’s what she always does, but I agree with her point that she should make something that way due to the guest judge being Ming Tsai. Stephanie finally stepped up and threw out shrimp with a spicy marinade as an idea and they all agreed on it. That gave Dale an idea about a pickled chili salad that could go with the shrimp and also gave Lisa an idea of making a thick cut bacon with a miso glaze that could go with the shrimp. Yeah for Stephanie!

On Team Earth, Antonia is in charge of all the prep. She was peeling and slicing the mushrooms and veggies. Spike was slicing the beef carpaccio while also being in charge of the aioli. Zoi was cooking the mushrooms and assembling the salad. On Team Water, Richard was in charge of poaching the salmon, Mark was making a parsnip puree and watercress salad, and Andrew was making his faux caviar again! Why Andrew? You are becoming a one-note joke with the faux caviar. Make something else. On Team Fire, Stephanie was making the spicy marinade for the shrimp, Dale was making the pickled chili salad and Lisa was doing some method of overlapping while making the bacon so they would fuse together. After they are done, she was putting a miso-flavored baste over the bacon that would change the flavor of the bacon, but tie into their entire dish. On Team Air, Nikki and Jen were working on the duck breast while Ryan was making the citrus salad and was in charge of the pomegranate drink.

While prepping, Lisa was yelling about everything and anything. Dale called it observational negativity about everything sucking. Lisa said she was being a bitch since she wants everything to be perfect. We haven’t really seen perfect from her yet, so I don’t know what happened in episodes past. Ryan forgot to save some of the pomegranate juice for the drink after he gets all the seeds out of it for the salad, so they had to use something else for it. Nikki did come up with the alternate juice idea, so I guess she is good for something. She aslo warned Ryan that he shouldn’t cuss since it draws attention to himself. haha!

After walking through the kitchen and talking to everyone, Tom had some opinions. He thought that Team Air had not really conceptualized their dish, so he hoped they pulled it together. He was worried that Team Fire’s dish might be too spicy for a first course and might ruin everyone’s palette for the rest of the meal. He thought Team Water was over confident and too cocky. He was worried if they weren’t taking it seriously enough, they might make some mistakes. He made Team Earth admit to who was making what after they tried to say it was a collaborative effort. After saying that Antonia was just doing the prep and the other two were actually making the dish, it seemed that Antonia did end up taking the back seat like Spike wanted in the first place.

While the teams were plating, Team Water ran into some issues. Mark asked Richard if he wanted to serve the salmon side up or down. Richard asked Mark what he thought, and Mark said it should have already been decided. Andrew ran across some scales and asked Richard if he was happy with the fish. Richard was shocked about him finding scales, but said they should just check them as they are plating them. Over on Team Earth, Spike asked Zoi if she was happy with how her mushrooms were seasoned. He thought they are underseasoned, but she said she wanted them seasoned lightly.

Team Water
Andrew, Mark & Richard
Poached Salmon with Faux Caviar, Parsnip Puree & Watercress Salad

Andrew was very worried when the dish was being carried out about how many scales were on the fish since Andrew came across four scales on two different pieces he tried. Richard does not like cooking for a large group of people at one time since it makes him compromise and he can’t stand compromising.

Ming commented on the faux caviar after realizing it was tapioca. He seemed impressed while Tom and Padma talked about how he had done that already. Ming then found scales on his salmon. Tom said some things are not good poached and salmon is one of them. Gail agreed.

Team Fire

Dale, Lisa & Stephanie
Grilled Shrimp with Pickled Chili Salad, Deviled Aioli & Miso Smoked Bacon

Dale was very nervous since he had no idea how their dish went over since they could see nothing from the kitchen.

Padma loved the shrimp. Tom commented about it being spicy and asked if others thought it was too spicy. Nancy Silverton, found of Le Brea Bakery, was at the table and agreed it was spicy, but it was the fire dish. Ming informed Tom he was being shot down. One of the diners said it was very hot, but he thought it was excellent.

Team Air

Jen, Nikki & Ryan
Duck Breast with Citrus Salad & Pomegranate Prosecco Aperitif

Nikki talked about their high quality product. She was thrilled with how the duck breast turned out and she loved the salad. She could have been happier with the drink, but she doesn’t think their dish is anywhere near the bottom.

Gail and Ming commented about how they didn’t render the fat on the duck breast, which is not good. Nancy Silverton was irritated with the drink. Tom said he does not like the trend of little drinks with dishes. Ming says he loves little drinks with desserts.

Team Earth

Antonia, Spike & Zoi
Beef Carpaccio with Mushroom Salad & Sunchoke Aioli

Antonia said she tasted the dish before it went out and she thought it tasted good. Spike was nervous since he was not conceptually behind it 100%.

After tasting it, Gail asked if there was rosemary in the dish. She found it to be a bad choice. Tom said it was very bland. Nancy agreed. Tom said they were earthy ingredients, yet there was nothing earthy about them at all. One diner said she couldn’t taste anything. Another diner said if she was a judge on top chef, she would be sending one of the members from the Earth Team home tonight. This caused an older lady next to her to gasp in shock, but also gasp in a little bit of delight at her friend’s cruelness while saying “Ouch!”

The diners filedl out comment cards and the judges would be taking in account what they said when making their final decisions.

Lisa was happy with her team’s dish in the end. She didn’t want to feel over confident, but was glad that they all were able to display some Asian techniques from all of them in the dish. Richard thought his team was going down. He was happy with the concept, but was not happy with the execution. He was disappointed in himself.

Judges’ Table

Gail said the shrimp dish was her favorite. She loved the heat and thought it was the perfect first course. Ming loved the acid from the pickling and the saltiness from the bacon. Padma loved the bacon. Tom thought it was the best element of the dish and tied everything together. Gail said adding bacon to anything is not a bad situation. I am thinking that Ted Allen, lover of bacon, is sad he missed this episode.

Ming said in his first bite of the salmon, it had two or three scales, so it ruined it for him. Gail did not like the method they used to cook the fish, since it left it with almost no texture. Tom said he didn’t quite get the duck dish. Gail liked the salad. It was crunchy, flavorful and bright. Tom was disappointed with the beef carpaccio dish. Gail said the salad and mushrooms had no seasoning. Tom was really bothered by the lack of seasoning since that is cooking 101.


Team Fire was picked as the best team. When Padma asked how they came up with the idea, Stephanie said it took them awhile, but they finally decided while shopping. Dale spoke up saying how he did the pickled chili salad. Padma asked who did the shrimp (Stephanie) and bacon (Lisa) since they didn’t offer up their names first. Tom enjoyed that each one of their individual components really added to the dish.

Ming was able to pick the overall winner. He told Stephanie that her shrimp was perfectly cooked and she did a great job adding the heat element. He loved Dale’s spiced chilis and how they were marinated. He did love the bacon with the miso-glaze and the technique Lisa used that he had never seen. For teaching him something new, he picked Lisa as the overall winner. As the winner, she won a trip for two to Italy for five nights.

Dale was one sore loser, telling the camera later that she won by cooking bacon. He couldn’t believe it. He did admit he was bitter.


Team Earth and Water were went in. Jen looked like she was ready to kill someone since Zoi was sent in…again!

Gail asked Richard if he cleaned the fish. He asked in what regard, and Padma said half the people at the table had scales in their fish including herself and Ming. Richard looked surprised. He said he might have missed a few, but Tom wasn’t buying that since it was more than a few. Padma verified that Richard actually liked the texture of poached salmon, which he said he did since it is so moist. Tom said he is not a fan of that technique. Gail asked what the other two did for the dish. Andrew said he assembled the salad and made the faux caviar. She asked if he had made it before, which made Tom giggle. She said that it needed a little more flavor, but it was an interesting technique. Mark said he was in charge of the parsnip and vanilla puree. Tom didn’t understand where the parsnip came from at all. He didn’t know what it was supposed to do. Mark didn’t really give much of an answer other than he thought it went well with the dish.

Padma asked Antonia if she had tasted her team’s dish with her excellent palette before it went out. She said she thought it tasted great. Tom said nothing was seasoned and the entire dish was bland. Padma asked who was in charge of what. Spike said he sliced the beef, made the aioli and fried the capers. Zoi said she pickled the mushrooms and made the salad. Antonia said she prepped the vegetables while they sliced the meat. Ming said he thought every element needed more seasoning. Zoi said they didn’t want to overpower the meat, but ended up doing the opposite by underseasoning. I don’t buy that excuse this time since if she had tasted it before going out, she could have added seasoning. Zoi said she was not one with a light hand in terms of seasoning. She tasted the mushrooms when they were sauteed with rosemary and thyme and thought they were very good. Gail commented how she did not like the rosemary in the mushrooms. She thought it was overwhelming and didn’t match the beef. Spike said they should have added some lemon squeezed over the top.

Padma asked how they conceptualized the dish. Spike said he wanted to do a butternut squash soup, but Antonia said she was totally against doing a soup for 80 people. Padma asked why she was so opinionated when she had immunity, but Antonia said that wasn’t going to stop her from wanting to make a high quality dish. Ming thought a soup would have been a great dish. Padma or Gail said it would have been very earthy too. Ming said that is the test of a good chef in France is to make a good soup. Antonia was not buying any of this becuase she kept shaking her head. Tom reminded everyone that they were not here because they chose to do carpaccio, but they were here because it was not very good.

After they are sent out, Spike went into the “Stew Room” saying they should have made butternut squash. He said he should have spoke up more and not be convinced to make something else. Zoi said 99.9% of the competition is speaking up for what you want to do, which is exactly what she didn’t do at the block party competition and she didn’t really do during this time either so I have no idea what she is talking about. Richard felt he was going home because he left scales on the salmon.

The judges discussed who it is going to be. Gail found it hard to forgive a dish where the salmon is covered in scales. Ming agreed that it needed to be prepped correctly. Padma believed Richard was satisfied with the texture of the salmon, even though none of them were. Gail brought up that on the comment cards, the lowest score was the carpaccio. Padma asked who it was going to be, Zoi or Spike. Tom wanted to get rid of both of them, which would be interesting! He didn’t understand how they both allowed someone with immunity to dictate what they would be creating. Ming was confused about how Zoi talked about being big on seasoning, yet the dish was underseasoned. Tom said the main part of the dish was the mushrooms and she killed the mushrooms with the lack of seasoning.

The teams were called back in. Tom told Team Water that the dish sounded good on paper, but it did not work very well. He told Team Earth that the judges perceived very little earthiness in their dish. He said the judges agreed with the comments from the diners and the Earth Team had the worst dish. Zoi was told to pack her knives and go.

While I agree that she should go, and I wouldn’t be sad if Spike left either, I just want Nikki to go home already but she is stuck in the middle for another week in a row still thinking she is super awesome and making quality dishes.


  • Should Antonia have taken the back seat on her team since she had immunity? If she did, would she have been blamed for taking it easy since she had immunity?
  • Should Team Earth have done butternut squash soup instead of beef carpaccio?
  • Should Richard have gone home for leaving scales on the fish?
  • Should Andrew have been called out for making his faux caviar again?
  • When will Nikki ever go home?


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2 thoughts on “Top Chef: Bland Elements

  • April 13, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    I would have eaten the shrimp and the bacon! and maybe tiny tasted other things.
    Questions Answered:!
    Antonia should still have had an opinion but should have let them go with soup. She wasn’t on the line but still should have done her best for the team.
    I like soup, so I say soup = win, but I would have maybe done like a potato with smokey bacon, very earth.
    Scales on fish is disgusting and Richard should go away forever and never make fish again cuz I hate it.
    Andrew needs to learn to make a new faux something, but it seems to always go over well so I don’t think it’s a big deal.
    Nikki will go home not next week, but the week after.

  • April 13, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Excellent news about Nikki. Now let’s see if it turns out to be true!

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