Top Chef: Chicago
Here is a quick run down on the two challenges:
- Quickfire Challenge: Create a dish that pairs perfectly with beer.
- Elimination Challenge: Grilling at the tailgating party before the Chicago Bears football game.
I was very happy that this week, there was not a team competition. While I think the team competitions this season have been very creative and each person on the team has had a chance to make their own dish, it has allowed some mediocre people to hide on a winning team, like Nikki. Having everyone cook on their own really allows them to excel or fail all on their own.
At the beginning of the show Dale and Lisa talked about their fight at the end of the last episode. Dale said he had a problem with her being such a negative person. She said that was his perception of her and she couldn’t change that. She just asked if he had a problem with her, he came to her to talk to her about it. That’s what he was doing right then, but she said she wasn’t going to change the way she was. He was being pretty calm about it and apologized for what he did. She didn’t apologize for it and didn’t budge about anything. Then she told the camera later that he can go f*** himself. Nice!
There were sixteen pitchers of beer on a bar with Padma and guest judge, Koren Grieveson, head chef of Avec, behind it.
The theme for the quickfire challenge was simple pleasures. They needed to create a dish that paired perfectly with beer. Each chef would be able to taste three of the sixteen beer before choosing one.
Stephanie talked about it being very trendy to pair beer with food like people pair wine with food. Dale said he was very inexperienced with doing it. Lisa said she loved beer and cooking with it. Jennifer was excited that the beer she chose was Landshark Lager since her hair looks like a shark fin. If only it didn’t. She felt it was a lucky charm. Spike said that all beer tastes the same to him. That confused me since I would think a chef should have a great palette and if you think all beer tastes the same, even if you aren’t a big drinker of it, that says to me that they have a sucky palette. That doesn’t make me want to trust any kind of food they make since what they think tastes good, might not really taste good.
Richard really stuck with the buzz word of the challenge, simple pleasures, and wanted to make a really good sandwich to go along with his beer. He knows he can use weird machines, but he wanted to show that he can also just make something simple and good. I think that’s where a lot of the chefs fail, when they decide to ignore the constraints that the challenges give them, like in the upscale taco challenge. I wondered how many others would ignore the “simple pleasure” instruction that Padma gave them, and if it would bite them in the butt.
Antonia commented that sometimes it is harder to make the simple dishes. Chefs sometimes overcompensate by adding tons of ingredients and making a dish more complicated than it needs to be. Dale was having difficulty with some pretzel topping that he was going to make for his pork tenderloin. It turned into pretzel dust.
On the negative side, I’m sad that they didn’t fully display each beer with the plates. I couldn’t tell what all of them were, but I would have liked to have known. On the plus side, we finally got to see all the dishes for the challenge on tv. Yeah!
Grilled Tuna Sandwich with Pickled Vegetables
I cannot tell the brand of Richard’s beer and they didn’t say. Koren tried Richard’s sandwich with the beer and made no comment. Her face had no expression. Did she hate it? Love it? Unimpressed? Who knows!
Rainbow Trout with Raspberry Gastrique & Peaches
Andrew looks like he has the same brand of beer as Richard, but different type. Does that say Michelob? Koren talked to Andrew! She told him that his dish needed a bit more acid to brighten it up a little bit. If she told him something to improve, but said nothing to Richard, does that mean his dish didn’t need improving?
Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Miso Caramel Sauce & Pretzel Crust
Dale had Redhook ESB. Not my favorite beer. Dale informed them that he had never done the dish before. I don’t know why the chefs say that. It just sounds like an excuse if it went poorly. Koren tells Dale, “Thank you,” before walking on. He was praying he wouldn’t be one of the bottom three because of his pretzel dust.
Miso Glazed Cod with Sauteed Napa Cabbage
No comment for Antonia. She did have Kirin Ichiban beer, which is a good one.
Citrus Marinated Shrimp with Asian Coleslaw
Nikki had Tiger beer. I have never heard of it before. It is an Asian beer. Nikki said she is not a big beer drinker and beer signifies fried food to her. I am thinking that if you are in front of a judge that loves to pair beer with food, that is the wrong thing to say. It is so narrow minded.
Steamed Mussels with Cilantro Vinaigrette & Grilled Bread
Stephanie said she liked to have mussels when she goes out and drinks beer. I’m excited because she had one of my favorite beers, Hoegaarden. Stephanie found it nerve wracking since Koren didn’t really say anything before moving on.
Juniper Spiced Lamb Rack with Honey & Beer Sauce
Stella! Another one of my favorite beers. Koren said she could not taste the beer in his sauce, but the flavors were very nice.
Lamb Crepinette with Pieprade Cilantro-Pine Nut Puree & Espelette
Ryan’s beer was Bass. Ryan explained his dish and no further comment was made.
Charcuterie Plate & Tapas of Clams
Spike had Grolsch beer. Another favorite of mine. I have a lot! 🙂 He said he kept it simple, but it looked like he just threw random stuff down without really preparing anything. Padma asked Koren if she had clams with beer often. She said no, she usually keeps it simple with chorizo. Spike said she didn’t get the dish, but then there wasn’t much to get. Did he just lose at his own argument?
Bacon Cheeseburger with Potato Chips
Lisa had AmberBock. She said she wanted to keep it simple, stupid and fun. I would have taken stupid out of the explanation if I was her. Koren said she would have liked a little more heat.
Shrimp & Scallop Beignets with Fennel, Avocado & Pepper Purees
Jennifer’s beer was Landshark Lager, which is an island beer. She decided to go French Caribbean with her dish to match it and made beignets. Padma said she was impressed that they were light and didn’t taste greasy. She asked Koren if she agreed. She said she did and they had a nice flavor.
- Nikki – Koren said she should have used bigger shrimp cut in half. They should have been cooked differently with less breading and there was no seasoning. I’ll say it again, why is she still around? Has she ever cooked anything well?
- Spike – His dish was not united. The clams and the cheese didn’t really go together. This caused Jennifer to giggle since she wished Spike had gone home last time instead of Zoi.
- Dale – Koren said that it wasn’t moist enough to really taste all the flavors he had there. To the camera later, Lisa was laughing at Dale being on the bottom.
- Richard – She said he had great use of the basil and pickled veggies. She said he had great, bold flavors.
- Stephanie – She said her mussels were a great pairing with the beer. She loved that she used the citrus to tie the dish and the beer together.
- Jennifer – She had a great balance of flavors, great heat, great acidity, and really light flavors.
Quickfire Challenge Winner: Jennifer
She was immune from elimination. Jennifer was on fire! She had the motivation to just kick butt and do her best because Zoi was gone. She wanted to do it for her. It made me wonder if she holding herself back while Zoi was there. She had been in the middle of the pack since the beginning, but she finally won a challenge. Did she just need that extra motivation to get her actually moving? Will it die down again or will she continue to shine now that Zoi isn’t holding her back?
Their challenge was to grill at the tailgating party before the Chicago Bears football game. The Bears fans would be rating the dishes and from their comment cards, the judges will see which dishes rated as the bottom three and top three. From that, they will make their decision on who would be going home and who would be winning.
While shopping, Spike bought all the wings the market had. Dale watched him buy out all the wings, so he decided to do ribs. Richard had never had tailgating food. He thought about hamburger being a tailgate food staple and remembered an item on his restaurant’s menu that is a pate melt. It isn’t a patty melt, but a pate melt. He said it is more of him being a wise ass. Nikki said when she goes to a game, she wants comfort food and decided on sausage and pepper hero. She bought some sausage and then bought shrimp in case someone doesn’t like sausage. Huh? If they didn’t like it, I’m guessing the would just skip her station altogether. What a weirdo.
Mark was upset that some other people were going for shrimp when that’s what he wanted to do. I thought that if the shrimp is prepared differently, and there was still some there to buy, why not go for it? Ryan said he had been to like two football games, so he was going to cook his California style food that wasn’t really tailgating food. He blamed it all on being a metrosexual.
When the chefs arrive at Soldier Field, they were given the choice between gas or charcoal grill. Mark was the only one that went with a charcoal one. He said he had the fortitude to handle it. The judges showed up looking super goofy in their Top Chef football jerseys. The guest judges for this round would be Gail Simmons from Food and Wine magazine and Paul Kahan, chef/owner of Blackbird & Avec.
The elimination challenge dishes:
Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Bacon, Potato & Pear Salad, Rosemary Vinaigrette
Gail said it was tasty. Tom said the pork was cooked nicely. Bears fans said it was unbelievable and really good. Another fan said anything is good when it is sprinkled with bacon.
Baby Back Ribs Marinated in Tandoori, Potato Salad with Raisins & Mango
Dale is from Chicago and is a huge Bears fan. While he was serving ribs, he noticed that former Bears player Gale Sayers was in line and freaked out. Then he had Richard Dent and William “The Refrigerator” Perry behind him waiting for some food. Dale told them it was an honor to serve them and Perry’s response was, “Let me get some ribs. Come on!” hahaha!
The judges came around to try. Padma said it look amazing and Gail said it was very tasty. Bears fans said it was awesome and one lady told her friend they were going to have to get their own rib, she wasn’t sharing.
Jicama & Pineapple Slaw with Lime Dressing & Fire Spiced Chicken Wings
Spike is dumb. He wanted to shmooze the fans with his charisma, but failed by claiming he was a Bears fan and then asking when was the last time they won a Superbowl. Oh boy. When trying the dish, Tom said the wings were seasoned well. Gail said they were really tasty (she needs more descriptions). One Bears fan said, “mmm…mmmm….oh yeah.” Another one loved they were spicy.
Jerk Chicken Sandwich with Pickled Onions & Grilled Pineapple & Banana
While people were waiting in line, a Bears fan that just got his food, informed the line people that it was good and worth the wait. Another fan said it was by far the best that he had tasted. Paul said it was a really good sandwich. Tom took the pineapple and banana that was served on the side, added it to the sandwich, and said it was so much better altogether. A Bears fan commented that it was good, but it was messy.
Bread Salad with Marinated Chicken, Poached Pear & Brandy Cocoa
Ryan had fans helping him out since there were so many people waiting. He was charming them. Maybe he was doing a better job than Spike. Antonia and Stephanie commented about his shmoozing and they were there to cook. When the judges showed up, Ryan explained he didn’t want to do bread and meat sandwich. Ryan felt his dish was a winner since it was not typical tailgate food. One Bears fan told him it was really good. Another one said it was a bit more fancy than he expected. Not sure if that was a good or bad thing. One woman complained to her friend that the chicken was so hard to eat. He agreed saying the dessert was hard to eat too.
Glazed Shrimp with Potato Parsnip Puree, Bacon & Apple Chutney
Andrew was wearing a Bears helmet. When asked why he was wearing it, he said that serving the food was his game. So bizarre. After freaking the judges out with his description of the food, sometimes making his voice so high, it was like someone was pinching his naughty bits, and then trying to take his helmet off without undoing the chin strap, Padma said his food was delicious. It was almost like she was surprised it was good in spite of Andrew being so weird. Gail said Andrew was a trip. Tom wasn’t too sure about the parsnip puree. I don’t think Tom likes parsnip or he doesn’t like purees, or maybe none of the chefs have done them very well. Two different Bears fans said the shrimp was very good.
Skirt Steak with Corn Cake & Salsa Verde
Lisa’s skirt steak looked like a mess. I would not have wanted to eaten it. I didn’t hear anyone’s comments about it–fans or judges.
Chicken Marinated with Harissa & Quinoa Tabouli
Bears fans loved the sauce on Jennifer’s dish. The judges weren’t shown trying her dish.
Pate Melt with Spicy Mayonnaise & Pickled Cucumber
Richard explained to the judges his pate was made with pork and veal. Bears fans said it was delicious. Another one said he didn’t remember what kind of meat it was, but it was pretty darn tasty.
Chicken & Scallion Skewers with Soy & Onion Glaze, New Zealand Corn Chowder
Mark’s station was a complete mess. Antonia and Stephanie were close enough to see it. Antonia said he had problems organizing his grill. Stephanie said he wasn’t cleaning it up while using it and let it get progressively worse as it went on. Stephanie said that it was important to work clean. The flavors have to be right, but it also has to be presentable. When the judges showed up, he dropped the serving spoon after he had used it to serve the chowder. Mark said to the camera later that he knew the chowder and chicken were not the best he had ever done, but it had been a hectic day. Others are producing good food, so I don’t see that as a good excuse. Tom commented that Mark was a mess and had an absolute disaster area over there. A Bears fan said the chowder was good. Another fan said the dish that needed the most help was the Australian’s dish. Oh poor Mark! They think you are from Australia.
Sausage & Peppers, Grilled Shrimp with Hot Sauce & Spiced Cider
Nikki was apologizing to fans about the small portion sizes since she had to make sure everyone got some. No one else seemed to have the issue she did. Nikki said she had the real man food. Two Bears fans loved it after trying it. When the judges showed up, Nikki realized she was almost out of food. She blamed it on repeat customers on why she ran out of the peppers and onions. Paul asked her if she made the sausage and she said no, she did not have enough time. Paul didn’t buy that. He said she had two problems: she didn’t save enough peppers and onions for the judges and she didn’t make the sausage. Gail and Tom said she was having a bad day.
After it was done, Richard Dent said his favorite dish was Richard’s burger. William Perry said his favorite dishes were Lisa’s skirt steak and Dale’s ribs. Random Bears fan said his favorite was Stephanie’s pork tenderloin with bacon. He said bacon always wins. Gale Sayers said Dale was his pick to win the contest.
While waiting for the judges to come out and call people in, Lisa was commented about people that showed up at 10:30am for the tailgating controlled their fate. Yes, that was the challenge Lisa. They were more than ready to eat all that food at that time in the morning. She is negative!
Antonia, Dale and Stephanie were called in as the top three dishes. Tom commented to Stephanie that she was up there again. Go Stephanie! Padma asked them how they felt with the crowd picking the top three dishes. Antonia said she loved it. It made her think differently about what she was going to do and opened up her mind more.
Tom said Stephanie’s dish was great and if he had one criticism, it would be that the pork could have been seasoned a little more. Everything else was really tasty. Gail said she was hesitant about the rosemary vinaigrette (maybe after Zoi’s rosemary debacle last week?), but she thought it went really well.
With Antonia’s dish, they talked about Tom putting the pineapple and banana in the sandwich and it made it even better. Antonia said she thought about that, but then was concerned that people would look at it as just a sandwich. The judges said there was nothing wrong with that and it was the perfect tailgate food.
Gail said Dale’s flavors were very unusual for tailgating, but they really came together and were really tasty. Tasty again Gail?
Paul had the honor of picking the overall winner from the top three dishes that the fans rated as the best. Paul said he chose based on the complexity and depth of flavor, so Dale was the winner. Dale received one of those goofy Top Chef Bears jerseys and one of the Weber gas grills he used during the challenge.
Mark, Nikki and Ryan were sent in. Oooh, Nikki! Let’s just send her home right now. Bottom of the quickfire and now bottom of elimination.
Padma asked Nikki if she knew why she was there. She talked about how when the judges tasted her plate, it was nothing like her first batch. Shouldn’t it be consistent? No one else ran out of food. She knew she had to serve 80 people. Tom called her out on that excuse since it was the fans that put her at the bottom three. She said she was surprised the fans didn’t receive it a little better. Tom asked why she didn’t make her own sausage. She said she wasn’t sure about the timing. Tom pointed out that Richard made patties and essentially made the same thing. Gail said it didn’t seem like there was a lot of care given to the sausage itself. The sausage was quite dry and without the peppers and onions, the entire sandwich became dry because there wasn’t anything on the bun either. Nikki kept talking about how it was great when she started and then ran out of stuff. Paul asked how the shrimp related to the plate and she said she wanted something else to serve, but it didn’t relate. Gail said there was a disconnection between the two. Paul said the sausage and shrimp mixed together tasted pretty good and she could have done something with that to make it an interesting spin on things. Tom said she ran out of sauce, peppers and onions, which are all major components of the dish, and she can’t run out of that stuff.
Tom asked Ryan why he chose a dessert and then why he chose one that Tom wouldn’t think he’d ever see at a tailgate party. Ryan wanted to have an entire dining experience. He didn’t think doing a dessert was left field. Gail agreed a dessert isn’t left field, but a poached pear was. There were other options that would be have been more appropriate. Ryan said he cooked the way he would like to see a tailgate cooked. He said he wanted something light so he didn’t want to serve something on a bun. Instead, he made the chicken on top of a salad. Gail said her bread salad was almost all bread. She found the chicken very dry. Ryan then started rambling on and on about nothing how he shmoozed people. Tom finally stopped him saying the challenge was not about bringing “California flair” (Ryan’s words) to the tailgate, but to bring simple food to the masses at a tailgate.
Tom thought that Mark used the charcoal grill to get that charcoal flavor, but once he put the heavy sauce on the chicken, it covered any of that charcoal flavor. Mark said he was disappointed himself with the skewers and he had some challenges, but he was happy with the chowder. Tom said the flavor in the chowder was good, but it was very coarse. He would have liked for it to be strained. Mark wasn’t buying it and said that he didn’t feel like straining it since that’s how he likes it. He said if they were happy with the flavor, then he’s fine with that. Tom said that taste and texture go hand in hand. He said if there is a rough taste in his mouth, it affects the overall pleasure in the taste of the dish. Tom then said that aside from the food, his presentation was really sloppy. It was not just the food, but the table. It was a mess. Tom said that Mark took a spoon to taste the soup and then put the spoon right back into the soup bowl. Then used that spoon to dish the soup out to everyone. He also said there was more food on his apron than his grill.
After kicking the chefs out, the judges discussed who should go home. Paul said he was disappointed with Nikki’s answer to why she didn’t make her own sausage. He said they make their own sausage in his restaurant and it is fast. He said she is a chef and not a purchaser of a supermarket. Ouch! Gail said it didn’t feel like she put in much effort. Paul was confused about the shrimp on the plate. Tom said Ryan did one of the worst version of bread salad he has had in a long time. Paul said it would have been more appropriate if he had made his chicken in the style of a sandwich. Gail said that he purposely stayed away from a sandwich since he didn’t want to do tailgating at the tailgate party. Paul said the pear was totally inappropriate, but even it was, at least make it good and interesting. Tom pointed out that Stephanie used pear and she had one of the favorite dishes. It wasn’t the pear, but how it was used. Tom said Mark’s chowder was too gritty. Paul didn’t like that he didn’t make any mayonnaise or add any extra flavors to his homemade slaw. Tom said Mark was a disaster and it was so unsanitary that he wanted to walk away from the table.
The chefs were called back in. Tom told Nikki that sausage is like a religion in Chicago and if she wanted to make something to please the crowd, she had to make her own. Ryan had inappropriate food for a tailgate, but even if they were in a fancy restaurant, it wasn’t very good. Mark was told he needed to clean up his act and not be so sloppy when making his food. Ryan was asked to pack up his knives and go.
Gah! While I agree that Ryan really failed at the challenge, I so wanted Nikki to leave for being horrible. Let’s hope she goes next time!
As the chefs are whittling down, I am thinking that the final four might be Stephanie, Richard, Dale and Antonia. I am waiting for Nikki to leave and I don’t think Mark has long to go since he’s been at the bottom of the pack too many times. I feel that Spike isn’t going to be around too much longer either. I wouldn’t mind Lisa leaving since she hasn’t really been too outstanding and she has an attitude that just won’t stop. I am thinking that Jennifer might be a dark horse if she keeps up her momentum or she might stay middle of the pack and fade out one of these days.
- Should chefs at least recognize that all beers do not taste the same, even if they are not a beer drinker? Does it say something about their palette or not really?
- Since Jennifer finally made it out of the middle of the pack after Zoi left, was she holding herself back while Zoi was there (and consistently at the bottom for a few episodes)? Will she continue to thrive now that she’s not competing against her love?
- Even though Ryan failed to make good, simple food for the tailgate, should Nikki have gone home for not putting much effort into her cooking and running out of food or Mark have gone home for double dipping with the spoon and being a general mess?
Photo Source: Top Chef