Thursday, April 10, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Episode Five

Wherein breaking up is hard to do....

After a bit of morning yoga and knife sharpening (unfortunately, not simultaneously), the gang heads to the Top Chef kitchen to find Padma standing with Ming Tsai, this week's guest judge. They giggle conspiratorially.

The Quickfire Challenge involves good taste, a quality the cheftestants are presumed to possess. Padma takes out her kinky black blindfold and places it over the eyes of each chef individually while making them taste things. Shades of 9 1/2 Weeks! Not really. Each chef must determine which of two similar ingredients is the higher quality, for example, cheap vs. expensive soy sauce, sake, etc.

Antonia, with twelve out of fifteen correct, won the challenge and immunity. Stephanie, who has done well in the show so far, surprisingly scored only six of fifteen.

The Elimination Challenge was a little more interesting. At least, the chefs got to cook this time. Divided up into four teams of three, the cheftestants had to create a first course based on one of the elements (Plutonium, Molybdenum, Yttrium, and Krypton) and serve it at a Meals on Wheels function saluting Chicago chefs.

Team Air (I was kidding about the Krypton) was Nikki, Jennifer, and Ryan, maybe not the sharpest knives in the block. They erred on the side of obvious and chose to use a bird with the gift of flight - duck breast with citrus salad and a pomegranate prosecco aperitif. I can see why they chose duck, although doing something like a mousse would be better representative of air. But the pomegranate? WTF does that have to do with air?

Team Earth (ok, no Plutonium either) was Zoi, Spike, and Antonia the Control Freak. Despite having immunity, she overpowered her team mates and took charge. Spike suggested that they make butternut squash soup, but because they had a budget of $500, Antonia thought they needed to go more expensive and make a beef carpaccio topped with mushrooms and sunchoke aioli. Now, when I think "earthy," neither carpaccio nor butternut squash come to mind (but, I admit, mushrooms do). I thought the soup idea was a good one, but how about a nice potato soup (either warm or vichyssoise) with a black truffle garnish? Nothing says "earth" like truffles. But no, they didn't listen to my suggestion at all.

Somehow Andrew and Richard got teamed up again, this time on Team Water (ha, fooled you again!)

Mark from New EnglandZealand was also on Team Water.

Richard was practically giddy with the idea of poaching fish in water. Wow - is that irony? Or maybe just pathos? Of course they weren't really going to poach it - they were going to use that damned sous vide bath, the "Jacuzzi" as Richard referred to it during Tom's Sniff 'n' Sneer. They served it with more of that stupid-ass faux caviar tapioca (can Andrew do anything else??) a watercress salad, and a parsnip puree. Parsnips = earthy, not watery. But...New Zealand IS on the opposite side of the earth, so maybe it's a bit like Bizarro World?

Team Yttrium, no wait, Team Fire was Stephanie, Dale, and Lisa, who didn't want to play nice. She didn't like the dumb-ass ideas that Dale and Stephanie were pitching, such as deviled eggs wrapped in some sort of seared meat. Her style of cooking leans heavily towards the Asian, and heaven forbid she do something out of her comfort zone! (Although deviled eggs-and-meat? Pretty damned uncomfortable.) Team Fire squabbled well into the produce department when they finally came up with something Lisa could deal with - spicy sambal-marinated grilled shrimp with pickled chili salad and bacon. There you go, biotch, vaguely-Asian-style.

While eating, the judges commenced to picking apart the chefs' offerings. They called Richard's sous vide salmon "mushy" and complained endlessly about the scales that were left on. And, damn - you can see the pattern of the plastic bag impressed in the flesh of the fish! I think it looks raw. If you're going to cook fish, then cook it - don't just give it a bath! And there's that damn Andrewcaviar again. It was impressive the first time, ballsy stupid daring of him to do it a second time, now it's just plain getting old.

The skin on Team Air's duck wasn't scored in order to render off the fat. Hi! I'm a home cook and I know to do that, Jennifer! A pretty serious error on her part, but not enough to get the team into any trouble. Tom was annoyed by the twee little pomegranate-tinged drink (the arils looked like blood clots in water), but Ming was so thrilled with it, he burst into song, along with Padma. (It must have been a strong drink.)

The only dish they seemed to be happy with was Team Fire's spicy shrimp. All of Lisa's bitching and moaning paid off - she was declared the winner for her miso maple bacon. Dale looked more than miffed at that verdict, after all, he made the salad.

What the judges hated most was that Team Earth forgot the salt. The team made excuses: Spike wanted to make soup, but big bully Antonia cut him down; Zoi thought her mushrooms tasted wonderful. The judges disagreed, particularly Gail, who seemed offended by the presence of rosemary.

Zoi was asked to pack her knives and go. Personally, I've been waiting for this moment practically since episode one. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, whiner!

In the Glad Family of Products Commemorative Storage Room, we finally get to see some real drama, proof that the pansy-assed comraderie of the first four episodes was either phoney or at least the product of judicious editing. Of course Zoi's paramour, Jennifer, got pissed off about the ousting. Maybe she thought the two of them were going to somehow win this thing together? Not gonna happen, and I predict that fauxhawked Biesty Gal will find herself doing her own packing soon enough.

And even though his team won, Dale couldn't contain his anger at Lisa for having complained so much during the planning stages of their meal.

Spike mouthed off too (doubtless fueled by Michelob). Although he was happy to see one of the lesbos go, the feeling was bittersweet. No longer did Andrew want to swap clogs (or anything else) with him. Both couples would now have to suffer the loss of a partner.

Tune in next week, when we find out exactly what Spike's talking about...!
*lyrics from After the Love is Gone, by Chicago's own Earth, Wind, & Fire