Top Chef recap: Tailgating!
Our Top Chef contestants were in a bleak mood at the start of this episode — perhaps a little hung over from the nasty words several of them had spewed at each other following last week’s fiery ”Elements” challenge. Apparently Jen is now ”doing this for Zoi,” Lisa and Dale are agreeing to disagree, and everybody has it out for Spike…according to Spike (”I heard through the grapevine a lot of people thought I should have went home. But I just think that’s because people are feeling a little threatened, because you know, I’m a talented dude”). I’m just wondering: Who exactly is part of this vast grapevine of threatened people? Maybe, Spike, they just don’t like you, especially when you go off on your vitriolic rants. (This week’s yammering, about Jen winning the Quickfire: ”I’m sure she feels on top of the world after Zoi getting booted, and like, ‘Yay, lesbians, here we go.”’)
Anyway, about that Quickfire: The cheftestants were challenged to pair a simple dish with beer. Even though many restaurants have started specializing in this kind of thing, it doesn’t seem an easy feat — especially if something like Miller Lite tickles your fancy. Pilsners with spicy food, lagers with hefty cheeseburgers…those seem like the most obvious combos to me. (Do you have any tried-and-true twosomes? Comment below.) This was a challenge of yeast and hops, but guest judge Koren Grieveson sure brought the bitters — her facial expressions were stone-cold. Meanwhile, my taste buds were fiending for Richard’s grilled tuna sandwich, Stephanie’s mussels, and Jen’s beignets. Judge Grieveson seconded, and Jen won immunity. (Oh, and Spike: a charcuterie plate? Seriously?)
In keeping with the beer-bellied theme, the elimination challenge continued the theme of simple fare, this time at a Chicago Bears tailgating party. Dale got very self-serious: ”I live for sports, I love it. I’m a Chicago native, you know…. Soldier Field. Tailgating. I feel very confident that I’m going to win the challenge.” Meanwhile, my favorite New Zealander, Mark, balked. ”Rugby’s my passion, but you know, I didn’t come here to watch football, did I?” he deadpanned, and then hilariously answered his own rhetorical question. ”No. I came here to cook.”
So Spike decided to do chicken wings. Richard, a ”pâté burger.” Dale, ribs. Nikki, sausage and peppers. Andrew, beer-mustard and honey-glazed shrimp. Mark, chicken skewers, because someone had take all the shrimp (”How can I throw shrimp on the barbie when they’re already doing it? It’s f—ed up, isn’t it?”). Stephanie, pork tenderloin. Jen, chicken souvlaki with cucumber tzatziki. Lisa, skirt steak (which she beat the crap out of). Antonia, a Jamaican jerk chicken sandwich. And Ryan, the self-professed metrosexual, was making chicken thighs, poached pears, and crème fraiche. My predictions for the bottom at this point: Ryan; Lisa, only because cutting into skirt steak standing up seems nearly impossible; and Spike and Nikki, who, unless they really brought it on with new, innovative flavors, could be accused taking the lazy way out. My roommate’s early prediction for who would ultimately go home: Ryan, because he was being shown so much. ”I watch too much reality TV, I guess,” she said.
After a long day, the cheftestants went home to unwind, have some wine, and get into the tub. At least, Spike and Mark did. And no, not a hot tub. A tub tub. To, ahem, rub-a-dub-dub? Oh right, Spike is comfortable with his sexuality, so it’s not like that — but Antonia called it a ”cheap porn” anyway. What I fear most is the potentially detrimental effect this bonding time with the dreaded Spike will have on my boy Mark’s earnestness. (P.S. Doesn’t Mark always look stoned?)
Fast forward to the party, and…what the hell was Colicchio wearing? (Full disclosure: I usually find him really attractive.) You don’t have to go on What Not to Wear to know that the combination of a beret, a scarf, and a football jersey is a fashion faux pas. And Tom, I know you own a baseball cap…because I once stopped to say hello at Virgin MegaStore in Union Square and you were sporting the tailgate prerequisite. What gives?
NEXT: Can we talk about those promos?
Paul Kahan, who owns Blackbird and Avec in Chicago, was the guest judge this go-round. Dale’s ribs looked awesome — they seemed to satisfy that craving for the bad-for-your-thighs food you expect to partake in at a football game, and yet brought something new to it (tandoori marinade). Antonia’s chicken sandwich and Richard’s pâté burger looked just as lovely. Meanwhile, Ryan was penalized for food that one fan dubbed ”a little more fancy than what I would expect”; Andrew may have had that helmet on too tight (”He’s a trip, man,” Gail laughed); Nikki ran out of her store-bought sausage; and Mark had the ”testicular fortitude” to cook with charcoal but lacked a feminine touch for organization and cleanliness. (Also, what’s up with all of the parsnip this season?)
Before we discuss the judges’ table, we need to address all of the sexual innuendo in the show’s promos. Padma shooting champagne at the camera. Padma taking big bites out of apples. Padma twirling around with cold steel knives. And then there was this week’s commercial break multiple-choice question. In case you missed it, it was ”Who would you most want to touch in touch football?” (a) Padma; (b) Tom; or (c) Yourself. The results: 50 percent of America chose Tom, 34 percent chose Padma, and 16 percent chose themselves. No joke. But damn, was it funny.
So Stephanie made it to the winner’s circle again, along with Dale and Antonia. Dale came out on top, but I’m sure his excitement was tempered when he remembered that last week the prize was a trip to Italy, and all he got was a jersey and grill. In the bottom three were Mark, Nikki and Ryan. No big surprises. Mark tasted something and used the same spoon to dish it out — that’s cooking 101. And Nikki, I mean, really, what did she do? She ran out of her peppers, onions, and sauce, and her sausage was pre-made. It was lazy; she just chilled and grilled. Ryan, well… Gail was apt when she said, ”He didn’t actually want to do tailgating at the tailgate party.” Ryan though it’d be ”f—ing bulls—” if he had to go home because he didn’t run out of food the way Nikki did. But isn’t that telling? She ran out of food, because it tasted good.
So my roommie called it — but Ryan wasn’t pleased pack his knives and go. ”I don’t just cook with my hands, I cook with my heart.” Sniff. But it was the right call. Thoughts? Anyone surprised that nobody took on the Chicago hot dog? Who do you think is the weakest link? Will Nikki be the next to go? Or could it be Mark?