After a cool quickfire challenge, the cheftestants split into two teams to cater a reception, but the real battle happens at the judges' table

By Vanessa Juarez
May 08, 2008 at 12:01 PM EDT
S4 E9
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”Wedding Wars.” The title of this episode of Top Chef is a bit of an oxymoron, considering war is violent and ugly. But an innocent bystander did get caught in the crossfire (more on that later), and the stakes in the elimination challenge were suddenly higher (there’s no more immunity from winning a quickfire challenge).

For the women, it’s like the early days of the feminist movement all over again: Four of them are still hanging on; this is the first time that so many women have made it this far in the competish. Nikki seemed ready to break out the guns: ”Being a woman, you have to be a fighter, a competitor, you have to.” Perhaps she’d like to qualify that remark and add that a girl needs some sleep.

So before elimination, there was the battle of quickfire. Padma announced the show was bringing back ”Tom’s personal favorite” (and mine too): the relay race. (Last season, Hung busted a move on those chickens and Casey chopped an onion as if she had just been introduced to a knife.) The eight remaining cheftestants were split up into two teams. I’ll refer to Antonia, Andrew, Richard, and Stephanie as Team Potatoes, because they all mashed up well together and, well, they ended up cooking spuds later. The second team consisted of Nikki, Spike, Lisa, and Dale, whom I’ll call Team Tomatoes, because they wound up making red sauce and bruschetta, but also because of their thin skins and because sometimes all you get when you cut into them is a big squishy mess. (It’s obvious who I’m rooting for, yes?) Of course Dale and Lisa were unhappy campers. Said the former, ”We don’t have the strongest cooks [pause] but capable cooks.” Meanwhile Lisa noted she had ”only worked with Dale once, which worked out well for the actual challenge — after the challenge, not so much.”

Perhaps the adrenaline from the tailgate party was still lingering in Dale, because he started acting like a meathead early on. As the teams worked out who’d be doing what in the relay — prep work on oranges, artichokes, monkfish, or mayonnaise — some mentioned they hadn’t made mayo by hand in years, a valid concern when the game hinges on speed. But Dale couldn’t help himself: ”It’s so asinine for me to hear [this] come out of people’s mouths: ‘I haven’t made mayonnaise by hand in years’… like they’re scared of it. Why are you still here?” A couple of minutes later, after his team lost, Dale got into a fistfight with a locker and yelled ”f—.” Why? According to Antonia, ”Dale decided to have a temper tantrum, and he punched the locker and then had to have his diaper changed.”

Meanwhile, Lisa ”smoked [Antonia’s] ass on those oranges.” Oh, if only Barack and Hillary could work out the Democratic nomination with a relay race (the same relay race!).

Then came the Wedding Wars (which, Padma explained earlier, were replacing the usual Restaurant Wars). A lovely-looking couple named Corey and J.P. were to be married the following day, and the cheftestants were invited, so long as they could cook up canapés, dinner, and wedding cakes for 250 guests in 14 hours or so. Dale chimed in again, complaining that he has no experience as a caterer because he’s a ”restaurant dude.” What, are you scared? Somebody should have pointed out that Wolfgang Puck dishes it out for the Academy Awards Governor’s Ball.

NEXT: Gender biases

With immunity gone, the winning quickfire team’s ”advantage,” as Padma called it, was the choice to create a menu for either the bride or the groom. ”They picked the bride,” said an astonished Spike. ”I’m like, ‘What, are you guys completely moronic, or you got like balls to the wall.’ I don’t understand. Like she is going to want this moment to be exactly the way she envisioned it since she was 14 years old. The food, the decor, the f—ing wedding cake.” Okay, you’ve provoked the feminazi in me: Just because there’s a show around calledBridezillas doesn’t mean the guy isn’t going to be a pill. It could really go either way. Okay, back to my zen place. Team Potatoes (bride) was cooking comfort food: steak, pizza, chicken nuggets, pulled pork, potatoes. Team Tomatoes (groom) was going for Italian: bruschetta, sea bass, antipasti.

A moment later, I learned where they got that clip in last week’s preview in which Andrew said, ”I’m having a culinary boner.” It was so out of context that I thought the editors just threw it in for laughs. But it turns out that he becomes aroused by all-night catering jobs. He said he can work 14 hours straight without any problems. Though Richard later (hilariously) noted that ”lack of sleep affects people differently. Andrew stops talking at a certain point, which is unique for Andrew.”

By the morning, sleep deprivation had them all looking haggard. Antonia felt like she was in the army peeling potatoes. (Just for the record, it’s 1:30 a.m. as I write this, and my day started more than 20 hours ago. No sympathy needed. I’m just saying.) Judge Colicchio came in for a look at their progress. Everything seemed to be okay, with the exception of Lisa’s groom’s cake. ”You know, she has a good excuse for it not looking so great,” said Colicchio. ”She said the groom wanted his cake to be very simple. Well, I hope he didn’t say ugly, because that’s what we have. It almost looks like a battleship of some sort.” It is the Wedding Wars after all, Tom. Sheesh.

As the ceremony kicked off, I wondered how Corey and J.P. got hooked into such a situation. They’re restaurateurs, so you’d think they’d be antsy about something like this — but if you were offered free grub, free cake, and presumably free wine courtesy of Clois du Bois, it might seem worth saving your cash for some kind of culinary backpacking honeymoon. When the food came out, I certainly could have gone for some of that short rib wrapped in phyllo dough, prosciutto pizza, steak with horseradish sauce, or sea bass. Even though fatigue had momentarily slowed Andrew’s tongue, his team was playing it safe: Antonia announced that ”Andrew’s not allowed to talk to the guests. Seriously.” Love it. As the service went on and the invitees and judges (the guest judge was Gale Gand, a renowned pastry chef in Chicago) sampled everything, things started to look grim for Team Tomatoes. Stephanie got kudos for her cake, which was simply elegant. ”I have to give it up for the two ladies who made cakes,” Spike later said to Lisa and Stephanie (which is huge for someone who’s not usually a class act). ”Honestly, I definitely wouldn’t have had any clue on how to make it look like that.”

NEXT: You say tomato, I say potato…

At the judges’ table — well, I knew it, Team Potatoes won. And Gand announced that Richard was the individual winner, which I thought was surprising after she had praised Stephanie’s cake, noting that it would usually take her three days to make a wedding cake. But then Blaise offered the prize to Stephanie, which was really a sweet gesture.

It was nothing like the bitter showing from Team Tomatoes at the judges’ table. While Lisa and Nikki smartly tried to hold back, Dale and Spike drew swords. It was one of the better arguments yet in the Top Chef series, so I’m transcribing it here. It was set off when Gand asked a question about the crostinis:

Dale: ”That’s another thing that I did.”

Spike: ”Get it all out, man. Come on.”

Dale: ”Dude, I hustled. I straight up hustled. I came into this kitchen…”

Nikki: ”Dale, nobody disagrees with that, Dale.”

Dale: ”Look at the prep lists. Just look at it.”

Tom: ”You’re saying this as if somebody else dragged their feet.”

Spike: ”Dale, come on, please. Get it all out. I mean, come on. Point some fingers if that’s what you’re doing.”

Dale: ”Were they going to get done if I didn’t get them done — like the time you asked me to do your zucchini for you?”

Spike: ”It’s a team effort, you know what I mean. Like, I’m not going to let you stand up here and tell that you were God in this elimination round and you did everything for everybody….That’s bulls— dude.”

Dale: ”I banged it out today.”

Spike: ”Well, I feel I pushed harder than you.

Dale: ”Bulls—. Bulls—.”

Spike: ”I feel like my prep load was a little more difficult than yours was.”

Dale: ”Bulls—.”

Spike: ”Dale, you’re such a little b—-, bro. Seriously.”

Nikki: ”Come on, guys.”

Spike: ”No, I’m just angry, and I’m the only one standing up for all three of us.”

Finally, Gail Simmons intervened, adding that everyone really liked the sea bass, Spike’s dish. To which Dale replied, ”You should have liked it; it took him three hours to make it.” When they were called back, Spike got lambasted for not doing enough, which was a complete reach for criticism. How could they tell? Dale got in trouble for saying he ”did the bulk of the work,” but they ”didn’t care for the bulk of that work.” As much of a jerk as Dale was this episode, he still seemed like the better chef. And Nikki ended up being the aforementioned bystander caught in the crossfire. That was merely because she was passive. Where was the ”fighter” in her? She had the opportunity to lead with her expertise, and her refusal to do it ultimately led to her packing her knives. Which was fair. Gail summed up the crux of this ep with one line: ”There was a major ego war going on.”

What do you think? Whose ego annoyed you the most? Whose will be next to blow? And should the ability to be a dominant personality in the kitchen be a factor in who gets to stay?

Episode Recaps

Tom, Padma, and Gail tell the cheftestants to pack their knives and go.
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