Thursday, May 15, 2008

Top Chef Week 10: Sexy Salads & Luxury Lunches

A curious choice in guest judge, and another simple-yet-tricky elimination challenge faced our cheftestants on this week's installment of Top Chef Chicago.

This week's guest judge was the famous, the award-winning, the accomplished... Sam Talbot from Season Two! Ok maybe not award winning (unless you count being named one of NYC's ten sexiest chefs), or particularly accomplished (unless you can call running the restaurant at The Surf Lodge in Montauk, NY "making it"), but he certainly is famous and he certainly is HOT! In all seriousness, I'm sure Sam's a great chef and obviously a rising star in the NYC scene. It's just that with seven contestants left, and reports of a finale-filming in Puerto Rico last weekend, there can't be more than two episodes left in the city of Chicago. So I'm hoping that Bravo chooses to bring in big Chicago talents for those at least. [Update: It's official, the Top Chef Chicago Finale was definitely filmed in Puerto Rico last weekend. AND just to tease us, Bravo darling (and Senior VP of programming) Andy Cohen even has a video up about it on Here's Andy and Tom in Puerto Rico.]

This week's show opens yet again with a morning-after montage. Really, this is getting old. I don't need to see a barechested Spike wrestling his pillow, Dale permi-waxing his hair, or Stephanie plucking her eyebrows. Week. After. Week.

Anyway, when the chefs arrive to their quickfire challenge, they are greeted by aforementioned lovely Sam from season two. Sam challenges the chefs to "bring sexy back" to salads (ok, sexy chef, sexy salads. kind of cheesy, but I like it). The chefs get a whopping 45 minutes to prepare their creations - yet this is still not enough time for some. Stephanie goofs by leaving her asparagus chips off of her "poached pear and artichokes fall duet" salad and lands in the bottom. Along with her are Blais (for a poorly executed and curious "fruit and vegetable ceviche"), and Lisa (whose seafood - banana salad failed to deliver). On the flip side, the judges favorites are Antonia's wild mushroom salad with a poached-egg topper, Dale's predictably-asian poached chicken with nori paste and sake, and our winner this week: Spike with his "Sensual" beef salad featuring pineapple, cucumber and skirt steak.

Spike doesn't get immunity but he DOES get an "important" advantage in the elimination challenge. Hmm, guess there's no new guest judge for this challenge -- Sam's still hanging around. The chefs are charged with creating a healthy, microwavable lunch for the candidates at the Chicago Police Academy. Their dish must include one each of the following food groups: vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein. The catch? Spike gets to shop first, and he chooses to knock out the easiest lunch choices: bread, lettuce, chicken and tomatoes (a fruit, apparently! I'm still on the opposite side of that debate, but I'll let this one slide). The competition is on!

Back at the kitchen, the chefs get to creating their lunches. Rice is a popular grain: Antonia uses jasmine rice with her filet mignon, and Dale and Lisa both use brown rice - although "someone" turns the burner up on Lisa's, causing it to burn. Hmm... suspicious. Andrew should have used rice as he's making sushi (for whatever delirious reason). However he subs pureed parsnips and pine nuts for rice. Yikes. This can't be going anywhere good. Steph uses barley in her hearty mushroom and meatball soup, and Blais uses quinoa and lentils in his rice-paper "burrito". To be honest, none of it really looks all that appetizing to me. Which means that the average Chicago cop would probably NOT be amused.

The chefs pack up and travel to the Chicago Police Academy (1300 W. Jackson) where they share their dishes with the police-in-training. Steph's is a hit, as is Dale's bison wraps and Antonia's beef.

Andrew's sushi is a disaster, Blais's "burrito" apparently tastes better than it looks, Spike's chicken salad was a dissappointment, and Lisa's rice isn't done.

In the end, Dale and Steph end up in the top two, and Dale takes the prize. He is cocky.

Lisa, Spike and Andrew are all called in on the losing end. Lisa decides it's appropriate to point out that Andrew didn't have a whole grain in his dish. She's clearly not making any more friends. And she still looks like she's ready to smash in someone's face. Although Andrew tries to argue in favor of the nutritional attributes of his dish, the bottom line comes down, as I expected: It didn't TASTE good! As the challenge was to create a satisfying, healthy lunch for people who usually eat fast food, Andrew is the clear loser, and is asked to pack his knives and go.

I was kind of shocked that Andrew made such a massive misjudgement in choosing his dish - he seems like such a smart guy. But maybe his choice was a product of the fact that he has limited versatility - when you only cook top-of-the-line fine food at a place like Le Cirque, perhaps it does become hard to ground yourself in the reality of cooking for a more general, "common man" audience. However, likely none of this matters because reportedly Andrew's already back in the kitchen at Le Cirque, plotting his next move.

Next Week: Restaurant Wars is BACK! But this time it's three-on-three. I would guess that they're probably using Cenitaire restaurants for this one, as I reported last week in my Top Scoop. This is the challenge that sent Tre home in last season's biggest shocker, so it's anyone's game to lose at this point. Look for Rick Tramonto as a guest judge!

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