Thursday, May 8, 2008

Top Chef Week 9: Ring the Bells

And then there were eight.

This week on Top Chef, we got it all: drama, fire, desperation, romance, a Casey look-alike and even a fairy tale wedding. Well, if your heart's wish was to have Top Chef cater your wedding. And one lucky Chicago bride and groom got just that! A friend of mine actually attended the wedding (he's a friend of the groom) so keep reading for the insider scoop... it's not what you'd expect!

We open with a classic relay challenge. From now on, the winner(s) of the quickfire challenges will no longer get immunity! But they WILL get a special advantage in the elimination challenge. Teams are drawn and it's Stephanie, Blais, Antonia and Andrew versus Spike, Nikki, Lisa and Dale. The cards seem to be stacked, but Lisa starts for her team and gains a huge advantage in the orange peeling & supreming task. However, her teammates promptly lose the lead for her in the following events of artichoke cleaning, monkfish cleaning & filleting (gross!), and mayonaise-making. They come into the last task even, but Steph goes into wisking hyper mode and whips out a quart of mayonaise in a flash. Nikki couldn't get hers to break, and thus Stephanie and team with the challenge.

But the sweet taste of victory fades quickly when Padma drops the elimination challenge bomb: instead of Restaurant Wars (waaah! I LOVE that challenge!), this season it's Wedding Wars! Which doesn't really add up to Restaurant Wars at all, but oh well. We'll take it. So we meet JP and Corey (who is totally a Casey look alike! Anyone?), the blushing young couple who also happen to own and operate a restaurant and wedding venue in Chicago, Galleria Marchetti.

Casey and Corey: twins separated at birth?

The chefs' task is to cater the reception - for 125 guests per team, one to the bride's tastes and one to the groom's. Oh yeah, and the wedding is happening THE NEXT MORNING. I smell an all-nighter coming on (not that we couldn't have figured that out from the previews!).

The big advantage for the quickfire winners? They get to choose the bride or the groom. And it's the bride, "because it's her day". Aww, nice speech Blais. But did you think about the fact that she's going to flip if everything isn't perfect? Then again, maybe this groom will too... he looks like a "detail oriented" guy. The chefs harredly take down their client's wishes and requests, and set off to Whole Foods and Restaurant Depot (correction - not wedding depot, although I think Antonia called it that) to spend their $5000 budgets. Then its back for a rousing all-night session at the Top Chef kitchen. Nikki's on the groom's side and he's super Italian (Marchetti!), so they hit it off. Nikki's making pasta again, and refusing to take a leadership role on the other dishes - clearly she doesn't want to take responsibility if they turn out badly, but really, she's already in the driver's seat, so she might as well take the wheel. She avoids it.

Blais seems to be the natural leader on the bride's team, but everyone is getting to their individual tasks. The bride likes meat & potatoes, so the team is going with a down-home, southern comfort food theme, that hopefully will work well for them. Stephanie takes on a massive wedding cake (scary move!) but when its finished, it looks AWESOME, and looks supremely professional next to Lisa's boring, amateurish square mess of a cake.

Our guest judge for the evening is Gale Gand (Executive Pastry Chef & Co-Owner of Chicago's fantastic Tru). Stephanie is spooked that she's making a cake for one of Chicago's top pastry chefs. But she needn't worry!

The outdoor ceremony looks beautiful, and the banuqet tent lovely as well. The chefs have a round of appetizers go out, which include bruschetta, mini pulled pork sandwiches, and fillos. Then the party moves inside and the chefs serve their buffet.

Even though the bride and groom seem to be psyched that Top Chef is filming their wedding, my friend who was at the event was not amused by the presence of the production. He also wasn't impressed by the food - he could tell that it was made in a hurry and that the chefs weren't experienced with catering. No dish really stuck out for him, and he spent more time ducking around cameras than hanging with his newly married friend, which he regrets. So maybe it's NOT the best thing to have Top Chef cater your wedding. But dear Bravo, hear me now: when I ever do get married, if the timing is right, and the show is still running, you are MORE than welcome to come cater the event!

Once the reception is over and the champagne buzz has faded for all except Padma, it's back to judges table. Man, the cheftestants likely haven't slept in a day and a half. Intense.

The bride's team comes out on top. Although the chicken and creamed spinach were weak, the judges love the brisket, pizza, and especially the cake! Gale gives a beaming Stephanie high praise for the cake, which she said "would take her three days to make". The judges hand Blais the win, but he decides to give it to Stephanie, for her victory on the cake. Aww.

Then its over to the groom's losing team. Spike is safe because of his excellently executed Chilean sea bass. Lisa is good because the judges liked the taste of her cake (if not the presentation). Dale worked his ass off in the kitchen, and is safe for all of his efforts there. So it's Nikki who is sent packing, because despite her Italian expertise, she refused to take a leadership role on the team. But she ended up in a directive role anyway, and because she didn't embrace it and help create a thoughtful, coherent menu, she's out.

Next week, Ted Allen is back, and it looks like the remaining chefs are cooking for the Chicago Police academy. Oh, and it looks like Sam from season 2 might also be making an appearance, especially considering Antonia's comment: "tall, dark, handsome, AND he can cook? Sign me up!" A budding romance on Top Chef? The kitchen is heating up!!

Things I'm still waiting for this season: the appearance of Dale Levitski from season 3 (when is his Chicago restaruant going to open?!), guest turns from Grant Achatz (I feel like they're waiting to bring him out) and Mindy Segal (of course), and the challenge where the chefs cook for Charlie Trotter and all of his closest friends - the top chefs of the world. His big twentieth anniversary happened while Top Chef was filming... it has GOT to happen. I have no proof yet but mark my words... just wait. :)


Amy said...

I love Dale from Season 3! I would go gay just for him, except unfortunately I'm a girl and it doesn't quite work that way. Thanks for the insider scoop!

Hillary said...

Nice recap and thanks for the link! I just get my screenshots from YouTube, plain and simple :)