Top Chef Season 4, Elements: Let’s Dish! AND This Week’s Giveaway Winner

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Whew! Things were pretty freakin’ hot in the Top Chef kitchen last night, and I don’t mean the food! Tempers were flaring. The tension was so thick you could cut it with a Ginsu knife. The Cheftestants reached a new high of childishness and petulance. It was almost uncomfortable to watch!

Episode 5, or “Elements”, started out benignly enough. Gathered in the Top Chef kitchen, the Cheftestants were introduced to this week’s guest judge, Ming Tsai (Soooo cute!). Chef Tsai is the owner of the popular Blue Ginger restaurant in Boston, as well as the host and executive producer of the PBS cooking show, SIMPLY MING. Many of you may remember him from the Food Network, where he was the host of East Meets West with Ming Tsai for several years. What you may not know about Ming Tsai, is that he holds a mechanical engineering degree from Yale as well as a Master’s degree in Hotel Administration and Hospitality Marketing from Cornell. This is no hash slinger, people!
The Quickfire Challenge was one that is reprised every season, the “palate test”. Blindfolded, the Cheftestants had to taste various pairs of items and determine which was of higher quality. I look forward to this Quickfire each season. It is so interesting to see which of the chefs do well on this, or actually, which don’t do so well. I was really surprised that Stephanie came out on the bottom here. She has been so consistent with her food up until now, grabbing a few big wins. While a couple of the chefs came close, Antonia took this one with a score of 12 out of 15 correct guesses and won immunity for this week.

For the Elimination Challenge, the Cheftestants were called upon to create the first course for a charity dinner to benefit Meals on Wheels. The chefs were, once again, put into teams and each was to create their dish based on one of the four elements of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. Very cool! I could definitely see the potential for profound creativity in this challenge. Unfortunately, this was where things started to get sticky. Some of these kids need to go back to preschool to learn how to “play well with others”.
Spike was pissed from the start when he learned that Antonia was on his team. He felt that, since she had immunity, she wouldn’t give a crap and just try to coast. I didn’t get that impression from Antonia, but maybe Spike knows something that I don’t. Anyway, Spike Antonia and Zoi made up Team Earth. Spike wanted to make a butternut squash soup (how original!), but Antonia nixed that idea because it wasn’t “special” enough. Zoi just stood there looking sullen. They ended up making some boring mushroom and beef carpaccio dish that everyone hated. Hello! Did they not remember the “mushroom turds” from a few weeks ago? Honestly, after that disaster, I wouldn’t have touched mushrooms with a ten foot pole!
Team Water, consisting of “King” Richard, Mark and “Court Jester” Andrew, also laid a big fat goose egg in this challenge. They prepared a salmon dish cooked sous vide in a water bath with a parsnip-vanilla puree, a watercress salad and (quelle surprise!) another faux caviar. Andrew had better watch it if he doesn’t want to look like a one trick pony! I don’t know about that parsnip puree, but I have eaten salmon cooked sous vide before, and I really liked it. Unfortunately, the judges were decidedly underwhelmed. Somebody needed to throw Team Water a life preserver, because they were drowning!
Team Air’s offering was so “meh” that I can’t even remember what they made. Hell, I can’t even remember who was on the team! Oh yes, it was Ryan, Jennifer and Nikki. I know that they represented Air, but it was almost like they were invisible! They made some kind of duck breast with a citrus salad and a pomegranate aperitif that went horribly wrong. Sadly, they didn’t make enough of an impression to to be voted either the best or the worst, which I guess is an okay place to be.
Team Fire, with Stephanie, Dale and Lisa totally rocked the house with their marinated grilled shrimp, picked chili pepper salad and maple-miso bacon dish. This was pretty ironic since they originally planned to make a totally different dish. Dale and Stephanie wanted to play up the whole “fire in hell” idea and make deviled eggs wrapped in a carpaccio. Lisa bitched and moaned and carried on about it to no end. When they found out that the ill-fated Team Earth was also planning to do a carpaccio, they switched gears in the middle of shopping for ingredients at Whole Foods and came up with the shrimp idea. Good call, since they were the winning team.
In the end, Lisa won the day for her unique spin on bacon. She also won a trip for two to Italy! Sweet! Stephanie looked upset, but hey, she can’t win every time! Dale cracked me up when he said he was bitter. Doesn’t he realize that the guy who makes salad never wins? Zoi, on the other hand, was asked to pack her knives and go. I can’t say that I’m sorry. In my opinion, she has consistently acted like a spoiled brat. In every episode, whenever questioned about her performance or her food by the judges, she became defensive, bordering on rude. She did not take any criticism well, even when deserved. I hate to say it, but I am not sorry to see her go.

The rest of the Cheftestants, however, were. At the end of the show, we were treated to an all out slug fest! There was yelling, crying, flying furniture and more cursing than even I could process (and I’m not that sensitive)! Dale told Lisa off for being such a bitch through the whole challenge. Spike totally blamed Antonia for Zoi’s dismissal and let her have it again about that soup. Jen just totally lost it and started busting up the place. If it hadn’t been so sad, it would have been funny. Yes, folks, it was reality TV at its finest!

Now, it’s your turn to spill your thoughts on last night’s episode. What did you think? Did the judges get it right? Do the Cheftestants need a little Prozac? Who did you find more annoying, Lisa or Zoi? Do any of you think Ming Tsai is as big a hunk as I do?
Leave your comments, rants and raves on this episode by next Wednesday, 4/16/08, at 10:00 p.m., EDT, and you will be eligible for my next Top Chef Giveaway! One lucky reader will win a copy of the Top Chef Cookbook! How cool is that?!?!

So, Let’s Dish!

And now, without further ado, I am happy to announce that SweetnSavory is the winner of this week’s giveaway: the Top Chef bitch cap. Congratulations, SweetnSavory! Thanks for participating. If you’ll email me at stickygooeycreamychewyATgmailDOTcom with your mailing address, I’ll get your prize out to you.

16 responses to Top Chef Season 4, Elements: Let’s Dish! AND This Week’s Giveaway Winner

  1. On April 10, 2008 at 10:58am, Elly said...

    I am not the biggest fan of Zoi or Spike, in all honesty, so I didn’t care who went. But, I will say that, while I like Richard and think he’s more talented than both of them combined, if TC played by the “rules” I think he should have packed his knives and sous-vide machine and went. It’s supposed to be based on that ONE challenge (as much as I disagree with that), and I think he screwed up the most with the scales and the salmon texture…and the conceptualization. But, methinks they learned not to kick off a great chef when they got some people mad of Tre last year. :)

    I met Ming Tsai last month and he is so sweet and yes, dreamy :)

  2. On April 10, 2008 at 12:55pm, Deborah said...

    I was glad to see Zoi go, but I really can’t stand Lisa after that episode. She was so stubborn and wouldn’t have it any way but her way – it should be a team effort!! And she is so negative – I could never work with her. As much as I’d like to see a girl win, I hope she is the next one to go.

  3. On April 10, 2008 at 2:46pm, Simply...Gluten-free said...

    Ok, I missed most of the episode so I just skimmed your post – wanting to know not wanting to know! Yikes. I have to watch the whole thing before I can really comment – just clicked on comments to stop myslef from reading!

  4. On April 10, 2008 at 3:13pm, David Dust said...

    I was totally hoping that Jen and Lisa would have beat the crap out of Spike and Dale. Maybe next week…

    Click here for DavidDust’s Top Chef recap.


  5. On April 10, 2008 at 5:47pm, Dolores said...

    I was with Tom on this one… I wanted to see them send BOTH Spike and Zoi home. And I wouldn’t have minded seeing Jen and Lisa get the axe too. I don’t know how they think they’re going to succeed at any level in such a cutthroat industry when their primary skills seem to be cussing and whining.

  6. On April 10, 2008 at 6:17pm, Manggy said...

    This hasn’t aired yet in my country but I do love your descriptions Susan! Almost as if I was there!

    Team Air missed out on an opportunity to totally saturate the room with, like, atomized chicken or something. The magic of smell! It’s totally “air.”

    Naturally, Fire is easiest to process (well, at least for me… I love hot, spicy food).

  7. On April 10, 2008 at 9:31pm, Josie said...

    I also totally agree with Tom. Both Zoi and Spike needed to leave. I am happy Zoi is gone (if I had to hear her gf go on about what a talented chef she is one more time… ugh) and I am crossing my fingers to see Spike hit the road next week.

    I also was a little turned off by Lisa in this episode. She just seemed like the exact opposite of a team player.

    Am I the only one who hasn’t really been captured by this season?!

  8. On April 11, 2008 at 4:02am, Joanne said...

    Thanks for your recaps and may I say to those (like me) that are living abroad – some very kind person has posted all of season 4 so far on youtube. So after reading this, they can go and watch it too.

  9. On April 11, 2008 at 6:23am, Ginny said...

    I’ve been a bit of a delinquent and missed a few weeks but yesterday at the gym I saw the rerun–I know horrible but maybe that tells you how this season is just not holding my interesting—anyway, I was happy to see Zoi leave…she is annoying! Anytime you under season a dish, it is a good enough reason for you to leave…I forget who said it but it really is basic cooking 101. Also, what was with Richard joking with the Chef…that was just weird! I was really intrigued by Fire’s dish- I definitely want to give it a shot…I’ve been craving bacon lately anyway!

  10. On April 11, 2008 at 11:38am, Mike of Mike's Table said...

    I really want to like someone in this bunch, but so far, they all seem so immature and socially dysfunctional. There’s so much confidence and so little reason for it…and honestly, that last two minutes or so of the show where they all exploded on each other…wtf? If I want Hell’s Kitchen, I’ll watch that…it just kills me to see each cooking show focus less and less on food. :-/

  11. On April 12, 2008 at 8:45pm, Carl said...

    Can I just say that I am really becoming a fan of Dale. I just watched the whole season 4 marathon today. The only food that stuck out to me was Dale’s tacos and Richard’s tacos. Dale’s personality seems to resonate with me then Richard’s. I agreed with Tom that Richard seemed overly arrogant when he was preparing his poached salmon. We’ll see if this weeks reality check brings his ego back to earth. I guess I’d be pretty sure of myself if I’d been as successful as he has been so far on this show.

    What I like about Dale is his ability to quietly go about his work in the kitchen without drawing attention to himself. Outside of the kitchen is a different story, which we all saw at the end of the episode. But I respect him for speaking his mind after he was sure he knew what Lisa was all about. It looks like he confronts her about it in a more professional manner next week.

    After what I have seen on this show I would not trust Spike further then I could throw him. He has made some shady moves a few times on the show and never shows any remorse. However, I would like him to stay on the show for the bad boy factor. I enjoy watching him and trying to figure him out. It’s more then just the food for me, and I think Spike is the best character on the show.

    Speaking of shady moves, I think Manuel tried to get the judges to blame the failed spring rolls on Spike in his passive aggressive way. Because of this move, I had no sympathy when he got sent home.

  12. On April 14, 2008 at 9:59am, sweetnsavory said...

    I finally got around to last week’s recap! Woohoo! I finally won something! :-)

    Ugh! I still can’t stand Spike and I really wish they’d just send him home. This week’s challenge also made me lose some respect for Richard. His teammates kept telling him about the scales, yet he brushed it off like it wasn’t a big deal and there couldn’t possibly be any more than what they’d found. As for Dale…yes he should address his concerns with Lisa, but I think he chose an inappropriate time to do so. But, it would be “entertaining” if everyone just stuck to being polite and appropriate now would it. 😉

    On a good note, I loved the guest judge this week, Ming Tsai. I used to love watching his cooking show. Does anyone know if he has one on anywhere?

  13. On April 14, 2008 at 10:51am, Patsyk said...

    Ok, so I am a bit behind in watching (again) this week! Just watched last night, and I must say I am kind of happy Zoi went home. She just wore on my nerves. I almost thought that Richard would have gone home due to the scales left on the salmon.

    I’m having a hard time rooting for anyone this season. In general, it just seems like everyone is a pain in the you-know-what and I haven’t seen any personalities stand out as someone I’d want to win… maybe we’ll see more next week.

  14. On April 14, 2008 at 1:36pm, sweetnsavory said...

    ok, ignore my question. if i’d read the post thoroughly, i’d see she wrote about simply ming. however, on my directv pbs channel, i don’t get that show. :-( or sara moulton’s new one either. or everyday food. i get everyday baking…what’s up with that? ;-P

  15. On April 14, 2008 at 3:54pm, Nanc Twop said...

    Fun recap!

    Judges get it right?
    I dislike bland ‘Earth’ food 😉
    … but I really hate mushy salmon, especially with scales tossed in as an extra treat. ‘PYK&G’ from me for Water right there.

    Plus Richard was crying at the end not because he was sorry to see Zo go, but because he knew he’d just dodge a bullet. If the judges had seen what we saw, that Andrew and Richard knew about the scales before the dishes even went out… I’m sure it would’ve been ‘bye-bye FauxHawkR’. IMO, no way is ‘bland’ a worse sin than -knowingly- sending out a flawed dish.

    Chefs need a little Prozac?
    Why stop’m? They’re on a roll!
    *which would be the first bakery product ever produced on Top Chef… you’d think the entire show was on a lo-carb diet.

    more annoying, Lisa or Zoi?
    Zoi, but if we sent chefs home for being annoying way, way too many restaurants would close.

    Ming – hot or not?
    I love him for his mind…

    btw, good job going after the bad blogger.
    I’ve included a note about your ‘page theft’ on my blog.

  16. On April 26, 2008 at 10:20pm, Tracy said...

    I went to see Ming Tsai in person. The thing that was surprising is how very witty he was. And a sports nut to boot. For the person who asked, he is still on PBS.

    I wasn’t sad to see Zoi go.

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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