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

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 [1](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 [2]. 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.