Top Chef, Season 4: Improv AND Giveaway Winner

Thursday, April 24, 2008

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NOTE: I apologize for posting this week’s recap so late. We had an urgent family emergency arise last night and I’ve been tied up all day dealing with it. If it seems a little disjointed, I trust you’ll understand. I threw it together pretty quickly.

Well, things were sure a lot calmer in the Top Chef kitchen this week. So much so, that I had a bit of trouble staying awake through the whole show. As much as I complain about the Cheftestants’ spoiled brat antics, I guess I kind of like the drama. Last night, I was bored.
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This week’s guest judge was Johnny Iuzzini, executive pastry chef at the famed Restaurant Jean Georges in New York. Chef Iuzzini was also recently named New York’s Sexiest Chef, by New York Daily News. He is kind of cute, I suppose, but he’s no Ming Tsai!
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As you’ve probably guessed, the Quickfire Challenge was all about desserts. The Cheftestants had thirty minutes to come up with a creative and delicious dessert sufficient to wow Chef Iuzzini. Since desserts have been the kiss of death for many an aspiring Top Chef, the anxiety in that room was thick enough to cut with a pastry blender. I don’t get it. What is the big effing deal about making a dessert? Where is it written that one can only do quality sweet or savory dishes, but not both? Thousands of you do it (and do it extremely well) every day. I do it, and I’m not a trained chef. Even with my doughaphobia, I manage to eke out a pretty decent pie crust. So, why is it that the mere mention of the “D” word is enough to inspire terror in the hearts of our dear Cheftestants?

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In any event, most of those dessert offerings actually weren’t bad. In the bottom three were Antonia, Mark (who seemed genuinely surprised) and Spike (who bravely attempted a souffle). Chef Iuzzini’s top picks were Dale, Lisa and Richard, who won the challenge with his quirky Banana Scallops with Banana Guacamole and Chocolate Ice Cream.

After the Quickfire, Padma sweetly announced that the Cheftestants would be getting a well-deserved night off to relax and be inspired at The Second City, the legendary improvisational comedy club in Chicago. Yeah, right! We all knew where THAT was going! The gang quickly became part of the show, with the whole concept for Elimination Challenge being “improvised” by the actors on the mainstage with a little help from the audience.

Guided by the actors, audience members were asked to shout out color, emotion, and ingredient names, which were to become the inspiration for the chefs’ dishes at a dinner they would prepare for the Second City troupe and the judges. The chefs were again divided into pairs, and each was assigned one of the “improvised” color, emotion and ingredient combinations to base their dishes on. The icing on the proverbial cake was that while preparing the food, they would have no electrical appliances, other than their stoves and ovens.


I thought that this was a fantastic opportunity for the Cheftestants to really show what kind of creative stuff they’re made of. The five teams and their assignment are as follows:

Team Spike/Andrew – yellow, love, vanilla
Team Antonia/Lisa – magenta, drunk, polish sausage
Team Jen/Stephanie – orange, turned on, asparagus

Team Nikki/Mark – purple, depressed, bacon
Team Dale/Richard – green, perplexed tofu


I can tell you that with the exception of Team Antonia/Lisa, all of the teams really did try to capture spirit of the challenge. Their dishes cleverly incorporated each of the three elements they were assigned.
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Team Dale/Richard, rocked it with their Tofu “Steak” Marinated in Beef Fat with Green Curry. They were the winners of the challenge, followed by runners up Spike and Andrew who made – are you ready – BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP! Can you stand it? And the judges loved it! All I can say is thank goodness that Spike finally got to make that soup! Now, he can finally stop
whining about it!

Team Jen/Stephanie and Team Antonia/Lisa made the least favorite dishes and ended up on the chopping block. Jen and Stephanie’s Menage a Trois of Orange with Goat Cheese, Asparagus, Salad and Olive Tapenade was a mess! First of all, their assigned ingredient was asparagus, yet it seemed like an afterthought on their plate. They smothered the asparagus in a pile of caramelized goat cheese and plopped a big hunk of toasted bread on the plate. Apparently, they were trying to make some sort of phallic statement with their presentation, but the interpretation left the judges “limp”.

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Team Antonia/Lisa, aka Team “We Hate Polish Sausage”, arrogantly chose to completely bypass the polish sausage in their dish altogether, and opted to use sea bass (???) and chorizo instead. They decided that, damn it, they were fine dining chefs, and polish sausage was beneath them. WTF? Yeah, well the judges didn’t buy it either.

In the end, the judges determined that even though Team “We Hate Polish Sausage” defied the rules of the challenge, their dish still tasted better than Jen and Steph’s. In what I considered to be an incredibly unfair decision, Jen was asked to pack her knives and go.

Now, it’s your turn. Let’s dish up some Top Chef! Leave a comment on this post and you will be eligible for my next Top Chef Giveaway. Next time, some lucky commenter will win one of these handy dandy Top Chef whisks. Who wouldn’t love that?

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The winner of this week’s Giveaway and the recipient of an official Top Chef oven mitt is……Deborah from Taste and Tell! Congratulations, Deborah! Send me an email at stickygooeycreamychewy AT gmail DOT com with your mailing address and I’ll get your prize out to you ASAP.

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Ciao for now!

10 responses to Top Chef, Season 4: Improv AND Giveaway Winner

  1. On April 25, 2008 at 3:58am, Grace said...

    i could’ve done without seeing a shirtless mark. now if it were sam from season 2 instead, it would’ve been a different story completely. :)

  2. On April 25, 2008 at 7:12am, Lore said...

    Your recaps keep me posted on Top Chef as I don’t get to see it on TV. I enjoy all this food-related drama!
    Sure glad Antonia and Lisa couldn’t fool the judges but it seems rather unfair to keep someone who didn’t stick to the rules over someone who did.

  3. On April 25, 2008 at 10:17am, DocChuck said...

    I was quit relieved that the judges sent home the woman responsible for that incredibly juvinile and tasteless (not in the culinary sense) asparagus dish.

    I would also like to know why I have yet to win the oven mitts!

    I promised them to my wife, who was planning to use them in her popular caberet act.

    Please advise.

    Chuck, PhD

  4. On April 25, 2008 at 10:28am, Amy said...

    Hi! Two things:
    1. I love your blog and your lovely Top Chef re-cap!!
    2. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog recently – so nice to meet another classically trained singer in the food blogging world!!

    Have a wonderful day! :-)

  5. On April 25, 2008 at 10:56am, Deborah said...

    Woo hoo! I’m so excited – thank you! I’ll get an email out to you immediately.

    As for this episode, I could tell Jen was going to get the axe – they kept bringing up the big piece of bread, and I knew that was going to end up being the determining factor.

  6. On April 25, 2008 at 7:38pm, Nanc Twop said...

    ”arrogantly chose to completely bypass the polish sausage”

    Yes, ‘arrogant’ is exactly the right word for their attitude.
    ”an incredibly unfair decision, Jen was asked to pack her knives”

    Ditto, ITA. I felt even worse about it when I saw that extra Bravo video (from the ep), plus two other refs that said people loved Jen’s food. Link

  7. On April 25, 2008 at 8:30pm, chinamomxtwo said...

    just recently found your blog and have enjoyed reading all your posts.
    I love Top Chef!!!! I never miss an episode…and this weeks?? What were they thinking by not using Polish Sausage? They were in Chicago for goodness sakes, could have found fresh sausaage and made an awesome magenta drunk polish sausage! I think one of them should have gone home for not following the ‘rules’
    Anyhow, thanks for the chance to win! :)

  8. On April 26, 2008 at 7:34pm, Dolores said...

    I agreed with the judges on the winners… Dale and Richard were *brilliant* together and I grudgingly have to admit Spike’s soup (looked like it) didn’t suck.

    But I think Antonia and Lisa both should have been given their walking papers for ditching the challenge altogether. If I’d had to pick one to leave it would have been Lisa… I’m with Dale; her attitude was old two weeks ago.

  9. On April 26, 2008 at 10:07pm, Tracy said...

    How fun to “meet” another food blogger who’s into Top Chef! I agree with you 100% that Ming Tsai is sexier than Johnny Iuzzini. And I also agree that the elimination decision was completely unfair. Rule number one should be that you follow the rules of the challenge.

  10. On April 28, 2008 at 8:20am, Patsyk said...

    I FINALLY watched this last night… crazy week (again!). Anyway, I love that Richard and Dale came out on top – wasn’t thrilled that the “twins” (Spike and Andrew) came out as one of the best, but they soup did look good. I just don’t like either one of them.

    I was sure that by not using the polish sausage, one of those two would be gone. They completely ignored the challenge and really were reaching by trying to “improv” their dish. Wasn’t fair that they got to stay when they didn’t follow the rules.

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kiss the cook!

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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