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Top Chef, Season 4: Restaurant Wars & Another Giveaway!

Okay, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I hired a new legal assistant yesterday. She is a very nice lady with good credentials and I think she will work out just fine. After a few weeks of training, things should return to normal over here in SGCC Land. The bad news is that I am a day late with this Top Chef recap. I’m really sorry, but it just couldn’t be helped. After a full day of interviewing, I had to race over to my daughter’s school for their Spring Music Showcase. She is in the school chorus and she sang a lovely solo last night. I was so proud. My Mini-SGCC is a chip off the old block! Anyway, I’m here now and I have plenty to say about Restaurant Wars!

Woohoo!!! I was very excited to see that the Restaurant Wars are back! It seems that either Bravo was just teasing us or they couldn’t think up another idea for an Elimination Challenge. No matter because I was pleased as punch when I found out that this week The Cheftestants were going to battle it out in that popular challenge.
The episode opens as the Cheftestants are catching up on some much needed sleep. At what appears to be an ungodly pre-dawn hour, Chef Tom sneaks in wakes them up to announce the Quickfire Challenge. don’t you just hate to get up when it’s still dark outside? It always feels like the middle of the night to me! Anyway, the bleary-eyed chefs are off to Lou Mitchell’s [1]diner, a bustling Chicago breakfast hot spot, for the QF. Tom explains that they will be working, not eating at the diner during the hectic morning rush.

Once at Lou Mitchell’s, the gang are introduced to the owner, Helene, who looks like someone way too scary to meet before having your morning coffee. She explains that the cheftestants will each take turns working the egg station in the “Hole”. After that, Helene will decide who was best at taking the heat in her kitchen, and choose the winner.

Antonia’s up first and she is unflappable, as is Dale. They both do a pretty good job and, of course place in the top two. The rest are a mess! I’ve never worked in a diner, but I’ve certainly cooked my share of eggs for some pretty impatient, cranky people and managed not to break every yolk or set my kitchen on fire. Seriously, I’m getting so f***ing sick of hearing those “chefs” whine about how they’re used to “fine dining” and they don’t “do” this or that. We’re talking EGGS, people! What the hell kind of chef can’t make a simple fried egg, over easy? My fourteen year old can do it.

I digress.

Helene picks Antonia as the winner and the dog and pony show goes back on the road – this time to the top secret and mysterious location of the Elimination Challenge. Wooooo! (Insert foreboding Twilight Zone theme here.) Tom explains that he is off to a charity event and won’t be around for this EC. But, he is sending someone in to take his place.


The Cheftestants arrive at a big, old, empty warehouse space. It is actually pretty nice, with rustic wood floors and brick walls. Padma is there to greet them and enthusiastically exclaims that “Restaurant Wars is back!”. She explains that they will split into two teams and each will have $1,500 for food and $5,000 for decor. Since Antonia won the QF, she gets to hand pick her teammates. Predictably, she chooses Stephanie and Richard. Uh oh. This leaves Dale, Lisa and Spike on the other team. Is anyone else feeling a bit of deja vu here? No matter what those chefs put on their menu, I smell a recipe for disaster!

Antonia’s team decides to go with a “gastro-pub” theme, calling their restaurant “Warehouse Kitchen”. Since I had no clue what that was, I looked it up. Apparently, a gastro-pub is a “British term for a pub which specializes in high-quality food a step above the more basic “pub grub.” The name is a combination of pub and gastronomy.” (Thank you Wikipedia [2]!) The other team – (Let’s just call them the Team of Doom, shall we?) – decide to open an Asian restaurant. Big surprise there, since all three claim to specialize in Asian cuisine. Well, Dale probably does. They name their restaurant “Mai Buddha”. Next, there is menu planning, shopping and decorating, blah, blah, blah.

Antonia decides she is going to be the head chef of Team Gastro-Pub. (After all, she did win the QF and so it is kinda her team.), and Richard will be her flunky. Stephanie agrees to take over the front of the house, which means she gets to wear a pretty dress. After a very scientific coin toss, Dale gets to be the head chef for the other team. Ever the schmoozer, Spike takes the front of the house for Team of Doom, which mean he gets to wear a nice suit. Spike is actually not a bad-looking guy. It’s too bad he is such a back-stabbing a$$hole.

As the Cheftestants are madly prepping for the big night, Anthony Bourdain pops in to let them know that will be the one subbing for Chef Tom. He promises to bring his ”warmer, sunnier disposition” to this challenge. I wasn’t aware that he had one of those! Team of Doom is a little nervous. Bourdain has spent mucho time eating his way through Asia and is going to be pretty damn hard to impress.


Next, the eliminated Cheftestants are trotted in and each team gets to select one to help out. Team Gastro-Pub is making lots and lots of pasta, so they choose Nikki, because that’s pretty much all she can do. Team of Doom chooses Jen, because she is a great chef and they love her.

Team Gastro-Pub’s Warehouse Kitchen was decorated in an understated and low key style. In fact, it was so low key that I can’t remember a single thing about it. I wish I had DVR’ed the show. Team of Doom’s decor for Mai Buddha featured purple and silver napkins and, well….Buddhas. I won’t even comment. I’ll just tell you that I agreed with Judge Bourdain when he said that it looked like the back of Prince’s van.

The Judges’ Table picked up Chef José Andrés, who hosts a show on PBS called “Made in Spain” [3], as the guest judge for the night. (I think I’ve seen him on Iron Chef America.) He, apparently, has opened up many restaurants of his own. I’ll bet he never used purple and silver napkins.

As you’ve probably already guessed, the judges were in love with Team Gastro-Pub’s food. They made a beet salad with goat cheese and ras el hanout spices, fresh pasta with clams and sausage topped with a horseradish creme fraiche (Good think Nikki noticed those gritty clams!), Lamb Squared, featuring a lamb loin and braised lamb shank, trout with cauliflower puree and savory gorgonzola cheesecake with a concord grape sauce.

The Team of Doom served up a coconut Laksa (soup) with grilled prawns and vermicelli, miso glazed scallops drenched in a thick butterscotch sauce, braised short ribs with pickled red cabbage, Halo-Halo and Thai mango sticky rice with toasted coconut. As you can also guess, the judges pretty much hated everything about the meal except the short ribs.

Team Gastro-Pub to the win big time in Restaurant Wars with Stephanie in the # 1 slot. That lucky duck won a culinary trip for two to Spain! I’m sooooo jealous!

Obviously, Team of Doom lost the war and after much verbal sparring, Dale was sent to pack his knives. Poor Dale. The only trip he won included a one-way ticket home.

I must say that I was pretty shocked (and a little sad) to see Dale go. I really didn’t see that one coming. I was looking forward to a Dale/Richard finale. Lisa has consistently been in the bottom three while Dale has been in the top three. Lisa’s dishes were crap last night. Even if Dale’s dishes were crap too, shouldn’t all of his prior wins count for something? And Spike! He must be so slimy that the bad luck just rolls right off him.

What do you think? Now that Dale has been knocked out, who do you think will duke it out with Richard in the finale? Let’s Dish!!!


It is my pleasure to announce that this week’s Top Chef Giveaway winner is non other than Jen of Use Real Butter [4]. Congratulations, Jen! (Actually, I don’t think that Jen even watches Top Chef, but she might start now that she is the proud owner of an official Top Chef oven mitt! You can never have to many of those, right?). Jen, if you’ll email me at stickygooeycreamychewy AT gmail DOT com with your mailing address, I’ll get your prize out to you ASAP.

Remember, I still have more stuff to give away. I even have a little something special planned for the finale. All you have to do to be eligible to win is leave a comment on this post by 10:00 p.m. next Wednesday. I’ll pick a winner using the handy dandy random number generator. Next week, I’ll be giving away another one of these Top Chef sticky note pads.

On a personal note, I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who left such kind and supportive comments last week. I can’t tell you how much they were appreciated. It has a sad, scary time around here the past few weeks and your good wishes really meant a lot. You’re the best!

Ciao for now!