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!

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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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