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Top Chef Chicago Recap, Week 1: Part II

By L. Stolpman in Food on Mar 14, 2008 2:00PM

top%20chef-thumb.jpgWhen we last saw our contestants, they were delivering their pizzas to Rocco Dispirito and Padma for evaluation, complete with red, insulated bags that serve as dinner bells to much of the population. The Chefs coo over Rocco like they met their internet date and she turned out to be HAWT. Bravo spares us the details of every reaction for each pizza. We will, too – but here are some highlights:

Richard kicks off with his peach taleggio pizza with fennel sausage and a sweet tea reduction. Richard describes his pizza and says, “And, of course, with a little sweet tea reduction,” like he just served breadsticks with, duh, the marinara sauce. Next comes Stephanie’s pizza with a melon tomato sauce, grilled prosciutto, olives and arugala. Rocco declares that he smells something funky which Bravo clearly does not want you to miss as it is captioned. The primary ingredient for Nikki’s pizza appears to be dough. It’s a white pie with comté, ricotta, and pecorino cheese with mushrooms. Erik serves a mushroom, onions, peppers, and sausage pizza (also known as “the special” at Giordano’s). Nimma’s has mushrooms, thyme, rosemary, stracchino cheese, and, apparently, no salt at all. We hear both judges lament as if the Morton’s girl herself had gone missing. Mark (Hobbit!) comes in with a Marmite molasses pizza with zucchini, chicken and spicy sauce. We generally avoid any food that ends with “mite” including Marmite’s twin sister, Vegemite and their cousin, Fecesmite.

The Chefs gather in the kitchen and Rocco separates the group into sheep and goats. Goats: Lisa, Nimma, Valerie, Manuel, Andrew, Stephanie, Nikki and Zoi. Sheep: Antonia, Dale, Erik, Jennifer, Mark, Richard, Ryan and Spike. He tells the first group, “You sucka.” The others are told, “You rocka.” Rocco disliked Stephanie’s funky prosciutto and Nikki’s chipped mushroom on bread wedge. He liked Richard’s peach pizza and the fact that Mark could take feces and make it sing with other ingredients.

Padma tells the Chefs that the nice house they are standing in is their new pad. Andrew drops another F-bomb in true Eminem fashion by gesturing with his hands and saying, “Padma’s all like…Casa, mother*BLEEP*ers!” We see the Chefs settle and chatting…all except Nimma who becomes the first person to utter a form of the standard reality show phrase, “I’m not here to make friends.” But aren’t you here to make food with salt?

Elimination time! Each sheep gets paired up with a goat to go head-to-head on making a classic dish. Here are the pairs (sheep vs. goat, respectively), what they cooked and how it went. Winner of each battle is safe, losers may go home. BOURDAIN! joins Rocco, Padma and Tom at the judges table.

Richard vs. Andrew: Crabcakes. 10 paces…to the ready,..turn…FIRE. Andrew starts the smack talk immediately. Richard is doing a crab cake, slaw, cider reduction and smoked mayonnaise. Andrew is doing WHATEVER THE F-BOMB HE WANTS. Andrew does not buy mayonnaise and Richard tap dances that the kitchen doesn’t have any. Meanwhile, Richard bought some at the store. It might be kind of shady that he doesn’t fess up to buying some but as Andrew is just as likely to shoot him in the head anyway, why do him any favors? Guilt gets the better of Richard and he offers his mayonnaise to Andrew…after Andrew has made his own – which Richard had to tell him how to do. (For reals? Did he not know this or was he being sarcastic?) Richard whips out a little smoker and fills his plastic wrapped bowl of crab cake with a smoked North African spice blend. He’s like…M and we want to be his Bond. Andrew’s crabcake has panko breadcrumbs and the judges find it just…too much. And he talks too much. The judges peel back the plastic wrap and ras al hanout (the spices) smoke wafts out. Richard wins. Andrew downplays his loss by declaring it only a flesh wound! Merely a flesh wound!

Mark vs. Stephanie: Duck a la orange. Stephanie goes whole duck and the Hobbit just knows he needs a duck and some orange… but he seems to be doing some complicated stuff which makes Stephanie a little nervous. We see Stephanie sauce with a shaky hand. Mark deconstructs his duck a la orange which impresses the judges about as much as if he’d served a progression of pasta, red sauce, and meatball and asked them to mix it up themselves. Stephanie’s dish makes us thankful for HDTV, with a slight Asian twist on it as it sits on some bok choy. Stephanie wins the throw down and we can confirm that she has an excellent dentist when we see her crack a big smile of relief as she is declared the winner.

Jennifer vs. Nikki: Lasagna. Nikki makes her own pasta. Good girl. Jennifer’s lasagna has autumn vegetables (oops, some were underdone), meat sauce and mint verde. Nikki makes a classic lasagna with sheep’s milk gouda and it looks fantastic. The homemade pasta impresses the judges. Nikki wins.

Antonia vs. Nimma: Shrimp Scampi. Antonia begins her shrimp scampi with lobster and so we love her for that. Nimma marinates her shrimp in parsley and will have a cauliflower custard/flan on the side. Nimma’s flan doesn’t set and so she opts for cauliflower slurry instead. Antonia has parpardelle with shrimp, lobster, tomatoes and squash blossoms. Rocco gets a chubby. Nimma describes her dish, more or less, as, “I made shrimp scampi…with other stuff” The judges flinch from the amount of over-salting Nimma has done to her dish proving, once again, that overcompensation impresses no one. Antonia wins.

Spike vs. Lisa: Eggs Benedict. Lisa says she’s poached more than few eggs in her day. This sounds like it should be followed by, “…if you know what I mean.” Both of their dishes look fantastic. Spike’s dish includes a poached egg with bacon, mushrooms, lemongrass sabayon on a crouton. Lisa’s has toasted halla, lobster, spinach, hollandaise and poached egg. Tony wants to both sober up and get sloppy drunk with these dishes. Lisa’s egg was poached just a bit better and she wins.

Dale vs. Manuel: Steak au Poivre. Dale reminds us that he’s going to make the song his own and flip the dish in the way he wants to flip it. Dale’s steak au poivre includes candied peppercorn, parsley puree and bok choy. Manuel’s includes a mushroom ceviche, and scallion cilantro sauce. Dale wins it.

Ryan vs. Valerie: Chicken Piccata. Ryan immediately stumbles by thinking of chicken Milanese and buys himself some breadcrumbs. He makes some gnocchi to go with it. Ryan gets no less than a lecture for not knowing how to make a piccata. Valerie goes with an orange citrus instead of a lemon. Rocco wants his butter sauce! Chubby gone. Judges hate the bastardizations and choose the lesser of two evils. Valerie wins.

Erik vs. Zoi: Souffle. Erik goes savory, Zoi goes sweet. They bond over the short straw that is soufflé. Erik makes his soufflé with mashed potatoes and tops it with some Taco Bell. Zoi does a rice pudding soufflé. Both are too heavy but the judges like the flavor of Zoi’s. Zoi wins.

The contestants are made to wait in what appears to be a Glad warehouse while the judges debate. Richard, Nikki, Antonia and Stephanie are brought in for winner declarations. Dale f-bombs his disappointment at not being a possible winner. Each judge sings the praises of one dish. BOURDAIN! actually shows his chubby to Stephanie and she is declared the WINNAH and when she says, “How fooking cool is that?!” you can’t help but agree.

Ryan, Erik, Nimma and Mark are brought in and each takes it in the balloon knot from the judges. Nimma’s dish was just too salty and even Nimma hedges on her scampi…and she is sent home packing. Don't worry, made it to Top Chef so we know you can cook!

Up next week: The kitchen is hot! People move fast! The zoo! More f-bombs from Eminem!