Welcome, Gasmii, to Top Chef Season 4! I’m so excited to be recapping one of my favorite shows, and look forward to reveling in the talent, stupidity, and arrogance of these 16 chefs with y’all! I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know shit about the culinary arts – fine dining for me is eating at a real table instead of on my couch – but I do know what looks appetizing, and that when Colicchio looks like he’s going to vomit, it’s never a good sign. I think that’s all the qualifications I need. With that out of the way, let’s begin the show!
I’ve missed you, Scar!
Okay, everyone always looks like a douchebag in these Bravo opening credits sequences, thanks to the asinine lines the producers make them say or the fact the poses they strike were last seen at a Special O fashion show. But even knowing this, I still take an instant dislike to Erik, the middle-aged bald dude/Stone Cold Steve Austin impersonator.
We open with gratuitous shots of Chicago, my hometown (holla!) and the stage for this year’s competition. The contestants begin arrive, and we’re first introduced to Ryan. Ryan’s parents aren’t big fans of child labor laws, having thrown his ass in a hot kitchen at age 11 for some free manual labor. Luckily for Ryan it turns out he was a good cook, and Pop got to fire two of those whiny employees who were always complaining about paychecks and humane working environments or whatnot. At least Ryan got a better deal than his sister, Melanie. Those Asian sweatshops were no place for a 4-year-old.
Up next is Nimma, who babbles about her family’s expectations and bores me instantly. This brings us to Zoi, which is the most annoying spelling of a name I’ve seen in a while. She tells us that she thinks she’ll bring a “softer” side to the competition, and evidently this means Pig Head Soup. If only Jack and the hunters had been that resourceful, that whole “Lord of the Flies” book would have totally ended differently.
New Zealander Mark is next, and he’s living the American dream – making a fresh start with only $200 and a backpack, while growing a bitch-ass set of mutton chops. It’s opportunities like that that make this country grand.
The chefs arrive at Pizzeria Uno, and begin fawning all over it while I roll my eyes. Seriously, that stuff is way overrated. If you want some good Chicago pizza, try Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s. I walk past both Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due on my way to school each day, and there are always hoards of tourists spilling out all over the sidewalks, willing to wait 2+ hours for a table. If I’m going to wait that long for a pizza, it better be stuffed with cheese and $20 bills. I hate those people – stupid and in my way.
Anyway, the introductions continue with faux (but not bald) hawked Richard, who’s all about the chemical cooking, a la Marcel. Confession time: I loved that little monkey. We then meet Jennifer, who apparently is Richard’s twin, faux-hawked sister. Seriously, they’re both even the same age – maybe their mom separated them at birth?
Faces not even their mother loved
Erik lives up to my Top Douche declaration by walking in with a plaid shirt-diamond printed fedora combo. He’s loud and arrogant, and wants to use $5k of the prize money on a dilapidated shack in Hawaii, and $95k on a collection of flip-flops and Aloha shirts. Somehow I’m not surprised.
Andrew introduces himself next, and starts dropping f-bombs immediately and there’s not even anything to be pissed off about yet. Well, except for having to eat at Pizzeria Uno. He became a chef because he wanted people to “taste his passion.” Does that mean he became a chef to get a lot of blow jobs? I’m confused.
Stephanie’s a hometown girl who seems sweet and cute, but I predict will quickly get on my nerves and/or have a nervous breakdown. For one thing, she’s evidently obsessed with Yoda, and sports a Yoda t-shirt and backpack in her audition video, and even has an oversized Yoda Pez dispenser. She then tells us she has a tendency to get nervous, which you know is going to be an understatement. Yoda’s going to need the force to keep her shit together.
I will remain calm in the Quick Fires… I will remain calm in the Quick Fires…
As they eat, Richard looks around but admits to us that it’s too early to really size up the competition. He does get a good look at his twin, Jennifer, and gives her a little smile right before she outs herself as Zoi’s lesbian partner of 3 years. A brand new sister who’s gay to boot – this is a lot for poor Richard to process at once. Maybe he should try inhaling some of those chemicals he’s so fond of in order to cope. The group is stunned by Jennifer and Zoi’s announcement, and a guy named Spike tells us that he thought it was bullshit. Dude, you guys don’t vote each other off – how is this an advantage? Maybe he’s just pissed that they’re going to get laid and he’s definitely not. Ever.
Padma and Colicchio descend upon the group, Padma looking gorgeous in a green dress that thankfully hides Scar, and Colicchio sexily hiking up his pants. Whatever, I’d still hit that. Padma announces they’re going right into a Quick Fire – the chefs must create their own signature deep dish pizzas within 90 minutes. Padma also reveals a new twist for this year – the chefs were each allowed to bring $200 worth of ingredients/tools from home that they can use throughout the competition (rather than just at the end as in the past).
What your stomach will look like after eating too much deep dish pizza
Ready… start… chaos! Everyone scatters and begins frantically gathering ingredients. Yoda, already proving to be a spaz, cuts herself within 30 seconds. So much for the force. As the cooking gets underway, we meet another group of chefs. Dale claims to have a point of view – but doesn’t feel like elaborating on that. Enlightening. Valerie’s another hometown girl who doesn’t have much to say yet except to claim her skills are way above a low-rent pizza.
Manuel also strikes me as cocky as he introduces himself as someone with a great foundation in Italian food who’s also classically French trained. I hope this isn’t the second coming of Ilan. I hate that smug bastard. Nikki’s a New Yorker and wastes no time coming up with excuses for her imminent failure – she’s used to thin crust, and has no idea how much dough to use for deep dish. She then proceeds to stuff half the dough on the table into her pie tin.
Like Manuel, Antonia claims a proficiency in Italian cooking, and therefore believes that her pizza will be great. A chick named Lisa wants people to think her food is orgasmic, and she likes to use Asian and Latin influences in her cooking to help people get off.
Meanwhile, Mutton’s American Dream continues as he uses one of the ingredients he was allowed to bring from home in his pizza – a yeast extract. He says it’s an Australian thing, and in the right hands it can move mountains. Or bowels. You’ll also see some chicken and zucchini on the way out.
A preview of the aftereffects of Mutton’s dish
Richard, still reeling from the lesbian twin revelation, is working on a peach/cheese pizza with sweet tea sauce. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know squat about cooking, but that sounds nasty to me.
Spike reveals his girly real name – Evangelos – and defensively says that it’s Greek. You can tell this is something the producers made him admit, and I’m tempted to call him Evangelos for the rest of the season just to piss him off. We’ll see how much he pisses me off before I make that call.
The first meltdown of the season belongs to Andrew, who realizes that while he was prepping for Padma to taste his passion, Richard took two deep dish pizza pans, leaving Andrew without one. Instead of asking Richard for the pan back, Andrew begins running around frantically, and tells us between beeps that he finally had to use a skillet for his pizza. This kid’s going to stab someone before this season is over. Maybe before this episode is over.
Well Andrew shouldn’t worry too much, because a lot of these pizzas look like crap coming out of the oven. Some are falling apart, others are burned, and Nikki’s is puffed up more than Jessica Simpson’s lips. The judges jam their broke-ass pizzas in boxes and head off for the home of a mystery guest judge.
Oh, Dale, don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m sure it’s at least 3 inches
Oh and it’s Rocco DiSpirito! Does this douchebag really live in Chicago? If so, I may have to gather up some friends and a big bag of rocks. And possibly a tazer. Padma’s also there, and the judging begins as the contestants present their pizzas one at a time. Richard, Ryan, Jennifer, Erik, Evangelos/Spike, and Mutton seem to do fine, but some of the others fare poorly. Rocco claims he smells something funky as he eats Yoda’s pizza, and thinks Zoi’s pizza is too busy. He also looks like he accidentally swallowed some of his hair product while trying Andrew’s skillet-cooked pizza. Both judges mock Nikki’s puffy mess, and tell Nimma her fungi creation needed salt. The rest don’t warrant camera time.
After the tasting, Rocco and Padma declare that Lisa, Nimma, Valerie, Manuel, Andrew, Yoda, Nikki, and Zoi are the bottom group. Rocco tells them individually why they fucked up. He then turns to the remaining chefs, and praises Richard for the peaches and Mutton for the yeast goo specifically. Let’s check back with Rocco in an hour to see if he’s still so keen on Mutton’s bowel movement ingredients.
Padma announces that the results of this Quick Fire will play into the first challenge, but we won’t know how until tomorrow. She then reveals that this really isn’t Rocco’s house – it’s where the contestants will be living. Everyone’s excited, and Andrew tells us Padma was like “Yo, casa, motherfuckers!” which would have been awesome had she said it anything like that. Idiot. Padma and Rocco take off, and most of the contestants party and socialize while Nimma ostracizes herself and whines to us about losing. Bitch, even I know food needs salt. Shut up.
The next morning, Padma asks the winning Quick Fire chefs to draw knives, then instructs them to each choose a losing chef to compete against head-to-head. But the losing chef gets to decide which dish both of them will make from a predetermined list of classic dishes. The pairings – winner listed first – are: Richard/Andrew/crab cakes, Mark/Yoda/duck a l’orange, Jennifer/Nikki/lasagna, Antonia/Nimma/shrimp scampi, Evangelos/Spike/Lisa/eggs benedict, Dale/Manuel/steak au poivre, Ryan/Valerie/chicken piccata, and Erik/Zoi/soufflÃ©.
Time to shop! The supermarket this year is Whole Foods, and I hope the producers raised the budgets, since that shit ain’t cheap. Mutton is confident, since his dish is merely orange and duck. Thank you, Mutton, for clearing that one up for me. Dale tells us that he’s going to reinvent the steak au poivre, and Lisa reveals that she spends most Saturday nights home alone poaching eggs, so she feels good about eggs benedict. Ryan’s just throwing a bunch of crap into his cart, hoping he’s gathering the right ingredients for chicken piccata, Nikki (who bobs her head around and blinks a lot as she speaks) wants to make up for her collagen-inspired pizza disaster, and Zoi decides to do a desert soufflÃ© instead of a savory soufflÃ©. Andrew continues to be an angry mess, but is now adding some twitchy signs of crack withdrawal to his repertoire.
So the doc says I have this so-called “drug addiction”…
Back in the kitchen, frantic cooking begins. Antonia is focusing on her sauce for the shrimp scampi, while Nimma seems to be paying more attention to the cauliflower side dishes she’s pairing with the shrimp. Ryan’s planning to prepare way more than he has time for, and predicts he’s going out on the first challenge. If you’re already predicting it, then why the hell don’t you change your menu, you moron? It’s like predicting that you’re going to crash into a tree, and then continuing to drive straight at it at 90 mph. Nikki is also being ambitious, making her pasta from scratch while giving a few shout-outs to Grandma (who’s probably so humiliated from the pizza disaster that she’s drowned herself in a vat of marinara sauce somewhere off the coast of Italy). Yoda’s using her entire duck for duck a l’orange, thinking it’ll impress the judges, and predictably begins freaking out when she sees Mutton’s dish may have more components.
Meanwhile, Andrew has found another reason to lose his shit as he realizes that the Top Chef kitchen isn’t stocked with the mayo he needs for the crab cakes. As Andrew’s brain matter quickly climbs to boiling, Richard innocently pulls out a jar of mayo he bought at Whole Foods. Livid, Andrew calls Richard a little shark face to us. Shark face? Really? I would have gone with inbred face, personally. Anyway, Andrew pissily begins making mayo from scratch – using a recipe Richard gave him – and Richard decides to be the bigger person and offers Andrew the mayo jar. But nooo! Andrew’s enjoying playing the martyr too much, and snootily rejects the mayo. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face dude – what will you snort lines with?
Holy shit, I just spent a whole paragraph talking about a jar of mayo.
Over at the soufflÃ© table, Zoi is happy to report that hers are rising despite the temperamental nature of soufflÃ©. Erik good-naturedly congratulates her while he sweats into his own dish. Nimma’s not having too much luck with her shrimp scampi – her flan isn’t going to set in time, so she has to make the quick decision to scramble her cauliflower mix. But don’t worry, it tastes fine. She reports this all to us in her monotone voice, and I briefly doze off.
This tastes really … good
Richard decides to pull out one of his toys from home, a miniature smoker, while Andrew eyes it jealously and simultaneously wonders if he can use it to smoke some more crack between challenges. Yoda’s trying to do her presentation, but her hand is shaking too violently to drizzle a sauce properly. I’m just glad she wasn’t holding a knife this time.
Time to face the judges. Gail and Ted are sitting this one out, so besides Padma and Colicchio, we’ve got Rocco again and one of my favorites, Anthony Bourdain as our judges! You never know what’s going to come out of that bastard’s mouth, and I love it. He’s also kind of sexy in a really unattractive way. Or maybe I need to stop drinking wine while watching this show.
Yoda and Mutton are up first with their duck a l’orange. The judges criticize the way Mutton presented his dish as a progression of three parts, saying that he clearly didn’t think about what he was doing. The group unanimously chooses Yoda’s dish as the winner, and she beams in happiness and Mutton mutters to us that he doesn’t know how he went from the top 3 in the Quick Fire to this. Mutton, darling, the only reason you were in the top 3 was because that’s the knife you drew. Maybe he should have just stayed in New Zealand as a sheep farmer, because he’s really really dumb. 1 point for the QF losers.
Andrew and Richard are next, and Andrew’s withdrawal symptoms become even more pronounced as he twitches and describes his dish in short, rapid outbursts. I hope Richard keeps his chemicals locked up, or he’s soon going to notice a dip in his supply. The judges think both crab cakes are strong, but ultimately pick Richard as the winner while Andrew convulses and mutters something about m-fing crack rocks. 1 point for the QF winners.
Jennifer and Nikki present their lasagna next, and both go over very well. The judges love Nikki’s homemade pasta, and that along with Jennifer’s uncooked rutabaga earn Nikki the win. If Grandma ever surfaces out of that vat of marinara, she can finally hold her head up high. QF losers, 2 – QF winners, 1.
Which brings us to Antonia and Nimma and their shrimp scampi dishes. The judges like Antonia’s dish, but make faces while tasting Nimma’s. Never a good sign. Padma calls it salty, Bourdain says it doesn’t come together, and Rocco’s bitch ass would have sent it back. So let me get this straight – in the Quick Fire Nimma didn’t use enough salt, and now she’s used too much salt? It’s SALT – figure it out lady! Antonia obviously wins this one. The winners and losers are now tied.
This girl managed to screw up 2 shrimp and a pile of baby spit-up
Evangelos/Spike and Lisa have made eggs benedict. The judges rave about both, and Bourdain suggests they determine which one’s a better hangover dish in order to pick a winner. Bourdain’s clearly jonesing for a drink as he continues to prattle on about Mimosas and Bloody Marys (maybe that’s why I find him attractive…), and he’s largely ignored by the rest of the panel. The judges finally pick Lisa, partially based on her Friday night poaching experience with her 14 cats. That puts the QF losers up by 1.
Dale and Manuel present steak au poivre. The judges commend Dale for taking a lot of chances, and criticize Manuel for being greasy – I’m not so sure they were talking about the dish on that one – and for going overboard on the sauce. Dale wins, and we’re tied again.
How would you like some dismembered rabbit?
Ryan and Valerie are next with chicken piccata. Ryan basically admits to throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, and Colicchio looks disgusted as he’s trying it. But that doesn’t mean Valerie’s going to win either – since Bourdain has serious problems with both. Rocco doesn’t think either one of them are piccata at all, and the judges grudgingly pick Valerie as the winner. Ryan’s practically in tears in the holding room, as he contemplates going back into slave labor for his father. QF losers pull back ahead.
Finally we come down to Erik and Zoi’s soufflÃ©s. Erik’s is a heavy, Mexican-inspired dish, whereas Zoi’s combines rice pudding, figs, and espresso. Bourdain mocks them for not knowing how to make soufflÃ©s, but admits that Erik’s tasted good although it was nowhere near a soufflÃ©. Zoi receives basically the same critique, and the judges decide they liked Zoi’s a little better, and she receives the win. And we end with a tie – only half the QF winners also won their head-to-head match, showing it wasn’t really an advantage to pick your competitor.
The judges call Antonia, Nikki, Richard and Yoda out as the best four, and bring them to the judges’ table to declare a winner. Each judge in turn fawns over one of the chefs, and Rocco declares Yoda as the ultimate winner. Go Yoda! She tells us she’s super excited, but needs to continue to work on not being a complete basket case. Anyone want to place a bet on the odds of her slicing off a finger?
Called out as the bottom four are Ryan, Erik, Nimma, and Mutton. Erik’s eyes appear to be watering as he tries to defend his decision to use mashed potatoes in his soufflÃ©, and while I haven’t completely changed my original opinion of him, I have to admit I’ve developing a soft spot for the big douche. Turning to Nimma, Colicchio calls her out for fucking up a flan and trying to hide it as a cauliflower scramble. For Mutton, Bourdain calls his duck a l’orange silly and pretentious, and Colicchio found it overcooked. And Ryan sputters nonsense about starches until he gets his ass handed to him by Colicchio over some bread crumbs.
Keep making that expression and your Harley gang will never let you back in
The judges shoo the bottom four out to deliberate. Colicchio wastes no time in returning to his bitching about Ryan, and Rocco takes a stab at humor with the pun “Let’s just say it wasn’t only his gnocchi that were dense.” Colicchio laughs, but I think it’s more at Rocco than with Rocco on that one. The judges are also pissed at Nimma for not knowing fundamental salting techniques, Erik for making a sloppy dish, and Mutton for overcooking and bad combinations.
The bottom four are trotted back out again for the results – Nimma’s boring ass is sent home for being befuddled by the properties of SALT. In her exit video, she threatens us with the promise that she’s going to keep cooking, and says she’s going to study more. I recommend starting with SALT. You know, that stuff on your dinner table. Ass.
So what did you guys think? Did Nimma deserve to get sent home, or did someone else get a lucky break? I think the judges made the right choice, and I won’t miss her. Any early favorites? I’m liking Richard, Erik, and Jennifer right now, but I’m just picking people based on personalities and not talent. I can’t stand Andrew, and I think Yoda and Mutton will annoy me a lot this season. Leave a comment, and I’ll see you next week!