20080417-tclede.jpgHarold, your usual Top Chef recapper, is on the bench tonight, so here I am as the second-string Top Chef blogger suiting up and going in to the game.

Why the sports analogy? I'll get to that. But first, the we're going to cut to the 11 remaining cheftestants' armchair-quarterbacking of last week's show.

Spike "heard it through the grapevine" that "a lot of people thought I should have went home." Why? "People are feeling a little threatened" because "I'm a talented dude."

If your talent is wearing crazy hats, sure. [Warning: Spoilers ahead, mateys!]

Jennifer, Zoi's partner, vows to win for the both of them. "She's the love of my life." (Zoi, as you'll remember, was canned last week.)

Ryan stretches out on a yoga mat. In the background are those balance ball things.

Lisa's happy that she won, but she's upset over the shite that went down with Dale last week. A conversation about "negativity" ensues. "That negativity wore me down," Dale says. But Dale can "go f*&# himself," Lisa says.

And with that, let's get to the ...

Quickfire Challenge: 11 Contestants Walk in to a Bar

20080417-ilovebeer.jpgOK. They mosey in to the studio and there's, like, 16 pitchers of beer on a bar that's all done up to look like ye olde P. J. Dinglehoffer's. The guest judge is Koren Grieveson, head chef of Chicago's Avec, a downtown restaurant whose food is "really awesome," Stephanie says.

The Quickfire is all about "simple pleasures," and the challenge is to create a dish that pairs well with a beer of each cheftestant's choosing. "Pairing beer with food is a very popular concept," Stephanie says. Gee, you don't say.

Nikki: "Beer signifies fried food to me." Me, too! (Too bad it bombs with the judges.)

Stephanie, Mark, and Ryan actually cook with beer. Not a bad idea. At all.

20080417-jenwin.jpgJennifer: "I might have been more fired up than everyone else. I'm doing this for Zoi. I just wanna go in and, like, kick some ass."

Lisa: Burger and beer! Classic.

And the standouts are: Richard (grilled tuna sandwich with quick-pickled vegetables), Stephanie (steamed mussels with cilantro vinaigrette and grilled bread), and Jennifer (shrimp and scallop beignets with fennel, avocado, and pepper purées).

And ... Jennifer wins! Somewhere, Zoi cheers in front of her TV.

The Elimination Challenge

And now for the main event. The Elimination Challenge continues in the "simple pleasures" vein. The Toppers must go to a Bears game at Soldier Field, where they'll cook at a tailgating party for 80 Bears fans. (Yes, it's baseball season now, but remember this stuff was filmed a while ago.) The fans will determine the top and bottom three, and the judges will take it from there.

As a Chicago native who's been to plenty of games, Dale's pretty damn confident he can run the ball down the field.

Mark, the New Zealander, is a bit spaffed, since he's never played "American football."

Jennifer is, you guessed it, "going to win this, 'cause I'm doin' it for Zoi."

I'll bring you the shopping play-by-play in a bit, but first I want to reacquaint you with this classic:

Link: Is Ditka driving? [JibJab]

To Market, To Market

And they're off to Whole Foods. They get 30 minutes and $350 to shop. Spike gets 350 chicken wings. (You can't get much more tailgatin' than that.) Took 'em all. Love him or hate him, this guy plays to win.

In the face of a wing shortage, Dale does ribs.

Richard has never done tailgating. He grabs 25 pounds of pork to make "paté melts." Get it? Paté melt? ... Patty melt? Ah ha!

Nikki's going to do a sausage and pepper hero but gets shrimp, too, "in case someone doesn't eat sausage." (Nikki, darling, are you forgetting where you are? Eating sausage is a residency requirement in Chicago.)

Mark's gonna do chicken skewers. Hmm. A little boring but an otherwise solid grill-out food.

Ryan is a self-described "metrosexual or whatever the hell you want to call it" who has been to two football games in his life. [Crickets chirping ...] Uh oh. Pregame analysis: This guy's toast.

Pre-Game Prep

20080417-doinitforzoi.jpg

Jennifer, in the Elimination Challenge. Who's she doin' it for? Oh, that's right—Zoi. How could I forget?

The Tops are back at HQ, where they get two hours to prep and pack their food for the tailgate party the next day. Jennifer, who we didn't hear from in the grocery store, reveals that she's making "a dish that's Greek, so it's a little tribute to" — wait for it — "Zoi, my girl."

Bargh! Get the hell over it already!

Uh oh, Ryan is doing dessert for this thing, and envisions doing many courses for the fans. "It's light, it's fresh, they won't feel comatose going into the game."

Um, hello? I think that's the entire POINT OF A TAILGATE PARTY, dude.

Home Turf

Now they're back at the clubhouse, relaxing. And ... just what we don't want to see: Spike and Mark in the whirlpool bathtub, bubble bath frothing, drinking bubbly.

Spike: "I think Mark's already going to be a good friend for many years to come. Like, you know, he's in New York City, and you know, like, he's got currrrrrly hair, and he's a cool-lookin' dude and it's great just to hang out and relax a little."

Hmm. One couple is cruelly split up, but maybe we've got a new couple on the way? I'd welcome it as long as we have something else to focus on than Jennifer's pining for Zoi.

Before heading out to Soldier Field, we get the reveal on this week's judging panel: Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, and Paul Kahan, owner of Blackbird and the aforementioned Avec.

Soldiering On

Former Bears runningback Gale Sayers is among the party attendees. And, holy appliances! William "The Refrigerator" Perry is there, too. With a nickname like that, I guess you could have seen that guest appearance coming a mile away. And with that, we're gonna take a little break:

Link: "I may be large, but I'm no dumb cookie." [YouTube]

And we're back. Spike's got a Bears chef hat. (Figures.) But Andrew treads into his territory, wearing a helmet to show he's "into the game." Then the dolt can't get it off his damn head. Leave the headgear to Spike. At least he's got plenty of experience with it.

20080417-hyde.jpg

This is not Top Chef Mark.

Mark is wearing sunglasses. Did anyone else notice how much his aviator shades make him look like Hyde from That '70s Show? And he might as well be as stoned as Hyde, because his prep table and grill are a mess.

DUDE! Nikki runs out of peppers and onions and sauce before the judges arrive. And when they get there, they ding her for buying premade sausage instead of making her own.

Former Bears defensive end Richard Dent digs Richard's burgers.

The Fridge digs Lisa's steak and Dale's ribs.

Gale Sayers digs Dale's ribs, too.

Back to the Locker Room

20080417-ribs.jpgOK. The players are now in the prejudgment huddle. Antonia, Dale, and Stephanie are called in for a talkin' to. Ah! Relief. They're the MVPs.

Dale (baby back ribs marinated in tandoori, with potato salad with raisins and mango; right) wins based on flavor and complexity.

And as a bonus he gets a Top Chef jersey.

But he's not going to rock that top as hard as Padma did:

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Who else wears fingerless gloves with such grace?

But now it's time for some injuries, folks. Mark, Nikki, and Ryan go in for a reaming.

The judges on Nikki: She should have made her own sausage; the grocery store stuff was too dry. Coupled with the lack of peppers and onions and the missing sauce, the whole thing was dry, dry, dry.

20080417-ryangone.jpgOn Ryan: "Why'd you choose a dessert?" Colicchio asks. "Especially one [poached pear with crème fraîche and huckleberry sauce] that in a million years I'd never think to see at a tailgate party." (Pictured, right)

On Mark: "There was more food on your apron," Colicchio says, "than on your grill." SNAP! Take that, Hyde.

Suspense builds, and then, of course, the commercial.

And in the commercial break before the elimination is announced, the text-vote poll asks "Who would you most want to touch in touch football?" Tom gets 50 percent, Padma gets 34 percent, and "Yourself" gets 16 percent. Wha? I demand a recount. A largely female audience, I guess.

Sacked

Ryan is asked to pack his knives. I had a hard time this week figuring out who would go, as they all seemed equally bad in their own ways. I mean, what's more egregious, a cheftestant who completely ignores the "simple pleasures" mandate (Ryan), one who runs out of food (Nikki), or one who's a complete mess (Mark)?

But at least we've got Mark in the house for one more week; it'll be fun to see where the boy crush between him and Spike goes.

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