Top Chef Chicago Watch: Episode #3

This week’s episode was all about “the neighborhood” and Chicago is full of neighborhoods. Challenged by reinventing a Mexican staple into fine dining, and catering a block party by stealing ingredients from the neighbors, these chefs discover that good camaraderie and teamwork doesn’t always pay off, unfortunately.

Find out what we think about the judge’s decisions. Warning: Spoilers after the jump!

The guest judge was Chicago’s own famous chef Rick Bayless, owner of Frontera Grill and Tobolobampo, and very well known for his reinvention of Mexican cuisine. He took a liking to Richard’s taco (pictured above the jump) made from a jicama tortilla and filled with avocado and other spring ingredients.

While cheftestant Richard’s unique taco may be considered “thinking out of the box,” his focus on the tortilla ingredient made the filling much less remarkable, in my opinion. Of course I didn’t taste the taco, but it seemed that even Rick himself liked some of the other tacos more. He raved about Spike’s ground pork concoction (even Spike was shocked when he wasn’t chosen!) and paid high compliments to Andrew for his duck taco mastery. But then again, you never can tell what’s going through the mind of Rick Bayless.

Maybe it was because they have the same initials: RB. And if you ask me, Richard Blais’ quickfire victory didn’t put too much of a smile on his face. Here’s the closest he came to smiling after being announced the winner (with immunity no less!):

A little uptight, no? And what about that haircut? Does his personality really strike you as belonging to someone with that haircut? I know it’s all about the food, but sometimes I think I’d like him more if he just relaxed a little. But of course, he’s talented and I do expect him to go far.

“Honorable mentions” for failing the taco quickfire went to Erik, Ryan, and Lisa. Poor Lisa, having to stand there as Rick Bayless couldn’t physically bite her skirt steak taco. I probably would have panicked. I thought it sounded good in theory but maybe next time she should chop her steak, or at least slice it!

After the quickfire, the chefs divided themselves into two teams and were told to drive to their next destination. Any contestant with Chicago roots was hit up for some insider info on what part of town they were headed to (Polish? Mexican? Italian? Yes Chicago is known for all its distinct neighborhoods), but just like me, neither (now just Stephanie and Dale – who was originally from Chicago) had any clue. Eventually, they pulled up to a residential street on the “North side” (Richmond Avenue was loosely thrown about) and were told to go door to door scavenging for ingredients to cook up a menu for that neighborhood’s annual block party.

Spike struck gold and found the walk-in pantry of dreams. Racking up bottles of barbecue sauce, hot dogs and more, the chefs were basically on an ingredient scavenger hunt. It looked like fun!

On a total sidenote, being from Chicago myself, how much would I have loved Top Chef contestants to come knock on my door?! Seeing as how much I glorify this show, it probably would have been the best day of my life…but alas, they didn’t pick my neighborhood. On with the review…

Now the challenge is a block party and in my opinion, you need to serve block party food. Yea, when you’re on a top cooking show, you want to differentiate yourself from “burgers” and “hot dogs” but kicking it up a notch doesn’t necessarily have to mean changing the entire menu.

The Red team would agree with my philosophy, toting a menu full of typical block party fare.

The Blue team however took a different approach. They chose to “elevate” the style of cuisine you might typically see at a block party and serve something a little more along the lines of this:

But in all honesty, both seemed like great menus. The question was now execution.

I was thoroughly disappointed with the judge’s decision, as was the losing team. Of course no loser wants or expects to lose, but the Red Team of Andrew, Spike, Ryan, Dale, Jen, Zoi and Erik put up one hell of a fight! After a showing of wonderful teamwork, catering to the audience (literally) and being good chefs by tasting all of the food, this team practically refused their loss and quite frankly, I’m upset about it too.

It’s not that I didn’t like some of the dishes on the Blue Team’s side (if you can’t do process of elimination: Richard, Stephanie, Mark, Manuel, Lisa, Antonia, and Nikki), but even the crowd at the block party liked the Red Team’s food better. Not to mention, the only reason why they won was because of Stephanie’s genius fruit dessert (which is why she was chosen the winner)!

It was just a bummer to see that good camaraderie, food and teamwork didn’t pay off. Sometimes you just want the karma to kick in a bit more in the Judge’s Table. Not to mention, how cool were Spike’s S’more lollipops?!

But props again to Stephanie, our victorious Chicagoan for her second win in just three episodes! Let’s hope she continues to do well!




Title: Block Party

Challenges: Quickfire – Reinvent the taco into fine dining, Elimination – Cater neighborhood block party by using ingredients from the actual neighbor’s kitchens

Winner: Stephanie (Blue Team) Eliminated: Erik

Tune in next Thursday when we rehash Episode 4!

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  • Kim

    I was most disappointed this episode (and really, almost every episode this season) but the attitude of most of the contestants. After the red team’s loss, they refused to listen to criticism and were pretty disrespectful of the judges. I realize that they were surprised and upset, but thats no reason to be rude. I was kinda waiting for Colicchio to slap somebody.

    I’ll wait it out and see how the season goes, but it seems Bravo thinks that personal drama might be more entertaining than watching people cook. I, however, would like more food and less attitude.

    I would like a s’more lollipop too :)

  • Anna

    Good Morning, I sure wish our town would have “Yummy” events like this. All I can say,I have to give all teams Kudoes because this has to be a lot of hard work and beautiful teamwork. I thank you for all these nice articles. I enjoy all of them. Thanks again, Anna

  • Kelly

    Hi! Thanks for looking at my blog!

    You know, I actually thought that the flan was easier to make than creme brulee. You should definitely try it sometime! ;-)

  • evil chef mom

    Ugh! I was so ticked off at this episode… the winning taco was a spring roll not a taco! The product placement was insane, Padma’s “some people might have already shopped for the block party’ shtick made me want to yell… and what about the crazy guy ‘you’ll have to escort me out with security guards’ rant. The only good thing was the smores lollipop.

  • Rowdy

    I love your review of Top Chef with the pics from the show.

    Living here in Atlanta, I am a huge fan of Chef Richard Blais.

    You know, I agree, he may need to lose the hair but it does create conversation. I believe his pink shoes are related to his wife being pregnant with a girl.

    Overall, he may be one of nicest and most passionate people I have ever met. He is truly an artist. His food is crazy good.

    BTW, he was the first chef picked from Atlanta to do Iron Chef America. He barely lost to Mario Batali. Richard is the real deal.


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