Top Chef Chicago Watch: Episode #5

This episode went back to the basics of flavor and taste to see whether or not contestants had truly mastered their most important tool: a strong palette. And it wouldn’t be considered going “back to the basics” if we didn’t visit the infamous elements of air, water, fire, and earth. In a nutshell – I liked this episode a lot. Not to mention, it had my FAVORITE quickfire – the blindfold taste test!Warning: Spoilers after the jump!

For this year’s taste test, they switched it up a bit – instead of having to decipher the ingredient, contestants had to choose which of the two variations of an ingredient was the more expensive/gourmet version. Poor Stephanie had a miserable showing of 6/15 correct, while frontrunners included Jen and Ryan and the winner: Antonia.

After testing their palettes, chefs were divided into teams again to cater the Meals on Wheels annual Celebrity Chef Ball. Known for its amazing food, the contestants were to cook the first course with inspiration from their designated element (Earth, Air, Water or Fire.) With only 15 minutes to plan, many teams didn’t really figure out what they were doing until they started shopping for ingredients (at Whole Foods of course!)

Here’s what they came up with…

Team Air “flew” under the radar with their un-conceptualized duck breast dish. I really didn’t see how it developed from Nikki’s original concern of “looking at the plate and thinking oh, they just cooked a bird” to a dish “that’s definitely not at the bottom”…but worse things happened during this challenge.

Team Water was in the bottom for its scaly fish. Who spends all their time prepping fish and doesn’t notice it’s run down with scales? Richard not only appointed himself “executive chef” – he took full charge of prepping the salmon. And then Andrew takes one look at the fish at the end and finds multiple scales.

Scales are unforgivable in a dish. It’s like leaving a fish head on if you cook fish” – Andrew on Richard’s scaley fish.

And he was totally right. Ming Tsai, the challenge’s guest judge, found 6-8 scales in his fish, and the issue was clearly not among one or two pieces of fish.

What I personally don’t get is that they were shopping at Whole Foods, and we know firsthand that at Whole Foods the first thing they do is scale their fish (remember our video?) But I’m not blaming Whole Foods by any means…Richard clearly screwed up. And the worst part about it was that he didn’t know, or pretended not to know.

But, I guess, in the chef world, the bigger crime is not knowing how to season your food. Team Earth went down for an under-seasoned beef carpaccio and mushroom salad. Zoi was responsible for seasoning and preparing the mushrooms but let’s face it, Antonia drove this lackluster dish.

Both Spike and Zoi wanted to do a butternut squash soup, but immunity-bearing Antonia decided to be stubborn and tear down the idea of the soup. I think at first she just didn’t want to listen to Spike because of where it got Manuel last challenge, but in the end, she made a wrong choice, leading others to suffer. I agreed with Spike the whole way on this one, and I like how he was respectful in going along with the other idea and did his parts of the dish the best he could.

And speaking of being stubborn, it’s not always wrong to be stubborn. Lisa, of Team Fire, the winner of this challenge pushed and pushed to make sure she was confident with the dish they would produce. As negative as she comes across, I agreed with Lisa – Dale’s initial idea of “deviled eggs” did seem a little weak and more appropriate for an hors d’ourves. But I was rather amused by his rationale: “I want to think about the challenge and not be so literal. Like, think fire…devil…deviled eggs.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Ah, maybe it’s not as funny typed…


Lisa had a particular liking for the guest judge Ming Tsai’s style of cooking. A cross between East and West, she claims that to be her style too and wanted to make sure it came through in their dish. And how did she do it? With miso-flavored bacon! Now usually, for personal reasons, I would not pay so much attention to the bacon-making process. But I have to say, that was one elaborate and impressive bacon methodology. I mean, she even made sure all the fatty sides were pointing the same direction and then somehow massed them all together and reshaped the bacon slices. It was genius, and both Ming Tsai and I were impressed. Therefore she won the challenge, and a trip to Italy.

Dale was a bit bitter but there was one cheftestant who is always a good teammate and player – our very own Stephanie. She was responsible for the main component of the dish – the shrimp – which earned “Oohs” and “aahs” from all the judges. And thank g-d…I was so nervous when she did so poorly on the quickfire! But she is still a force to be reckoned with and since she’s from Chicago, we’re going to support her the whole way through.


Title: The Elements

Challenges: Quickfire - Taste two variations of an ingredient and determine which one is gourmet, Elimination – Create first course for 80 people inspired by one of the elements.

Winner: Lisa (Team Fire) Eliminated: Zoi

On a sidenote – Maxine got to meet Season 3 Dale (not to be confused with Season 4 Dale) last weekend! Since he’s from Chicago, she literally saw him walking down the street.“We felt so silly flocking to him like some Top Chef groupies, but we couldn’t NOT say something! It was all a very awkward exchange of us acting like starstruck idiots and Dale not really knowing how to react. He said he’s still not used to all the fame.” – Maxine, on meeting Dale from Season 3.

I was super jealous! Not to mention, I could have gotten my Top Chef Cookbook signed! I mean…No, I don’t carry it with me everywhere I go…that would just be weird…

Tune in for Episode 6 next week when we watch our chefs cook for the Chicago Bears!

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  • evil chef mom

    I really want that shrimp recipe… it is one of the things I have actually wanted to cook from Top Chef

  • Anna

    Hello Hillary, I Thank you again for a great article. I just really like to read about things that have to do with compitaction. I bet every one has a good time. Your article was nice. Thanks Anna

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