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Tuesday, August 9

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Review Thu Mar 27 2008

Top Chef, Episode Three: The Taste of Teamwork

Recap by Andie Thomalla.

In the first moments of this week’s Top Chef, Jennifer and Zoi (obligatory shot of lesbian bunk bed cuddling) give a shout out to all the ladies in professional kitchens and express the hope for some serious double X chromosome representation in the finals. This refreshingly realistic girl power moment is immediately followed by a shot of Andrew and Spike, the man-child Dopplegangers, chest wrestling and towel-snapping like two pre-teens at summer camp. The dichotomy sets something of a tone for a week where teamwork and confidence, while laudable, are nothing when your food just doesn’t taste good. Best watch your backs, boys.

Editor's Note: No stone is unturned in our recaps. Here be spoilers!

Rick Bayless stops in to judge the quickfire challenge, which is Rick’s favorite…tacos! Does anyone else think Rick always looks like he just dipped his entire lower face into cappuccino foam and forgot to wipe it off? The man’s like an inverted mountain peak. Undistracted by Rick’s two-tone hair, the Top Cookies whip up a wide spectrum of taco treats I wish the Wicker Park tamale men would add to their late-night repertoire: duck with plantain jam, skirt steak with pineapple slaw, chorizo with … [notes here obscured by drool – was it cactus?]. Richard, budding food scientist and fierce pomade advocate, finally pulls out a win with avocado and papaya cleverly wrapped in jicama instead of tortilla. Andrew’s panties get twisted when Rick lavishes his praise on the duck taco only to teasingly award top marks to another food suitor. Erik blames failure on Mexican food’s inability to translate to fine dining (say whaaa?). Storm clouds begin to gather over some of our dudes’ heads…

But not before the chefs are split into the creatively named Red and Blue Teams and sent off to an undisclosed “Chicago neighborhood” to raid the locals’ pantries and put together competing menus for the local summer block party. Chicago residents seem remarkably patient while the chefs raid their refrigerators, manhandle their produce, and make off with several varieties of tubemeats and salad dressings. Both teams decide to make classic middle American fare with an upscale twist, and hurry back to the kitchens.

Now, when I was growing up, my neighborhood never had block parties. No fire hydrants were unstopped to flood the low part of the street, no card tables laden with ambrosia and pasta salads tempted the flowering of bacteria in the hot August sun, no burgers were dished out to neighborhood scamps by charming fathers in white aprons. (I apparently did not live in a Norman Rockwell painting.) And we certainly did not get Top Chef-style treats in someone’s street. Which is just a tragedy. Not everything looked great, but the entire eating and cavorting block party scene made me crave summer. And sangria. Top Chef online has a fabulous gallery of all the food from each episode, even the dishes that the camera crews missed or the show had to excise for time, righting the terrible wrong of editing for time allowed, and clarifying exactly how many contestants are still in play. Enjoy, salivate.

As the locals fall to the curb under the weight of their plates, both teams seem confident and slightly sunburned, particularly the Red Team. And at judging, their confidence seems born out by Bayless, guest judge Ted Allen (who forever endeared himself to me at the tail end of a Queer Eye years ago by lighting a roaring bananas foster and proclaiming, butane torch in hand, “Everything’s better with fire!”), Tom and Padma – who’s turning what would otherwise be a fairly standard pink t-shirt into something otherworldly, the minx. Until, psych! Blue Team wins! The judges love their black beans, dessert and fancy drinks. And furthermore, our girl Stephanie Izard pulls out Win Number Two with her fruit, nut and fried wonton dessert. Stephanie, if you’re reading, come back to Chicago and re-open Scylla. My friends and I always meant to eat there before, and I’m pretty sure we could be best friends. XOXO.

But wait, how will the Red Team react to this sudden shift in the winds? Will they humbly accept their mistakes (Velveeta + cream + bacon does not a “lovely” mac and cheese make, Nikki), their omissions (Richard crashes from quickfire golden boy status by forgetting the crunchy bottom-of-the-pan wonder of paella), and their flagrant disregard of the Top Chef Hat Rule (see Week One recap)? Apparently they decide the better route is to throw down, mouth off and invite the judges to call security to send them home. Andrew and Spike (again) channel K-Fed in their aggressive and irrational defensiveness – and the hat. Things get tense, embarrassing, and eventually dismissive when Tom calls out Zoi’s pasta for super-boringness and questions the mere existence of ANY of Team Red’s palates. Zing! Despite the macho/infantile bravura of his teammates, in the end, poor mumbly stumbly Erik’s soggy corn dogs are the nail in his Top Chef coffin, and Padma sends him to pack his knives.

Men, take note. You may have cojones, but if your dogs aren’t delicious, you don’t stand a chance.

Looking for a recap of the previous episode?

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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