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Review Thu Apr 24 2008

Top Chef Episode 7: There's No Room for Error, Dude

Week seven on Top Chef: There are ten chefs remaining, and as Andrew points out, it’s a bit uglier in the house, at least in the boys’ part of the house, now that Ryan has been sent home. And, as Antonia notes, there’s no more room for error. Not that there ever was. But mostly what week seven means is that Spike dons a seventh hat.

The opening moments, normally spent with the cheftestants as they relax at home, are very brief. The chefs climb out from under their brightly colored Ikea duvets on their Ikea bunkbeds, somberly button their Top Chef coats and head to the kitchen for the Quickfire Challenge.

Editor's Note: FYI, this recap is as open and honest as your current relationship. Here be spoilers!

The guest judge for the challenge, which is to make a dessert, is Johnny Iuzzini, the executive pastry chef in the Jean Georges Vongerichten empire. Most of the chefs moan about how hard baking is: you have to actually measure, you can’t improvise as you can with most other cooking.

Not Dale though. He’s as confident as ever. He’s going to “bust out” with a Filipino shaved-ice dessert called halo halo. Spike, too, is more confident than he ought to be. He tells us that he has a chocolate molten cake memorized, but he’s going to make a soufflé. Richard starts slicing a banana and notices the slices look like scallops, so he goes with that as inspiration. Stephanie makes a chocolate cake with salted basil ganache, which really doesn’t sound appealing. And Lisa makes something with fried wontons. After tasting all, Iuzzini taps Richard as the top chef for that challenge. Dale’s dessert also impresses, but Spike’s soufflé falls flat on Iuzzini’s taste buds.

Padma then tells the chefs that they deserve a night out to unwind. They’ll all be treated to a show at Second City, “the birthplace of improvisational comedy in this county,” she coos.

At the show, the chefs sit in a row in the center of the audience, drinking and laughing. When a Second City actor tells the audience to yell out a color, an emotion and an ingredient, Nikki calls it: This will become their challenge the next day.

And so it does. The chefs are told to cook five courses for the Second City performers. Each team will use the words called out by the audience. And, here is where Spike’s hat comes in handy. The chefs draw numbers from the hat to determine who will be paired with whom. Spike and Andrew are yellow, love, banana; Jennifer and Stephanie are orange, turned-on, asparagus; Antonia and Lisa are magenta, drunk, polish sausage; Mark and Nikki are purple, depressed, bacon; and Dale and Richard are green, perplexed, tofu. As the chefs ruminate on the challenge and their teammates, some of them with red noses and drooping eyes after their big night out, someone again says that there’s no room for error.

The next morning, Antonia and Lisa sulk around Whole Foods, both refusing to consider polish sausage, refusing to dumb down their food because of what some drunk in the audience shouted. They decide to improvise instead, with sea bass and chorizo. Jennifer and Stephanie dream up a sexy ménage a trios, with erect asparagus stalks sidled up against goat cheese and toast.

Dale and Richard won’t be undone by tofu. They pick up some blocks of tofu, then march right over to the meat counter to get some beef fat in which to marinate their soy. Perplexing indeed!

Spike and Andrew, meanwhile, bring their vanilla love to a big pot of squash soup. Spike is gloating. He’d wanted to make this a few challenges back, but Antonia had shot his idea down. A perfect soup will impress a chef, he says, prompting Antonia to smirk and tell the camera that she’ll vomit in her mouth if Spike and his soup win.

To add to the improvisational part of the challenge, the chefs are left with no electrical equipment. Spike and Andrew put their squash through a hand-cranked ricer. Mark pounds spices with a saucepan. Just when they think they can cope without their power tools (they still have their GE Monogram ovens, after all), Tom walks into the kitchen and tells them to pack up what they have, bring it back to the house where they’ll have another hour to get ready and serve the Second City performers. They all scramble for the Gladware.

The soup is a big hit with the judges. Padma says she’d lick out her bowl if she weren’t on national TV. The phallic asparagus, however, didn’t turn anyone on. Ted says it’s more of an orgy than a ménage a trios. Dale and Richard bring out their green curry tofu, and tell the diners how perplexed it is; it doesn’t know if it’s tofu or if it’s meat.

Antonia and Lisa bring out the fruit of their magenta-drunk-polish-sausage challenge—sea bass and chorizo with purple potatoes. They distribute the plates, then stand at the head of the table and do a shot of tequila in a nod to the drunkenness their meant to conjure. But they don’t give anyone else a shot. The judges also enjoy the pork dish. It has bacon.

Dale and Richard, and Spike and Andrew are the favorites, Spike and Andrew not quite as much as Dale and Richard, who are crowned the winners. But before they can rest on their meat-enhanced tofu steaks, they have to send Antonia, Lisa, Jennifer and Stephanie to the judges’ chambers. Antonia and Lisa get chastised for using the term improv too loosely, and Jenn and Stephanie learn that a big block of goat cheese is like saltpeter to an erect stalk of asparagus. Jenn is asked to pack her knives. Her plan to avenge her lover is thwarted. The closing interview is with Dale, who notes for the fourth time this evening:
"There’s no room for error, dude."

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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...
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