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Review Wed May 07 2008

Top Chef, Episode 9: "Who Drove the Bus?"

There are eight chefs left in the running for big money from the makers of Glad products, a spread in Food & Wine magazine and other name-brand prizes (including the name Top Chef). Antonia notes that this is the first time since the series started that there are the same number of women and men this far along in the competition. All the chefs are getting tenser, but they’re also getting closer. In the opening moments of the show, Spike and Andrew share a hug of sadness over Mark’s departure, until the mood shifts suddenly to joy, because Andrew gets to take over Mark’s spot next to Spike’s hat-festooned bed.

Then it’s on to the reality element of this fantasy show, starting with the Quickfire challenge. This time, Padma says, the chefs will have to tackle a challenge from last season: the relay race. And the judges are going to up the ante. The winner of the Quickfire challenge will no longer get immunity.

Editor's Note: Spoilers here, spoilers've been warned.

The chefs are broken into two teams, and Lisa and Dale are reunited. The race involves all the kitchen challenges I’ve spent my life in fear of: cleaning a fish, peeling an artichoke and making mayonnaise.

Of course, Dale joins his team, all of whom say they haven’t had to make mayonnaise in years, and immediately starts huffing and puffing. If these people are afraid of mayonnaise, he says, why are they still here? But he gives Lisa a nice supportive clap after he points out that she left a seed in with the oranges she’s cut into sections.

The cheftestants move on to peeling artichokes, and Top Chef becomes as suspenseful as one of the Jason Bourne movies. “I have not seen this much emotion from myself!” Richard says. The mayonnaise making and fish scaling are almost as tense. And not only for us home viewers. Dale punches a locker and yells the F-word … and, in the words of Antonia, “then had to have his diaper changed.” Richard, Stephanie, Antonia and Andrew win the race.

Instead of famous foodies to judge the chefs’ output this week, a happy bride- and groom-to-be stroll into the kitchen for the Elimination challenge. The cheftestants have to prepare food for the wedding. The team that won the Quickfire challenge gets to choose whether they want to prepare a buffet for the bride or for the groom. They choose the bride. Dale, Lisa, Nikki and Spike get the groom’s buffet table.

At this point, Dale gets a little cross (or a little more cross). “I haven’t catered since I was, like, 18,” he says, sounding a lot like the team members who were worried about their mayonnaise-making skills a few minutes before, leaving the viewer to wonder, why’s he still there?

The teams are allotted $5,000 for shopping, not only at Whole Foods but also at Restaurant Depot, and they’re told they’ll be working through the night. Not a problem for Andrew. “I have a culinary boner right now, knowing that I’m going to be working all night,” he says.

Nikki and the groom hit it off. He loves Italian food and white-meat fish, and she knows Italian food. For his cake, he wants chocolate, maybe even German chocolate.

Richard and the bride also hit it off; both are from Atlanta, both like meat and potatoes. For her cake, she says she wants layers.

In the kitchen, as the chefs unload their booty from the stores, including a wheel of cheese the size of a Smart car, Richard and Dale gravitate to the slabs of meat.

The bride’s team seems to be pretty well organized, with each chef assigned to particular dishes, or elements of dishes. The groom’s team flounders a bit. Nikki has the most relevant experience for the challenge and the trust of the Italian-food loving groom, but she avoids taking on a leadership role.

Thirty minutes in, the chefs get tired and cranky. Dale pouts and says he has to pick up the slack for everyone on his team. Andrew gets creamed-spinach duty. He tells the cameras he’s “literally” drowning in spinach. “I’m like Popeye’s wet dream right now.” Dale and Richard swill some Red Bull.

The next morning, the chefs don’t get to hit their beds. They have to bring their food to the wedding and serve it. The judges are there as well, along with pastry chef and celebrity judge Gale Gand.

The appetizers, mostly pizzas and sandwiches, are a hit. Until the groom’s team’s crostini comes out. This is “break-your-teeth” bread, Spike notes. He asks who made it, and is told it was Dale. Then we see the wedding guests either fumbling with the hard-to-eat crostini, or refusing to eat it because they can tell it’s going to be too messy.

“Admit it, you like my buffet better,” the happy bride says to her new husband. We don’t get to see their reactions to the cakes. They cut both cakes and each guest gets a slice of both Lisa’s chocolate “battleship” and Stephanie’s traditional, but beautiful, tower of white icing and flower petals.

At the judges table, the bride’s team is called in first. They’re asked about the creamed spinach, and Richard immediately takes the blame, saying he told Andrew to add star anise. Even though the spinach gets spanked, the bride's team wins. They give all their love to Stephanie for the dreamy cake she created, but Richard is named the winner by the judges. “I’d like to give it to Stephanie,” he says. So they hug and split the $2,000 Crate & Barrel gift certificate.

The groom’s grumpy team is asked who drove the bus. “Definitely not me,” says Nikki, prompting the other riders to roll their eyes. The judges didn’t like the pizzas, the filet, and especially not the crostini. Dale and Spike stand in front of the judges and argue over who worked the hardest. They act worse than my children, who engage in a fair amount of antagonistic behavior. It’s a tough decision for the judges: should Nikki be sent home for her lack of leadership and flavorless pasta dishes, or Dale for taking over too much of the food prep and then throwing his hands up when it didn’t turn out well. Nikki takes the hit—with grace. The decision is probably for the best. I think Dale would have cried had he been sent home.

Want the recap of the previous episode?

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Tamra Donohue / May 8, 2008 9:48 AM

I am not enjoying this season of Top Chef...I don't see any talent, or any class in most of the chefestants

Dave! / May 8, 2008 10:00 AM

I thought it was very cool for Richard to offer the prize to Stephanie like that... her cake may not have been perfect, but man, to take on a *wedding cake* when you're not a pastry chef, and the celebrity judge is Gale Gand?? She deserved major props for that...

Steph / May 8, 2008 12:35 PM

I'm with Dale. This season is more like Top Caterer than Top Chef.

Third Coast Toast / May 9, 2008 1:22 PM

Nice recap. I agree, they've definitely been doing a lot of "catering" and otherwise team cooking this season - I'm looking forward to more individualized challenges in the coming weeks.

I actually had a friend who was at this wedding (love being in Chicago!) and he was NOT impressed with the food - I've got the scoop here!!

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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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