'Top Chef: Chicago': Egotastic!

Dale_topchefchicago You think Bridezillas are bad? Hah! Top Chef: Chicago shows us that the raging egos of chefs can eclipse that of even the fussiest bride.

The spoiler no longer gets immunity.

The Quickfire challenge is Tom's favorite: The mis en place relay, where the teams needed to segment oranges, peel artichokes, fillet monkfish and make mayonnaise without the help of electric devices. Lisa takes a quick lead against Antonia with the oranges, but Andrew catches up with Spike on the artichokes. Richard and Dale are neck and neck with the monkfish, so it comes down to Stephanie vs. Nikki for the mayonnaise. Stephanie apparently makes her own mayo all the time, and she must have biceps, triceps, and other -ceps  of steel, because she whipped that emulsion within an inch of its life while Nikki was still trying to coax feeling into her cramping hand. Stephanie's team wins.

The next challenge: Wedding Wars. See, this would be the time on the show where they launched Restaurant Wars (giving the teams a day to design and open their own restaurant), but I'm guessing Chicago's legendarily Byzantine liquor licensing laws got in the way of that. Instead, the teams will be catering a wedding for 250 people (eep!), which will take place the next day (double eep!). The chefs start looking haunted.

Team Bride (Stephanie, Richard, Andrew and Antonia) will be making southern-style meat-and-potatoes dishes, plus a serious wedding cake. Team Groom (Dale, Lisa, Nikki and Spike) think they've got it made -- their cakes doesn't need to be half so complex, plus the groom loves Italian food and seems to share a palate with Nikki. What could go wrong?

Personality conflicts, that's what. Dale and Lisa hate each other, Spike isn't endearing himself to anyone, and Nikki isn't willing to take charge, even though she's the one with the most experience with the cuisine. This is going to get ugly.

Team Bride, on the other hand, is practically gathered around the campfire singing Kumbaya. Their menu has less of a margin for error -- everything has to be perfectly seasoned, and there's a bit less wiggle room than there is with antipasto. But the personalities mesh, for the most part, and everyone seems to support each other.

Stephanie is set to work on the bride's cake, a five-layer chocolate and lemon confection. Wedding cakes are tough, and I'm amazed Stephanie is being that ambitious. Lisa, the cake lady for the groom's side, has an easier job -- the groom says he wants something simple and not terribly flashy, so as not to overshadow the bride's cake. She dodged a bullet there.

Things spin out early with Team Groom -- Dale decides to do as much as physically possible by himself, because he doesn't trust anyone else. He also changes things up on Nikki, and she doesn't protest or take charge. Spike decides to concentrate most of his efforts on a fish dish, which is great, but there's a hell of a lot more to do. Nikki gets stuck making pasta again, which she isn't thrilled about. The one bit of good news? Lisa is so wrapped up with the cake that she doesn't have time to want to kill Dale.

Team Bride makes a much better impression at the wedding -- just about every dish is a hit, with the notable exception of Andrew's almond-crusted chicken and creamed spinach. Team Groom suffers -- the bruschetta bread is so thick and hard it shreds gums, the vegetables for the antipasto are lackluster, and the tortellini is too sweet. But Andrew's fish is a hit, and Lisa's cake, while nothing special to look at, is tasty.

Team Bride gets called up for judging first, and the peace-and-love theme continues. The one sour note is when Richard takes responsibility for a weird taste in the creamed spinach, and Andrew is quick to say he wasn't satisfied with the dish -- essentially blaming Richard for the failure. But when Richard wins the challenge, he insists on giving the prize to Stephanie, because she took on the hardest part of the job. Richard and Stephanie split the prize -- $1,000 each for a Crate & Barrel shopping spree. Not bad!

Team Groom is just the opposite -- Dale is quick to take credit (and bid for martyrdom) for just about everything that got made. Spike eventually goads Dale into saying he thought Spike slacked off, while Lisa and Nikki look on in horror. Nikki doesn't do herself any favors when she denies all responsibility for everything, pegs missteps in the menu on the groom, and basically washes her hands of the whole affair. That was the wrong answer: Nikki is going home.

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends:

  • Gale Gand! Wheee! I object to the description of her as one of the best pastry chefs in the city. She's one of the best in the country.
  • We open the episode with Andrew and Spike commiserating over how much they miss Mark -- and then agreeing to share a room. I already have trouble keeping you guys separate -- work with me here!
  • Monkfish is really, really creepy looking. Really.
  • Dale is scornful when everyone on his team worries about making mayonnaise by hand -- "Why are you still here?" I notice he doesn't volunteer for the task, however...
  • When Dale's team loses the relay, he freaks out, screaming "F*ck!" and bashing a locker. Antonia had the best take on it: "Dale decided to have a tempter tantrum, and he punched a locker. And then he had to have his diaper changed." Damn straight.
  • That "culinary boner" reference from last week? Yup, it was in this episode. Andrew seems to spend way too much time equating cooking and sex. His other choice comment came when he spent much of his time on the creamed spinach: "I'm like Popeye's wet f*cking dream right now."  Have you seen Fight Club? Let's just say I'd never order chowder at any restaurant where Andrew works.
  • Richard talks about how different people react to lack of sleep: "Andrew stops talking at a certain point -- which is unique for Andrew." Hee!
  • During the service, Andrew is kept back in the kitchen. That strikes me as a wise choice.
  • I love that Stephanie is obviously a fan of the show-she's always ready with a reference to mistakes of past seasons.
  • Lisa's cake really, really didn't look good. It looked like something I would make. When she worried about smashing it on the way to the venue, I almost thought it would look better smashed up and served in bowls. Still, Lisa is the only person on Team groom who doesn't get raked over the coals.
  • That judging session with Team Groom was ugly When asked about the bruschetta (which could qualify as a blunt weapon), Dale says "I did that. I did that! That's another thing that I did!" When Spike tells him to say what's on his mind, we just hear a long string of expletive-deleted bleeps. I know they're running on fumes, but seriously, Dale needs to shut up.
  • Dale gets even more nasty when the judges praise Spike's fish dish: "You should have liked it, it took him three hours to make it!"
  • Choice quote from Gail, during the judging: "There was a major ego war going on... which brings us to Dale." And from Tom: "Dale, you said you did the bulk of the work, but we didn't care for the bulk of the work."
  • I knew Nikki was in trouble as soon as I heard this exchange: Tom: "Who was driving the bus here?" Nikki: "Definitely not me." That was not the correct response.
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