I live in a college football town where tailgating is something of a religion, but that’s not really my scene. If I were made to choose between being forced to watch football and getting waterboarded, I’d have to think really long and hard before making a choice of torture methods. However, I have heard tales of fabulous fare at these all-day events from gumbos and etouffees to boiled shrimp and crawfish to grilled ribeyes and shrimp dips. Still, though, come August and the footballs start flying, I hit the shopping scene and stay away from the stadium. I can only go so far for good food.
Someone who professes he will go the distance for food is Spike. As he tells us the morning after the prior challenge, everyone blamed him for Zoi’s departure and wanted him to go, but he is there and wants to prove his passion. Gah! I hate the passion talk; it just conjures up the wrong kind of image of food preparation. Jen is still down that the “love of her life” has been booted out. Perhaps Jen should have given Zoi some tips on, say, seasoning a freakin’ pasta salad before she waxes poetic about Zoi’s departure. Ryan shows he’s more delusional than ever by concluding that he has an advantage because everyone else is wallowing in sadness.
Before heading out to the Quick Fire, Dale kinda/sorta apologizes to Lisa for calling her out on her negative attitude. He is sorry about the way he did it, but not that he did it. He continues to comment that her negative outlook is bringing everyone down and she should be aware of her joy-kill effects. Lisa mostly takes it, but in her private interview she makes it clear she doesn’t care about Dale’s opinion. But wait—wasn’t Dale one at the beginning who just wanted to keep to himself and focus on his own work? Methinks he perceives Lisa as an actual threat, lest he just keep his piehole shut.
After all the in-house drama, the chefs arrive in the kitchen for the QF where sixteen pitchers of beer are on display. Padma is there with Koren Grievseon, the most unexcited-looking guest judge I have ever seen on this show. She actually looks like she’s in pain standing there. For the QF, the chefs will pick a beer and make a dish that pairs with the beer. Before choosing the beer, the chefs can taste up to three. Stephanie thinks the challenge is great, as beer pairing is a new, popular way to create dishes. Meanwhile, Dale professes he is ignorant of beer and his comments are just shy of being snobby about beer.
After some time, the chefs all have chosen their beers and they run like wild monkeys to get their ingredients out of the pantry. Thirty minutes fly by and the dishes presented to Padma and the poker-faced Koren are:
Richard: grilled tuna sandwich with pickled vegetables. Koren gives no comment.
Andrew: rainbow trout with raspberry gastrique and peaches. Koren says it needs more acid.
Dale: roasted pork tenderloin with miso caramel sauce and pretzel crust.
Antonia: miso glazed cod Napa cabbage, so forgettable they don’t even put up an on-screen description.
Nikki: citrus marinated shrimp with Asian coleslaw.
Stephanie: steamed mussels with cilantro vinaigrette and grilled bread.
Mark: juniper spiced lamb rack with honey and beer sauce. Koren can’t taste beer but says the flavors are nice.
Ryan: some kind of lamb crepes. Again, no on-screen description for this dish; I suppose all that sadness wallowing just splashed on to him and ruined his mojo.
Spike: charcuterie plate and tapas of clams.
Lisa: bacon cheeseburger with potato chips. Koren says it needs more heat.
Jen: shrimp and scallop beignets with fennel, avocado and pepper purees. Padma notes that the beignet is not soggy, even though it’s the last dish tasted and Koren says it has great flavor.
Koren declare the bottom three are: Nikki who should have cut up her larger shrimp and used less breading and more seasoning; Spike who missed uniting the components of the dish; and Dale whose dish was not moist enough to get the combination of flavors and heat. Koren’s top three were: Richard for his great use of spices and pickling; Stephanie for the great choice of mussels, beer, and citrus; and Jen for a great balance of flavors, heat and acidity. Koren then chooses Jen as the winner; Jen feels like she won this one for Zoi. If she said she won it for the Gipper, it would have been much more episode-appropriate.
Yay! Not a Team Challenge!
Jen, of course, has won immunity from elimination in the Elimination Challenge, which Padma outlines thusly: they will each have to cook a dish for 80 people to sample at a Chicago Bears tailgate event. They will have $350 to spend, 30 minutes to shop, and two hours to cook and prep today. The next day, before the game, they will have grills and will have some time to get ready before the crowds arrive. The diners will have score cards and those scores will determine the top and bottom three. The judges will then pick the winner and loser.
Off they go shopping; Spike runs to the meat counter and scores all of the chicken wings in the place. Dale obviously can’t do wings anymore so he goes for ribs. Richard wasn’t sure what to do, but then he thought of his pate melt burger on his restaurant’s menu so he gets some ground meats to make the burger. Nikki buys some prepared sausages to make a sausage and pepper sandwich and decides to do some shrimp for people who don’t like sausage. Mark notes that others are doing shrimp so he can’t “throw a shrimp on the barbie” (barby?). Yeah, he actually used the trite phrase. Mark decides to go with a grilled chicken skewer and some relish. Ryan is not so excited as he shops; he is a professed metrosexual and does not do the football scene. He decides to buy ingredients for a “California” tailgate.
Back in the kitchen, Antonia is excited to be barbequing but Andrew is not because sports aren’t his thing, cooking is. Spike preps his chicken wings by tossing them ferociously in seasoning. It looks like he has about three million chicken wings he’s working with. Jen says her dish is inspired by Zoi. I suppose we can conclude that means it will be under-seasoned and whiney. On the other side of the kitchen, Lisa beats her meat. Heh, heh. She’s got skirt steak so she’s trying to tenderize it by imagining Dale’s head on the prep table as she slams down the rolling pin.
Before the two hours are up, Tom comes in and makes a nuisance of himself as he does every week. These little visits really don’t shed any light on the cooking process and there’s just something about Uncle Fester that has been irritating me more this season. His visit results in us learning that Jen is glad to have immunity but still is working hard, Antonia is making spicy Jamaican jerk chicken, and Dale loves da Bears. Tom leaves and there’s thirty minutes on the clock remaining. That time runs out and the chefs struggle to find enough space in the coolers to store their prep work for the next day’s event.
The cooks pretty much have the night off, so back at the house they crack open some wine and beers and have a relaxing evening. So relaxing, in fact, that Spike and Mark decide to take a bubble bath together. Bow-chicka-bow-bow, indeed. They do have on swimming gear or something covering their naughty bits, and they say they are comfortable in their heterosexuality. Nevertheless, Spike sounds like a freakin’ teenybopper girl when he says that Mark is the coolest guy ever and looks cool and they are gonna still hang out together when they get back to New York.
Do Feed the Bears.
After their night’s rest, the cooks arrive outside the stadium where they get to choose either a gas grill or a charcoal grill. These people who pretend to be chefs all choose the gas grill, save for Mark. Maybe I’ll forgive him for the cheesy “shrimp on the barbie” line since he made the right choice. Those gas people may as well just have carted out a microwave and called it cooking. (Okay, I hate gas grills; I admit I’m hugely biased against propane and propane related products, even though I love Hank Hill.) Before the cooking commences, the judges are introduced. Aside from the usual Padma, Gail, and Tom, we also have Paul Kahan who is from the same restaurant as the QF guest judge, though not nearly as poker-faced. Without further ado, the dishes prepared are the following:
Stephanie serves pork tenderloin with bacon, potato & pear salad, rosemary vinaigrette. The judges thought it was tasty and well cooked pork, while the diners really liked the bacon.
Dale was in awe as he got to meet Bears legends Gale Sayers, William “The Refrigerator” Perry and Richard Dent. They and the judges really enjoyed his baby back ribs marinated in tandoori, potato salad with raisins and mango.
Spike tries to work the crowd by asking about Bears Superbowl wins and is met with silence. He shuts up and serves jicama and pineapple slaw with lime dressing and fire spiced chicken wings. The judges and diners thought it was seasoned well, tasty, spicy, and awesome.
Antonia plates up a jerk chicken sandwich with pickled onion, banana and pineapple. Tom put grilled fruits on the sandwich to make a tropical tasty bite. The crowd’s assessment is that it is good but messy while a father and son give it a touchdown to score.
Ryan gets crowd involved in serving and is working crowd hard with his schmoozing. He serves a bread salad with marinated chicken, a poached pear for dessert, and a brandy cocoa. The crowd kind of likes it but finds it hard to eat.
Andrew is sporting a helmet and tries to work the crowd. He serves glazed shrimp with potato parsnip puree, bacon and apple chutney. As he tries to remove the helmet, his ears are stuck which causes Gail to laugh but she doesn’t help him. Padma thinks the dish is delicious but Tom questions the parsnip puree.
Lisa serves skirt steak with corn cake and salsa verde.
Jen serves chicken marinated with harissa and quinda tabouli.
Richard plates up his pate melt with spicy mayonnaise and pickled cucumber, which the judges and diners find delicious and tasty.
Mark is quite hectic in his service. Stuff is falling off the table and he’s having trouble getting everything cooked on time. He serves chicken and scallion skewers with soy and onion glaze and a New Zealand corn chowder. He knows the dishes aren’t the best he’s ever done. Tom and the diners are even harsher, saying that it is a disaster and the worst dish offered, respectively.
Nikki says she is serving “real man food” and has been offering seconds. When the judges arrive, she nearly out of food and is totally out of peppers and onions. When she had food she was serving sausage with peppers and onions on a sandwich with grilled shrimp with hot sauce on the side and a spiced cider.
When the service is over, the three Bears alums render their opinions. Richard Dent likes Richard’s burger the best while The Refrigerator and Gale Sayers like Dale’s ribs the best. As the cooks play some football, Mark worries that he’ll be eliminated and Nikki worries that she’ll get enough positive feedback from the diners to keep her out of the bottom three.
Once again, the chefs await their fate in the storage room and stiffen as Padma enters. She calls out Antonia, Dale, and Stephanie and off they go to face the Judges’ Table. Of course they are the top three and Tom comments on Stephanie’s consecutive appearance in the top-performing group. Padma asks what they thought of the crowd having a say in the winners and losers, and Antonia says she thinks it is a good idea to help focus on the audience that they are cooking for. Tom says Stephanie’s pork was good but wished it were a bit more seasoned. He notes that he put the banana and pineapple on the sandwich and that improved it. Antonia says she would have done that but worried it would put off the diners. As for Dale’s dish, Gail thought at first it was a weird idea for tailgate food but was pleasantly surprised. Then Paul Kahan announces that, based on the complexity and depth of flavor, Dale wins the challenge. He gets a Top Chef Bears jersey and a free gas grill like the one he used in the challenge. Dale is thrilled to win the EC but he has to carry back the bad news for three of his competitors.
Back in the waiting area, Dale says that the judges want to see Mark, Nikki and Ryan and off they go to face the judges and the gong of doom. Nikki is surprised that she was voted in the bottom by the diners since she had so many repeat customers. She says she didn’t make the sausage herself—an issue Paul had—because she was worried about time. Gail says that her sandwich was particularly dry and onions and peppers may have helped, but Nikki ran out. Plus, Gail says, the shrimp was disconnected from the rest of the dish while Padma wonders why Nikki didn’t mix the shrimp in with the sausage, peppers and onions.
Tom asks Ryan why he made a dessert at a tailgate; Ryan says he wanted to give the diners more options and he wanted to cook the kinds of foods he likes. Gail found the dish to be dry and the bread salad was mostly bread and didn’t have much chicken. Ryan argues that he got a good reception from the crowd and he thought his dish conveyed California flair. Tom says that California flair is not appropriate for a tailgate. I wonder what fans eat before the Rosebowl.
Finally, the judges turn to Mark. Tom thought the sauce on the chicken skewers was too much and the soup was too rough and should have been strained. Mark argues that it was a chowder, so it was supposed to be chunky. Tom then says that Mark’s station was a mess, there was food all over him, and he used the same spoon to taste the soup as to serve it. Ewwww.
The bottom three head back to wait while the judges mull over their decision. Paul still doesn’t understand why Nikki couldn’t make her own sausage because it is so easy to make. Gail can’t figure out what the shrimp was for and Padma doesn’t think Nikki thought about her dish enough. Padma also says that Ryan’s was the worst bread salad she ever had and Gail concludes that Ryan didn’t want to do tailgate food so he just refused to do it. As for Mark, Tom is still hung up on the chowder being too gritty and Mark’s general unsanitary presentation. Paul thought there should have been more mayo on the slaw and Gail just generally found Mark to be lazy.
Mark, Nikki and Ryan return to the Judges’ Table. Tom sums up the decision by saying that Nikki really should have made her own sausage, Ryan’s food was inappropriate for the occasion and was not good anyway, and Mark needs to clean up his act because he can’t make good food if he’s messy. Padma then delivers the news that Ryan is out. He thanks the judges—even shaking all of their hands—for the opportunity and says goodbye to the other contestants. He, nearly teary-eyed, says he was proud to make it as far as he did and he will continue to cook with his heart.