As dawn breaks on Casa de Chef this week, we are privy to hear that Steph again is excited that there are so many women left in the competition at this point. There have never been three women in the Final Four, and she would love to see it happen this year. Antonia is a little less hopeful, simply saying she wants to get it over with so they can get rid of one more person and have the Final Four decided already. As the chefs head out on a field trip, Blaise discusses how he recognizes Allen Brothers meat as a nationally recognized butchery company that’s well-known for its quality meat. They’re greeted by a staff member of the company, and told they have to change into the proper safety uniform since they’ll be cutting meat today. Without mentioning the word Quickfire, this woman tells the chefs that they’ll have 20 minutes to cut dry aged, long bone ribeye. Antonia mentions that this is enough time for an extremely skilled butcher to cut properly, but none of them are skilled butchers. Spike then brings up the fact that both of his grandfathers were butchers, so he must have a strain of butchery in him. I wrote down that two words have never described a man better. It felt funnier at the time, I swear.
In a shock to end shocks, Spike does a phenomenal job with the task, realizing quickly that the best strategy is to cut the dry age off of the meat before cutting the individual chops. He easily beats the rest of them at this part of the challenge. Once they get back to the Top Chef kitchen, Padma introduces them to the guest judge for this round – Rick Tramonto of Tru (another Tru owner!) and Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood. He is one of the most well-known and well-loved chefs of Chicago’s culinary scene. The chefs are given 20 minutes to cook the perfect steak, and Rick mentions that he prefers his steaks cooked to medium rare. Blaise starts bitching about how this challenge blows, and he’s basically right. This isn’t really testing anything but how well you can butcher a steak and cook to medium rare. The latter is a fundamental and essential tenet of a good chef’s skill set; the former, however, is not. I sincerely doubt that most great chefs are spectacular butchers, especially because they don’t need to be – the meat comes to them already cut.
The chefs finish their steaks and Rick goes around to inspect the results. Without even tasting the steaks, he begins to judge their skills with a knife and a stove. Rick and Rich simply don’t like each other, and the bad news noise comes down on Steph, too. Lisa seems like she did a mediocre job, Spike is arrogant as always, and it’s apparent Antonia did a great job. Finally, Padma makes him pick the bad and the good. Steph did the worst job, since she cut hers poorly and undercooked the final tomahawk. Blaise also placed in the bottom since his cutting was inconsistent and also undercooked his steak. Antonia cooked her steak “perfectly,” Lisa did a great job, and Spike did an incredible job with his butchery and grilled his steak well. Spike ultimately wins the challenge, and by doing so, garners himself an advantage in the upcoming challenge. Since he fucked up his advantage last time, I’m not too worried about his chances. Smart thinking on my part…
The Elimination Challenge is now presented by Padma and Rick – the five chefs will create their own menu and cook for Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood. Each will be responsible for an appetizer and an entrée. They can only use what they can find in the kitchen and pantry of Rick’s restaurant that night. Since Spike was the winner of the challenge, he’s allowed to choose his proteins for his app and his entrée first. He then starts to philosophize on how he wants the Final Four to turn into a Battle of the Sexes, with two women pitted against two men. He fully admits that Steph is the best of the women chefs, but he wants Antonia to go home. This is total bullshit, since Antonia has performed far, far better in challenges than Lisa and doesn’t have a black hole of a personality. In twelve Quickfires and twelve Elimination Challenges, Lisa won one challenge. She won an Elimination Challenge for making bacon. Despite Jordan Baker’s obsession with bacon, I think it’s fair to note that Lisa is not a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen.
So once the chefs arrive at Tramonto’s, Spike decides to use tomahawks for his entrée and scallops for his appetizer. All of the chefs immediately notice that the scallops that he chose are frozen, and this will have dire consequences for his chances. However, it will bring me absolute glee for the next thirty minutes, and perhaps for the rest of my life. Steph and Blaise are both working with sweetbreads, which are basically the thymus gland of veal, pork, beef, or lamb. They sound disgusting but actually taste phenomenal when prepared properly. Lisa goes on a whining marathon, and I desperately want her gone, as does the rest of the chefs. Antonia has another classic line after Lisa won’t shut the fuck up about the fire from the oven getting too hot. Antonia adjusts the door so Lisa won’t be as hot, and says, “Just make sure [my food doesn’t] die.” When Lisa, in the typical self-absorption we’ve become used to, asks, “But what if I die?” Antonia doesn’t miss a beat when she taunts, “Then I guess you won’t be going to Puerto Rico!” Set and match.
Meanwhile, Spike is trying to act like the frozen scallops don’t bother him, but he’s clearly screwed for the entire challenge. At this point, I start to wonder why he doesn’t just change his fucking appetizer, but I think he’s a tad stubborn in that respect, so he just sticks to the shitty seafood. Smooth move, Ex-lax. Colicchio is going to expo the food tonight, so he’ll be making sure everything is ready for the tables and sending out the dishes. When he calls Blaise out on his straight-forward food, Blaise takes offense. The editors are working overtime in this episode with Blaise mentioning several times that he simply can’t stomach failure at this point and he refuses to lose before he hits the Final Four. I started to freak out about him going home in this episode, but I think the story arc being constructed is either him coming from behind to win the finale, or ultimately ending up second to Steph, both ideas that suit me quite well.
The judges are sat and the chefs begin to prepare tasting portions of their appetizers. For this challenge, the judges are Padma, Gail, Tramonto, and the winners from the first three seasons – Harold, Ilan, and Hung. That’s a whole lot of douche at one table. If Spike sat down with them, the world might cease to exist. Since Colicchio is expediting, I’m wondering how he’ll be able to judge for the challenge. My question is answered at the end of the challenge when he makes a throwaway comment to the chefs to make him a tasting portion of all of their dishes. The appetizers from all of the chefs are as follows –
Lisa presents grilled and chilled prawns with lemon zest and tomato salad over crostini. The judges like the lemon and the subtlety of the chilled flavors, but Gail says that it would have been far better if she had served the prawns warm. I secretly judge her for calling the prawns shrimp.
Blaise makes himachi with crispy sweetbreads, radish, avocado, and yuzu. The entire table literally swoons over this dish, and Tramonto mentions that he would add the dish to his menu in a heartbeat.
Spike uses his fucking frozen scallops to make a seared scallops dish with hearts of palm and oyster mushrooms. The judges, especially the former winners, dismiss it as bland and uninteresting, with Ilan adding that the scallops taste dehydrated.
Steph creates sweetbreads with golden raisins, pine nuts, fennel, and bacon. Everyone loves the flavor and texture diversity and Gail notes that it has everything that Spike’s dish didn’t have.
Antonia finishes up with a mushroom and artichoke salad with poached egg and bacon vinaigrette. The overall impression is that the dish is mediocre at best.
The entrées are presented next –
Blaise has a beef filet with potato puree, turnips, red wine, and pickled brussels sprouts. Ilan hates it for some reason, but everyone else seems to enjoy it enough.
Lisa turns out a New York strip steak with apple caramel sauce and peanut butter mashed potatoes. Tramonto wants to hate the potatoes, but he enjoys the nuttiness and the texture. Ilan says the beef is underseasoned and Gail points out that the dish is unbalanced overall.
Spike has a tomahawk chop with sweet potato puree, brussels sprouts, and cipollinis. No one likes it, and they consider it to be mediocre and amateurish.
Steph has a beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms and apple sauce. The entire table loves the dish.
Antonia has a bone-in ribeye with fennel and cipollinis, and a shallot and potato gratin. Ilan says that it’s pretty rich and heavy, but Tramonto says it’s his favorite dish so far.
Instead of splitting the five up for the Judges Table, Padma wants to see all of them. They love Blaise’s food, but they mention that his entrée was inconsistent in terms of meat temperature for the table. They adore Steph’s food and practically fawn over her. Gail tells Lisa that she was okay and that her entrée was surprisingly good. The poached egg from Antonia’s salad was cooked perfectly, her steak was great, and her gratin also got a perfect rating from Tramonto. Spike did an alright job, but there are no real compliments. They all hated the scallops, and Tom told him he shouldn’t have used them. Spike takes a shot at Rick for even having them in his kitchen to begin with, but Rick counters with a huge fuck you by saying it’s still Spike’s fault for using them. Should Rick have had shitty seafood in his kitchen? Of course not. But was Spike forced to use them? No, it was the total opposite – he had his pick of anything he wanted. Being the total piece of shit that he is, after attacking Tramonto, he shakes his head and says, “It was an honor” on his way out.
Steph is designated as the best overall menu during deliberation, and Blaise’s appetizer is bestowed the appellation of Best Overall Dish. Antonia had the best steak dish, and everyone loved her gratin. On the other hand, Spike’s courses had issues and he simply didn’t deliver in the most important challenge yet. Lisa has an apathy to her cooking, and Padma tries to sound intelligent by mentioning that she focuses more on flavor and less on technique. Tom declares that good technique is how you make flavor. At this point, I’m calling Steph as the winner and Spike getting sent home. Not only is it what I want, I just see the story arc headed that way. Before we hear the decision, the viewer’s poll asks, “Who was chopped too soon?” Dale wins with 53 percent of the vote, with Jenn slash Optimus Lez getting second and Andrew coming in third. I think it’s blatantly obvious that Dale should still be in the competition, but it is what it is.
Steph wins and makes it into the Final Four. She gets a copy of Tramonto’s newest book and a suite of kitchen appliances – we’re talking stoves, grills, ovens, fridges. Blaise has the best appetizer, so he moves on to the finals, and Antonia has the best steak dish, so she moves on as well. If the final three placings are the same as the order the finalists were advanced in this episode, I would be ecstatic. Steph has four Elimination wins and one Quickfire, whereas Blaise has three each. They seem pretty evenly matched to me. To be honest, as long as Lisa goes out fourth, I couldn’t really care less who wins. I love all three of these kids, and nothing could disappoint me as much as last year, where Casey totally bombed and Dale was robbed by that little shit, Hung.
Tom gets to the bottom two by highlighting the fact that Lisa has been in the bottom five times and Spike was in the bottom seven. BURN! They tell Lisa that the passion is obviously in her but not in her food. She isn’t ferocious with her food, and they hated her shrimp dish (it was prawns, Gail, PRAWNS!). Spike made a huge mistake with using the scallops and he needs to be able to make decisions on the fly and adjust in the kitchen when things go wrong. In addition to that, he has to put everything on his plate for a reason, in order to construct a better dish, not just make things look nice. In the end, Spike goes home. I am literally screaming with joy on my couch at this point, because it’s fairly obvious to anyone who reads this that I fucking hate Spike with every fiber of my being. When the top three find out Spike is going home, they couldn’t really care less since they hate him, too. He interviews that “No one puts me down,” and that’s exactly his problem – he never takes any fucking criticism because he’s so defensive and arrogant.
The final is going to take place in Puerto Rico, and it leads one to believe that someone gets their hand cut off. I sincerely doubt this is actually going to happen, but I’m pretty certain someone’s going to get injured. And the way the story arc and editing have been shaping up and the promo for the finale is framed, I think it’s going to be Blaise.