'Top Chef: Chicago': Beer, Bears and backtalk

Dale_topchefchicago Top Chef: Chicago was all about simple pleasures this week -- beer, football, tailgating, schadenfreude and the manly enjoyment of the bubble bath. What more could you ask?

Whaddaya mean, spoilers all taste the same?

Beer! Whoo-hoo! The cheftestants sample a bunch of frothy brew, then pick one variety and make a "simple pleasures" dish that pairs well with said beer. Spike continues to annoy by saying that all beer tastes the same to him. Dude, if you think Kirin Ichiban tastes the same as a Hoegaarden witbier or an Amber Bock, you're not paying attention.

The chefs have very different ideas of what constitutes "simple" -- Richard, for example, decides to go with a sandwich and Antonia goes for a burger, while Spike threw together a charcuterie plate and Dale does a  pork tenderloin that is inexplicably dusted with crushed pretzels.

Guest judge Koren Grieveson puts Nikki, Spike and Dale in the bottom three -- Nikki's fried shrimp were underseasoned and overbreaded, Dale's pork tenderloin was too dry for her tastes, and Spike gets called out for his seemingly random addition of clams to a charcuterie plate. The grin on Jen's face when Spike gets spanked is incandescent.

Jen's grin gets bigger when she, along with Stephanie and Richard, are in the top three. Grieveson praises Stephanie's citrus-dressed mussels and Richard's tuna sandwich, but she has highest praise for Jen's shrimp and scallop beignets. Jen wins immunity.

The elimination
The chefs finally have an individual elimination challenge: Prepare a tailgate meal for 80. Lucky Bears fans will decide who's in the top and bottom three.

Again, some of the chefs embrace the challenge, and others act like it's beneath them. Richard  sniffs that he's "more interested in a more refined sort of food," while Ryan laments that he spends his money on good clothing, not silly things like football tickets. They take two completely different approaches: Richard makes a haute version of a burger, while Ryan determines to do a three-course meal with dessert -- and with no concessions to ease of eating.

A couple of the chefs have big problems. Mark, who brags that he's the only one with the "testicular fortitude" to use a charcoal grill, looks like a disaster -- his table is a mess, stuff seems to be sticking to the grill, it looks like he's totally swamped. Even worse is Nikki -- sausages with peppers and onions doesn't go over so well when you run out of peppers and onions.

Top marks go to Stephanie, Antonia and Dale. The fans raved about Stephanie's pork tenderloin with potato-and-pear salad, and give her extra points for sprinkling bacon on top (what did I tell you? Cardinal rule of cheffery.) Antonia's jerk chicken sandwich with grilled pineapple and banana also turned heads. But it's Dale's spiced ribs with warm potato salad that impressed the judges the most -- he wins the day.

Nikki, Ryan and Mark are in the bottom three, and I completely agree with that assessment. Nikki is spanked for not making her own sausages, for running out of large portions of the dish, and for a completely inexplicable shrimp component that was there... well, inexplicably. Mark is taken to task for a gritty chowder, too-heavy sauce on the chicken, and (ew!) double dipping his tasting and serving spoons.

But it's Ryan who gets the most grief -- his meal wasn't tailgate-friendly at all, and besides, it was kind of crappy. He launches a loooooong impassioned defense about how he was trying to bring refined foods to the masses, and how if they didn't get the pears, it was their own damn fault.  Yeah, but... folks loved Stephanie's use of pears. You ignored what the challenge was about, and then you came up with something that didn't taste particularly good. Goodbye, Ryan.

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends:

  • Fallout from last week: Spike hears talk that he should have gone home instead of Zoi, and thinks it's because people are threatened by his culinary cojones. Spike, you haven't won a single challenge. You haven't even been in the top three. Shut up.
  • Dale "apologizes" to Lisa for blowing up at her, then warns her that "some people in the house" find her grating. I love that he couches that as looking out for her: Hey, you should know that some people -- who are totally not me, by the way -- think you're horrendous. Love ya, mean it!
  • Koren Grieveson has one hell of a poker face -- I didn't have a clue what she was thinking. And hey, finally, more Chicago chefs!
  • Spike reacts after the quickfire: "So Jen wins immunity, like, yay lesbians, here we go!" What the hell?
  • Spike ruffles feathers by buying every single chicken wing in the store. Then, at the tailgate itself, he tries to be a Man of the People and bond with the football fans. "When was the last time the Bears won a Superbowl?" Dead silence. It's officially too soon to remind anyone of the disastrous 2006 Superbowl, ok?
  • Ryan actually has charisma, and has the crowd eating out of his hand. Too bad they don't actually like eating his food...
  • Jen makes everything All About Zoi. Her quickfire win? For Zoi. Her tailgate dish? Inspired by Zoi. The love of her life? Zoi. We get it. You're sad she's gone. Now shut up and cook, ok?
  • Tom comments that Antonia's jerk chicken sandwich would have been improved if she'd stacked the grilled pineapple and banana on the sandwich itself instead of putting them on the side. Antonia says she feared people thinking it was "just a sandwich." It's a tailgate! "Just a sandwich" is perfect!
  • Go Stephanie, in the top three again. I hope she goes all the way.
  • Dale has a very good day -- not only does the legendary Gale Sayers praise his ribs, but he wins a Top Chef Bear's jersey and a seriously tricked-out grill.
  • Richard reacts to Ryan's offering: "Ryan's got a five  course meal with dessert, pastry, maitre d's, a mint for your pillow, a glass of wine... I'm doing a burger." Wise choice, Richard. The "paté melt" sounded pretty awesome.
  • Nikki tries to spin her presence in the bottom three: "By the time you tasted my plate..." "You were on the bottom with the fans as well," Tom reminds her.
  • Guest judge Paul Kahan (Chicago  chef of Blackbird and Avec, both of which rock) on Nikki's store-bought sausage: "I was really disappointed, She's a chef, not a purchaser at a supermarket."
  • Tom on Mark's nasty habits: "You took your spoon, you tasted you soup, you took that spoon and put it right back in the soup bowl. There was more food on your apron than on the grill." Blech. Later, Tom says "It was so unsanitary, I really felt like walking away from that table."
  • Did anyone else find Mark saying he "didn't feel like straining the chowder" incredibly obnoxious?
  • Ryan concludes that "what went wrong with my dish is I went too big." Funny, I thought the judges said what went wrong with your dish is it tasted like crap. "One of the worst versions of bread salad I've had in a long, long time" doesn't speak to your concept, it speaks to your execution.