As another episode begins on season four of Top Chef, we see Jennifer continuing to mourn the departure of her girlfriend, Zoi, and vowing to “win for both of us.” Um, Jen? It’s not like Zoi has suffered a fatal car accident—she is still alive and well in San Francisco, probably cooking more underseasoned food. Meanwhile, in another malcontent corner of the Top Chef house, Dale criticizes Lisa for her negativity—this time minus the crotch grab—and Lisa later remarks “Dale can go f*** himself as far as I’m concerned.”
So, with everyone happy as Gladware, Padma announces the Quickfire: Create a dish in 30 minutes that pairs perfectly with beer. The contestants taste a selection of brews, choosing one as their inspiration. Clever contestants like Stephanie choose a full-bodied brew like Hoegaarden, while less experienced beer drinkers—we’re talking to you, Richard—inexplicably reach for . . . Michelob Ultra. Anyway, 30 minutes is up in the blink of an eye, and Padma comes out with guest judge Koren Grieveson, head chef of Chicago restaurant Avec, who should consider a second career as a poker player, such is the woodenness of her expression. A blur of dishes follows, but only the bad ones leave an impression, like Spike’s charcuterie plate—is this even considered cooking?—or Andrew’s fishy trout. (Side note: Is “needs acid” the new euphemism for “unfresh fish?”)
Anyway, valiant white knight Jennifer wins with her shrimp-and-scallop beignets, somehow restoring honor to Zoi. Padma reveals that in the Elimination Challenge the contestants will grill pre-game tailgate chow for a group of Bears fans. While most seem to understand the concept of tailgating—beer, burgers, sandwiches, wings—self-proclaimed metrosexual Ryan decides to flout the notion of barbecue fare, making a two-course offering of chicken with bread salad and an inexplicable poached-pear dessert.
But before we head to Soldier’s Field, we’re treated to an intimate glimpse of the Top Chef house, including a tender moment between Spike and Mark as they sip Champagne and relax in the tub; Spike plays with the bubbles while Mark looks on with a simper. We’re still scarred.
On to the tailgate. Gail, Tom and Padma show up with guest judge Paul Kahan of Chicago’s Blackbird and Avec, all clad in Bears jerseys that make them (even Padma) look supremely unattractive. Spastic Andrew runs around wearing an oversized football helmet and Gail seems frightened. The crowd and judges love Stephanie’s grilled pork tenderloin, Dale’s tandoori-inspired ribs, and Antonia’s jerk chicken sandwiches. In the bottom tier, Nikki runs out of the peppers that accompany her uninspired sausage sandwiches. Mark’s grill station is so filthy it looks as if real bears were manning the grill. And then there is Ryan. His carny-style banter does little to hide the fact that his food, well, sucks.
Dale wins with a sigh of relief heard ’round the world. Padma presents him with a Bears jersey and . . . a Weber gas grill! Dale struggles to look happy, but you can tell he wants a gas grill as much as he wants to be roomies with Lisa.
In the end, Nikki (doing her best Amy Winehouse impersonation), Mark, and Ryan all stand on the chopping block. Why didn’t Nikki make her own sausage? Why is Mark such a dirty bird? (The judges look revolted when they accuse him of tasting his chowder with his serving spoon. Tom: “It was so unsanitary I really felt like walking away from that table.”) And why is Ryan so soulless? After seven more minutes of commercials, Ryan packs his knives while shedding a few tears. “I just don’t cook with my hands,” he says. “I cook with my heart.” Maybe he should have cooked more with his hands.
Top Chef airs Wednesday nights at 10 on Bravo. For last week's recap, click here.