Top Chef: Penguins on Top, Ladies on Bottom


I'm not saying that if Andrew didn't win this challenge, that he'd have suffered a nervous breakdown...but considering it's only the second episode of the season and he seems like he's one refill away from totally losing it (in a real way, not in a made-for-TV-sorta way), I'm glad for everyone else's sake that this goofball won.

And we know from the opening segment of the two girls working out together that something is goin' down with these ladies. And no, neither of the gym rats was one of the out lesbians.

The Quickfire challenge had the cheftestants (so hard to write that...) descending on Chicago's Green City Farmer's Market, nearly knocking down children and overwhelming unsuspecting vendors. And we start getting more insight into the chefs' personalities, or at least, the personalities they've constructred for us: Mike's impatience with the vendors leads to quickfire karma when he leaves a bag of food behind; Spike makes a point of sitting down to enjoy some music while everyone else is scrambling around. He even makes sure we see him dropping a dollar into the performer's guitar case. You know, just so we know he has his priorities straight.

The catch to the Quickfire is that they can only use five ingredients in their dish (not including salt, pepper, sugar, and oil). The guest judge is Wylie Dufresne, a big name among foodies and at the forefront of molecular gastronomy. Exactly. He is, however, a nice yin to creepy Tom Colicchio's yang.

The highlight of the Quickfire comes when Andrew, who we literally see repeating the rules of the challenge to himself, screws up and uses a sixth ingredient. Oooooops. And the winner, despite losing a bag of ingredients, is of course Mark. (We are also privvy once again to Erik's horrendous plating abilities: as with his souffle last week, this week's dish looked like it had been reconstructed after being thrown in the garbage. Way to represent your restaurant, dude!)

For the Elimination challenge, the group splits into five animal-based trios: Vulture, Bear, Lion, Penguin, and Gorilla. The challenge is to plan a menu based on each animal's diet and to serve at a catered cocktail party for 200. Along the way, we learn that Gorillas are vegetarians! (Doesn't stop that group from serving meat though...)

Just once, though, I'd love to see what happens when a team doesn't get their shopping done on time.  Between this and Project Runway, we always see straggler just barely getting their last purchase scanned  with one second left...please. We've all been in line with the equivalent of one second left (car parked illegally, late for work, potential boyfriend is getting ready to leave...) and you NEVER get out on time.

While the challenge is constructed around this animal-diet menu, the heart of it is really about catering. Ultimately it matters less what the dish is if it isn't properly prepared, and Team Gorilla - the only all-female team - fails to deliver on two of their four dishes.

Team Gorilla is made up of two alpha females, last week's winner Stephanie and her workout partner Antonia, and one who wouldn't last a day in the jungle, Valerie. In contrast to Team Bear's Nikki, who makes a point of how a woman needs to stand up for herself in the kitchen, we see Valerie utter nary a word while her team futzes over the menu.

I'm still not sure if she volunteered to make those nasty-ass blinis or if she was merely assigned; regardless, even I know something like that would dry out if prepared three hours before plating for 200. But Stephanie's chips didn't turn out much better, and her improvised crab salad was a big mushy mess.

With two strikes against them, Team Gorilla knows they are in trouble. The other dinged dish, Nikki's poo-bear stuffed mushrooms, provide a platform for this year's first team controversy, but Team Bear emerges unscathed and mousy little Valerie is sent packing.

As for the winner, I thought they were going to give it to Zoi for the lamb meatball that everyone was raving about, or even Mark for his anchovy dish (I mean - how good can an anchovy really be?) but that's not realistic since he already had immunity.  But just like Mark won the Quickfire in spite of his goof, the judges give Andrew from Team Penguin the victory to even out his extraordinary extra-ingredient gaffe from earlier. If only we all lived in the magical Bravo reality TV world where an early mistake virtually guarantees a follow-up victory!

Not much else to note yet; still early with so many contestants, although we did get a shot of Zoi and her GF Jennifer lounging around in bed together; and I'm already totally sick of Richard's trying-too-hard-hair. I predict drama coming from Dale's corner, and I suspect Spike will get on someone's nerves (I mean, besides my own - he is cute though). As for next week's, my money is on Erik to be sent packing.  But the real question is...when are they going to bring Dale - last year's runner-up - back on?? They're in Chicago, he's in you know he'll be there...but I can't wait until the finale!

Image courtesy Bravo