Top Chef: Into the Wild

Let's get right to it: We open up with Stephanie and Valerie working on their fitness. All I will say is that this makes me wistfully recall Tre and Hung working out together, like a superhero and his sidekick. It's comes out that Stephanie and Valerie kind of know each other from when they worked in a restaurant together.

Meanwhile, our other ladies who know each other --biblically -- Jen and Zoi, are trying on clogs. All of these clogs look the same to me. Are they emulating Mario Batali or is this just a chef thing?

The chefs walk across a field to a farmer's market. The quickfire is to "create a delicious entree with ingredients from this can only use five ingredients for your dish. Five total."Except for salt, pepper, sugar and oil. They have a 1/2 hour to shop and a budget of $25 dollars.

Spike, who is wearing a Fedora but actually doesn't look bad, says he's "going to enjoy the farmer's market." Something about finding his roots? He sits there watching a guitar player. I find this very strange since he only has 1/2 hour to shop.

Richard, our molecular gastronomist, aka MarcelHungstein, is buying a Eucalyptus plant. I'm watching this calmly enough when Travis screams out to the TV, in his best courtroom revelation voice: "IT"S POISON!" Remind me not to go to the movies with him.

Mark is actually being rather intense. Does he think he's American? He's chafing that the farmers market people are too slow. This is not Supermarket Sweeps, Mark. He asks the guy to hurry up. The man behind the counter just stares at him and continues to pack. I enjoy this scene. Then Mark races off. The man behind the counter picks up the something: "He forgot his bag." Making no effort to chase him down, either because the producers told him not to, or he has a well-honed sense of karma.

Our guest judge is Wylie Dufresne! Of WD-50 and molecular gastronomic fame, in New York. I went there for dinner with my sister a few years ago - it was interesting: I had the octopus sous-vide. WD-50 just got a new, even more positive review from the NY Times. They have popcorn soup! And delicious cocktails! And it's expensive! So, you know, call me!

Richard (Marcel/Hungen-stein) is excited to see the Dark Lord of molecular gastronomy. Richard is also apparently a practitioner of this CULINARY DARK ART! (Which is how Top Chef likes to style opposed to those "I cook with my heart, my old nana gave me this recipe and I salt it with my own heartfelt tears" chefs.)

Richard creates an apple, chicken, and eucalyptus dish. Padma warily says, "Is this edible?". Richard says it is, in "really, really small doses." Yummy. Wylie says he was pulling hard for Richard, but the dish was oily and could have been "refined a bit." Ouch!

The standouts of the quickfire are Ryan, Valerie and Mark. Mark wins and gets immunity. This is impressive because he forgot his greens - so he just substituted butter. I heartily endorse this style of cooking.


The chefs draw knives and there are a few teams: Gorilla, Penguin, Lion, Vulture and Bear. Each team has three members. The challenge is to cater a cocktail party for 200 people, for the Lincoln Park Zoo, and each dish must be based around the diet of the animal they are assigned to. The budget is $500.

Needless to say, Team Vulture is not happy. However it turns out that Vultures eat little fish, rabbits, and lamb: "Very similar to my diet,"says Mark.

Andrew (our other molecular gastronomist), on Team Penguin, is making a "flavored glacier" made out of jelly or something - I immediately see disaster here. Play it safe, my teeth-grinding friend!

Tom "Bear Icon" Collichio comes around and checks things out, but after he leaves things sink for team gorilla: Stephanie's chips are soggy and Valerie's olive blinis aren't enticing anyone.

Over on Team Bear, Nikki's stuffed mushrooms look fecal: attempts to fix them are deemed by Dale as "putting perfume on a pig." Didn't Tom talk about putting "lipstick on a pig" last year?

At the event, Team Bear decides not to serve the mushrooms because they are cold (and look like poo), but then Nikki decides to serve them to the judges anyway. Gail later says the mushrooms look like something "a bear might produce, not eat."

The judges are also zeroing in on Team Gorilla's black olive poo-blinis and the soggy-woggy-crab-cake-salad. Which is soggy even with the removal of the chips, because Stephanie mixed the crab meat and salt hours before.

Well, hush my mouth! Andrew, over at Team Penguin, is presiding over a lovely ice-glacier-jelly thing. He's also getting rave reviews for his tapioca squid creation. Maybe Andrew isn't all teeth-grinding anxiety and strewn about expletives.

Over at Team Vulture, Mark is getting rave reviews for his marinated anchovies.

Winners! It seems to be between Penguin and Vulture.

Wylie picks the winner, and it's Andrew from Team Penguin. I'm actually happy for Andrew and he seems to handle the win well.

Losers! Team Gorilla and Team Bear are called in. It's between Nikki's Poo-Shrooms, Valerie's Poo-Blinis and Stephanie's Soggy Woggy Sad Crab Salad.

However, there's some question on Team Bear about who should take the blame for the 'shrooms: Dale did, in fact add cheese on top the mushrooms, to make it look less, uh, fecal, but which apparently made it taste worse. Except -aha!- none of the team would know that since none of them even tasted the mushrooms before they were served! I guess they did look that bad!

At one point, the judges ask Antonia who she would hire - Valerie or Stephanie. Antonia picks Stephanie, which irks Valerie since Valerie didn't even taste her dish. I agree with Valerie, but I think first off the judges shouldn't have even asked.

Ultimately, they send Valerie home. Pack your knives, girl. I think it should have been Nikki, personally. Besides not cooking the rutabaga enough, Valerie's only crime was making the mistake of doing blinis in advance. Nikki's mushrooms were, I would say, an unmitigated
and unservable disaster.

I immediately chatted with my esteemed friend Max of about the results.


Max: NICE. So glad she's gone.

me: Really?

Max: Yes. No charisma. Pack your exercise ball and go.

me: Tre often worked out. I'd just like to mention that. You either love blinis or hate Valerie.

Max: I love blinis and hate cold olive pancakes. Marc won my heart this episode.

me: Hmm...Who is mean to a farmer's market counter person?

Max: True. But they are a crunchy people. They probably wanted him to sit in for a hacky session first.

Me: Forgetting his bag was karma, but he did redeem himself.

Max: Forgetting his lettuce and then still killing it?

me: I often find that butter improves any dish. Which is why I butter everything.

Max: Loved the sideburn love between Wylie and Marc. And poor Richard. He sure enjoyed saying "molecular gastronomy" then blew it with Wylie.

Me: Ah yes - Richard of the poisonous (IN SMALL SERVINGS!) eucalyptus. I say, if you've got 5 ingredients, make one of them barely edible and just maybe toxic.

Max: Spike lost me this episode.

Me: um, yeah - frolicking in the park? Instead of picking ingredients?

Max: Jamming out? Back to your roots?

Me: So: in summation?

Max: Did you get a mushroom-to-turd comparison count this ep? I heard three.

I can't argue with that.