Top Chef Episode 5: Should We Make An ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ Reference?

No. But they are from Chicago.

Last night’s episode was all about taste. As opposed to the rest of the season, where taste has no bearing! Much-ballyhooed chef Ming Tsai was on hand for the day’s challenges, which involved a blind taste test (conceptually interesting) and catering the first course for the Meals on Wheels Chicago Celebrity Chef Ball (worthy, but less interesting).

Ming introduced the blind test by saying “if you can’t tell what tastes good […] you might as well pack up your knives and go home.” Who wrote that line for him? Totally lame to plug one of the show’s catchphrases. Nevertheless, the challenge itself was elegant in its formality and objectivity: each of the cheftestants tried cheap and expensive versions of fifteen food items (olive oil, bacon, chocolate, etc.), and the one who most often identifies the pricey item, won.

But it is not as easy as you’d think, apparently, since poor Stephanie only got six out of fifteen. Antonia, of all people, won with twelve correct IDs (note that underachiever Ryan got eleven). Which made us wonder, how much of taste is nature and how much is nurture? You can train ad infinitum, but not everyone has the same amount or distribution of taste buds. A discussion for another time, perhaps. What you should take away from the Quickfire is, this would be a great party game for foodies.

The main challenge was creating a first course for this Meals on Wheels chef ball, whose theme is the elements:

• Team Water, led by Richard, made scaly sous-vide salmon. So many scales! Andrew pointed out that not removing the scales is like “leaving a fish head on.” Although that can work sometimes: witness the deliriously delicious cod cheek. But anyway, Tom Colicchio doesn’t even like sous-vided salmon, and didn’t understand Mark’s parsnip puree.

• Team Earth, led by…well, no one, unfortunately, made bland-ass beef carpaccio with mushrooms (poor Zoi!) and sunchokes. Antonia had immunity from the Quickfire and shot down Spike’s soup idea, which turned into a giant bone of contention later on when Earth ended up at the bottom of the heap, but oh well. Our favorite moment involving Team Earth was when two fancy ladies in their 60s were chatting and one of them said, “I would be telling someone on the Earth team they’re going home tonight,” and the other one said “Ouch!” Okay in our book: fancy ladies saying “Ouch!”

• Team Air, with Jen and Ryan and Nikki maybe (Nikki is a character we know almost nothing about. Soon, she’ll do something stupid and get eliminated), made duck breast, an herb salad, and a prosecco cocktail. Air got in second place and there’s really nothing to say about them.

• Team Fire, with Stephanie mediating between ever-squabbling Dale and Lisa, made spicy shimp with spicy chili and an innovative cross-cut bacon component that won Lisa a lil’ trip to Italy. Dale was so pissed that he didn’t get to go to Italy! Well, he should have done something with bacon then, right?

So Lisa won for her neato bacon, and Zoi lost because of her underseasoned mushrooms. We’re disappointed because, there was some promise of Zoi and Jen’s relationship becoming an *issue*, and now there’s not. Human dignity one, us zero.

Now that we’re down to a dozen chefs or less, the show’s format is changing a tad. Tom got some extended interview time with the chefs as they were preparing their dishes, and then had a monologue at the camera where he discoursed on their relative strengths and weaknesses. He also forced the chefs to identify themselves with the components of their dishes for the purposes of easy elimination later on.

When does Top Chef start to get really compelling? Is it at nine chefs? Six? Possibly never? We will have to stay tuned for the next episode, which involves hot tubs.

[Photo: BravoTV]

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Top Chef Episode 5: Should We Make An ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ Reference?