Top Chef

Season 4 Episode 3

Block Party

Aired Wednesday 10:00 PM Mar 26, 2008 on Bravo

Episode Recap

As the contestants get ready for another day of competition, some of the chefs think about what has occurred so far. Richard tries to stay focused on the food, as the food is what is going to keep a chef in contention or get him sent home. Zoi is not happy to see another woman pack her knives - she, and others, are still waiting for a female Top Chef winner. Andrew and Spike fool around "faux wrestling" with each other in the bedroom, and Andrew mentions that part of being a chef is being an entertainer and having fun.

In the Top Chef kitchen the contestants are introduced to the guest judge for this round: Chicago premier chef Rick Bayless. Padma tells the chefs that Rick has taken Mexican cuisine into fine dining. The Quickfire Challenge for this episode is to create an upscale taco – a taco that can be served in a fine dining restaurant. The chefs are given thirty minutes to produce a taco and the cooking begins.

Manuel has Mexican roots, and begins preparing cactus to incorporate into his tacos, believing that it is the ingredients in a taco that can propel the dish into fine dining. Spike refuses to think about fine dining in relation to tacos, and insists on keeping his dish "real." Andrew is using plantains and duck in his tacos, and comments that he will win the competition because of his "random and crazy ideas." Richard loves the challenge as he is all about "reinventing" c dishes. He uses jicama as the taco shell. Ryan gets his inspiration from the tacos he eats in San Francisco, using pomegranate and jicama salad and squash tacos. Mark is confused by all the street food he sees being prepared around the kitchen when the challenge calls for fine dining cuisine.

Padma and Chef Bayless start tasting at Manuel's station. He presents them with Chorizo Tacos with Picante Verde, Cilantro, and Goat Cheese. Padma laughingly comments that this obviously is not the first taco Manuel has made. Lisa has made Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos with Caramelized Onions, Pineapple and Cabbage Slaw, but, unfortunately, when Rick Bayless tries to bite it, he cannot bite off a piece of the skirt steak. Andrew's dish, Duck Breast Tacos with Plantain Jam and Cotija Cheese Chef Bayless comments that a duck taco is one of his favorite kinds. Erik presents the judges with Chipotle Braised Chicken Taco with Avocado, Pomegranate Salsa, and Guacamole and Chef Bayless talks about its traditional flavors. Spike's Ground Pork Tacos with Tomatillo Sauce are proclaimed excellent if he was going for street Ryan presents Grilled Squash Tacos with Stewed Chickpeas wrapped in paper. Richard has made three Jicama Tortillas with Avocado, Papaya, and Cilantro Stems, so that he can enjoy one with the judges.

At the end of judging, Rick Bayless states that there were some great flavors going on, but that the challenge was to "translate the humble taco into something that could be served in fine dining" and he got a lot of street food, instead. He states that one of his least favorites is Erik's because his plate looked so unappetizing. He also puts Lisa in the bottom of the pack since the skirt steak was too tough to bite. Ryan's dish is also criticized because of the paper he wrapped the taco in - it just could not be served like that in a fine dining restaurant.

The "top tacos" are Andrew's, because of the flavors and presentation, Richard's for placing great Mexican street-food flavors in a fine dining package, and Spike's because of the "super soul-satisfying" flavor. Chef Rick Bayless picks Richard as the challenge winner, and tells him that his dish will be put on the menu at his restaurant Topolobampo. Richard has also won immunity for the Elimination Challenge.

Padma tells the chefs that they must split themselves up into two teams, Red and Blue, and get into their Highlanders for a field trip. After some shuffling for position, the teams are picked. The Red Team is Zoi, Dale, Andrew, Spike, Erik, Ryan and Jen. Zoi and Jen are happy to be working together. The Blue Team consists of Stephanie, Nikki, Antonia, Mark, Manuel, Lisa and Richard. The teams take different cars, but stay in contact via cell phones. Dale, a Chicago chef, tells the chefs what kinds of ethnic neighborhoods they are traveling through as the contestants try to anticipate what kind of challenge they might be facing. Unfortunately, the cars make a turn and Dale has no idea where they are going.

The chefs arrive at a neighborhood in the middle of Chicago, and Padma announces that this particular neighborhood is having its annual block party tomorrow. The chefs will be catering that block party in their Block Party Challenge. They are expecting 40 adults and 70 kids, but the big surprise is that the chefs will not be shopping for this challenge: they must go door-to-door and collect all of the groceries from the neighborhood families. The chefs will have three hours to prep and cook tomorrow before heading back to the neighborhood to serve.

Ryan and Jen hit the jackpot early, and take seven bags of ingredients from one home. Antonia and Nikki find a lot of pasta in the first house they come to. Spike and Andrew find a very well-stocked pantry, including pasta, sauce, and even bottles of wine. As they leave the home, Spike tells the Blue Team that they cleaned out all of the family's ingredients even though the pantry was still very well-stocked when they left. The Blue Team congregates at the cars to discuss their game plan: they are going to make some sort of meat/seafood dish like paella, and to concentrate on making dishes that are upscale, "not hotdogs." Ironically, the Red Team has collected packages of hot dogs and buns and believes they should make c "Americana" food like corn dogs and sliders.

The next day, the chefs only have three hours to cook and prep before they must head off to serve at the block party. The Blue Team has decided to make Paella (Richard), Slaw (Lisa), BBQ Pulled Pork (Manuel), Bean Salad (Antonia), Inside-Out Cookie (Mark), a Sexy Drink, Fruit Cobbler (Stephanie), and Mac and Cheese (Nikki). Nikki collected Velveeta cheese, and she must figure out if she can make a sauce that won't coagulate when she gets to the block party. Richard is making his take on paella, and is concentrating on trying to please the judges. Stephanie's fruit cobbler is going to be served in a bowl with a fried wonton and streusel topping.

The Red Team will be making Sliders (Jen), Corn Dogs (Erik), Pork Skewers (Dale), Sangria (Andrew), Waldorf Salad (Ryan), Pasta Salad (Zoi), Taco Salad (Spike), and S'mores. There is no team leader for the Red Team, and Erik comments that he is happy to be making the Corn Dogs as he is very familiar with that dish. Zoi is anything but happy to be making Pasta Salad. It wasn't her idea, and she knows that it will not be the winning dish today. Dale believes that they should be pushing rather than playing it safe, and that many members of his team do not have fine dining experience.

With one hour left, Head Chef/Judge Tom Colicchio enters the kitchen to see how the chefs are doing. Nikki describes their team's sexy drink: Simple Syrup with Lavender and Citrus and they will carbonate it on site. Erik tells the chef about the team spirit on the Red Team, and how the chefs are all working together, tasting everything, to make sure all the dishes turn out well. Ryan describes his Waldorf Salad to the chef, explaining that, since it is supposed to be very hot they eliminated the mayonnaise and introduced white balsamic vinegar instead. Chef Colicchio comments that it is the mayonnaise that keeps the salad ingredients tasting fresh.

With 30 minutes left, the chefs begin packing up their dishes. Mark checks off items from a big list posted on the refrigerator for the Blue Team, and Jen marks down items in her notebook for the Red Team. Nikki is still concerned about the length of time her mac and cheese will be sitting before it is served. Erik is also worried about his corn dogs in the hot box - they may get soggy. Both teams head for the neighborhood.

The chefs arrive at the block party and find piñatas, a dunking booth, and many other events already going on. The teams have twenty minutes to set everything up, and are cheered on by the neighbors. Erik finds that his corn dogs have gotten soggy, but he doesn't think they are too soggy to serve. Richard believes that his team has been able to pull off some high-end choices that would not have been served at the block party without them. Nikki was right to be worried - her mac and cheese has dried up and she must try to tweak it with milk and butter in order to serve it.

Padma arrives with the judges for the elimination challenge: Rick Bayless, Tom Colicchio, and Ted Allen.

People begin to line up at the teams' tables. Andrew believes that the Red Team actually understood the concept of a "block party" best, and is serving the kinds of food people like. Team Blue plates the food for each customer, hoping to keep an "upscale" feel to their dishes. The judges head to the Blue Team first, and speak to Richard about his Richmond Avenue Paella with Clams, Oysters, Sausage, and Shrimp. Ryan plates his Barbecue Pulled Pork & Chicken Sandwich, and Ribs with Mexican Chocolate Barbecue Sauce. Stephanie serves her Mixed Fruit Crumble with Cinnamon Sugar Wontons. Nikki describes her Macaroni and Cheese Topped with Bacon and Breadcrumbs. Mark's Inside-Out Cookie and the "Sexy Drink" with Citrus, Pineapple, Mint, Lavender, and Soda Water are also served.

Hoping they saved enough room, the judges head over to the Red Team's table to sample some of Andrew's Taco Salad with Chorizo, Avocado, Shrimp, Jalapeno, Cabbage, and Lime Dressing. Jen describes her Mini Sliders with Bacon & Provolone Cheese Sauce, and Dale his Grilled Pork Skewers with Pineapple & Smoked Red Curry Barbecue Sauce. Spike, using his very best French accent, toasts his individual S'mores Lollipops for the judges. Laughing, Padma drops her s'more on Ted's shoe. Spike seems to be acting as the "front man" for the judges and describes the Waldorf Chicken Salad, Corn Dogs with Pomegranate Ketchup and Spicy Mustard. The chefs are also introduced to the "Dipping Bar" which includes Edamame, pickled vegetables, dips, chips, and pasta salad. The neighbors enjoyed the mini-sliders, the pork skewers, and the fresh fruit dessert, but were disappointed with the soggy corn dogs, and the paella.

Richard and the Blue Team are surprised to see Spike and Ryan and the Red Team dunking basketballs, and playing games with the neighborhood kids and his team members begin worrying about their performance. Spike, at the dunk tank, believes that his team "nailed that challenge in every sense of the word."

While the Red Team members continue to congratulate themselves, Padma enters the chefs' waiting area and calls in the Blue Team. Zoi and Ryan immediately begin to get nervous. Spike and Andrew seem to be the only two chefs who retain their confident attitudes.

At the Judges' Table, Chef Tom tells the Blue Team that the competition was very close, and that he was expecting quite a bit more from each team. Nikki is told that her cheese sauce didn't just dry up, it "formed a brick." Chef Tom tells Richard that his "paella" wasn't paella - he was expecting a crusty top and bottom, but instead got a rice pilaf. Padma announces that the Blue Team was the winning team by a small margin. The judges enjoyed Antonia's bean dish, the drink, and especially Stephanie's dessert with the fried wonton. Stephanie is announced the winner of the challenge. Chef Tom reiterates that, even though they won, they did not perform well during this challenge and he expects a lot more from them in the future.

The Red Team is devastated to find out that they have lost the challenge, and as they leave to appear before the Judges' Table, the Blue Team can finally celebrate with a round of beers and a makeshift didgeridoo from Mark.

Before the judges, Spike, Ryan, and Erik have no idea why they've lost. When asked about his corn dog, Erik states that it was the best that he could do working with hot boxes. Ted Allen insists that the team knew the situation ahead of time and should have made other choices. Zoi tells the judges they were cooking for a "middle-America" block party and Chef Tom criticizes the team for "dumbing down" their dishes. Ted Allen also takes a shot at the Waldorf salad because the chicken made everything soggy. Spike and Jen disagree with the judges, saying that the judges' palates are more refined than the people they were cooking for - the people from the neighborhood. The judges disagree - they can taste simple or sophisticated foods and know if they are prepared properly.

Spike speaks for everyone on his team, stating that they all tasted each other's food and that their team "made" the block party. Chef Tom bluntly says that if everyone tasted Zoi's pasta salad and thought it was good they have very poor palates. Chef Bayless comments that the team seems to have a lot of camaraderie, but, if they season everything by committee the flavor is going to suffer - the chefs may have been afraid to hurt each others' feelings. Andrew goes on a tirade, unable to believe the judges are going to send a member of his team home when they did so much better than the other team: "As far as me going home right now, you'd have to drag me out with security guards more or less, 'cause I ain't going nowhere. This is my house." The judges send the team away so that they can deliberate in peace.

Padma comments on the team's horrified reaction to its loss. Ted Allen and Rick Bayless agree that the chefs were condescending to the crowd, and that good food sells to everyone. The judges decide that the weakest dishes were Ryan's watery Waldorf Salad, Erik's soggy Corn Dog, and Zoi's flavorless Pasta Salad. In the waiting room, Zoi is very upset that she did not veto the inclusion of a pasta salad on their menu as she might be going home for a dish she never wanted to make. The situation is a wake-up call for Jen.

Chef Tom takes the lead as the Red Team comes before the Judges' Table again. He criticizes Ryan, Zoi, and Erik for their weak dishes. Padma tells Erik to pack his knives and go.