Top Chef: Episode 4.3 Gourmet or No Way?
The judging in this week's Top Chef 4 seemed a little ambiguous to some viewers. It appeared that the Red Team had a menu that more successfully met the concept of “Block Party” and while some of their dishes weren't great, neither were all of the Blue Team's. So why did the Red Team end up in the bottom?

The judges alluded to it in their comments, but reading the blogs of the judges after the show really clarified the results for me and confirmed what I was thinking about the best (Gourmet!) and worst (No Way!) dishes for this week.

In his post-Top Chef 4 blog, Rick Bayless explained the issue with the Red Team. “To be successful in the Block Party challenge,” he wrote, “the chefs needed to figure out how to bring integrity and deliciousness to that block party experience. Some of them just went so far downscale with it that it felt like they weren't trying to bring something new to it, but instead just trying to give you a good version of the ordinary stuff -- but it wasn't a good version!”

Obviously quality is very important, but with regards to the creativity needed for this Elimination Challenge, I think the chefs were actually given a big clue by Rick's selection of Richard as the winner of the “upscale taco” Quickfire Challenge.

Rick Bayless noted – and Lee Ann Wong said the same thing in her blog – that the actual flavors of Richard's jicama taco were exactly the flavors of some familiar Mexican dishes. But his concept was creative and so generated a sense of delight in the diner: it looked unusual and tasted familiar. To succeed in the Elimination Challenge, the chefs would have needed to achieve an analogous result of reinvention. Whatever the concept, they had to bring some creative flair to win more points with the judges.

I think the Red Team had at least two dishes that really hit the nail on the head. There's no picture of one of them, but I'm still including it in my list of best dishes


Spike's S'mores might not have really innovated much on the flavors of the s'mores, at least he did something clever with the delivery, using a butane torch and rolling the marshmallow in crushed crackers and chocolate. I also think this is clever because – although I realize this will sound like heresy to some – I find this actually a better form for the s'mores. You would be more likely to get an even amount of each element in every bite and less likely to suffer the s'more-related trauma of having the chocolate bar squish out the opposite end and fall to the ground as you bite into the sandwich. This heartbreak is the silent tragedy of our nation's campfires.

From the Blue Team, Stephanie's also on my list and she is fast becoming one of my favorites. She faltered last episode, but she's won 67% of the Elimination Challenges so far! I thought it was great that she revamped her dish on the fly.  Her Mixed Fruit with Oatmeal-Pine Nut Crumble and Cinnamon Sugar Fried Wontons sounded like a delicious and refined update of the traditional American fruit dessert (you know, those ones with the great names like slumps, betties, grunts, etc.).

I don't know how “sexy” her Sexy Drink was, but lavender and citrus can be delicious.  The fizz of carbonation was a nice touch and extra refreshing on a hot day.

Rick Bayless said of her, “Stephanie's wonton and ‘Sexy Drink' were really good, and they were interesting. She was playing to the judges in many ways, but they were also super popular with the people at the event.”

(Also something to keep an eye on: Stephanie can do the sweet as well as savory, it would appear. She's won one Elimination Challenge with each, and her dessert in the last episode kept her from being sent home. Top Chef chefs aren't exactly known for their skills in the dessert arena; this could be her secret weapon.)

I didn't notice much about him at the event, but when I went through the pictures of the food on Bravo's Rate the Plate, Red Team Dale's Grilled Pork Skewers with Smoked Red Curry BBQ Sauce looked awesome – and, as I've mentioned in the past, I'm not generally big into meat dishes. But they appeared quite tasty, and again, I thought were a nice twist on the traditional American BBQ pork. What was also great about this twist wasn't just that it was a little more refined, but that it was personal. Dale has said before that Asian cuisine is his thing, so he took an American classic and updated it with his own flavor.

After I picked it, I read Lee Ann Wong's blog and she said that "Dale's pork kebabs were spicy delicious." Rocco DiSpirito also said he did a good job, writing, “Dale also sensed he needed to ‘push' [the Classic Americana concept] and, in fact, his pork skewer was the best thing the team made.”


I know, I know, both Eric and Zoi were the bottom two, and no, neither of their food seemed especially good. But in addition to that, from a visual perspective – and to switch things up – I had to put two other people in the bottom.

Nikki for her Mac and Cheese mess. I thought you used Velveeta because it didn't separate? No, it's not haute cuisine, but I was confused that she was confused by using it. Also: she seemed to have clear doubts prior to the dish going out; why didn't she talk to her team about it?  Seriously, lady, Mac and Cheese is that most divine of food stuff: carbohydrates and cheese.  Have you no sense of reverence?

Ryan for his Waldorf Salad. It just looks so unappealing, and the judges noted that the texture and flavors were bad. Yuckola.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Images courtesy of Bravo)