Top Chef: Episode 4.9 Gourmet or No Way?
Once again this week, Top Chef 4 felt a little bit more like Top Caterer as the chefs had to work in teams to cater an entire wedding in less than one day. Nikki Cascone, who had consistently underperformed in catering-related challenges, was finally dispatched, to the relief of many irritated viewers. But she wasn't the only one who faltered in this episode, although – for once – many of the issues were in the dishes themselves as opposed to catering-related mishaps like Valerie Bolon's pre-cooked blinis back in episode 2.

Despite the super-sized episode, the flurry of activity and sheer volume of food made it so that the time spent lingering over the flaws and merits of each dish felt a little rushed. Nevertheless, I'll still make an attempt to pick the best and worst of the event. Bad news for food porn lovers, though: the pictures on Bravo's website of the dishes weren't inclusive of everything served in the episode so you will just have to use your imagination.

Could the division of teams be any more perfect than they were? Although Dale Talde has been a stronger chef than, say, Andrew D'Ambrosi, the team of Andrew, Richard Blais, Antonia Lofaso, and Stephanie Izard seemed to have the perfect combination of skills and positive attitude. Sure, Andrew bristled a bit at Richard's tendency to take a leadership role, but I got the sense this wasn't probably a huge deal.


So with the strong talent and harmony, it's not surprising they won and that many of their dishes sounded tasty. All of their starters appeared to go over well, with the exception of the pulled pork sandwich being noted as being a little messy. And of course, Stephanie's herculean effort to pull together an entire wedding cake was truly amazing.

However, the two dishes from the team that seemed to really make the judges sit up and take notice were the filet mignon with horseradish sauce and red wine syrup and the long-cooked brisket. The meat dishes appeared to be a hit, and considering the bride is a self-described “meat-and-potatoes” kind of girl, it's even better that their slam dunks were the stars of her entrees.


On the bad side, Dale's over-toasted bread made the crostini tooth-breakingly hard: not good. Despite his outbursts and immaturity, I haven't completely given up on Dale. There is still something about the guy that I find likable; maybe it's just that to me, it seems like his jerkiness stems less from actual inherent natural jerkiness and more from an inability to control his indignation about bad cooking. Yes, he absolutely SHOULD get this under control, but honestly, it's not like a jerky chef can't also be a really successful chef.

But with regard to this challenge, I think his sense of irritation at the perceived skill level of his peers caused him to make a crucial error in taking on too many things, and a tooth-cracky crostini is not a wedding winner.
Nikki's squash tortellini in brown butter with sage sounded delicious, but as the judges noted, the filling tasted like “dessert.” Squash, of course, is generally sweet, but when serving sweet as a main course, it's walking a fine line that Nikki apparently stumbled over.

And back on the winning side, it sounds like there was at least one catering-related error. Andrew's chicken was not the right type of dish to leave out in a chafing dish. Also, the creamed spinach didn't sound too appetizing, but it sounds like it was actually Richard's input into the flavoring (star anise) that was the issue. I continue to heart Richard like nobody's business and I loved that he stood up and took ownership for it. It's only right, of course, but it's not like the Top Chef judging is always a model of upright citizenry.

However, to those who pointed out how admirable it was that he did that before it was clear they were the winners, I have to say, we really don't know that's the case; that whole exchange could have happened at any point during the whole judging conversation and just been edited into the beginning in order to build suspense.

But if he did, then I just heart him even more. I can't believe I'm rooting for the dude with the faux hawk as they generally make me feel all face-punchy, but I guess this season of Top Chef is out to make the faux hawk lovable. Done and done, Top Chef!

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)