Top Chef: Episode 4.9 Recap
Last week on Top Chef 4, we lost the adorable Kiwi Mark Simmons, and this week as we rejoin the cheftestants, his buddies Andrew D'Ambrosi and Spike Mendelsohn mourn together.

Antonia Lofaso notes that there are four women left in the top eight, something that has never happened before on Top Chef. Every week the little pre-Quickfire Top Chef house debrief has some clues about who could possibly go home this week. Has Antonia just made a foreshadowing observation?

The chefs head to the Top Chef kitchen for the Quickfire. There is no guest judge with Padma Lakshmi this week. Instead, she is joined by fellow judge Tom Colicchio. They tell the cheftestants that for one thing, there is no longer any immunity for winning the Quickfire. For another, the chefs will be participating in not one but two oldie-but-goodie challenges this week.

The chefs draw knives and are separated into teams for the Quickfire. Richard Blais, Stephanie Izard, Antonia, and Andrew D'Ambrosi will be on one team. On the other, Dale Talde, Lisa Fernandes, Nikki Cascone and Spike Mendelsohn. So the two chefs who have never won a challenges (Nikki and Spike) and two chefs who have succeeded as a team but don't personally like each other (Lisa and Dale) are on the same team.

The Quickfire is the Relay Race challenge. The chefs will have to peel and trim five oranges (no pith, no seeds), plate two artichokes, clean and get two fillets from a monkfish, and make one quart of mayo.

While the happier of the two teams (Richard, Stephanie, Antonia and Andrew) quickly divide up duties, it's not so easy on the other side, as Nikki is concerned that she hadn't made mayo by hand since culinary school. This reluctance annoys Dale, but then again, as much as I still like Dale, it seems like his teammates breathing and existing would annoy him.

Lisa steps up against Antonia first, and despite the shakes, makes quick work of her oranges. She hands over a strong lead to Spike, who squanders it when he mangles his artichoke. Andrew, who cleverly used a peeler, catches his team up. Dale and Richard are neck and neck with the monkfish, so it's up to Stephanie and Nikki to bring a win home for their team. Nikki has never been a strong competitor, but Stephanie chokes in Quickfires so it's anyone's guess.

Stephanie manages to knock it out, though, and wins. In response, Dale punches a locker and screams. As you can imagine, this does not endear him to his team.

Now the chefs find out about their challenge. No Restaurant Wars this season, which disappoints the chefs. Instead: Wedding Wars! Which…terrifies the chefs.

They will cater the event for two…caterers who are getting hitched. Gulp! Each team will take one of the couple, prepare a menu to their taste, and prepare enough food for 125 guests. They'll have $5000 and one day.

The team that won the Quickfire gets to pick which member of the couple they want to cook for. With Richard's prodding, they pick the bride, because it's her day. As Spike notes, this is either “balls to the wall” gutsy or insane.

The teams each meet with their person. The groom likes Italian food, and he and Nikki seem to have a palate in common. The bride likes more meat-and-potatoes type of fare, as well as Southern food.

After the debrief, the chefs work on their menus as a team. Dale is already causing some friction with his questioning, while Spike and Lisa seem happy to give Nikki – the Italian food expert – the chance to drive the menu. She doesn't seem too thrilled to take the wheel. The other team is getting along pretty well and designing their menu speedily.

The chefs shop, and although Lisa and Dale have fought in the past, Spike segregates Nikki from Dale so that she won't have to deal with his rebellious attitude. After visits to Whole Foods and Restaurant Depot, they all head back to the kitchen to cook.

And cook.

And cook.

They have a huge amount of work to do and the overwhelming amount of work is affecting them differently. Nikki seems to continue to be reluctant to take ownership, deflecting Italian palate-related questions from Lisa and Spike. Dale, on the other hand, decides to prep the universe, and takes over quite a few tasks, maybe more than he can handle. Spike is happy to offload some activity to Dale, though, so it would appear his team doesn't mind. Spike instead wants to focus on his sea bass; he notes Dale is doing too many things, while Spike wants to have one dish that is all his.

On the other side, the chefs all seem to be working well together. Andrew bristles a bit in interview at Richard's tendency to take a leadership role, but in their actual interactions, he doesn't seem to put Richard off either.

Meanwhile, say a prayer for Stephanie and Lisa, who are each tasked with making a cake. Stephanie's, of course, is more elaborate for the bride, while Lisa's is simpler. I think it looks fine, but Tom Colicchio calls it “ugly” on his walkthrough.

Nikki says she is “lingering” on her pasta, yet she then goes on to seem to comment that she's worried about doing pasta again after having done it twice before.

By the end of the night, everyone is completely gutted and exhausted, but they have to head onsite for the event, where they meet the guest judge for the event, one of the major pastry chefs in the Chicago area.

First, the starters go out. The bride's side seem to go over well, and they include a goat cheese and prosciutto pizza, short ribs with blue cheese and pulled pork. The groom's side are the Italian influenced flatbreads and bruschetta, but one of the breads, prepped by Dale, is way too crispy.

The main buffet service starts. Antonia and Richard serve their food, while Stephanie runs the food in and out, and Andrew is relegated to the kitchen because, Antonia said, “he's not allowed to talk to the guests.”

On the groom's side, Dale is manning the kitchen alone, while Nikki says she can't focus due to lack of sleep as she works the buffet.

The bride's food seems to go over well. There's a brisket that cooked for 25 hours, the entire time the chefs were cooking, and a filet with a nice horseradish sauce. Andrew's chicken (same as last week's) doesn't go over as well as it did when it was served right away.

On the groom's side, things are not so successful. Nikki's tortellini was not very good, nor were the grilled vegetables. Dale's orechiette seems to have been at least a little more successful, and Spike's sea bass gets “raves” from some guests, but overall, Tom calls it “unoriginal and uninspired.”

Not surprisingly, the bride's team is called first. Although Andrew's spinach and chicken are dinged for not being very good (although Richard notes that the problem with the spinach might have been his fault with the main spice concept of star anise), overall the team was very good. Stephanie is praised for her results with her cake, but Richard wins (again, lordy!) for taking the lead in driving picking the bride and overall performance. He wants to give his prize to Stephanie for having the bravery to take the cake, literally, and she says they should share. Awwww!!

Okay, enough feel good, now for the fightin'. The groom's team comes back, and as they are criticized, Dale's irritation at feeling like he did too much comes to the fore. He and Spike get into it, but Spike gets a hold of himself and seems to regret arguing in front of the judges. Nikki seems quick to absolve herself of ultimate responsibility.

The judges deliberate in private, and although Dale took on too much and didn't do it all well and Spike appeared to focus too much on only one thing that wasn't good enough to justify the investment of time, it's actually Nikki who is going home for not taking a leadership role and not having good enough food.

We'll talk to Nikki tomorrow, so head back to BuddyTV for the interview.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)