Well, it looks like I won’t get my wish for the chefs to have a chance at a solo, restaurant-style challenge again for at least one more episode of Top Chef 4. While I’m not sure if the chefs are working in teams again, they are definitely not in a restaurant. The episode is called “Tailgating” and they are going to be serving some Chicago Bears football fans some pre-game grub.

Which chefs seem likely to score a touchdown with the fans and which could fumble? (I’m sorry, but I am actually obligated by law to make at least one sports-related metaphor when talking about this episode.)

Richard Blais has proven that his palate is strong when it comes to making tasty food. Even when criticized by the judges the lack of a proper crust on his paella in the Block Party challenge, Tom Colicchio had to admit it tasted good. The judges even found his unusual combination of white chocolate and caviar delicious. But his tendency to push the envelope – and the minor but telling execution errors he’s made in large-scale catering challenges – could be his downfall unless last week’s brush with the bottom humbled him into a more measured approach to this kind of challenge.

Spike Mendelsohn has been narrowly avoiding elimination, and his attitude hasn’t exactly been endearing him to others. Previews for this week show him possibly antagonizing the fans, but it’s really the judges he needs to please. We haven’t truly gotten a lot of feedback on his palate, per se; he’s mainly landed in the bottom for issues with conceptualization or execution errors that could possibly be blamed on someone else. Nevertheless, even if his palate is exquisite, and this has all been a streak of extremely bad luck, he seems to need to get it together this episode. He’s also never won either a Quickfire or Elimination.

Neither has Nikki Cascone, but she seemed to improve last week – or at least flew under the radar. But she is featured in previews as looking apprehensive about something in the challenge. And her performance overall has been far from stellar. Many viewers thought she should have been on the chopping block earlier. Will this be the week that she finally falls short or is she headed for a turnaround?

Both Ryan Scott and Jennifer Biesty also have yet to win a Quickfire or Elimination Challenge. Riding in the middle of the pack at the start of Top Chef doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not able to become a contender; sometimes it takes a while for a chef to get his or her bearings in the competition. But as the chefs return to individual challenges, the middle of the road will not be a place to hang out for much long.

Stephanie Izard is still on my list as someone to watch throughout the competition. I don’t think she’s likely to go home soon. She and Richard (who has won one Quickfire and one Elimination) are the only two chefs to have more than one win under their belts. Unlike Richard though, Stephanie’s issue doesn’t seem to be overconfidence but maybe some nerves. She’s admitted she can’t seem to win a Quickfire, and the fact that she was the worst in the palate challenge – yet has produced two winning dishes – would seem to show that she might just get rattled under a very short time constraint. Her ability to put out a tasty dish seems strong, though, and her humility might just work in her favor in the Eliminations if it can keep her grounded and centered.

The other contestants – Andrew D’Ambrosi, Antonia Lofaso, Dale Talde, Lisa Fernandes, and Mark Simmons – each have one Quickfire or Elimination Challenge win under their belts. They all seem to have strengths that could work in their favor and weaknesses that could slip them up. I’d be surprised to see any of them head home just yet, but things can always change quickly in the Top Chef kitchens.

– Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)


Staff Columnist, BuddyTV