Top Chef says goodbye to Chicago with meat, meat, meat. First stop is a local meat lover's paradise, where the remaining five must don protective gear before butchering a massive, long-bone, dry-aged rib rack into seven French cut tomahawk chops. Then it's back to the kitchen, where guest judge Rick Tramonto wants his chop perfectly prepared, or medium rare.
Stephanie and Richard underwhelm. Antonia uses about eight cups of butter to her advantage, but Spike wins. His butchery is good, and the cockily displayed chops at his station show he knows it. For his skills, he'll enjoy an important decision (but not an advantage) in the last challenge, which involves taking over Rick's steak and seafood shop for a night, with each of them responsible for an appetizer and an entrée. They can choose from whatever they find in Rick's kitchen, and Spike gets first dibs on a protein for each of his dishes.
Spike seals his fate by selecting frozen scallops to start -- everyone else can tell they're crap, but he doesn't think about actual quality until it's too late. Colicchio's back in the kitchen, expediting table service and impromptu tasting menus for guests including surprise three amigos Harold, Ilan and Hung.Even though Richard serves the favorite appetizer and Antonia the favorite entrée, Stephanie gets Rick's nod for a solid double -- at first it looks like she just wins a cookbook (and the prime slot in the final four with the other two everyone knew would be there), but Padma kindly throws in a bunch of appliances. Spike's frozen scallops prove a bigger sin than Lisa's not-hot shrimp and general apathy, so he packs his hats and she rounds out the final four, meaning it's three ladies, and Lisa, in Puerto Rico. Break out the caftans!
Five cheftestants don their whites as Antonia expresses her desire to just get to the final four, already (right there with you), and Stephanie points out that there could be -- for the first time in history -- three "girls" remaining when the show decamps to Puerto Rico. If Spike leaves, there could be four "girls," although it all depends on how you define "girl". Stephanie's expecting a twist, so she's prepared herself for anything.
Anything turns out to be a shitload of meat, with the final Chicago Quickfire taking place at Allen Brothers, purveyors of steakhouse steaks and a host of other items, including pre-made Art Smith delicacies. Specifically, the challenge will involve cutting some dry-aged long-bone rib eyes, but first it's dress-up time. The venerable USDA requires the donning of various garments prior to butchering an animal, including a nifty abdominal plate presumably designed to prevent hara-kiri, a shower cap, a face mask and, for good measure, an Allen Brothers baseball cap, which I'll wager doesn't fall under federal guidelines.
Antonia's concerned because she's not the world's greatest butcher, although she can figure things out by sight. She should watch Spike, who had two butchers for grandfathers -- with "a little strain of butchery" in him, he feels very comfortable cutting meat. And what meat it is -- Andrea's concern about breaking down an entire cow almost becomes reality, as they each sidle up to massive rack of meat laid out before them in a very white room. "An American-raised, long-bone rib eye dry-aged USDA prime rib rack", to be specific, a mouthful of beef that must be cut into quite substantial individual chops with squeaky-clean Frenched bones. In twenty minutes. Which start now.
Using some wickedly sharp knives, the identically clad white army begins hacking. The dry age on the beef is extremely hard, so Richard decides to separate the chops before cleaning the meat. Antonia thinks twenty minutes might be enough time for a skilled butcher, but not for her. As everyone else struggles, amidst plenty of close-ups of knives slicing through sweet, sweet beef, Spike lifts an entire slab of the age off his rack -- he's working to remove the age as quickly as possible, so he can focus on cutting and cleaning the meat itself. He thinks this challenge "is so easy, it wasn't even funny". No, it wasn't funny at all, nor was it grammatically correct. Poor Stephanie, on the other hand, is having difficulty -- handling such big meat is difficult for a small "girl". Lisa knows that one small mistake can have big consequences, and doesn't want to drag her greasy mop off before reaching the final four.