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What Happened in Top Chef Season 4 (Top Chef Chicago)? (Full Recap)

Stella Aurora

Filmed in Chicago, Illinois, the Season 4 of Top Chef, declared Stephanie Izard as the show’s first female Top Chef title at the Puerto Rico finale. Stephanie Izard also won the title of fan favorite.

Tom Colicchio returned as the top judge, and Padma Lakshmi served as the host. With celebrity guest judges participating in each show, the third permanent judging post alternates between Gail Simmons and Ted Allen. 

Chefs Competing in Top Chef (Top Chef Chicago) Season 4

  • Nimma Osman, 26 from Atlanta, Georgia 
  • Valerie Bolon, 32, from Chicago, Illinois
  • Erik Hopfinger, 38 from San Francisco, California 
  • Manuel Trevino, 33, from New York City, New York 
  • Zoi Antonitsas, 30, from San Francisco, California 
  • Ryan Scott, from San Francisco, 
  • Jennifer Biesty, 35, from San Francisco, California 
  • Mark Simmons, 29, from New York City, New York 
  • Nikki Cascone, 35, from New York City, New York
  • Andrew D’Ambrosi, 30, from New York City, New York 
  • Dale Talde, 29, from New York City, New York 
  • Spike Mendelsohn, 27 from Washington, D.C. 
  • Antonia Lofaso, 31 from Los Angeles, California
  • Richard Blais, 35, from Atlanta, Georgia — Runner-up
  • Lisa Fernandes, 27 from New York City, New York — Runner-up
  • Stephanie Izard, 31 from Chicago, Illinois — Winner / Fan Favorite

Judges of Top Chef (Top Chef Chicago) Season 4

  • Tom Colicchio, Head Judge
  • Padma Lakshmi, Host
  • Gail Simmons, Judge (alternating with Ted Allen)
  • Ted Allen, Judge (alternating with Gail Simmons)

Episode 1 - Anything You Can Cook I Can Cook Better

Top Chef S4 - chefs competing for the Top Chef Season 4 title

The cooks must prepare a Chicago classic in their new home for the judge Rocco DiSpirito, a cookbook author, celebrity chef, and the host Padma Lakshmi. The chefs engage in a head-to-head competition for the elimination challenge, which gets heated.

To complete the quickfire challenge, competitors had 90 minutes to make a distinctive deep-dish pizza. Some cooks, including one from New York and one from Chicago, made it look like the only pizza they had ever seen was from the freezer section. These chefs were inexperienced with the goo.

Episode 2 - Zoo Food

The cooks purchase fresh ingredients at a nearby farmers market to create the ideal quick-fire dish. The guest judge was Wylie Dufresne (chef and proprietor of wd50 in NYC). When the chefs are divided into teams and are required to prepare and cater a grand event at an unexpected venue, it becomes all about collaboration.

Three hours of preparation before the event seems generous. It is challenging for cooks who haven’t fully considered how their brilliant ideas for hors d’oeuvres would stand up. Two hundred individuals will be at a cocktail party. The mushroom monster was created by Nikki Cascone, who also had the brilliant notion of spending their money on decorations to glam up their table rather than food.

Episode 3 - Block Party

Top Chef S4 - Rick Bayless as guest judge

The contest becomes “muy caliente” when Rick Bayless, a well-known chef of fine Mexican cuisine and the creator of Frontera gourmet foods (chef of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago), puts the chefs to the test. It includes having them prepare a neighborhood fiesta using ingredients they didn’t buy at a store.

The cooks were given 30 minutes to transform the traditional Mexican dish into fine-dining fare for the quickfire challenge. It was a difficult task. To truly experience the excitement of a taco stand, gourmet tacos should prevent the juices from those bundles of joy from dripping down your arm and off your elbow.

Episode 4 - Film Food

Top Chef S4 - Stephanie and Lisa

By turning common vegetables into works of art, the chefs demonstrate their knife abilities for special guest judge Daniel Boulud (chef and proprietor of Daniel & DB Bistro in NYC). The chef contestants are next in for a treat when movie critic Richard Roeper throws a dinner party with a movie theme that makes all the chefs feel like stars.

Stephanie Izard and Lisa Fernandes delivered comfort cuisine with a sautéed New York strip, a braised short rib, and an apple pot sticker drizzled with caramel. A Christmas Story provided Mark Simmons and Ryan Scott with some delicious-looking quail breast with carrot puree and spring rolls, which Ted Allen claimed to be his new favorite dish.

Episode 5 - The Elements

Top Chef S4 - Padma and Ming Tsai

The chefs must improve their skills as the competition heats up. First, host Padma Lakshmi and special judge Ming Tsai (owner of Blue Ginger) put the chefs’ palates to the test with a challenging taste test. The chefs are then divided into groups for the elimination challenge. They must serve an elegant charity event using the earth elements.

In the end, Stephanie scored the lowest, scoring six out of fifteen accurately. At the same time, Ryan and Jennifer Biesty came in second and third, respectively, with eleven out of fifteen correct. With 12 of 15 answers being accurate, Antonia Lofaso, a home viewer, has won. She possesses immunity and reportedly has a taste-vision patent.

Episode 6 - Tailgating

Top Chef S4 - Dale and Antonia

The chefs must develop a dish that complements one another and brings out the flavor of a particular drink with an age restriction. Then, Chicago’s top chef and owner of Blackbird and Avec, Paul Kahan, puts the Bears on display as he tests the chefs’ ability to prepare the ultimate tailgate meal.

Along with Dale Talde and Antonia, Stephanie again found herself in the winner’s circle. Dale won, but I’m sure his joy was muted when he realized that the reward from the previous week was a vacation to Italy, and all he received was a jersey and grill. Mark, Nikki, and Ryan made up the bottom three.

Episode 7 - Room to Improv

This quick-fire is brief and to the point. The winning recipe will be included in the Top Chef cookbook, released in March, and must please the sweet appetite of renowned pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini (Executive Pastry Chef at Jean Georges). The famous Chicago comedy group Second City then gives the cooks a lesson in improvisation.

Stephanie and Jen hadn’t only broken the regulations (cheese was the main component in their meal) and hadn’t awoken anyone’s taste buds. Obviously, Jen would be sent home since Stephanie had been in the driver’s seat for too long. The competition was won by Richard and Dale, who also received $2,500 in kitchenware, but the lesson here is that there is “no room for error,” as Richard put it.

Episode 8 - Common Threads

Oprah’s chef Art Smith (chef and proprietor of Table 52) visits to demonstrate to the chefs’ test subjects how good cooking may alter the course of history.

A quickfire challenge must be prepared in fifteen minutes. In the elimination challenge, they had to prepare a healthy supper for a family of four, which was then given along with a $10 budget. And they had to go to Whole Foods for shopping.

Spike’s puttanesca, Nikki’s roasted chicken, Dale’s more suitable for adults turkey bratwurst with cabbage, and Andrew’s chicken paillard appeared to be the most sumptuous dishes in the program.

Episode 9 - Wedding Wars

Top Chef S4 - Gale Gand as guest judge

The chefs were invited to the couple’s upcoming wedding the next day if they could prepare canapés, dinner, and wedding cakes. With the goal of catering for over 200 guests and competing in two teams, the chefs showcase their skills to renowned pastry chef Gale Gand (Executive Pastry Chef and partner of Tru in Chicago). 

The competition becomes more challenging when the groom’s mother has her preferences for what to offer.

Episode 10 - Serve and Protect

The chefs are tasked with modernizing and sexifying the salad in the quick-fire challenge. Sam Talbot, a former contestant and a season two fan favorite, gets a taste of what the chefs are preparing as they have to transform an unhealthy dish into something healthier.

Later, the judges at Top Chef HQ cracked down on the cooks’ cop food. Before announcing Dale as the winner, Tom Colicchio praised Dale’s usage of bison and Stephanie’s seasoning.

While the judges pondered, Andrew D’Ambrosi and Lisa hurled a few last-minute obscenities in the Glad Bag dungeon. Still, it seemed pretty apparent that Andrew would lose. Padma gave the judgment with the empathy of a hangman.

Episode 11 - Restaurant Wars

Top Chef S4 - Dale Talde

The cooks must manage hundreds of orders while working the line at a crowded, greasy spoon during the breakfast rush to complete the quick-fire challenge. The chefs are challenged by the special guest judge Jose Andres (Executive Chef and proprietor of Oyamel, Minibar, Zaytinya, Jaleo, and Café Atlantico in Washington, DC). He is internationally recognized for introducing the small plates (TAPAS) concept to the United States.

Stephanie, who represented Team Warehouse Kitchen, finally triumphed in the competition and won a trip for two to Spain. Team Mai Buddha received harsh criticism for their lack of cooperation and feeble culinary suggestions.

Although it wasn’t entirely unexpected this time, Dale was made to pack his blades, which in more recent episodes would have been shocking. That executive chef coin toss determined the outcome of the entire episode.

Episode 12 - High Steaks

In their quick-fire task, the chefs are handed a slab of beef that they must clean and butcher. The elimination task follows with a throwback, and one chef is eliminated. The executive chef of Tru and proprietor of Chicago’s Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood and Osteria di Tramonto, Rich Tramonto, shares his perspective with the other chefs on what might be their final supper.

Spike Mendelsohn received a five-minute head start to choose his ingredients for the elimination task as payment for winning the quickfire. The first thought was that he would slyly exploit the predicament and seize the other chefs’ desired materials. It turned out that his decision had a different impact on the result.

Stephanie was in the winner’s circle. No matter what happens, she would take home a nice set of kitchen appliances. Richard Blais and Antonia came in second and third, respectively. At the same time, Lisa just managed to secure the final Puerto Rico spot. Tom and Padma didn’t appear to agree with Lisa’s perspective. Tom believes she is apathetic, but Padma remarked on her superb palate.

Episode 13 - Finale, Pt. 1

Top Chef S4 - top 4 chefs in Puerto Rico for the finals

The four surviving chefs head to Puerto Rico to compete in the finale and for the final three spots. Guest judges include Puerto Rican gourmet chef Wilo Benet from the area.

Blais nearly burned his eyebrows off with the stove flame as Richard, Stephanie, Lisa, and Antonia prepared frituras (fried snacks) in a strange kitchen. Meatballs with a garnish of charred eyebrow hair.

The two who finished last, Antonia and Lisa, were criticized for trivial issues. Lisa for picking Latin American food even though she is more familiar with Asian cooking, and Antonia for her slightly overcooked beans and her plating techniques. 

Episode 14 - Finale, Pt. 2

Top Chef S4 - top 3 chefs in Puerto Rico compete for the title of Top Chef Season 4

In the last episode, the top three competitors prepare the best meal of their lives and win the title of Bravo’s Top Chef.

Each of the 13 rounds of play saw four victories for Richard and Stephanie. After they drew knives to break the tie, Stephanie got to choose which of the three celebrity chefs she wanted to be the final dinner’s sous chef. Each chef had a different selection of proteins to use. Richard and Stephanie chose Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, leaving Lisa with April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig.

The judges took their time considering all the candidates before deciding that Stephanie Izard was the winner.

Episode 15 - Reunion

Top Chef S4 - Reunion

An honest conversation between the season four cheftestants and the judges, including host Padma Lakshmi, head judge Tom Colicchio, judge Gail Simmons, and culinary expert Ted Allen, is moderated by Bravo’s programming executive Andy Cohen. Cohen responds to viewers’ burning inquiries and discusses Season 4 highs, lows, and overcooked moments. Bravo’s “Fan Favorite” winner is also declared during the reunion special.

Top Chef Season 4 (Top Chef Chicago) Quick Facts

  • an American reality competition television series 
  • aired on Bravo TV from March 12, 2008, and ended on June 18, 2008
  • with the following spin-offs: Top Chef Junior, Top Chef Masters, Top Chef: Just Desserts, Top Chef Amateurs, Life After Top Chef, Top Chef Duels, Top Chef Family Style, and Top Chef VIP
  • produced by Magical Elves Productions
  • hosted by Padma Lakshmi                                         
  • judges are Tom Colicchio, Ted Allen, and Gail Simmons

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