Thursday, January 6, 2011

Two left feet: The Top Chef All-Stars recap

As the show starts, Jack is clinging to the lifeboat, his teeth chattering, freezing to death, as Rose drifts away to safety. . .
Oh wait. Wrong Titanic. This is Titanic, Top Chef All Stars version. And boy oh boy, does it sink.

But first, to celebrate the show’s 100th episode, Tom Colicchio is participating in the Quickfire Challenge. Well, sorta.
I would’ve loved if Tom had actually gone head-to-head with the contestants, maybe even in a blind tasting. Now that would’ve been good. But, hey, when you’ve won multiple James Beard awards, you’ve earned the right to be the pacesetter, not the competitor.

So for the Quickfire, Tom has to make a dish as quickly as he can. He’s shucking clams, he’s braising black sea bass, he’s squeezing lemons like a man possessed. He’s even able to get out a little passive aggressive anger at Padma by hurling some pots her way. (Strictly accidental, I’m sure.)

In the end, his dish is completed in 8:37.

“Seeing Tom cook like us is RAD,” says Marcel, drawling it out in that strange fake-surfer-dude way of his. “I gotta give the man respect because I’ve seen it first HA-AND.” (Shut up, Marcel.)
“Are you frickin’ kidding me?” groans Antonia.
Chimes in Richard: “I make my daughter PBJ and it takes longer than that.”
(Yes, Richard, but we know it takes extra long to foam the jelly and atomically fuse the peanut butter into the bread. . .)

Now their challenge: Make an equally awesome dish in less than 8 minutes, 37 seconds.
Winner gets immunity and. . .a Toyota Prius.
“Immunity?” scoffs Marcel. “I don’t need immunity. Give me the Toyota.” (Shut up, Marcel.)

So the contestants are spazzing out. Marcel cleverly uses the rest of Tom’s fish, so he doesn’t have to get involved in the feeding frenzy in the pantry.

As is her “signature style,” Jamie pretty much serves no food—just one clam, because the rest of hers didn’t pop open.
“It happens,” she shrugs. (The only thing Jamie is quick with is a rationalization.)

Dale tries to make pad thai in 8 minutes and it goes horribly wrong.
“I have nothing and it tastes like doo-doo,” he says. (His “dish” is pictured above because it’s funny.)

Marcel’s sea bass is, indeed, good. Next Tom tastes Mike’s branzino—which is also good.

Then Marcel actually suggests that Mike’s branzino is only good because Tom still has the flavors of his sea bass on his palate. (Oh, for the love of God, do shut up, Marcel.)

So the Bottom 3 are Jamie, Dale, and Angelo, who thought he’d dazzle the judges with a crudo, even though Tom had specifically advised against raw food.

The Top 3 are Mike, Marcel, and Richard, who made foie gras.
And the winner is . . .Mike.
He is stoked. I mean, he is this close to breaking out a Jersey Shore fist pump, but manages to control himself.
Later, he promises to get the numbers 8:37 tattooed on his arm so if someone asks him what it means he can say, “That’s how long it took me to win a Toyota—boo-yah! How you like me NOW?”

Onto the Elimination Challenge, a.k.a. Dim-Sumpocalypse.

The cheftestants are going to take over popular dim sum restaurant Grand Harmony.
And in their case, it’s definitely out of tune. (Thank you. I'll be here all week.)

As usual, Fabio acts like the challenge is only happening to him.
“Oh, nightmare on Elm Street. Chinese food for Fabio.” (And the 12 other contestants, buddy.)

Conversely, Dale is delighted: He’s worked in a dim sum restaurant before.

Ditto for Angelo, because as you all know, he has the soul of an Asian man trapped inside the body of a Eurotrash man with overly tight pants.

So here’s how it works:
Dale and Angelo each decide to make two dishes, which is smart cause they actually know what they’re doing.
Jamie decides to make one-and-a-half dishes: A scallop dish (!) and long beans with Chinese sausage, with an assist from Antonia.
Casey and Carla will do front of the house, as well as make one dish each.
And Mike will cook a dish and run the show, since he has immunity.

They go a Chinese market, where Fabio is traumatized, because there are turtles in tanks, ready for turtle soup.
Oddly, Fabio has a pet turtle that he walks on a leash. (And, even odder, Bravo has file footage of Fabio walking his turtle.)

Casey decides to make chicken feet, which is either totally rad, as Marcel might say, or totally stupid. (Spoiler alert: It’s stupid.)
Gross factoid I didn’t need to know: Chicken feet have long nails on them.

Off to the Grand Harmony kitchen they go, where there are gleaming woks and giant pots and steam everywhere and it’s, well, complete chaos.
I don’t know if making dim sum for a bunch of hungry Chinese people is, in fact, the hardest Top Chef challenge ever, or if these particular cheftestants just really weren’t up to the task, but what follows is quite possibily the worst collective showing in the show’s history.

There’s a kind of strange inertia in the kitchen: No one is doing anything. Everyone is standing around pointing fingers. Dale is polishing his shoe.

The guests are forced to fend for themselves, grabbing stray bits of food off rolling trays. Like the actual Titanic, they are feeding the women and children first. Fights are breaking out.

When the few pieces of food do come out, the eaters are not impressed.
“Caucasian dim sum,” says one diner derisively. (Oh, 近义词!)

Tom Colicchio actually has to go back into the kitchen to scold his contestants.

“When your daddy has shown up where he’s not supposed to be, you know you’re in trouble,” says Carla.

But whose fault is it? Everyone is passing blame. No one thinks they’ve done anything wrong.
“Everyone sucked and everything sucked,” says Mike, pretty much summing it up.
It’s less Grand Harmony, more Grand Dissonance. (Still here all week.)

The whole thing sort of reminds me of the garage here at Baltimore magazine where I work. 
Whoever designed the garage probably got their architecture degree at the University of Phoenix (I kid, I kid. . .)
The entire lot is a series of death-defying 90 degree angles. Basically, if you are leaving the lot at the same time someone is coming into the lot, you’re going to end up in a near collision—pretty much every time.
But here’s the thing: No one ever thinks it’s their fault. No one ever says, “My bad. I didn’t hug the right side enough” or “I was clearly going too fast.” Driver A always thinks it’s Drive B’s fault and Driver B always blames Driver A.
So Grand Harmony’s kitchen is like my garage, only with woks instead of cars. (That analogy clearly worked better in my head. . .)

In the end, though, someone has to win and someone has to lose.
The judges (including Chef Susur Lee) call Jamie, Antonia, Carla, Casey, and Tre to the judge’s room. Usually, the first group called has the highest votes, but they aren’t fooling anyone.
Meet your bottom 5, ladies and gentlemen.

So. . Jamie’s scallop dumpling was dense and flavorless and her long beans with sausage tasted like bad greasy Chinese take-out.

Carla’s summer spring roll was perfect to look at and . . . perfectly bland.

Antonia’s shrimp toast was dim-sum kinda wonderful, but her role in the long bean fiasco doomed her.

Tre’s orange ginger dessert was runny and “insipid.” (Padma has nicknamed it “Tangerine Nightmare.”)

Casey’s chicken feet were so bad, they wouldn’t even turn on Rex Ryan. (And to the two readers who got that, you’re welcome.)

Before the judges deliberate, they call in the Top 4: Tiffany, Angelo, Dale, and Fabio.

Tiffany’s pork bun tasted like a savory marshmallow. (Yum!)

Dale’s sweet sticky rice with Chinese bacon was right up Tom’s ally.

Angelo’s spring roll had “textural integrity,” according to Gail. (Maybe he should’ve designed my office garage.)

Fabio faked his short ribs brilliantly. (Fabio called it “the first Top Chef miracle.”)

And the winner is . . .Dale! He clearly made up for his single noodle fiasco.

“I feel like I robbed a bank on that one,” says Dale. But he’ll still take the win.

Now for the bad news. . .
Casey is going home.
Yes, I said Casey, not Jamie. Apparently consistently making horrible food/no food is what it takes to stay alive in the competition these days.

Casey sorta kinda tries to blame Antonia for dropping the ball on plating her food, but even she knows that’s a weak excuse. (It wasn't Antonia who criminally undercooked her chicken feet.)

“I feel like it wasn’t my time to be eliminated,” sighs Casey. Just once, I’d like to hear a chef say, “This was so overdue.”

Next week, the bully (Dale) and the twerp (Marcel) finally throw down!!!
I have I hunch I’m on Team Bully. Can’t wait.


Cliff O'Neill said...

Near righteousness word!

At least that's what my auto-translate translated that to be.

Cliff O'Neill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elocin said...

I love Top chef ... Thank goodnes Jaime is gone.. what kind of chef never cook.... Go Marcel.... love your blog ... follow me