Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sunny Side Up: The Top Chef All-Stars recap

I once had the worst blind date of my life at a major fondue chain. (I won’t reveal the name, but it rhymes with The Pelting Spot.)
First of all, the fondue was terrible—like, melted Velveeta terrible. Second of all—and here’s some free wisdom for you kids out there—you should never schedule a blind date at a place where you have to cook your own food. It just makes everything take twice as long. (Also, as a general rule, I hate places that make you cook your meal—if I wanted to slave over a hot fire, I’d go camping. I’m talking to you, Korean BBQ.)

To make matters worse, at The Pelting Spot, you have an option to order a four-course meal, it’s called the Big Night Out. Call us overly optimistic, but me and Blind Date Guy chose the Big Night Out.

Anyway, halfway through the first course, we realized that we had nothing in common. And we still had 3 more torturous courses to go. I think at some point, we just gave up and ate in a grim, resigned silence. It took me 8 years before I could even look at a fondue pot again.

(And, if you’re worried that Blind Date Guy is reading this and is personally offended, look, he was there too. He knows how bad it was. If anything, we now share a Stockholm-syndrome like bond.)

All of this is my way of setting up the Quickfire Challenge: To make fondue.

Padma tells the Cheftestants to look around to see who their guest judges are and their eyes wander dumbly up and down the room. They look like cats following a laser pointer.

“It’s you, morons!” says Padma. (Well, the morons was implied.)

Padma tells them to be creative, and not make something lame like chocolate fondue with bananas. So what does Professor Blais, gastrobiologist to the stars, decide to make? Chocolate fondue with bananas. It’s no wonder you can’t spell “balls” without Blais. (Okay, that almost worked. . .)

After everyone cooks and eats, they get their ballots.
“I thought these were going to be secret ballots,” grouses Antonia.
Not quite. In fact, the ballots have their names written across the top, in giant block letters. You could see these things from Cleveland.

“I’m going to be honest. I’m going to be like NY Times reviewers up in this bitch,” says Dale. (Now that Marcel is gone, he has decided that he will represent the gangsta side of Top Chef.)

So the bottom 3 are:
Mike, who made a lamb dipped in stanky feta sauce.
Fabio, who did some sort of cold blini in crème fraiche.
Tiffany, who did giant donuts in chocolate sauce. (And the problem here is. . .?)

Apparently, Dale went all New York Times up in Mike’s dish, putting it last, which causes a brief ruckus.

Moving on. . .

Top 3 are:
Antonia, who did a deconstructed salmon on rye.
Dale, who did a Vietnamese Pho fondue.
Angelo, who, despite his concerns (he was this close to chucking the whole thing) nailed his take on an endive salad with goat cheese dip and a beet juice chaser.

And the winner is, well, let’s let the OG tell you himself:
“I don’t want to rub it anyone’s face that I won. They know what’s up.” Yeah, boyyyy!

For the Elimination Challenge, the gang is ushered into a car and taken to Rockefeller Center.
The next thing you know—and I think we’ve all had nightmares like this—they’re in front of a live audience on the Jimmy Fallon show. Naked! (Oh wait, that last part actually was from my dream.)
I guess their only consolation is this: It’s not like they’re suddenly on TV. They were already on TV.

It’s Jimmy’s birthday (he’s turning 11, I believe) and the chefs will have to make one of his favorite dishes, by way of the cellphone shootout.
The deal is, they hold up their cellphones to a screen of flashing images and whatever image they happen to capture with their camera, they’re cooking it.

Carla is hoping, wishing, and dreaming to get Chicken Pot Pie and when she does, she spazzes out in that adorable, finger-in-an-electric-socket, Carla way.
And it occurs to me that together, Jimmy Fallon and Carla have enough giddy, positive energy to power a medium-sized village.

The other pairings are as follows:
Antonia gets beef tongue.
Fabio gets hamburger. (“I’ve never done a booger,” he notes.)
Mike gets sausage and peppers and onions
Angelo gets pulled pork
Richard gets ramen noodles
Dale gets Philly cheesesteak
Tiffany gets chicken and dumplings

With the exception of curve ball beef tongue, it’s safe to say that today’s lunch is sponsored by NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

Oh, and one more thing: Jimmy hates mushrooms, mayonnaise, and eggplant.
(Turns out, Jimmy had a traumatic encounter with mayonnaise as a child that is way worse than my The Pelting Spot story.)

Back at the house, a particularly shameless Buitoni ad breaks out.
It actually reminded me a bit of this:

(I promise I'm not going to post a video in every blog post from now on, just because I figured out how to embed in HTML. But that was funny, yes?)

Later, there is a strange, brief reverie on Angelo and his tight pants, perfect 5 o clock shadow, and avocado in his pants.

“I still think I’m a better chef, even if he is a stunning man,” says Dale. So that happened.

Everyone gathers at Colicchio & Sons for Jimmy’s birthday meal.
Jimmy comes in and he’s all excited—he truly is like a kid hopped on goofballs at all times. I’m actually surprised there wasn’t a pirate or a clown making balloon animals at the event.
Mom and dad are there and so is his wife (still hard to wrap my mind around the concept of: Jimmy Fallon, husband)—as well as various TV sidekicks and cohorts. (Alas, no one from the Roots.)

In the kitchen, Carla is freaking out because, although she makes a mean chicken pot pie, she’s never had to cook it in less than 2 hours.
Could this be her undoing?

Also, Antonia has no idea how to cook tongue, but Dr. Blais teaches her how to pressure cook it.
Yay him.

So, up first:
Antonia’s tongue with dill slaw, which everyone loves: “She licked the challenge,” says Jimmy’s emcee, Steve Higgins. (I see what you did there.)

Next, Fabio’s booger with cheese sauce. It is deemed more meatloaf than hamburger and not juicy enough and just kind of meh.

Next, Richard’s ramen noodles. “First time making it without the flavor packet,” he says. Chefs: They’re just like us!

Although Richard intentionally played it straight, to prove that “I don’t need a helmet, 40 pounds of dry ice and a flame thrower to make my food exciting,” Jimmy wasn’t impressed.
“I was expecting lasers and smoke machines,” sighs Jimmy. (Just a thought: When you’re making a meal for the most boyishly wide-eyed man-child in the world, maybe you should throw in a few pyrotechnics.)

Tiffany’s chicken and dumplings are unrecognizable as chicken and dumplings and thus, considered a failure.

Carla, who did manage to finish her chicken pot pies on time, absolutely nails it.
“What do you think?” asks Padma.
“I’m too busy eating to give an opinion,” replies Tom.

Dale was so freaked out about his food being called bland last week that he goes overboard with his Philly cheesesteak on salty pretzel roll with salt sauce and a salt chaser, pictured.
Jimmy says it was attacked by the “salt monster.”

Angelo’s pulled pork is deemed a “home run.”
Tom calls his crazy rub, made with all-spice, dill, coffee, and chipotle, “amazing.”
(Later, Jimmy says that it was like Angelo took a dare—make something super-delicious with these 4 random ingredients!—and he won.)

Everyone enjoys and instantly forgets Mike’s sausage with thinly sliced peppers and onions.

At this point, I’m actually beginning to feel ill, thinking about all the food they just ate. . .and then the contestants come rolling out with a birthday cake.

“Ice cream cake! I love ice cream cake!” says Jimmy. I take it back—he’s 4.

He also makes an announcement: The winner will get a cooking segment on Late Nite.
“We’ll have fun, Late Nite style,” he promises. I don't doubt it.

Back at judging, Padma calls in the Top 3:
Carla, Angelo, and Antonia.

Carla and Jimmy have a cute moment where they share their love for crust on the bottom of chicken pot pie (“that’s what’s I’m sayin’!” “that’s what I’m sayin’!”) and they’re true kindred spirits. I might watch a show they did together, except it would possibly make me feel like an angry ball of depressive, bitter rage. (And I’m actually pretty cheerful.)

Anyway, Angelo and Antonia also did great—and then all three did an excellent rendition of the soon to be smash hit, “The Beef Tongue Song”—but is there really any question who’s going to win?
It’s Carla, all the way. Set your DVRs!

Now, the bad news:
The judges want to see Tiffany, Fabio, and Dale.

Jimmy can’t handle the negative vibe of giving this trio the bad news and literally drops his head on the table in dismay.

For one of you “the party is over,” says Tom.

And it’s. . .Fabio. Done in by a pedestrian booger.
Padma looks distraught. She thought she might actually hit that.

“I love Jimmy Fallon,” says Fabio. “But the fact that he came on my show and sent me home. . . That’s no good, Jimmy.”

He wanders back to the waiting room, where he gives European man kisses to Blais and Mike.

“You really are the only shadow standing in your own sunshine,” Fabio says, already considering his next career as a chef/motivational speaker.

Oh well, I hate to see the guy go, but at least I know there’s one less sad turtle in Los Angeles today.


Cliff O'Neill said...

Yes, your fondue memories are worse than mine.

Wait. I just remembered the long-repressed memory of my last experience at that same place.

It involved a romantic anniversary dinner while in the facing booth a family with loud, annoying children put the cherry on top of the evening when one of the urchins tossed up his entire fondue dinner.

Now I know why I get queasy whenever I think of that.

maxthegirl said...

The Pelting Spot is clearly the devil's restaurant chain.