Last night’s Top Chef worked like a soap opera in reverse.
On a soap opera, Antonia and Mike would be madly in love, then torn asunder by the revelation that they were related.
On Top Chef, they find out they’re cousins (what are the odds?) and suddenly it’s one big ginormous lovefest between the two.
I mean, it got weirdly . . .flirty, right? (Perfectly acceptable, mind you, since they are probably 6th cousins, 12 times removed, or something like that.) But suddenly Mike is hugging Antonia and leaning over her shoulder when she reads and beaming at her.
(Of course, in fairness, Mike probably liked Antonia already. Booger flicking is his version of seduction.)
And is it wrong of me to actually “ship” these two crazy kids? (“Ship” for those who don’t know, is fangirl shorthand for supporting a particular pairing on a TV show.)
I could so see them having their own reality sitcom: He’s a vulgar manchild with a heart of gold. She’s the patient, sassy woman who is exasperated by his antics, yet loves him all the same. Like The King of Queens but set in a restaurant. NBC, you’re welcome.
Anyhoo, the show starts with Antonia pretty much conjuring Padma at will.
She’s all, “I wonder if Padma will walk through the door before I finish this senten….”
And boom goes the dynamite, there she is.
The gang screams and cheers at this, and Padma probably is thinking to herself, “These peasants love me.”
Padma sends them on a ferry, where they have to make a snack using the ingredients in the snackbar before they arrive at Ellis Island.
I love a vending machine-style challenge, because it always reminds me of the time that Mike from Season Two put a toothpick in a cheese doodle and called it a day.
Tiffany has a similar solution to this problem: She sees the fixins for nachos and decides to make. . .nachos. Brilliant! (If she saw milk and corn flakes, the judges would be eating a bowl of corn flakes for the challenge.)
Boy wizard Richard Blais—the MacGyver of Top Chef—has brought along a ready-to-eat packet and is able to boil his hot dog in a little space capsule.
Carla finds fresh fruit—no scurvy for these pirates!—and makes candied fruit with oranges and carrot juice.
Antonia takes a cue from Dale and grills herself some damn cheese.
Mike tries to make potato soup thickened by bread and admits that he wouldn’t feed it to his cat.
Guest judge is Dan Barber, from Blue Hill restaurant. He chokes down the disgusting offerings and declares Carla to be the winner. The less said about this the better.
The Ellis Island Elimination Challenge is, of course about heritage. Top Chef has hired a famous genealogist to research the family history of each cheftestant and they will then make a dish that “best reflects the journey of your family.”
And they will have a little help with this journey: Their family!
So in walks the “Hoo?” to Carla’s “Hootie”—a.k.a., her husband.
Plus, Blais’s 5-months pregnant (and pretty!) wife.
And Mike, Antonia, and Tiffany’s adorable moms.
Hugs, tears, and jubilation all around. (And that was just in my living room.)
This is when Mike and Antonia discover that they are cousins—and Mike decides that Antonia has many Mike-like qualities that he is strangely attracted to.
Richard is having a bit of Italian envy: Who can blame him? His family is mostly from Ireland and England, two places not exactly noted for their fine cuisine. (“Have some potatoes with your potatoes,” is the unofficial motto of those countries.)
Mike, on the other hand, is anxious about serving Italian food, because it reminds of him of cooking with his late grandma, and makes him sad. Awwww.
(This more sensitive side of Mike would be featured in a very special episode of The King of Queens Café.)
Tiffany wants to make okra, then remembers that Tom C. hates okra and finds it slimy (world-class chefs: They’re just like us!) but decides to make it anyway. She WILL make Tom an okra convert. (My new nickname for Tiffany: Okra Winfrey.)
Antonia is making risotto. I love how bold this woman is.
Carla is doing fried grits and braised pork shoulder and cheddar biscuits. . .the diet plate, I like to call it.
(By the way, if you’re wondering why I haven’t commented on the picture of pint-sized Mike dressed in pink spandex, doing some of sort of dancercize, it’s because I’m trying—unsuccessfully—to unsee it.)
Meal time. The judges are Tom, Padma, Gail, and Dan Barber. And, of course, the families are there, too. Usually this is awkward, but in this case it’s not at all, for two basic reasons:
1. All the family members are totally swooning over all the food—not just their kin’s.
2. The food rules in epic fashion.
Seriously, everything is freakin’ delicious.
Mike’s gnocchi are like little pillows of love.
Antonia’s risotto is exactly how Tom, the most finicky risotto eater on the planet, likes it. (He’s like Morris the Cat when it comes to risotto.)
Tiffany’s okra is so good, she makes Tom a true believer. “I have finally had okra that I like,” he admits.
Richard’s short ribs with picked glassworts is “all right,” declares Tom. Richard’s wife shoots him a nervous look. “Not alright,” he clarifies. “All right.”
And, finally, Carla has made the best sauce that Tom ever had and Gail pretty much wants to marry her fried grits. (Which she cooked using. . .liquid nitrogen!?! #signoftheapocalypse.)
It’s the happiest, warmest, bestest meal ever! Except for one minor detail. . . someone has to go home.
“Can’t there be five who are going to the finals?” proposes Mike’s mother. Oh silly Mike’s mother. Grow up! The world doesn’t work that way. (Spoiler alert: Just kidding.)
The cheftestants come out, there are hugs. Richard is conspiratorially whispering in his wife’s ear: “Did they like it? Am I safe? Did they say anything about me? Do they like my hair?” Keeping a check on that boy’s anxieties must be a full-time job, poor woman.
Decision time. The judges want to see all 5 Cheftestants.
In a badly dubbed voiceover, Padma tells them that the winner will receive a Toyota Highlander. Also, the final challenge will take place in the Bahamas.
And the winner is. . .Antonia!
And SensitiveMike ™ is also. . . safe!
Now it’s down to Tiffany, Carla, and Richard.
Padma looks at Richard and says solemnly. . . “Richard, please pack your knives . . .” He looks like he’s about to pass out. “Because you’re also going to the Bahamas!”
In a squeaky, oxygen deprived voice he says, “Why would you do. . .? Then, as air fills his lungs, he moves on: “Thank you so much.”
(Seriously, I hope they had a medic on call. Cause that was touch and go for a second.)
And now it’s down to Tiffany and Carla: Okra Winfrey and Hootie.
This is going to suck, no matter how they slice it.
“Carla, Tiffany, you’re both going to the Bahamas!”
Unless they slice it like that!
“We just couldn’t say goodbye to either of you,” explains Tom.
Not gonna lie. I cried.
It seems only fitting that on this very personal and emotional challenge, all 5 went through.
Next week, Padma in a bikini! Just to be on the safe side, they better keep that medic on call.