If you are a lobbyist for the National Butter and Oil Foundation (yeah, doesn’t really exist) you pretty much want Paula Deen to be your poster child.
She’s not fat, but pleasantly plump.
Her hair is shiny and lustrous and white, like all that butter fat just made it healthier.
She’s always smiling, like she knows the secret to good life (butter, obviously).
And when Antonia sees that Paula Deen is the judge for the Quickfire challenge she says, “It’s going to be a fry something, roll it in butter, and dip it in mayonnaise kind of challenge.”
Bingo! It’s a fried food challenge. (But wouldn’t it be funny if it was actually a spa cuisine challenge? )
“Southern cooking is how we show our love for each other,” says Paula. That, incidentally, is one of the slogans of the National Butter and Oil Foundation. Carla nods. She’s feeling her.
“If you can eat it you can fry it,” adds Paula. Another slogan.
Then Deen cautions the cheftestants against making something boring like fried calamari over salad. (Deen probably sees fried calamari as a waste of a perfectly good vat of oil.)
Richard decides to deep fry mayonnaise with fried bacon, pictured—which strikes me as pandering to Paula Deen in an almost insulting way. (She, of course, loves it.)
He also reveals the secret to his gravity defying hair: Duck fat and liquid nitrogen. I knew it!
Antonia makes fried shrimp and fried avocado. But she has a brain fart and only makes one portion. (Maybe she just couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of Padma eating fried food.) Anyway, she’s screwed.
Tiffany makes fried chicken with fried pickles. (Fried pickles, btw = nature’s perfect food.)
Carla makes fried catfish with hush puppies. But she messes up the batter and it's gloopy and thick and she knows it’s not a winner.
Dale makes fried oysters wrapped in a delicate omelet. Way too frou-frou for Paula Deen.
And Mike makes a fried chicken oyster that he puts in a real oyster shell. So clever, so artful, so twee, so . . .Richard Blais?
Yeah, it turns out that Mike’s idea isn’t just Blaisian—it’s actually Blais.
You see, the night before—dude couldn’t even wait a few days to commit his grand theft recipe—they were looking through Richard’s Ye Olde Magik Book of Cooking Potions and they chatted about Richard’s brilliant idea to put a chicken oyster in an oyster shell.
And I’m just guessing that when Blais went to bed, Mike rushed out to Kinko’s to make copies.
So Blais is none too happy about this larceny, as you can imagine.
And he keeps glaring at Mike, who avoids eye contact with the same skill of a busy waiter at a diner who doesn’t want to bring you more coffee.
Finally, Mike looks up. Sees Richard glaring and. . .winks.
And then Richard takes a carving knife, runs straight at Mike, stabs him in the eye, and watches as the blood trickles out of his punctured eye socket, laughing.
Okay, he didn’t actually do that. But who could’ve blamed him if he did?
Anyway, bottom 2: Carla (cause her hush puppies tasted like “spit balls”) and Dale.
As for the top, Antonia so would’ve won if she’d only bothered to make two portions.
“I could come over there put you over my knee and whip your cute little ass,” says Deen. (Not one of the NBOT slogans, by the way.)
And of course, Mike and Richard are the other top two.
“I’m competing against myself,” says Richard, reminding me of the epic “I’m 6 foot 5 inches, 220 pounds, and there are two of me” Winkevoss line from The Social Network.
And. . .the winner is Mike!
Does he feel a twinge of remorse or regret?
“It pisses me off,” he says of Blais’s pouting. “If you’re going to win, be an effing winner. If you’re going to lose, go in the effing corner.”
Which actually makes no sense.
Time for the Elimination Challenge, as explained by guest judge John Besh: Make a dish with Gulf seafood for 300 guests at a benefit for the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
And since 300 is a lot of people to cook for, there will be “help.”
Into the kitchen march Fabio, Marcel, Tiffani, Tre, Spike, and Angelo, all wielding a different Gulf fish.
“I’m not really concerned with the protein,” says Blais. “I’m concerned with who might not be mentally fit at this point.”
As he says this, the camera cuts to Marcel, grinning like a Alex from A Clockwork Orange, and Angelo, who blinks heavily.
So Mike picks Tiffani and her brown shrimp.
Richard picks Fabio (was there ever any doubt?) and his bedroom eyes—I mean, uh, red snapper.
Carla picks Tre and his bulging….red grouper.
Tiffany picks the white shrimp.. . “oh, and Marcel!” she adds. (See what she did there? Marcel is both shrimpy and white. )
Antonia picks Spike and crabs. (No comment.)
Dale picks Angelo—who really does look a bit addled—and amberjack.
Off they go to Restaurant Depot to buy hot sauce in bulk.
In the kitchen, I’m happy to report that none of the chefs fell into the time-honored trap of caving to the wisdom of a former cheftestant who got the boot before you.
Instead, most of them seem to be using their fallen comrades as true sous chefs, with the exception of Tiffany, who lets Marcel make her sweet chile rub for the shrimp, a move she will later regret.
They go the banquet, in various states of readiness. Dale is particularly in the weeds. Angelo keeps trying to calm him down with that soothing, hypnotic Angelo voice of his (perhaps even more soothing than usual since he is clearly heavily sedated) but Dale knows he’s in trouble.
And he’s right. His potatoes are undercooked and his mustard croutons overpower his amberjack.
Paula Deen’s eyes light up when she sees Tiffany’s head-on shrimp, because “I know I’m going to be sucking that head!” (Ahem.) But Tiffany’s shrimp were guilty of sucking in the wrong way.
Same for Carla’s collard greens.
Paula Deen took one bite, made a face and said, “I’m kind of a bitch about my collard greens.” (God, she’s just catch phrase gold, isn’t she?)
Antonio sends Spike out on a recon mission, but all he does is flirt with some ladies and spill wine.
When service is finished, everyone hugs it out warmly—Fabio even pinches Richard’s cheek—except for Tiffany and Marcel, who give a diffident half hug.
“See you never,” is the implied farewell.
So the judges want to see our Top 3:
Antonia, Richard, and Mike.
They loved Antonia’s blue crab cake with corn and kick-ass crab sauce.
They thought Mike “hit the nail on the head” with his grit-crusted Gulf shrimp served over sour cream and chive potato.
They thought Richard pulled off his unlikely surf and turf—pulled pork and fried snapper.
And the winner is. . .Amazin’ Blaisin’! Suck it, Mike.
Now for the bad news: The judges want to see Dale, Tiffany, and Carla.
“I could go home on a Southern food challenge,” says Carla, incredulous.
“So could I,” says Tiffany, equally incredulous.
“I got this,” thinks Dale (and Max.)
They skulk into the judging room. All three are scolded for not honoring the Gulf fish.
Dale is accused of “flavor warfare.”
Carla’s hot mess of chow-chow, collard greens, and grouper with hot sauce baffled Paula Deen.
Tiffany’s shrimp were mealy and too sweet ($%#@Marcel!). It’s clearly her time to go.
And then a funny thing happens on the way to Tiffany’s last hurrah.
It goes to Dale instead.
Yes, Dale, who won, like, a bajillion challenges.
Dale, whose new film Cook Angry starring Nicolas Cage will be coming soon to a theater near you.
Dale, who I boldly picked to be in the Top 3, along with Antonia and Richard.
So much for my keen prognosticating skills.
Looking for another hot tip? Ride Winter’s Bone for a clean sweep on your Oscar pool. Truuuust me.