Mikey learns about his roots on 'Top Chef All-Stars'
Five chefs remain – and one of them is Tiffany. Huh. Richard can’t believe Dale went home last week, neither can Tiffany and for that matter, color me stumped, too. What no one says (except for Tiffany) is that everyone was pretty sure she was packing her knives last week, as she’s seemed to be circling the drain for a while now. I’m not saying she isn’t talented, but some of her dishes have seemed, if not inedible, a little rough. At this stage in the competition, the bar has been raised awfully high and I’m just not sure she’s firing on all burners, so to speak.
[Full recap of Wednesday's "Top Chef
" after the break...]
Anyway, the chefs are wandering around the apartment, trying to sort out what those infernal judges are up to. Antonia thinks Padma’s going to show up at the apartment. Two seconds later, Padma shows up at the apartment. Zoinks! Padma orders everyone up to the roof and reveals the Quickfire will be taking place at Ellis Island.
Or so she implies. The poor little chefs climb aboard the ferry to Ellis Island only to discover, mwhahaha, the Quickfire will actually be taking place on the ferry. And they have to make something edible out of the disgusting crap that passes for snacks on the ferry. I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is even fair. I mean, anyone who’s been to Ellis Island has seen the snack bar and, unless so starved they’ve started to eyeball their own foot as a food soure, walked (or weaved) right past it. Richard says blech, and I agree. Seriously, this is like asking the chefs to make a meal out of what they find in a garbage disposal.
The poor little chefs wait for the horn to blow, signaling the beginning of the challenge, then scurry like rats to find something that isn’t entirely disgusting with which to work. Richard pulls an MRE (meal ready to eat) bag out of his kit, which he plans to use to cook his food while everyone else battles over the microwave. I can’t decide if this is crafty or cheating on Richard’s part. But I guess it’s just a cooking apparatus and thus really no different than a special knife or other gizmo.
The ferry arrives at Ellis Island and Padma boards with guest chef Dan Barber, co-owner of Blue Hill. Wow, Dan is really taking one for the team on this challenge. He’s all about sustainable food and now he’s going to eat what looks like school lunch leftovers.
Richard makes little hot dog banh mi sandwiches which don’t look half bad. They don’t look half good, either, but considering what he’s working with, good job. Tiffany makes nachos and popcorn –oh, she dresses up the popcorn with some dried fruit. Wow, that’s what I call trying, Tiffany. Mike makes hot dog bun soup, which he admits he wouldn’t feed to his cat. Carla makes an orange salad with a sprinkling of dried fruit and rosemary essence. Where’d she get rosemary essence? Clever, Carla. Antonia made a cheese sandwich. Although it looks kind of tasty, Antonia isn’t going to win points for originality, either.
On the bottom, Tiffany’s nachos and Mike’s soup. Richard, Antonia and Carla are on top. The winner is… Carla. Go, Carla! Richard is bitter, because he feels Carla just made stupid orange salad. Don’t be a baby, Richard. If you haven’t learned that the judges always choose what tastes best over originality, you haven’t been paying attention.
But moving on… it’s the last Elimination Challenge in New York! Hey, might as well do it at Ellis Island. Each chef has to make a dish based on his or her ancestry. To help with that (and, I’m guessing, so no one cheats and says they’re, say, Italian when they’re not), they’ve had a genealogy expert research each chef. Oh, and their family members get to hang out with them and read the research.
Lots of hugging, lots of crying, all the emotional moments the “Top Chef” producers tend to slobber over. Richard’s wife is five months preggers. Richard is Irish and English, which he has to make English or Irish food. Richard is wishing he had a black sheep cousin from France or Italy, you know it. I mean, what’s he going to make, bangers and mash? With liquid nitrogen?
Tiffany’s family hails from Texas and Louisiana. She wants to make her family’s okra. She knows Tim doesn’t like okra. Tiffany is sure she can change him. Oh, Tiffany, you are playing with fire here.
Carla has to make a Southern dish. Oh, no. Carla almost went home with her last Southern dish. Twice. It’s time to worry about Carla.
Mike is pure Italian, while Antonia is mostly Italian and a little Jewish. That’s no surprise to them. What is a surprise to them is that Antonia and Mike are related. Oh. My. God. Mike wants Antonia to stay so he and his cousin can be in the finals. This is weirdly adorable. Up to this point, I’ve had the sense Antonia and Mike kind of hate one another, and this one little factoid changes everything for both of them. The bickering between them loses its edge and it becomes brother-sister teasing.
Or maybe not brother-sister teasing. Antonia’s mom thinks Mike is cute. Antonia points out he flicks his boogers on her, burps and farts. Aw, that’s the stuff of a meet-cute romantic comedy! Now I’m wondering if they’ll fall madly in love and have to call the genealogist to make sure they won’t have horribly deformed children. Or kids who wear pink Spandex, as Mike did when he took dance classes as a kid. Hey, it was the 70s.
Anyway, the chefs shop and go back to the apartment. The next morning they chefs awaken to find a DVD. Which they must watch in the Toyota Highlander hybrid. Which they’ll win if they win the challenge. Don’t you love product placement? Especially when it’s SO SUBTLE?
The chefs cook their little hearts out. Everyone is determined to win, especially since they’ll be cooking not only for the judges, but for their loved ones. Pressure!
Potato gnocchi with braised pork shank ragu & burrata cheese
This looks crazy good. Tom says it’s a very good gnocchi. Dan likes it. Even Carla’s husband says the gnocchi are like little pillows. I think it’s a little sadistic that the family members are forced to chat about the competition, but amazingly everyone is very generous in handing out compliments. Eh, it’s a free meal, what do they care?
Braised veal, rapini leaf & fava bean risotto
Antonia wanted to cook what she’d give her husband, if she had one and it was the 1960s. How very “Mad Men” of you, Antonia. Tom thinks her dish is packed with flavor. Her mom loves it. Even Mike’s mom loves it, but I think Mike’s mom and Antonia’s mom are hoping for a love match.
Braised short rib with mustard greens, stewed okra and oxtail marmalade
This looks okay, but I’m with Tom – okra blows. Her mom loves it. Tom says Tiffany’s made okra that he likes. Zoinks!
Short ribs, potatoes, fried bone marrow, corn puree and pickled glasswort
Richard has to win because his wife used to be a competitive athlete and she’ll think he’s a wuss if he doesn’t. Tom thinks it’s all right. As in, it’s all right, not alright. Richard’s delivered another winner.
Braised pork shoulder, fried grits, corn & sweet potato hash & cheddar biscuits
I’m a little worried, just because Carla seemed to think her dish had problems while she was in the kitchen and the biscuits didn’t seem to cook properly. But Gail loves the grits. Dan loves the pork. Matthew, her husband, is very pleased. Tom can’t even begin to think who’ll go home tonight.
This is pretty incredible – there have been evening where all of the dishes were strong, but there was always one dish that had a fatal flaw, whether it was a little over or undercooking or too much or too little seasoning. Granted, the judges weren’t going to eviscerate anyone with family members sitting there, as they probably didn’t want to get a okra or a nice veal shank tossed in their face, but still, they seemed pretty happy with everything.
The chefs canoodle with their loved ones, which is really just an opportunity for them to whisper, “Who sucked?” And the answer is, “No one, sorry.” I’m telling you, this is a rough challenge.
Back in the stew room, the chefs toast one another. Yay, they made it this far! And then they remember, oh crap, one of us is going home, and they all sink into individual pits of gloom. Padma invites everyone back.
Carla is up first. She starts talking and flailing her arms, but the judges stop her before she takes flight. Gail loved the broth and the biscuits. Dan loved the pork. Tom thought (eek) the corn was a little tough. But he thought it all worked together.
Richard didn’t want to be Epcot Center, so he tried to give his meal focus and depth. Dan thought he was thoughtful from start to finish. Tom thought the whole thing made sense. Again, no complaints.
Padma tells Antonia she was courageous for serving risotto. Tom thought the risotto was confident. Three for three, people. Who the heck is going home?
Tom admits to Tiffany her okra converted him. Dan said her love came through in the food. Okay, even Tiffany delivered. I thought this might be the weak link (ew, okra and oxtail), but it’s not.
Padma loved Mike’s gnocchi. Dan thought he elevated a humble dish. Gail thought it was good, soulful and satisfying. Tom also calls it soulful. I have no idea who’s going home. Mike starts welling up about his grandmother. Gail tells him that his mom liked his gnocchi even better than her mother’s. Mike doesn’t blubber like a baby, but you can tell he wants to. Back in the stew room, everyone fawns over Mike. If this is a ploy to win, it’s at least effective in winning over his fellow chefs.
Well, this is going to be tough. The judges loved EVERYTHING. To wit, Dan loved everything. Tom loved Antonia’s risotto. Gail thought the veal shank was just a hair salty. But she loved it! Tom loved that Mike’s dish was something he made with his grandmother. Dan thought there was a tad too much meat. But he still loved it! Gail thought Mike’s dish was exceptionally balanced. Tom loved Richard’s sea beans and he’s going to steal the idea. Padma didn’t like that there was so little green on his plate. But she loved it! Tom thought Carla’s broth was the best but it buried the garnish. But it was the best broth he’d had all season! So, he loved it! Gail loved her grit cake. Everyone’s amazed she used liquid nitrogen. Gail thought Tiffany’s dish was a window into her life. Tom thought she overdid it with the accessories. But he loved it!
The judges have their decision. I can’t imagine. Send all five of them to the finals! Can they do that? I hope they do. Antonia’s mom suggested it during dinner, so hey, why not?
Dan announced the winner. And it is… Antonia. She gets that car! And the finals will be in the Bahamas. Whoo!
Mike is… safe. The cousins make the finals! Padma tells Richard to pack his knives… because he’s going to the Bahamas! Padma, you are EVIL.
It’s down to Tiffany and Carla. Padma tells them… they’re both going to the Bahamas. Knew it! Everyone is thrilled. Of course, this means the finale is going to be that much harder. But, for the moment, everyone has cooked exceptionally well and truly deserves their place in the big finale. Even, yes, Tiffany. Now I want to taste her damn okra.
Do you think Antonia and Mike will be friends now? Do you think Tiffany is back in the game? Do you think Richard was a sore loser during the Quickfire?
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