Richard and Fabio of 'Top Chef: All-Stars'
This week it’s a team fishing challenge, which seems a bit extreme to me. After all, the chefs are at the mercy of whatever the ocean coughs up for them, which could be Coke cans and dirty diapers depending on the way the tide runs. I’m hoping this doesn’t mean the chefs are going to face increasingly random challenges, like gourmet roadkill or gussying up the contents of the “American Idol” judges’ refrigerators. There are simply limits to what a talented chef can do, especially since I’m guessing Steven Tyler doesn’t actually eat.
[Full recap of Wednesday's (Jan. 12) "Top Chef: All-Stars after the break...]
Before we can get to the competition, though, we have to deal with the aftermath of the dim sum challenge. Marcel is pissed, because he thinks his chicken wings were great (they weren’t, according to the judges) and he’s resentful that Dale didn’t do more. So, Marcel goes street on Dale’s ass. I’m not even kidding. He’s practically throwing gang signs. This is wrong for several reasons, not the least of which is that Marcel weighs about 90 pounds and looks like a ferret.
Dale says it’s a good think that he’s taken anger management so he doesn’t kick Marcel’s ass. Actually, I’m a little sorry Dale has taken anger management, because I would love to see him wipe the floor with Marcel. I’m thinking that Tre might help out, too, and not because he likes to fight. Marcel may be a talented cook, but he is kind of a putz.
Thankfully, we leave this ridiculous moment and get to the challenge. There will be no elimination challenge, as the chefs have to go fishing in Montauk to scare up what they’re going to be cooking for the elimination challenge. They will be driving Toyota Siennas to get to Montauk. Nice produce placement, Toyota!
The chefs have five hours to catch as many fish as they can, then cook them for 200 people on the beach. They will work in four teams of three, because we’ve seen how well these chefs work in teams. Oh, and it’s a double elimination. Why not just kick sand in their faces and make them give one another prison tattoos with jagged clamshells?
To add to the fun, there will be two boats carrying two teams each into deep water. I call horror movie rights! Actually, Angelo is already terrified, because he watched “Jaws” too often as a kid and he’s absolutely sure a shark is going to get him. What a wuss.
Richard, Fabio and Marcel are one team and share a boat with Mike, Angelo and Tiffany. Fabio informs us he’s a lock to scare up some good fish, as his dad was on the National Team, whatever that is. Now that we know Fabio expects to catch a lot of fish, he’s pretty much cursed himself.
On the Sea Wife IV, Dale T, Carla and Tre are one team and they’re sharing space with Antonia, Jamie and Tiffani F. Dale used to fish with his dad, which he loved. You’d think this would cause him to fall under the same horrid fish-free curse as Fabio, but not so much. Within the first five minutes, he catches a beautiful striped bass. Then Antonia catches a fish. Pretty much everyone starts catching fish on this boat. I guess it helps to paint the underside of your boat with dried hamburger. I’m not saying this captain did that. I’m just saying it would help
But three hours pass and no fish for Fabi or anyone else on his boat. Marcel is starting to get nervous, which makes him look even more like a ferret. Finally, Fabio gets a bite, as does Mike, and the tide is turned. This is unfortunate, because I was kind of looking forward to the chefs having to churn out sea bass with fresh vegetables, hold the sea bass.
Although both teams catch plenty of fish, Dale catches a HUGE fish which makes his day and possibly his entire life. He’s that psyched. I’m hoping Dale is just given to hyperbole, because catching a big fish seems like a good day and that’s about it. Then again, the last time I went fishing I was too squeamish to put the bait on the hook by myself.
The teams are given money to scoop up anything that looks tasty at a nearby farmer’s market. Fabio and Richard become fast friends, holding hands and skipping through the piles of avocados and bell peppers. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but they do seem very fond of one another. That is, right up until they have to start cooking and Richard transforms from a sweet teenage temptress into a shrieking, neurotic old bag. Fabio is very patient with Richard.
The judges arrive on the scene, and Padma introduces the guest judge, South Gate executive chef Kerry Heffernan. And, as Tom points out, he knows him some fish.
Finally, it’s time to see what the chefs have come up with.
Fabio, Marcel & Richard
Sea bass, succotash, corn puree, tomato confit, concord gastrique and jamon air. The guys have decided to make one dish that’s chock full of seven elements. Tom seemed to think this was a mistake, and I’m inclined to agree. For reasons I still don’t understand, Richard handed the reigns to Marcel, which may make sense for a more formal meal but not for something they’re tossing together on the beach. I mean, come on, jamon air? What the hell?
Fish taco with bass, corn and avocado relish, crème fraiche, radishes and cabbage. This looks simple and tasty and like something I might order at Wahoo’s Tacos.
Smoked blue fish lettuce wrap, pickled watermelon rind, radishes and bagel croutons. Carla says this is a tribute to the New York bagel. Um, okay. It better taste great, because it looks like hospital food.
Striped sea bass with gazpacho salad, tomato and avocado. This looks pretty tasty and might be simple enough to impress the judges.
The judges sit down to sample what they’ve collected thus far. They are not loving Fabio, Marcel and Richard’s dish. The beans are overcooked and the foam seems redundant. I mean, come on, concord gastrique? I know it’s a reduction sauce, but it sounds like a skit on “Saturday Night Live.” Tom likes Dale’s taco and Carla’s lettuce wrap, and everyone thinks Tre’s fish is well cooked.
Time for the judges to load up on more food.
Striped bass, watermelon salad with fresh dill, shaved radishes and cucumber water. This looks like what I find in my sink drain catcher after I do the dishes.
Smoked blue fish with tomato, roasted corn and zucchini ribbon salad. This actually looks pretty good, but I’m guessing the lengthy diatribe we got from Carla about how blue fish is hard to work with and will taste fishy if you don’t cut out the bloodline will come back to roost with Tiffani’s dish. Tiffani never mentioned the bloodline. Uh-oh.
Open-faced porgy po-boy with Old Bay mayo and cabbage slaw. This looks really good. I’m also guessing it’s about a thousand calories.
Tiffany D., Angelo and Mike
Pickled blue fish, spicy watermelon, shallots, red chiles, confit potato and dill. This looks okay, though the thought of pickled fish turns my stomach.
Striped bass with corn puree, tomato, Aleppo spice rub and watermelon. Corn puree didn’r work out so well for Fabio and his team, so hopefully it’s tastier here.
Padma likes the pickled blue fish, but Gail thinks the striped bass has competing flavors. Still, Tom thinks the bass was cooked well. This concludes the happy comments, as Jamie’s fish is deemed waterly and flavorless and Padma notes that Tiffani’s fish lacks acidity.
It’s time for the judges to judge, and the first group is called in to meet their fate. Dale, Carla, Tiffany, Tre, Mike and Angelo assume the position (hands clasped behind back, grimace firmly in place) and Padma reveals that they are the best of the night. The winner gets a trip to Amsterdam, which is a pretty good prize. Not a car, but still.
The winner is… Carla! Go, Carla! That dish must have tasted phenomenal, because it looked like a jar of gefilte fish dumped out on a lettuce leaf. Still, I love that Carla made something tasty out of what’s largely considered to be a junk fish. If she didn’t feel the need to ululate like an insane parrot every time she’s happy, she’d be my favorite in this competition.
Unfortunately, Fabio, Richard, Marcel, Tiffani F., Jamie and Antonia are on the block. Tom takes Fabio’s team to task for trying too hard with their dish, overseasoning the succotash (that’s all you, Marcel!) and trying to make a restaurant quality dish on the beach. Antonia starts begging for her life, but Tom cuts her off to tell her she would have been going to Amsterdam if she hadn’t been stuck on a team with two losers. This seems wildly unfair to me. Why have team competitions at all if there are no rules about whether or not the chefs have to make their own dishes or make one together? Jamie’s fish is declared washed out and bland, and Tom tells Tiffani she was an idiot to keep the bloodline in the fish. Considering that Tiffani says she ate this meal with the staff every night when she worked at a fish restaurant, I’m wondering if it tasted nasty and fishy there, too.
Gail asks Antonia if she tasted her teammates’ dishes. Antonia starts crying, and Padma wonders if she feels responsible for Tiffani and Jamie making crap food. Yes, Padma, go ahead and rub salt in the wound of the person crying. I realize Antonia feels bad for her buddies, but is it really her responsibility to help them fix their food, especially when Jamie clearly didn’t want help? Isn’t this a competition? Richard is also asked why he let Marcel turn their team’s dish into a carnival ride, but the conversation doesn’t get very far.
In the end, Tiffani and Jamie are sent packing. I would have thought there might be some pushback from Jamie or Tiffani, but they quietly pack their knives. Even though Jamie stands by her watery cucumber dish, I think she’d given up a few weeks back. She’s seemed tired and wrung out for a while, so maybe she needs a nap more than she needs to win.
Next week, Anthony Bourdain returns for restaurant wars. Yes! I hope he comes with his knives sharpened. Verbal knives, mind you. I don’t want him to gut any chefs, unless he wants to give Marcel a knick or two.
Do you think Jamie and Tiffani deserved to go home? Do you think Fabio, Richard and Marcel made a mistake in making one dish? Are you looking forward to restaurant wars?