Top Chef All Stars: For The Gulf

M: For those of you paying attention, I was off by one week. After the Jimmy Fallon challenge I predicted that Dale would be the next to go. However, in the Muppets/Target episode he made me look bad, by winning both the Quickfire and Elimination challenges. In the end, though, I was vindicated, as he was taken out. Not that I’m overly happy about it, since I liked Dale a lot, but hey, a prediction’s a prediction!  😉

E: I’ve got to admit it; I didn’t even understand why Dale was picked as an All Star, and I was alarmed by his temper back in season 4.  Now I feel like he was the rare human being who looked at himself on television, wasn’t satisfied, and did some really hard, personal work, to become the guy he wanted to be.  Tiffani and Angelo did this to, but the depth of Dale’s transformation seemed really impressive.  I cried to see him go, I admit it.

M: The quickfire was again quite a challenge. Last week the contestants had to make cookies, which is something that top chefs rarely, if ever, do. This time was again something they don’t do much of, but at least this time it was something in the same vein as their normal activity. They had to deep fry!

E: That was really fun. I was totally expecting someone to fry oreos, though, and so the items weren’t as wacky as I was hoping. On the other hand, Richard’s fried mayonnaise? That’s totally hilarious.

M: As someone who is rather a fan of things that are deep fried, I really liked the challenge. Rather than something like baking, that is all about precision and technical skill, frying still allowed them to use their already sharpened skills, but apply them in a different way than they normally do. Oh, and Paula Deen and, to quote Carla, “her awesome hair”, were there to guest judge.

E: I think she called it beautiful, but yes.

M: Have to pick, don’t you.

E: Would you expect any less?

M: You have a point. Moving on…

E: Paula Deen brings good spirits (and butter) where ever she goes.

M: Well, her good spirits didn’t carry over to our contestants, as there was a ton of controversy in the quickfire this week! The first problem was that Antonia, who made some great fried shrimp, forgot to plate two dishes for the judges, only making one. Apparently this is a big enough no-no that she was eliminated from a competition that she otherwise would have won. With the prize of $5,000 down the drain, I felt so bad for her, much like I felt bad for Richard earlier in the season when he would have won, but was seasoning his dish a few seconds after time was called on a challenge.

E: That bit. Antonia, always on top but not managing to win, and never any money or prizes. It sucks. I hated to see her cry.

M: However, the BIG controversy of the quickfire was the dish that Mike Isabella made… or should we say stole.

E: Grrrrrr.

M: For the background, this was not like Alex last season physically stealing Ed’s pea puree and winning a challenge with it. Mike “stole” a dish from Richard’s little black book. Most guys little black books contain women’s phone numbers. Not Richard.

E: Of course not!  He’s married and way too honorable for that.

M: Not really where I was going with that, but thanks. No, his contains recipe ideas, complete with drawings and plating instructions. He was sharing a bit of it with Mike the morning before the challenge, and Mike lifted something right out of it for his dish, a fried “chicken oyster” (the bit of the chicken between the leg and carcass) in an oyster shell. Not only did he win (after Antonia was disqualified, of course), he ever so slightly edged Richard’s fried mayonnaise(!?!?). Even worse, standing there being judged, Richard knew it was his recipe that Mike had made.

E: So uncool. Weren’t we saying Mike was less annoying than the last time? I take it all back. That was low.

M: I think you (not “we”) were saying that. Now, in Mike’s defense, he still had to execute the dish, which he apparently did very well.

E: Yes.

M: However, most of the contestants sided with Richard, feeling that Mike had violated “Chef Law”, as the ladies all put it. In his blog Tom Colicchio sided with Mike, stating that there was no such thing as Chef Law, and that people copied other chef’s dishes all the time.

E: I might buy that if we were talking about chicken Parmesan, maybe, but we’re not. We’re talking about a pun that’s totally in Richard’s style, and not at all the kind of thing Mike normally does.

M: So true. I also found it REALLY interesting coming from Tom, since in an earlier blog he chastized Marcel for making a Wylie Dufresne dish and passing it off as his own, which is exactly what Mike did here.

E: Well, in the end Tom and Eric Rippert both felt like Richard shouldn’t have been flashing around his secret black book of ideas. It’s sad to say that they’re right. Mike clearly can’t be trusted not to use any possible advantage in a competition, and Richard learned that the hard way.

M: Moving on to the elimination challenge, the chefs were tasked with providing the food for 300 guests at a benefit for the victims of the gulf oil spill. The fishing industry in the gulf has been extremely damaged, not only in actual damage but in reputation an people’s willingness to buy seafood from the gulf, when most of it is still perfectly clean and good. The challenge was to use a gulf seafood staple as the main ingredient of their dish. Oh, and each of those main ingredients came paired with one of the last six eliminated contestants as its sous chef.

E: I liked Richard’s attitude – he can cook anything, so he’s going to pick the person he works best with (and gee, let’s guess who that could be).

M: As they picked sous chefs, it was clear that no one wanted to work with Marcel (who, ironically, had “white shrimp” as his protein). Richard felt the just eliminated Angelo wouldn’t be in a good mental state, and since he ended up paired with Dale, it looks like that was pretty on target.

E: Yeah. Clearly some people are going to be more of an asset than others.

M: The Richard-Fabio bromance continued, as they paired up to create the winning dish, and Richard won a trip to Barbados.  He very nicely said he would take Fabio with him and his family, even though earlier in the episode Fabio baffled Richard by telling him they worked well together because he reminded him of his ex-wife.

E: I love how honorable Richard is. Good stuff. The ex-wife comment was baffling and hilarious.

M: It was easy to pick out the top and bottom three in the elimination challenge, as Mike, Richard and Antonia all nailed their dishes, while Dale, Tiffany and Carla all misfired.

E: Yep, no questions there.

M: I have to say, I am very worried that Carla is hitting the same wall that Jen hit in her season and running out of steam near the end. I remember Jen just seeming mentally burned out from the challenges, and making mistakes that she had no business making, like Carla with the tablecloths in Target last week. I hope it’s not the case and Carla bounces back, but I am officially very worried.

E: I’m just as worried, but I don’t think it’s exactly the same thing. Jen ran out of steam, out of creative ideas, and out of the will to continue. Carla has lost her groove; it’s more about confidence (first making a dumb mistake, and then over-thinking dishes because she knows she ought to be doing great with them, and then mistrusting herself because she messed up). Carla cooks from a very emotional place, and if she isn’t in tune, I think you feel it in her food. The difference? Jen was emptied out, but I think Carla can get her groove back. With the right challenge, and the right feedback, Carla can get back to the sweet spot. Fingers crossed…

M: Tiffany really thought she was gone, and with Marcel working with her so did everyone else, but the curse of Angelo struck instead.

E: Clearly it is not Antonia who is the black hammer.

M: Too true and speaking of which, you must be in chauvinist heaven, as no women have been eliminated since she told that story!

E: Again with the sexism comments, I haven’t even said anything in weeks!

M: Would you expect any less?

E: You have a point. Moving on…

M: In the end, Dale hid the fish in his dish, to the point where the judges couldn’t taste it. Since the point of the challenge was for the fish to be the star, that didn’t go over very well. He created a crouton (which looked like the size of a loaf of bread, so I think they used the term loosely) that was overly flavored with mustard, and didn’t cook his potatoes enough so they were, in the words of Carla describing pasta earlier in the season, “un-done-tay”.

E: Undercooked potatoes will get you every time. And yes, hello, why not just call it toast? A crouton ought to be bite sized, right, and I doubt even Steven Tyler could have swallowed that one whole.

M: Alright, that’s if for the Gulf episode. Maybe if we can get on the ball we’ll have our review of the last episode in New York up before the next one airs!

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