Mixing Old Fashioneds
Top Chef 6/4 Recap: Pigalicious
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Though it has only been a week since we saw Lisa, Stephanie, Richard and Antonia depart Chicago, in real time, it has been a bit longer. Stephanie took time off and traveled through Asia, hitting Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Antonia opened her own restaurant, which has her working 100 hours a week. Richard doesn’t share what he’s been up to; he just wants to get this show on the road. Richard only reveals that he, Stephanie and Antonia should be there…Lisa, not so much.
Is that a plantain in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
The final four meet up at the San Juan airport, with Lisa being the last to arrive. I’m sure the other three considered just taking off and leaving her whiney butt at the airport, but production makes them stick around until all four chefs were accounted for. Off they go to what appears to be some kind of resort; there they meet up with Padma and Wilo Benet, a famous Puerto Rican chef. Wilo talks about beachside fritters being a common Puerto Rican food and plantains being a signature Puerto Rican ingredient. Their Quick Fire challenge will be to make two types of fritters using plantains in both. There is a huge table full of all kinds of plantains—green, ripe, black—and other fruits and vegetables. The chefs can use anything on the table and anything in the kitchen and will have 40 minutes to make the two bites. Everyone but Lisa runs to the table to gather fresh ingredients; Lisa goes to the kitchen first to check out the proteins. Soon enough, everyone is cooking like mad, time runs out, and the game is on. Padma and Wilo sample:
Stephanie's tostones with seared tuna and pork and shrimp fritters with brown butter, lime and basil sauce. Lisa confesses she’s never made tostones before and Wilo says she’s done a great job for a first attempt. Yummm…tostones are super delish!
Antonia’s crispy oysters with cilantro and plantain jam and a fried yellow plantain with spicy slaw. Padma notes that the first dish only used plantains in the jam.
Lisa’s tostones with pan roasted duck and mango papaya salsa and sweet plantain, red onion, and chorizo fritter with chutney slaw.
Richard’s pork meatballs with ripe plantain sauce and green plantain chips with ripe plantain salsa.
After tasting all the dishes, Wilo comments that they all did a fantastic job, especially in the sauces and relishes. His least favorites were Antonia’s, because it lacked integration and the raw plantain was slimy in the jam, and Richard’s, for similar raw plantain issues. He really liked Stephanie’s dish, especially because the tostones were awesome and the meat was cut in a perfect size. He also liked Lisa’s dish because of the tostones, but her meat was cut too big. Stephanie wins the QF—her first win on a QF ever. She’ll get an advantage, but she won’t find out until the next day at the Elimination Challenge.
Die, pig, die!
After the QF, the four chefs are treated to a party in Old San Juan with food, beverages (read: copious amounts of rum), music and dancers. Lisa tries to get Richard to dance but he, like me, does not dance. I think I’m the only person who rooted for John Lithgow’s character in Footloose, at least on the dancing issue. Richard also just wants to keep the competition moving and get to the final challenge.
Soon enough, the next day arrives which brings the chefs to the governor’s mansion’s courtyard. Padma, Tom, and a concealed dead pig are waiting for them. Tom reveals the pig—hidden under some palm fronds—and tells them that they have to make two dishes with meat from their own pigs, which they will have to butcher themselves. The top four will have some help though: in walks Spike, Andrew, Nikki, and Dale. For her winning the QF, Stephanie gets to assign the sous chefs to each of the finalists. She takes Dale because she’s worked with him for ten years. She doesn’t say it, but putting Dale and Richard together would be to her disadvantage and I think she knows it. She pairs Spike with Richard, Nikki with Antonia, and Andrew with Lisa. Andrew privately says that even though Lisa threw him under a bus, he is all about loyalty and honor, so he’ll help her out.
The Elimination Challenge is catering a party at the governor’s mansion for about 100 people. They’ll make at least three dishes each, two of which will be the required pork dishes. (Anyone want to bet that last season’s Howie is just dying that he didn’t have this challenge?) After butchering the pigs, they’ll have two hours to cook today and five tomorrow before the event.
The four assistants are sent off to do the shopping at a local market where pretty much no one working there speaks English. Or so they say—the old lady in the market maybe was just trying to keep a hyper Andrew at bay. Back in the kitchen, Lisa, Richard, Antonia, and Stephanie have received their slaughtered pigs and now have to butcher them. Antonia doesn’t have much trouble, Richard hacks at parts like he’s a killer in a horror movie, Lisa appreciates the irony that she’s butchering a pig and is Jewish, and Stephanie just looks exasperated.
The sous chefs return with their booty of fruits and vegetables and the two-hour cooking time for the day starts. Stephanie assigns the pork bellies to Dale to season with a rub. She wants the rub to soak in overnight. Richard mumbles something about a “head to toe” pig. This doesn’t really come to the forefront again, other than a shot of Richard taking a tiny blow-torch to some pigs feat. I dunno…it all sounds like a David Lynch movie or something.
Antonia starts on prep work for a pigeon pea and rice dish while Lisa maps out her choices using Puerto Rican flavor. Richard thinks she’s nuts for doing this because Latin cuisine isn’t her strong suit. Perhaps he also recalls Hung’s crash and burn at the Telemundo challenge last season.
The two hours go by quickly and everyone starts jamming food into the refrigerators. Dale is trying to be organized and methodical; he should have brought some labeling tape like Richard did. Even then, though, he doesn’t notice that he left the dry-rub pork bellies sitting outside of the refrigerator. Overnight. In the hot Puerto Rican climate. Where not everyone has air conditioning.
Needless to say, the next day when the chefs arrive back in the kitchen, Stephanie kind of goes into panic mode. Dale is super-sorry; I don’t think he did it intentionally at all but just was rushed by the clock. It doesn’t really matter because Stephanie has to come up with a second pork dish using some of what she’s already got prepared, or she’ll go home.
Antonia ends up modifying her pigeon pea and rice dish too because the rice gets screwed up. It wasn’t completely clear, but Nikki may have had a hand in messing it up—again, accidentally. Nikki is worried about Antonia, noting that she doesn’t seem “right” or her usual self. Antonia confesses she’s worried about her restaurant back home.
Dale and Stephanie brainstorm more about the missing pig dish. Dale is actually more brainstorming because Stephanie has that look of panic on her face that reads: “I’m soooo screwed!” Dale comes up with the idea of adding fried pork skins in a fine dice to the garnish of a salad. Stephanie leaps at the idea and loves it.
Richard and Lisa seem to have a calmer time cooking. Richard happily bastes his pork ribs in a sweet drink called “malta” and other ingredients while Lisa actually consults Andrew for his opinion on seasoning. Aside from some early barking at Andrew to move faster on meat grinding, Andrew and Lisa have managed not to kill eachother.
Putting on the pig.
About thirty minutes before the guests start to arrive, the chefs and their assistants start setting up the serving tables. What worries me is that Stephanie is making some kind of blinis and you all know how that went over at the zoo challenge. At least she’s making them at the serving table, but she has issues with getting the pan heated just right. The guests pour in, as do the judges: Padma, Tom, Gail, and Wilo.
Stephanie is up first. She serves: pork satay on sugar cane skewers with miso almond sauce and influenced by her trip to Asia; coconut braised pork with black plantain pancake (the blini); and tropical fruit and prosciutto salad with chicharrones. Wilo loved the pancakes and Stephanie thinks she’s safe.
Richard is visited next by the judges. He has prepared: fresh ham with local beans as an homage to his mother’s pork and beans from a can; pressure cooked pork belly with pickled watermelon; pork ribs with malta and soy glaze; and barbequed pork shoulder with braised greens and mango. Richard thinks he’s bent this challenge to his strength and is feeling alright about the judges’ reactions.
Lisa sees the judges third. Her dishes are: citrus braised pork belly with potato and plantain mash which Gail says is really sweet; adobo roasted pork, black bean and onion tostone; and pork-filled yucca rellena with pineapple mojo. Curiously, Padma asks “What exactly is a mojo?” when she knows damn well what it is because Howie and Joey used mojos extensively last season. Don’t talk down to the viewer, Bravo--it gets us pissed off. Lisa isn’t sure how she did because the slightest mistake can send her home at this point in the game.
Antonia is last to have her food sampled. She presents: honey pork belly with pickled sweet pepper salad; curried pork with pumpkin and yucca; and pigeon peas with pork sausage. Antonia serves all three dishes on the same plate, unlike the other three chefs. Antonia has no idea how she has done with the judges.
Wee wee wee, all the way home.
At the judges’ table, Wilo thinks everyone did a tremendous job on the whole. Tom really likes Richard’s pork belly and Stephanie’s salad. The judges agree that Antonia and Lisa had the weakest showing, so Padma retrieves Stephanie and Richard from the waiting area. As per usual, they’re told they are the top two and get asked a few softball questions.
Richard says the challenge was great and he enjoyed hacking up a dead animal. Stephanie like working with Dale and plotting Lisa’s demise. (Okay, she didn’t say that second part, but you’ve got to think the topic came up at some point.) Wilo loves Stephanie’s satays because they were so exotic but he picks Richard as the winner. For his win, Richard gets a Toyota Corolla. They even toss him the keys. He doesn’t know what to say—probably because he’s thinking the same thing I am: How the hell is he going to drive that back to Atlanta? Maybe production confused “Atlanta” with “Atlantis”.
The happy pair returns to send Lisa and Antonia to face the music. Lisa speaks her piece first: she didn’t think that her dishes were bad but she did taste Stephanie’s and Richard’s and know they were good. Tom asks her why she attempted Latin-flavored foods when her strength is Asian food. She says she has experience with Latin foods from living for six years in the south of Florida and the techniques aren’t that different. Gail gets on Lisa about the sweetness of the puree—it was waaay too sweet for Gail, a sentiment she expresses ad nauseum for the remainder of the episode. Gail also says that Lisa’s garnishes pulled more focus than the pork that was supposed to be garnished. Wilo says that the dishes weren’t balanced against each other. Lisa also says that she made the tostones about 3 minutes before service started, but that is met with a doubtful look on the judges’ faces.
Antonia acknowledges she’s before the judges because her pigeon peas were undercooked. She thought they were done when she took them off the heat, but she eventually realized, when service was nearly over, that they weren’t cooked enough. She does say she likes her beans to be a bit less cooked—al dente—than most people. Padma asks her why all three dishes were served on one plate—the other chefs served their three dishes on separate plates. She says it was a conscious decision to not be as formal in her presentation and be more relaxed. Gail thinks it was a bad idea because all three dishes just ran together.
Lisa and Antonia get sent back to sweat while the judges make a decision. Lisa is sure she is going to go home and Antonia looks on the verge of tears. Back at the Judges’ Table, Gail again mentions the sweetness of the puree; Tom says he liked it but not with the pork. They also didn’t like the tostone because it was soggy and didn’t hold up for the duration of the service. Gail thinks Antonia’s mistake was going too rustic and unsophisticated. Tom has issues with all the food being on one plate, and no one liked the pigeon peas. As Gail says, there’s no such thing as “al dente” beans.
Lisa and Antonia return to the Judges’ Table. They know one of them is going home and neither of them is winning a car. Tom tells them that they needed to bring their A game but what they saw was B+. Antonia’s decision to go with Caribbean flavors was a bold choice but putting all the dishes on one plate and not cooking the peas right was a fatal error. Lisa had some memorable dishes but still fell short. Padma then drops the axe on Antonia.
Obviously Antonia is upset—she wanted to win the title and the money and justify being away from her daughter for so long. She says only being with her daughter will make her feel better. She hugs everyone goodbye and whispers to Stephanie, “Kick their asses!” After Antonia departs, Lisa bitches and moans that Stephanie and Richard didn’t congratulate her on not getting kicked off. She says that it just proves they don’t think she should be there and the wrong person got sent home. Uh, yeah, that’s pretty much what everyone thinks. Stephanie and Richard are both drained and congratulate her to shut her up, but privately Richard asks what Lisa’s problem is and why he needs to congratulate her on “winning the bronze.”
Come back next week for the big finale. According to the listings, it’s going to be a 75-minute finale, so adjust your recording devices accordingly.
Last edited by PhoneGrrrl; 06-05-2008 at 10:47 AM.
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