Mixing Old Fashioneds
Top Chef All-Stars 3/16 Recap: Cooking is a Beach
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With Carla on a plane back to the US to make some fancy cookies, we’re down to a mere four chefs still in the Bahamas. We’re slowing moving toward the end of this long journey into giving Richard the title, or at least that’s how I view the whole set-up the season. I’m feeling cynical tonight…probably the red wine.
Drop and give me a hundred!
For the Quick Fire, Padma is joined by Lorena Garcia from “America’s Next Great Restaurant” in the hotel kitchen. Their challenge is to, in pairs, prepare 100 plates of the same food with consistency so they all look and taste the same. Mike chooses Richard over his “cousin”, owing to Antonia’s “Black Hammer” reputation. Antonia would have picked Tiffany anyway, since she’s much more focused and calm. In the hour of prep time, Mike makes fresh pasta and Richard makes a Bolognese sauce. Antonia starts cooking up some beef tenderloin for their steak salad. Tiffany starts the plating immediately because their dish contains four elements that must be put on the plates separately and exactly the same.
Mike and Richard trash talk Antonia and Tiffany’s dish as easy and obvious. Antonia doesn’t see the magic of pasta and sauce either. Frankly, both seem easy and obvious, but still tasty. Padma and Lorena return to sample several plates of the pork Bolognese with fresh macaroni and pecorino cheese that Mike and Richard prepared. They next sample some plates of Antonia and Tiffany’s beef tenderloin salad with cilantro, mint basil, and chimichurri sauce. Lorena likes both dishes but choses Antonia and Tiffany as the winners for the extra punch of flavor in the dish. They win $5,000 for their efforts.
The Elimination Challenge has the chefs making lunch for the Nassau Yacht Club’s 80th anniversary celebration. They have to cook on a deserted island and feature conch in their dishes, which isn’t something you find all that often in the US. Richard has been practicing with conch, we learn while he brushes his teeth. Tiffany waxes poetic about taking the title while we see her brush her teeth. I’m not sure what’s up with the editors showing the dental hygiene practices, but I’m glad they all brush their teeth.
The next day the chefs catch a boat to the island, but not before we get a Sports Illustrated-like bikini clad Padma dockside. Mike keeps his knife case in front of him, like an embarrassed 14 year old boy with a hot teacher. The chefs arrive at the island and find boxes of seafood and other ingredients, but no conch. Nope, they’ve got to snorkel for it, so all four dive into the water. As Richard says, he doesn’t want to see Mike topless and neither do we. Richard’s lack of swimming skills hampers his ability to collect what he needs. Tiffany gets rid of the snorkeling gear and just holds her breath. At some point, this show was about cooking, right? Not seeing middle aged pudgy people swim for pretty sea shells? I don’t watch Survivor and I never took to Lost. I have lost my faith in Top Chef.
Back up on shore, the chefs take hammers to the conch. Mike decides to boil the conch instead of whacking at them with a hammer for an easier meat removal. I’m actually amazed no one got injured throughout the process. There’s so much sand and conch shell around, it’ll be insane if it doesn’t get into the dish.
The chefs finally get to cooking after washing down their work stations with bottled water, which just seems unsanitary to me. They only have a wood-fired grill to cook on, which is limiting and kind of dicey. Richard is worn out and feeling seventy years old but his hair is still gelled and perky. Mike is inspired by local ingredients, including pineapple, which he uses to great extent. Richard uses some kind of contraption to make really thin sheets of sweet potato into something resembling lasagna pasta. He also feels some extra pressure because he lost his season. Ugh, Richard, please give it a rest already! Antonia experiences issues keeping her grill going at an even temperature.
The guests arrive, all in white, along with the judges—Padma, Tom, Gail and Lorena. They chat with the current and past commodores of the yacht club while Richard worries that his dish is more Hamptons than Bahamas. He serves sweet potato linguine with conch and spiny lobster. Lorena’s plate has some undercooked lobster, which she complains about, as she should. At first Tom thinks the sweet potato is actually pasta, but Gail and Padma set him straight.
Antonia, after much trouble with her grill, serves red snapper with conch tartare and lobster nage. Gail thinks it’s very spicy, but Lorena loves it as do the commodores. Tom is missing the conch and had over-cooked fish. I don’t get the too spicy deal, but I eat jalapenos on pretty much everything.
Rain is coming to the beach while Tiffany plates her soup and she gets done two minutes early, so she’s worried about the temperature of her dish. She made a conch and coconut chowder with sweet potatoes with a dollop of cold conch ceviche in the middle of the soup. The return of the ceviche! I knew it would happen! The chowder was not hot, but Lorena is a slut for cilantro so she likes it. There is some complaint that the soup is too sweet and has under developed flavors.
Finally, Mike serves a banana leaf wrapped grouper with braised pineapple and conch vinaigrette. He knows Elia went home with the bad banana leaf wrapped fish, but he’s confident he has elevated the dish. Tom complains of the butter poured on the fish but Gail loves the braised pineapple.
Stewing over the details
Back at the hotel, Tiffany liked her dish and Richard worries his potato noodles were too classic, much to the frustration of Antonia. They trudge to Judges’ Table to learn which three chefs will be moving on. To start, Tom informs everyone that there was no sand in any dish, much to my surprise. Antonia explains that she cooked her dish her way with the ingredients she had. Lorena liked the dish a great deal, but Tom thought the conch was cut too small and the fish was unevenly cooked. Padma calls her out for being predictable, but Antonia turns it around and says that she wants people to know her signature style—four elements on a plate done really well. Richard cribs Antonia’s comments and says he wanted to do something in his style. Tom confesses he thought the sweet potatoes were pasta and says he enjoyed Richard’s “little” plate. Lorena liked his conch but the lobster was undercooked. Tiffany says she cooked what she wanted to do; Lorena loved it. Gail questions the temperature of the dish—Tiffany blames the wind. Tom found it a bit too sweet. I don’t get Tom; he doesn’t like spice, he doesn’t like sweet, so what’s left? Boring bland? Mike says he embraced the challenge with local ingredients; Gail looooved the pineapple so much she wants to marry it. Tom liked the dish but had issues with the butter because putting butter on fish is so unheard of. Yeah, right.
They’re all sent off to stew some more while the judges contemplate whom to send home. There are tiny problems with each—Richard’s undercooked lobster, Antonia’s too small conch, Tiffany’s sweetness and temperature issues, Mike’s butter greasiness. But this is all nit-picking at this point. Richard hates the world, Mike thinks he’s been slapped in the face, yadda yadda yadda, we’ve seen this since December 1, so let’s move on.
Back before the judges, the chefs stand in a light wind with Tiffany’s and Antonia’s hair moving but Richard’s gelled up mess staying put. Tom announces Mike as the winner and he’s off to celebrate with a beer by himself. Tom re-hashes the same tiny nits that have been mentioned ad nauseum at this point then Padma drops the axe on Tiffany. Beaumont goes home, but she should be seriously proud for getting this far without the same professional training the others have. I might have to roll up to Dallas to check out her new restaurant.
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