Top Chef All-Stars 12/15 Recap: Restaurant Inspiration
After last week’s surprising early elimination of Jen, it seems anything can and will happen on this season of all-stars. Mike says exactly what I’m thinking—we all know Jen is a better chef that Jamie, but she was safe at the hospital for her two stitches, so she couldn’t be eliminated for an injury. This week, two chefs will be sent to pack their knives; I just hope my three remaining favorites make it through this episode.
The Race Is On
When the chefs enter the kitchen for the Quick Fire, David Chang, noted chef and restaurateur, is there with Padma to set up the challenge. The chefs are spit into teams of four; the Green Team of Angelo, Mike, Tiffany, and Fabio; the White Team of Dale T., Carla, Tiffani, and Marcel; the Red Team of Antonia, Jamie, Casey, and Dale L.; and the Blue Team of Stephen, Tre, Richard, and Spike. The first half of the challenge is a race to mise-en-place lamb chops, artichokes, and garlic; after that is done to David Chang’s standards, they will have to make one dish using those ingredients. The winning team members will get $5,000 each. The first team that gets done with the prep will hit a button and start the 15 minute cook time clock.
The Green Team gets going at top speed, with Fabio crushing massive amounts of garlic at once. Tre’s not pleased at having to butcher the lamb, but Marcel takes to it, using a crazy hacking technique. Casey works hard on the lamb as well, wanting to redeem herself for the horrible onion chopping challenge. The Green Team gets two of its ingredients prepped first, then the Red Team gets one ingredient okayed by David, but soon enough the Green Team gets approval on its artichokes, and the 15 minute cook clock is activated.
The Blue Team gets to cooking with 12 minutes and the Red Team has 10 minutes to cook. The Red Team opts for a carpaccio, as does the White Team, since they only had 8 minutes to cook by the time they got done with their mise-en-place. The chefs work frantically down to the bell; their dishes are:
White Team/Carla, Dale T., Marcel, and Tiffani’s lamb carpaccio, artichoke chips, artichoke salad and garlic oil
Blue Team/Stephen, Tre, Richard, and Spike’s crispy lamb chop with artichokes three ways
Red Team/Antonia, Dale L., Case, and Jamie’s lamb carpaccio with capers, garlic, Reggiano, and salad with artichoke
Green Team/Angelo, Tiffany, Mike, and Fabio’s lamb with garlic, tandoori spiced yogurt, slivers of artichoke, and dill salad
David wasn’t so impressed with the overwhelming parsley and parmesan taste of the Red Team’d dish nor the thyme and dill dominating taste of the Green Team’s dish. Angelo is visibly pained by this result. David enjoyed the White Team’s deceivingly complex carpaccio and the Blue Team’s bold flavored dish. He gives the win and cash to the Blue Team; Richard concludes he’s gotten some respect from his teammates because he took the lead on the cooking.
Inspired By Greatness
The chefs remain in their teams and will be sent to award-winning restaurants to sample the fare of the famous chefs. The next day, the chefs will have to create a dish that is inspired by the restaurant’s food and be worthy of placement on the restaurant’s menu. Mike draws for the Green Team, sending them to David Chang’s French-Vietnamese Ma Peche restaurant. Dale L. pulls Townhouse for the Red Team; it’s David Burke’s restaurant of modern American fare. Stephen pulls Marea, Michael White’s Italian restaurant. Finally, Tiffani draws wd-50 for the White Team, sending Marcel into spasms as he dreams of stealing another dish from Wylie Dufresne. Padma informs the chefs that they’ll be competing against their teammates and two chefs will be sent home. This worries Casey; she’ll have to go against Dale L., whom she sees as very strong in modern American cooking.
At Ma Peche, Angelo talks through all the ingredients of every dish and annoys the crap out of Tiffany. Fabio is clearly perplexed by the food and looks very worried. At Marea, Stephen prattles on about the restaurant, as he eats there often. Tre doesn’t want to be schooled by Stephen, but then who does? The chefs dining at wd-50 are stuck in some kind of wine closet; Carla knows Durfesne’s style is vastly different from her style and it makes her wonder if she can pull it off. Dale T. has done his research and knows Dufresne is a huge fan of eggs; after they’re served an egg course, he decides to take a chance on doing something with eggs. Over at Townhouse, the chefs are served cocktails in stemless martini glasses that sit in a fish bowl—with an actual fish. They also are served what appeared to be a double rack of lamb with an octopus set in the middle of the circle. I’m not really sure how you’d go about eating it.
The next day, the chefs head to their inspiration restaurants and get to work. Tiffany, on the Green Team at Ma Peche, sees Angelo, Mike and Fabio as strong competitors. She’s doing a raw fish dish, but Mike thinks that it is too simple for the time they have to cook. At Lighthouse, Antonia wants to create a Michelin-star quality dish out of peas and carrots and Dale starts making popcorn because he found popcorn oil. At wd-50, Carla acknowledges her lack of wacky cooking technique, while at Marea, Stephen wrestles with a blender and Tre is confident his steak experience will turn out a great swordfish.
The judges arrive at Marea first; Padma, Tom, Kate Krader (restaurant editor for Food & Wine), Tony Bourdain, and Michael White partake of the dishes. Tre offers grilled swordfish, braised artichoke, mushroom panna cotta, and basil oil. Spike serves seared branzino with caponata and spicy prosciutto vinaigrette. Richard offers crudo of Spanish mackerel, braised veal shank, and fennel mostarda. Stephen serves coho salmon, black mission figs, broccoli rapini, and fennel pollen. Spike’s fish is well-cooked but there’s something amiss with the caponata. Richard’s dish is tasty and perfectly cooked. Stephen used too much fennel, causing Tony to comment that it tastes like a head shop. Tre’s fish is also nicely cooked and the panna cotta is delicious.
Next up, the judges head to Ma Peche where they meet up with David Chang. There they taste Fabio’s roasted lamb, hoisin plum barbeque sauce, corn tomato salad, and lemongrass chevre ricotta; Tiffany’s crudo of summer flounder, pickled radish, and peach puree; Mike’s warm sockeye salmon, eggplant, marinated tomatoes and pickled peach; and Angelo’s turmeric marinated fish, dill, cilantro, salmon roe, chorizo and white chocolate. Yes, white chocolate. Tony loves Angelo’s fish and Kate thinks the white chocolate is a good idea. Mike’s salmon is also well-liked. Fabio’s confusion in the kitchen shows on the plate—it’s too heavy and shows he was lost. Tiffany’s crudo is okay, but pretty commonly found at a lot of restaurants. David concludes some did better than others, but none of the dishes would embarrass him.
The judges roll on to Townhouse to eat with David Burke. There they sample Dale L.’s roasted veal loin, peanuts, popcorn, French toast, corn and thyme caramel; Antonia’s pea puree, carrot puree, seared scallop, and pickled carrot; Casey’s coconut halibut “scallop,” tapioca “caviar” an ginger-carrot emulsion; and Jamie’s smoked tomato and bacon soup with heirloom tomato salad. Well color me shocked; Jamie made a soup again! The soup had no wow factor; Dale L.’s combo of veal and French toast was innovative but the toast was too sweet. Casey’s “scalibut” was a hit, and while Antonia might have gone a bit overboard with the salt, David would put her dish on his menu.
The judges head off to their last stop, wd-50, to hang with Wylie Dufresne. After those past dozen dishes, I hope they take a bit of a break before chowing down again or they’ll need some Pepto. As it is time once again to eat, the chefs come out with Dale T.’s sunny side up egg dumpling, braised pork belly, milk ramen with bacon, beef and pork; Tiffani’s broken summer heirloom melons with powdered ham and taleggio; Carla’s poached shrimp, grits, and okra chips; and Marcel’s vadouvan lamb, tzatziki, picked red onion and anti flatbread. Tiffani’s plate is murky and over-done. Dale T.’s dish is really great; the broth actually tastes like breakfast. Carla may have played it a bit safe, but she executed a great dish. Marcel’s dish is more timid than expected, as well as bland.
Two To Go
After a long day of cooking, the chefs hang out in the stew room drinking wine out of Solo cups. Padma arrives and calls out Dale T., Angelo, Antonia, and Tre to face the judges first; they have the favorite dishes of the chefs for whom they cooked. Padma drops the bomb that the winner of this challenge will get a six night trip to New Zealand, which is pretty damn cool, because that’s where the hobbits live. Antonia is complimented on her take on peas and carrots. Kate appreciates Angelo’s use of white chocolate, while Tre’s fish was perfectly cooked. Tony asks Dale T. if he knew Dufresne was a slut for eggs; he admits that he did but he adds he didn’t try to copy Dufresne’s style and kept restraint in his dish. Kate gives the top prize to Dale T. and he is off to Auckland.
Next to face the judges are Stephen, Tiffani, Fabio, and Dale L.; they’re told to fight hard but be nice and not pull a Jen. Fabio defends first; he says that Asian food is not something he does. Tony says it looks like he just over-did it, throwing too much in the dish; Tom wanted more sauce, but Fabio didn’t see a whole lot of sauces in David Chang’s food. Stephen is frustrated at blowing the Italian food challenge, given that he considers himself an expert in Italian food and wine. I think he’d consider himself an expert on pretty much anything, if asked. He knows he had too many components in the dish. Tiffani knows she overdid it with the use of techniques; her plate turned into a watery mess. Dale L. describes Lighthouse as “food with jazz hands,” so he tried to embrace the whimsy. The problem is that he gave them a breakfast dish with veal on it.
During deliberation, Dale L.’s dish was just too sweet; Stephen’s fish and pesto were good, but it had too many aromatics; Fabio just did too much and his lamb was too fatty; and Tiffani went overboard with techniques. The judges reach their decision, and the chefs return to learn their fate. Tom reiterates the same points over again, and Padma then drops the axe on Stephen and Dale L. Fabio sighs in relief, while Dale is upset that he actually got eliminated, as he was runner-up in his season and not technically told to pack his kinves. Stephen knows his downfall was his lack of current cooking practice; if he had the same practice as he did back on Season 1, he’d probably have won. Dale L. contemplates coming back for Top Chef 16: Seniors. I’d watch that, so let’s book that right now, Bravo!