Top Chef All-Stars 1/12 Recap: Here, Fishy, Fishy, Fishy!
A big thanks to MFWalkoff taking on the recap duties last week; befitting of this week’s episode, I spent last week sleeping in a boat-shaped bed at Disney World. Word to the wise: the pirate rooms at the Caribbean Beach resort do not come equipped with either a pirate or a bottle of rum…it’s all BYOP&R. Now it’s adieu to the Magical Kingdom and ahoy to the Magical Elves.
Break out the Dramamine!
We rejoin the chefs immediately following Casey’s departure. Everyone, including people who don’t even watch Top Chef, is wondering why Jamie is still on the show. She doesn’t even have a clue why she’s there. Back at the house, Tre, Marcel and Dale hang out on the roof; it’s a recipe for disaster—Marcel is swigging gin straight from the bottle and tearing into Dale for not putting up enough dishes in the dim sum challenge. Dale, using his anger management skills, blows Marcel and his “gangsta” moves off, while Tre concludes what most of us are thinking—Marcel is an asshat. Luckily (at least for the production insurance company) Marcel doesn’t take a drunken dive off the roof; after a half a bottle of gin, it could have happened.
The next morning brings an early wakeup call (and possibly a few hangovers) when the alarm clocks go off at 4:30 a.m. After an early breakfast (who can eat that early?!), the chefs head to the Top Chef Kitchen to be greeted by a “Gone Fishin’” sign and a map to Montauk. Some chefs go along with production and feign confusion, but it is evident that these fine folks will be heading out on a fishing boat just as fast as their Toyota Siennas can get them there. (Sly product placement, Blaise.)
When they get to Montauk, everyone learns this is a bit of a different challenge. The chefs will be broken up into four teams of three and sent out on boats to fish for five hours, during which they will catch as many fish as they can. There will be no Elimination Challenge, and the next day they will have to cook their haul for 200 people. The notion of another team challenge, after the disaster the dim sum challenged turned out to be, does not sit well with Richard. So after blind drawing, the teams turn out to be:
Team One: Antonia, Tiffani, and Jamie. Antonia isn’t thrilled with her teammates, as they didn’t work so well together previously.
Team Two: Mike, Angelo, and Tiffany. Anyone else as curious as I am how Angelo and Tiffany seem to get to stick together often?
Team Three: Dale, Carla, and Tre. Hootie-hoo! This sounds like a good match.
Team Four: Richard, Fabio, and Marcel. I weep for Richard and Fabio.
Teams One and Three head out on one boat and Teams Two and Four grab another. Of all the chefs, Fabio and Dale seem to know the most about fishing because both of their fathers were keen fishermen. Of all the chefs, Angelo seems to be the biggest wuss, as he won’t even get into a swimming pool, due to his fear of sharks.
Much fishing ensues. To make a long story short, Teams One and Three get to catching fish quite early and have no problems. Dale even brings in an impressively sized fish that could be his life-time record. No snark there—it was a huge damn fish. Teams Two and Four have a much slower start, but eventually get fish. And no, there wasn’t a single, solitary joke about anyone holding anyone else’s rod. Nope, none. (Snark returns!)
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
After the chefs complete their fishing expedition, they shop in teams at a local farmer’s market, spending $150 on vegetables and garnish. Along the way, two things happen on Team Four. For starters, Richard cedes the decision do Marcel to make only one dish amongst the three of them; Fabio thinks this may be a good decision when facing a double elimination, as the blame for a bad dish will be spread amongst the three of them, and two won’t stand out. The second event is that Richard and Fabio become inseparable; the buds of a bromance break out. Cue Chris Harrison, because a rose should be involved in this shopping excursion.
After a hard day of fishing, and a long night of Tre missing his wife and Dale reading a note from his girlfriend, the chefs head to Water Taxi Beach, which, in my dozen-plus years of visiting New York City, had no idea existed, to prep and serve the guests and judges. It is indeed a beach, complete with sun and sand, which Jamie takes as a personal affront to her. Of course, no one ELSE has to deal with sun and sand. Jamie is just sad she didn’t catch scallops, methinks.
In a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing, Carla talks about her blue fish lettuce wraps; she notes that it is considered a lesser fish, but it can be quite nice if the bloodline is removed. If the bloodline is left in, the fish can be bitter. In my limited fish brain, I like this to de-veining shrimp. No one wants to eat the digestive tract of a shrimp. It’s nasty. Meanwhile, Richard is second-guessing his decision to allow Marcel to have dictated doing only one dish. This, of course, does not stop Richard from riding Fabio’s butt on prep. I don’t know where the notion that Fabio is a lesser chef than Marcel got into Richard’s head—maybe Fabio is more limited in his range of styles, but he knows what tastes good. But Richard is up in Fabio’s face ever 0.10 seconds on yet another thing he needs to prep. Perhaps the bromance is in the weeds.
There’s only one hour until service and Tom pops in for a quick visit. He ponders Richard, Marcel, and Fabio’s choice to do only one dish. He’s pleased that Tiffany, Mike and Angelo are doing two dishes. He questions Dale’s choice to not make his own tortillas for his fish tacos, but Dale is wise to the second-guessing manipulation of Tom. Tiffani’s choice of blue fish also raises questions from Tom, but she stands by her choice and gives love to the fish.
Soon enough the clock winds down and diners and judges arrive. The judges, in true judiciary fashion, stop by the bar first to get cocktails. Joining Padma, Tom, and Gail is Kerry Heffernan, executive chef of South Gate and a fishing buddy of Tom. They stop by Teams Four and Three to pick up sampling plates where they receive Team Four’s (Fabio, Marcel & Richard) sea bass, succotash, corn puree, tomato confit, concord gastrique, and jamon froth. Team Three offers Dale’s fish taco with bass, corn and avocado relish, crème fraiche, radishes, and cabbage; Carla’s smoked blue fish lettuce wrap, pickled watermelon rind, radishes, bagel croutons; and Tre’s striped sea bass with gazpacho salad, tomato, and avocado.
As the judges nosh they conclude that Fabio, Marcel and Richard’s dish has over-cooked beans and a needless foam. Dale’s taco highlights the fish well and Carla’s nicely smoked fish produced a light dish. Tre’s fish was well cooked, especially given that he was sautéing the fish at the beach.
The judges make a second pass at the food and gather up Team One’s dishes of Jamie’s striped bass, watermelon salad with fresh dill, shaved radishes and cucumber water; Tiffani’s smoked blue fish with tomato, roasted corn, and zucchini ribbon salad; and Antonia’s open-faced porgy poboy with Old Bay mayo and cabbage slaw. They also grab Team Two’s dishes of (1) pickled blue fish, spicy watermelon, shallots, red chilies, confit potato, and dill and (2) striped bass with corn puree, tomato, Aleppo spice rub, and watermelon. Ahhh, Aleppo…love that smoky pepper. Try it on pizza and never look back!
The judges like Team Two’s pickled blue fish and potatoes, but their other dish is a bit over-complicated. Jamie’s dish is just water, Antonia took a risk with using the porgy (apparently another disenfranchised fish), but it’s good; and Tiffani’s dish lacks elegance and finishing.
PSA of the night: If Mike tries to hit on women for you, hide under the nearest table, Angelo-style.
Blood and Water don’t mix.
At long last, it is time for Judges’ Table. Padma calls in Dale, Carla, Tre, Tiffany, Mike, and Angelo who have the top dishes of the day. These chefs exhale a huge sigh of relief and they get up again to hear the winner will get a trip to Amsterdam. Some ‘splainin’ starts, with Mike who says who cooked what. The judges are really impressed with way Mike cooked the fish. Dale’s taco was a huge hit with the diners and great for the beach, and Carla’s interpretation of a New York bagel wows Tom. In giving the win, Kerry says the perfect dish in the beach environment is Carla. Go Carla, go! Just don’t mess with a drug sniffing dog on your way back from Amsterdam.
Carla’s exuberance throws off the bottom six as they go to meet the judges. Upon query, Marcel says that his team’s dish came about organically. When posed with the question why they only had one dish, Richard again cops to the problems of the dim sum challenge. Gail advises that they needed restraint in the number of ingredients, while Kerry opines that doing a restaurant style dish on the beach isn’t such a great idea.
As for the other losing team, Antonia might have won the day with her open-faced poboy (not with me…poboys are not open faced and must require seven napkins at least to pass the prima facia test of greatness) but her teammates aren’t so lucky. Jamie’s idea to showcase the fish and have a watered down everything else wasn’t a good plan and Tiffani’s failure to remove the bloodline from her bluefish screwed the pooch. In a half-hearted attempt to ratchet up the drama, Antonia is asked if she could have helped her teammates by tasting and offering suggestions, but this just drives her to tears.
After some stewing and some judging, the bottom six are called back in to hear the verdict. Tom announces that Antonia should have given feedback, Tiffani produced a heavy-handed fishy dish, and Jamie’s was a bland, watery mess that didn’t come together. As for the cluster that Richard, Marcel and Fabio produced, it didn’t measure up to their standards. Fabio wasn’t in the dish at all, Richard’s gastrique was out of place, and Marcel had too much going on, with the unneeded foam. Padma then drops the gavel on Tiffani and Jamie, and they are out.
Tiffani waxes poetic about her time on All-Stars. She had another chance to show she’s changed and she’s going home to amazing girlfriend. Jamie, on the other hand, is bummed because didn’t cook in 2 challenges. Like the world needs any more scallops and soup.
Next week is Restaurant Wars. Just don’t let Madonna’s brother anywhere near the production, and I’ll be just fine.