Top Chef All-Stars 12/8 Recap: Prehistoric Tastes for a Preteen Crowd
Welcome back to our second super-sized episode of All-Stars, where the shocking early elimination of Elia sits well with none of the chefs remaining, not even Marcel. Will the next elimination be equally surprising? Will Fabio and Bourdain get into a fist-fight? Will Richard and Angelo become best buds or arch rivals? Let’s get this recap underway and find out.
Joe Jonas? Really? Where’s Seth and Amy when you need them?
The chefs arrive in the kitchen for their next Quick Fire to be greeted by Padma, as always, and Joe Jonas, teenie-bopper musician, and not pastry chef as Dale T. suspected. As it turns out, the American Museum of Natural History is having a kids’ sleep-over event and Joe is a surprise guest at it; he challenges the chefs to come up with a fun, kid-friendly midnight snack that can be served in a paper bag. With only forty-five minutes on the clock to win Elimination Challenge immunity (as well as some “advantage” in the EC), the chefs run like mad to the supply room.
Dale L. knows kids are very picky eaters so he decides to mix up some candy, pretzels, and marshmallow cream. Dale T., on the other hand, makes off with the entire container of sugar, which aggravates everyone else in need of sugar, which is pretty much the rest of the kitchen. Marcel, we learn, has a soft-side for cooking for kids, as his mother took over the food program at his school. I dare not call her a lunch lady, however. Apparently back in Season 1, Tiffani was a bit of an ass about cooking for kids; she wants to make up for that this time around. Dale T. endears himself to me by suggesting lacing his snack with Nyquil to knock the kids out at midnight.
Once time is called, Padma and Joe sample:
Antonia’s white chocolate and cherry muffin with cinnamon and allspice
Richard’s white bread , spiced apples with whipped hone and crunchy chocolate
Spike’s homemade potato and carrot chips with mascarpone and marshmallow dip
Tre’s cracker with cranberry and cherry jam, apple smoked bacon
Casey’s chocolate and bacon lasagna with apple juice and candy
Dale’s sweet tart nuggets and caveman boulders with chocolate sauce
Jamie’s mini cheddar biscuits with homemade cinnamon apple sauce
Tiffany’s coconut rice pudding with grapefruit sauce
Dale T.’s corn cake with dried cherries and whipped maple topping
Fabio’s apple with white chocolate, caramel, and blueberry
Tiffani’s rice crispy treat snowball with malted milk and graham crackers
Angelo’s fried dough, white pepper, old bay spice, and cheddar crumbs
Stephen’s snickerdoodle with white chocolate, coconut ganache, apricot and mint
Jen’s bacon ginger taffy and honey grilled peaches
Mike’s chocolate coconut corn bar and coconut horchata chaser
Is it me, or was there a lot of bacon in that group? Do ten-year-olds eat bacon? Every kid I know is on a strict diet of mac & cheese and chicken nuggets, neither of which were represented, so I don’t know what gives. Joe, probably now high on sugar and saturated fat, renders his verdict; he didn’t like Tiffany’s messy food, Mike’s weak chocolate, and Stephen’s weak mint. His two favorites were Spike and Tiffani, but he can’t decide so he’s going to let the kids at the museum pick for him. The mere mention of the kids makes Dale L. cringe up—they’re called brats for a reason, he opines. And worse yet, they’ve probably all expect the statues to come alive after repeated viewings of Night at the Museum. [Also, if you’re new to the recaps remember Tiffani is the runner up from Season 1 and Tiffany won a trip to Paris and a butt-load of money on Season 7, thus paying for her wedding and honeymoon.]
The most drawn-out QF win ever.
Spike and Tiffani will have to wage a battle of potato and carrot chips versus sugar bomb, and they’ll need help serving the 150 kids. They chose, in turns, their teammates. It breaks down like this: Spike picks Richard, Dale T., Marcel, Stephen, Angelo, Mike, and Carla. Tiffani chooses Jen, Antonia, Dale L., Casey, Jamie, Tiffany, and Tre. This leaves Fabio as the last kid on the playground; Padma lets him pick a team and he goes with Spike’s because he wants a piece of him. Dale L. sums up the teams as “the Spice Girls and their bodyguard” and “all the cool guys and their babysitter”.
With two hours on the clock to prepare the snacks, the kitchen is a bit crazy. Tiffani’s snack involves freezing marshmallows with liquid nitrogen, so there is a lot of steam from the cold hitting the air. Her team works pretty well, a bit joviality between Dale L. and Casey as always, and they get their bags packed. Spike’s team gets their bags packed as well, but not without some grumbling from Dale T. about the lack of interest he has in making some ill-defined dipping sauce for the chips.
The chefs arrive at the museum and set up their tables of snacks. The kids pour in, already seem hyped up on too much sugar. They get their bags and dig in while the chefs try talking up their team’s dish. Then, in walks Padma and Joe Jonas; the room erupts with excitement at the sight of a Jonas brother. He asks the kids which snack they like the most, and far and away Tiffani’s snack wins, giving her an advantage in the EC and immunity.
No rest for the weary, no herbs for a carnivore.
The kids depart, leaving piles of trash on the floor in the dinosaur hall, and in walks Tom to set up the Elimination Challenge, which starts right then—at 1:30 a.m. They’re going to stay the night and prepare a breakfast for the kids and their parents at 7:30, using whatever is in the museum’s kitchen. As they’re in the dinosaur hall with the T. Rex and “brontosaurus” (more properly called Apatosaurus) skeletons, one team will be assigned the carnivorous diet of the T. Rex and can use meat and meat byproducts such as eggs and dairy. The other team will be cooking with fruits, vegetables, and grains only. Tiffani’s advantage is that she gets to choose which diet she wants to use; she goes with the meat and dairy diet of the T. Rex.
They do get to spend the night in sleeping bags and Top Chef pajamas in the Hall of North American Mammals. Stephen isn’t exactly loving the lack of his usual loft-like comforts of home and Tre isn’t so cool with the situation either, since he likes to sleep naked (though it does beg the question of whether he sleeps clothed back at the Top Chef house). Before they get any shut-eye, the teams group off to plan their breakfasts. Spike divides up his team into smaller groups right away to tackle the menu. On Tiffani’s team, Jen balks at the idea of dividing up, because everyone is on the line for elimination equally, but eventually she consents and will work with Jamie.
About half of the group decides to actually get a bit of rest before the EC, but a group of guys decide to take their flashlights and explore the museum. Given that I’d probably be so wired on adrenaline, and would never have another chance to even come close to living out From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler (yeah, I know—wrong museum, but close enough since it’s just across Central Park), I’d do it too.
The alarm clock goes off at 3:45 a.m. and Tre did indeed sleep shirtless. For the record, Tre should always be shirtless. The chefs find their pantries fully stocked; for Team Brontosaurus, there is a bounty of fruits and vegetables to work with. For Team T. Rex, there is meat, meat, more meat, and some cheese and eggs. Tiffani admits she thought a carnivore was an omnivore, and the team struggles with the lack of any herbs or acid such as lime. Most of their dishes will have to be re-tooled to work with the limited range of ingredients.
Team Brontosaurus gets busy with Spike and Carla’s gazpacho and Stephen and Fabio’s gnocchi. Over on Team T. Rex, Jamie cuts down some bacon and summarily cuts her thumb; the medic deems Jamie needs stitches and goes off to the hospital, leaving Jen to work her dish alone. Fabio recalls his own hand issue, taping it up with a fork in his season, and thinks leaving is weak. Jen is absolutely punchy and will soldier through with her bacon and egg dish. Casey and Tre work up a salmon dish while Casey and Antonia are working on some frittatas in un-even cooking ovens. Fabio gets put out by Spike’s manhandling of his gnocchi in the boiling water; he thinks they may be ruined. Meanwhile Casey tastes Jen’s braised pork belly and thinks it tastes like wet bacon, though Jen thinks it is good. They push the food out and head to set up.
A vegan’s revenge.
The chefs have an hour to set up before service. As they do so, Marcel, Richard, and Angelo plate up what they’ve made and Angelo thinks the plums are too large. Angelo directs Carla to cut up the plums, which irritates Marcel who now has it out for Angelo. Jamie returns after having a measly two stitches; Tre and Dale L. both find her absence extremely unprofessional. The kids arrive and don’t really get Team T. Rex’s dishes because they’re looking for straight up bacon and eggs. Team Brontosaurus, Carla says, has more solid and recognizable foods.
The judges arrive, and, alas, there is no Bourdain; Katie Lee, host of Season 1, is the guest judge. They stop by Team Brontosaurus’ table first where they sample Dale T. and Mike’s fresh corn grits, stewed peppers, and salsa verde; Marcel, Richard, and Angelo’s banana parfait with seasonal fruit and tandoori maple; Carla and Spike’s “V9” gazpacho with fruits and vegetables; and Fabio and Stephen’s potato gnocchi with leeks, spinach and mushrooms. The gnocchi are a hit, the gazpacho isn’t with a kid who doesn’t like tomato, and everyone likes the banana parfait.
The judges then hit up Team T. Rex’s service line where they taste Antonia and Tiffany’s trio of mini frittatas: bacon and cheddar, ham and cheese, and chevre; Tre and Casey’s salmon with shrimp and apple smoked bacon sauce; Jen and Jamie’s braised bacon and hard boiled eggs; and Dale L. and Tiffani’s steak and egg with hollandaise. The judges aren’t keen on Jen’s bacon not having enough flavor, while Tre’s sauce is too salty. The frittatas are either cooked properly or not, depending on the plate, but Tiffani and Dale L.’s steak was good.
The chefs finally at least get to sit down for a few minutes, albeit in the stew room. Undoubtedly exhausted, they mull over the past 24+ hours. Tiffani regrets choosing the herbivore diet and sees she had no advantage; Fabio says it wasn’t easy making gnocchi with no eggs or butter, implying she should get over it. Padma calls in Team Brontosaurus to see the judges first; they are the winning team. Fabio gets praise for his gnocchi, though does veer the bus pretty close to Spike’s head for his murderous boiling technique. Katie loved the banana parfait Marcel, Angelo, and Richard put out; she gives them the win, so all three are deemed winners. Richard is over the win after five minutes, Angelo gets an ego boost for two wins in a row, and Marcel is peevish that he didn’t get the sole win since he had more components on the plate.
Team T. Rex then faces the judges; Tiffani speaks up and says that she didn’t think it was all that much of an advantage that it wasn’t clear that they only could cook with meat. Gail says it is all about adaptability, and Tom notes that he told them straight that they’d have meat and meat by-products only to work with. Tiffany and Antonia get called out for their inconsistent frittatas; they admit they had problems with the oven cooking evenly. The steak and eggs made by Tiffani and Dale L. were good, but very simple. The salmon and sauce was salty; Tre admits the sauce over-reduced during the plating phase, but what could he do about it at that point? Padma notes Jen looks really pissed off; she says that she tasted the other team’s dishes and they shouldn’t be in the bottom. The judges ask why everything wasn’t plated separately; Jen fires back that the judges should be smart enough to ask for a different plate. Tom wonders why the team wasn’t smart enough to figure that out in the first place. Jen is really wound up and twitchy; I’m thinking she’s had one too many cups of coffee. Jamie says she helped Jen out when she was there, but she had to go get stitches. Antonia, like others, takes issue with Jamie bailing instead of using the apparently common kitchen trick of duct taping her finger and moving on. Jen says Jamie’s absence didn’t really harm her at all, but the judges take issue with the lack of flavor in her bacon and egg dish. She vehemently denies that it was under-seasoned and stands by her dish.
During deliberation, Gail notes the anger of the team. Tom doesn’t mind the argument because no one is going home simply for argument—it’s the food that will send them packing. Padma points out Tiffani’s immunity, but adds that Dale L. won’t be going home either because they had the best dish of the team. The frittatas were cruise-ship worthy; and while Casey cooked the salmon well, Tre’s sauce was too salty. Jen’s dish was so bland and soft, no one liked it. They discuss Jamie’s absence, but Padma points out that her presence wasn’t missed.
The judges have reached their decision and call Team Brontosaurus back out. Tom lets Tiffani and Dale L. exit, as they had the best dish. He tells Tiffany and Antonia that they’re better chefs than to put out inconsistent frittatas. Jamie and Jen’s dish was under seasoned, and while admirable to defend the dish, it doesn’t make it better. He adds Tre should have known better than to let the sauce overpower the salmon. After a tough deliberation, Padma tells Jen to pack her knives and go. She’s so punchy, she kind of laughs and acts crazy in the stew room. She is in serious need of sleep at this point; she says her goodbyes and then loses it in the hallway upon departure.
And with Jen’s elimination I’m 0 for 2; early on I thought the final four would be Richard, Angelo, Jen, and either Fabio or Elia. Those three guys better watch their backs, as apparently my choices are first eliminated.