Mixing Old Fashioneds
Top Chef All-Stars 2/2 Recap: Dining “Family” Style
With Marcel’s departure last week, the field of chefs is down to a mere nine contestants. We’re also now short of a villain character, but Antonia would fill that spot with the increasingly abrasive Mike. After watching the episode, I think the villain should be whomever came up with the Quick Fire challenge.
Quick Fire of Stupidity
This week’s QF serves as a poorly timed cross-promotion for The Fashion Show; the chefs are greeted by Padma and Isaac Mizrahi, whose Bravo show finished up a week or so ago. Ostensibly, Isaac is around for Fashion Week, where he’s showing a collection based on copier machines. For this challenge, the chefs have to create a plate inspired by something and make it look interesting and enticing. However, because apparently people in fashion don’t eat, the dishes will not be tasted and will be judged on looks alone. That’s right—it could taste like crap and still win if “pretty” enough. This is not Top Food Stylist! Nevertheless, after the thirty minute dash to make something pretty, the dishes presented are:
Carla’s cucumber and beet soup, cucumber salad, and a lattice of cucumber, which looks pretty and tasty.
Tre’s smoked salmon, beets, curry noodles, and food coloring, which looks like little colored blobs on a big, white plate.
Fabio’s tuna with a sidewalk of caramel, mushroom umbrellas, and lemon juice. The plate has a bunch of writing on it and his dish was inspired by a well-dressed woman trying to avoid getting soaked in a rain storm. Okaaaaayyy…
Dale’s large plate of beet puree, cantaloupe, maple syrup meringue, avocado and mango that looks like a hot mess.
Mike’s carrot puree, roasted eggplant and egg yolk, allegedly inspired by the shiny orange dress Padma is wearing.
Richard’s black chocolate ice cream, menthol crystals, herbal salad, and mint ice cream dots. He wanted to do something in black because that’s pretty much all Isaac wears.
Antonia’s non-cooked dish of yuca potato, lentils, nuts and seeds made into a little landscape and inspired by The Giving Tree.
Tiffany’s almond gazpacho, grapes, and “dirt” made from rye bread crumbs.
Angelo’s shrink-sealed bag o’ crap, containing pineapple skin, curry salted eggs, and dill. He tells Isaac his favorite designer is Roberto Cavalli for his crocodile prints. Angelo has taken the extra step of writing “crocodile” in large letters on his prep table; however, he neglects to spell it correctly. Isaac likens the writing to Charles Manson.
Isaac puts Dale, Tre, and Angelo in the bottom; Fabio, Carla, and Richard are in the top. Isaac picks Richard as the winner because he kinda/sorta wanted to eat it. Richard gets immunity and it’s on the Elimination Challenge.
Cooking for the Family
Padma informs the chefs they are going to be cooking in a restaurant so exclusive that tables are basically owned by families and passed down from one generation to the next. The knife block comes out and the chefs draw knives saying “Frankie No”, “Junior”, or “Dino the Chef”. Mike is excited, with his Jersey Italian roots, while Tre worries that he might have to chop off some fingers or dig ditches. In walks Frank Pellegrino (a/k/a Frankie No), his son Frank, Jr., and Dino the Chef. They’re from Rao’s, a ten table Italian restaurant that’s been around for over 100 years. The chefs are challenged to cook a meal for the Pellegrino family, inspired by their classic southern Italian cuisine. Antonia, Tiffany, and Carla drew the “Dino” knives, so they will be preparing the first antipasti course. Dale, Mike, and Tre drew the “Junior” knives and will be doing the first course of pasta. Richard, Fabio, and Angelo drew the “Frankie No” knives and will do the second course of meat.
The chefs break out and discuss their courses with the respective Rao’s representative. Junior tells the pasta course chefs that it is okay to use dry pasta, as they use it in the restaurant all the time. Mike tries to kiss Junior’s ass, to the irritation of Dale. Tre gets the okay to do risotto for a pasta course. Chef Dino tells the antipasti chefs that Rao’s is very family-oriented—going there is like eating at your grandmother’s house. Fabio dominates the conversation with Frank, Sr., causing Angelo and Richard to have to bust in the conversation. Frank, Sr. tells the guys that his grandmother was the best at simplifying recipes down to their core ingredients.
After a quick round of shopping, it’s back to the Top Chef kitchen for prep. Antonia knows she’s going to have to do well, lest her Sicilian father be greatly disappointed. Dale has some experience cooking Italian food—he makes it for his girlfriend. Mike decides to make fresh rigatoni pasta. Tiffany isn’t worried about the three Italians in the kitchen; she’s worked for an Italian restaurant for five years. Tre harkens back to his prior appearance on Top Chef where he made a risotto that pleased Bourdain; he decides to re-create that, though Antonia is pretty sure he’s screwed himself by not properly toasting all the rice grains.
The chefs arrive at Rao’s, and the kitchen is small so they have to cook one course at a time. Tiffany, Antonia, and Carla prepare their antipasti course with relatively limited drama, other than Tiffany setting her polenta on fire at one point. The Pellegrino family and judges arrive; on the panel tonight are Padma, Tom, Tony Bourdain, and guest judge Lorraine Bracco, who sat in as the guest judge on the Season 1 finale. I’m a huge Goodfellas fan, so I’m glad she’s there. There are some other Rao’s folks there, most notably Nicky Vest, the bartender who is sporting a sequined vest.
For the antipasti course, Carla serves a minestrone soup with basil oil, tomatoes, and homemade focaccia; Antonia made mussels with fennel, white wine, garlic and parsley ciabatta; and Tiffany made a warm polenta terrine with Italian sausage, roasted peppers and kale. Tony likes Carla’s soup, but maybe it was a bit generic. Frank, Sr. liked Tiffany’s use of sausage in the polenta, because that’s how he likes it. Antonia’s mussels with the fennel are a huge hit; Lorraine especially likes the garlic bread.
Dale, Tre, and Mike hit the kitchen. Dale has trouble rolling out his pasta, Tre is going hard-core on the risotto, and Mike has issues with his fresh pasta not cooking quickly enough. With no time remaining, the first course is served. Mike serves spicy calamari, fresh rigatoni, and tomato sauce; Dale serves fresh pasta with pancetta, Brussels sprouts, chanterelle mushrooms, and pecorino romano cheese; and Tre serves grilled vegetable risotto with marinated tomatoes and fresh basil. Dale’s dish lacks sauce and would not score with Lorraine, if she were his girlfriend. Tre’s risotto had too much garnish and didn’t focus on the rice as it should. Mike’s pasta wasn’t cooked and was very disappointing. Bourdain is perplexed how three chefs of this caliber could screw up so badly.
Richard, Fabio, and Angelo hit the kitchen for the final meat course. Fabio serves pollo alla cacciatore and polenta with pecorino; Angelo serves sautéed pork chops with cherry peppers, green olives, tomatoes, and pancetta; and Richard serves a fresh pancetta cutlet, broccolini, and picked cherry tomatoes. Angelo’s pork was good, but too busy. Lorraine liked the crunch on Richard’s dish, and Fabio’s polenta redeemed the state of the world after the last course for Bourdain.
Sins Against Pasta
As the chefs wait in the stew room, Padma enters and calls in Antonia, Carla, Tiffany, and Fabio. They have the top dishes of the day, much to their great relief. Tiffany lets out tears of joy; Lorraine complements her polenta. Antonia’s mussels are well-liked because it was about the ingredients. Carla’s soup was a hit because of the cheese in it. Fabio had perfectly cooked chicken and his polenta was Tony’s favorite. Lorraine then gives the win to Antonia’s mussel dish; Fabio is a bit perturbed that he didn’t win and even stoops to calling Antonia’s mussel dish French for the use of fennel.
The woeful pasta course gets Mike, Dale and Tre in front of the judges for elimination. Mike knew his pasta was undercooked from the point he was in the kitchen; Tom didn’t think his sauce was that bad, but the pasta ruined the dish. Dale’s pasta was crumbly, and there was no sauce at all and pretty bland. Tre thought his risotto was cooked properly, though there may have been too much garnish. Tom says that the risotto was too stiff, but that’s not how Tre was trained to make the rice.
As the judges deliberate, they conclude that Tre just has never had good risotto. Dale’s dish lacked flavor, and Mike failed to execute the pasta properly. They call the chefs back in and Padma tells Tre to pack his knives. Padma actually shows some emotion, and looks genuinely upset. Tre says he’s going home a better chef with new friends and new knowledge. Finally, an exit interview without excessive bitching! It’s about time.
Re: Top Chef All-Stars 2/2 Recap: Dining “Family” Style
I hope Dale wins.
This season is just tough. I never know who's going to be next. A lot of the Chefs that I thought would win it are already out. I'm Glad they did an all stars season though.
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