Top Chef All-Stars 3/9: Food Fit For A King?
We rejoin the top five chefs for the final rounds in the Bahamas, because final rounds always have to be somewhere either hot or beachy or both. Richard has decided to not shave and miss the birth of his second child for the shot at winning the season. Carla seeks redemption from not cooking her food in her season. Mike got in some training during the time he had off, hitting up all sorts of restaurants in the DC area. Everyone is ready to go and get this competition finished; I’ve read there are three more episodes after this one, and I really don’t see how that’s possible without either a reunion or a really drug-out final cook-off.
For the Quickfire, Top Chef borrows heavily from Iron Chef for the challenge. The chefs arrive at a fort where they have to cook heads-up against the winners of their season. Richard and Antonia go up against Stephanie, Mike goes up against Michael V, Tiffany goes up against Kevin, and Carla goes up against Hosea, who looks so weird with a beard I didn’t recognize him. The judges are Tom, Padma and Eric Ripert and the winner for each head-to-head battle will get $10,000. Tom picked the “secret ingredient” each group will have to focus on: Richard, Antonia and Stephanie get veal, the Mikes have a duck, Hosea and Carla have lamb, and Tiffany and Kevin have a pig.
Hosea swears he wants to prove his win wasn’t a fluke (though we know it was) and Mike wants to blow Michael V. out of the water. Carla and Antonia have issues with the burners going off, and before you know it, time is up. Kevin’s barbecue pork with cilantro celery, shave onion and citrus salad looses to Tiffany’s pork stew with potatoes, pepper, citrus and allspice. Tiffany finally wins a cash prize! Hosea’s braised lamb in red chili broth with olives and mint with goat cheese and rosemary polenta beats out Carla’s jollof rice and harissa lamb with peppers, onions and lime because she couldn’t get the rice to cook properly with that crappy burner.
Stephanie made a veal scallopini with tapanade and a poached egg on top; the idea of a poached egg on veal scallopini not only sounds weird to me but to Eric. Antonia made roasted veal, leek and almond puree with sautéed mushrooms, arugula and raisins. Her veal was dry, but Tom preferred it to Stephanie’s complicated dish; Eric and Padma side with Stephanie, so she beats Antonia. Richard made seared veal loin and braised veal cap with raisins, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms, and he beats Stephanie’s dish.
Michael V. made a duck breast with duck leg in bacon vinaigrette, burnt leek and coffee pesto while Mike turned in a cashew dusted spiced duck breast with duck leg and mushroom jus. Padma would pick Michael, but Eric and Tom side with Mike, so he wins to the shock of everyone.
Fire in the Hole!
For the Elimination Challenge, Tom informs the chefs that they are going to cook for “Bahamian Royalty” and conceals a smirk. No chef apparently knows that the Bahamas is governed by a parliamentary system based on Britain’s laws, but hey, they know how to cook sous vide and I don’t. After a night in their resort, it’s off to prep for 2.5 hours in a large, professional kitchen. Everyone is going “upscale” to impress the royal family. Carla is in doubt-mode after losing the QF; she likes to see herself as the underdog to give her momentum. Mike thinks the ladies are playing it safe; he doesn’t want to be safe but wants to win it all. Strange words from a dude who’s played the whole season safely in the middle.
A black truck and a police escort arrive to take the chefs to the site of their royal dinner; personally, I’d never get in a black truck with a police escort in any foreign country. That’s pretty much when it all goes wrong in any movie. They roll up on a street parade that looks like Mardi Gras Indians to me, but it’s really Junkanoo, a Boxing Day festival and parade. Tom introduces the chefs to Vola, the King of Junkanoo. Tiffany is excited—she has the right dish for this audience. Antonia thinks she’s screwed with her elevated dish. They have an hour to get the food ready in a small kitchen with some deep fryers, a flat top, and not a whole lot else. Antonia is frying some plantains and notices one fryer is smoking. She calls for assistance and alerts everyone to the danger and then, blamo, it caches fire.
Richard sets a large metal pan on top of the fryer, and the chefs keep cooking until the production clears the kitchen and the firemen arrive. The chefs sit around and wait; Antonia is having doubt about her dish and Richard tries to mess with her, since he sees her as a threat. The fire is extinguished, and Tom takes a look at the damage. There are chemicals everywhere on the food, so Tom calls a do-over from the start. They’ll get the same ingredients but can change the dish anyway they want.
So, it’s back to the big kitchen to re-prep. Richard and Antonia decide to change their dishes; Richard says he doesn’t want to cook the same thing over and Antonia wants to make it less formal. Back in the restaurant, they have some counter-top fryers and an hour to finish. Carla cooks her whole pork tenderloin in the deep fryer, but it is raw in the center when she cuts it. Antonia’s down-home shrimp and grits don’t feel like “her” food so she’s nervous.
Padma, Gail, Tom, Eric and Vola sit at a table together and sample the dishes. Carla made a fried pork medallion with sweet potato puree, apple sauce and a fried apple chip. Eric thinks it is very sweet, like a dessert. Gail gets raw pork—really raw in the center. Antonia’s crispy shrimp and grits with cilantro and pickled vegetables comes out next. The shrimp is over-cooked, there’s some weird meat in the grits, and the garnish is sad. Mike serves up sous vide chicken, mushrooms, yams, lobster sauce and lobster hash, and to my eye, there was some kind of nasty Marcel-like foam on the dish. The judges like it, with only Gail saying that the white meat chicken was a bit dry. Next, Richard made a roasted lamb loin and malted braised leg with pickled turnip and mustard; there seems to be a white foam on this dish as well. The turnip is made into a cannelloni, which was a bit undercooked for Eric but Tom likes it. Back in the kitchen, Richard thinks all his food is crap. Finally, Tiffany’s roasted spiced pork tenderloin, dirty rice, curried slaw and tomato jam arrives. The meat is tender and it’s a nice dish, albeit simple.
The chefs hang out in their suite waiting for Judges’ Table. Richard complains that he feels just as crappy about what he makes when he does well and when he does poorly. Carla is worried about surviving but did what she knows. Padma arrives to bring them all to Judges’ Table.
Carla says she stuck with her original plan, though she changed the apple chip. Padma thought the dish was too sweet and Gail points out her raw pork. Antonia admits she changed her whole dish and she’s not proud of it. Gail wonders how the meat fit in the grits and Tom thought it was odd. Tiffany says her dish was rustic; Eric wanted more sophistication and Gail wanted more of the tomato jam. Mike likes his dish; Tom was impressed with the sauce and how the dish came together. Richard says he hates everything he does, but Tom liked this dish. Gail likes the cannelloni but Eric thought it was to wet.
Eric announces Mike as the winner of the challenge; all that practice pays off, I suppose. Richard is also safe and the whole lot is set to the stew room to wait for the final decision. The judges find technical mistakes in all of the dishes--raw pork, greasy apple chips, weird meat in grits, and middle of the road street food. The judges reach a decision and call them back in. Tom tells them they all need to step up their cooking in the finale, and then Padma delivers the verdict—Carla has to pack and go home. She knows they made the right decision, but she’s still bummed. And so am I—I wanted a hootie-hoo winner.