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Thread: Top Chef Four Star All Stars Challenge Recap: Smackdown!

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    Mixing Old Fashioneds PhoneGrrrl's Avatar
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    Top Chef Four Star All Stars Challenge Recap: Smackdown!

    All through the late winter and spring, Bravo has been trying to capture the zeitgeist of Project Runway and Top Chef with their design and hair shows. Unfortunately, those shows—while perfectly decent—lacked an edge to them that kept me focused the entire hour and would call me back the 3,687 times Bravo reaired the shows during the week. Luckily for us, Top Chef is back, throwing that much needed splash of acid or dash of salt into our dish of competitive reality.

    Well, it’s not quite back yet. We are still in prologue mode, but that’s good enough for me right now. Undoubtedly to call back viewers who may have strayed in the intervening months, the Top Chef folks have put together a little one-off competition, pitting the Season One finalists against the Season Two finalists. On the S1 team, we have Dave, Tiffani, Stephen, and Harold. Of course, Stephen wasn’t really the fourth finisher, but since Lee Anne is the culinary producer for Top Chef now, she couldn’t actually participate, lest accusations of cheating and/or forced hair shaving ensue. For the S2 team, we have Ilan, Sam, Elia, and Marcel. There’s some weirdness going on with the S2 team’s hair, namely Elia has gone white and Ilan seems to have the cityscape of New York cut into his hair. Maybe the two of them should have been on Shear Genius.

    Eggcitement

    Our teams have assembled in the Top Chef kitchen, which is now in Miami Beach, and are greeted by Tom and Padma. A few minutes are spent catching up with some of the chefs; Harold tells Tom that his restaurant will open in the spring of this year and Ilan claims to have had lots of offers to do big things, but he wants to do small things (like shave odd shapes into his noggin, I’m guessing).

    After a few pleasantries, Padma announces that there will be a dreaded Quickfire challenge and the winners on either team will be that team’s captain. Dave is noticeably put out by the notion of a Quickfire challenge, but vows not to cry. Padma points out the cloche in front of each chef, and tells them to raise it; the “mystery ingredient” is….eggs! (Where is that Iron Chef host when you need him?) There are two eggs for each chef to cook. Padma says that chefs should be able to cook eggs with one hand tied behind their backs, so that’s exactly what they will have to do. Each chef puts a hand in an oven mitt and holds it behind his or her back for the 10 minutes they have to cook their egg dish.

    The chefs dash around the kitchen like mad, trying to grab ingredients, chop, blend, whisk, and otherwise cook these eggs. Some resort to using their mouth to open bottles or run immersion blenders (Marcel, obviously), and some help others out by being the second hand. Finally, it comes time for Tom and Padma to sample the goods.

    On Team S1, Dave has made his “hang-over eggs” also known as Eggs of Fire, which are Asian spiced scrambled eggs. Tom thinks they are a bit overcooked, which was Dave’s fear from the start. Tiffani makes a herb and cream poached egg with parmesan cheese. The poached egg didn’t set up and was undercooked. Stephen went for “The Perfect Omelet” which looked to be like the thinnest crepe of egg wrapped on itself in the typical omelet fold. Tom found it fun to watch Stephen cook the omelet and really enjoyed it. Lastly, Harold made a parmesan shirred egg with soy butter; the judges also like his dish.

    Team S2 had four more diverse egg dishes. Marcel, ever the cheeky one, constructed an “Ode to Spanish Breakfast” which consisted of scrambled eggs and a saffron foam, served in an empty egg shell. Tom had a laugh at it, but enjoyed the flavors. Ilan made an egg white omelet with béarnaise sauce, which Tom found too salty. Elia made panko fried eggs, seasoned with fresh tarragon and paprika. The judges like this one too, especially the boldness of the spices. Me, I love anything with panko, so I was pulling for Elia the White. Finally, Sam made fried eggs over pickled cranberries and cherries with a pine nut vinaigrette, which was also well-received by the judges.

    Ultimately Tom chose Stephen as the winner for Team S1. Stephen’s charity is the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, so if S1 wins, Komen will get $20,000. As for Team S2, Tom picks Marcel is the winner, and his charity is Share Our Strengths, a charity directed at hunger issues. Tom also is to pick a winner over all, based on the Quickfire, and the win will result in an “advantage” later on. In the first of several face-offs of the oddly shaped hair duo, Stephen’s dish beats Marcel’s foam.

    Setting up the “elimination” challenge.

    The teams are set, the captains picked, and the charities are selected, so now it is time, Padma tells us, for the elimination challenge. Since this is a one-time deal, I’m not sure what the point of eliminating any team is, since no one will be back next week, but whatever. The S1 vs. S2 challenge will be the preparation of a four course meal; the teams will have to prepare 20 plates of each course for the usual panel of judges plus some special “guests” (insert Padma wink here). The first course will be scallops, second lobster, third duck, and fourth will be kobe beef. The advantage S1 gets for having won the Quickfire is that they get $300 to spend at the market whereas S2 only gets $200. Apparently the proteins are not included in the price, because there is no way to make budget otherwise. The chefs will have 30 minutes to shop today and two hours to cook the next day.

    The teams separate out and decide who is going to cook what. Marcel, in his wishy-washy way, tries to organize everyone; he takes the lobster course and Elia volunteers for the scallops. Elia comes up with one way to prepare the scallops, and Marcel suggests a second to present them as a duo. Sam then assigns Ilan the duck and he takes the kobe beef. Ilan is not happy with the duck or time constraints at all. On the side, Marcel scoffs at Ilan’s worry over the duck, noting that duck isn’t popular in Spanish cuisine, so undoubtedly Ilan will be clueless. Way to pull for your team, Marcel.

    Stephen has assembled his team in a pantry or walk-in and announces his decision to pick a Mediterranean theme so as to give a wide latitude of flavors that would still fit under the theme. Dave isn’t all that thrilled at the prospect, complaining that they are in Miami, so they might as well do something Miami-themed. Stephen overrides Dave’s concerns and they proceed planning their menu. In walks Ilan—oblivious or smug, your choice—to scope out what ingredients are in the pantry. Someone had mentioned to him that there was citrus around and he was looking for it, but Stephen, rightly in my opinion, took Ilan’s action for espionage and moved the meeting outside.

    Some things don’t add up.

    The cheffies head to the market to spend their dough. Ilan wonders aimlessly, still having no idea how to cook the duck; they may as well have assigned him nutria for all of his confusion. Stephen uses his team’s extra $100 to buy a wine for every course. Four courses times twenty plates is eighty servings…either they got some mega-cheap wine, the servings are tiny, or there is some unaccounted for wine spending somewhere.

    After the thirty minutes of shopping, the eight head back to their hotel for dinner. It looks like they are all staying in one giant suite, which makes me think Bravo used the extra hotel money on the wine budget. The suite has some kind of kitchenette in it, and the chefs have to cook their own dinner. Well, basically they all sit around, drink wine, and talk smack about each other. Unfortunately, this also brings out the lowest point in the show: Marcel brings out his sorry “rap” skillz and performs a little ditty about the competition. Back in the suite, he starts to annoy everyone on S1’s team; unfortunately, no one physically assaults him. Harold does talk to him like he’s about 5 years old, instructing him to calm down and be still. Were it that easy!

    “It’s go time, baby!”

    The day of the cooking showdown has arrived. Elia and Dave, of the bleached hair-dos, are both getting their scallops ready. Stephen preps some butter infused with saffron, and Harold is excited about his old school Italian gnocchi, as am I because I can’t get good gnocchi in my part of the world. Tiffani, more low key than ever before, is making her kobe beef two ways, one of which involves a parmesan polenta. Tiffani has a love for all things parm, doesn’t she?

    Tom comes by to check on how everyone is doing. He actually is beaming like a fool, and looks freakishly happy. First he asks Sam what he is doing with the kobe, and Sam mentions something about a baby portabella confit. Tom then asks Ilan what he is going to do with the duck, and Ilan goes into this long explanation about removing the skin, putting on some kind of almond mix, then putting the skin back on and deep frying the whole mess. Tom points out the obvious time issues, as anyone who ever fried a turkey or waited around for one to be done would know.

    Tom talks to Marcel about the structure of his team, and Marcel freely admits that there is no coordination among the members as to flavors or who was making what. Conversely, Stephen lays out the theme for Tom; Tom then asks Stephen if he’s serving wine. Stephen practically snorts, incredulously, that obviously he is, and Tom, with a cat-ate-the-canary grin, reminds him that they are serving the courses head-to-head. This means that when Stephen’s lobster dish is out, so is Marcel’s, and the wine may work better with the other team’s dish. Stephen’s head looks as though it were going to explode at any minute.

    At the thirty-nine minute mark, things start to go crazy. Ilan goes to the refrigerator to pull out more duck or something, and knocks over a whole bowl of mango that Marcel has diced nicely. Ilan apologizes and offers to dice more, but Marcel just grins and bears it, commenting he will be really pressed for time.

    Meanwhile, Dave is finishing off his tapenade and Tiffani gives it a taste test. She suggests he add some chopped fresh tomato. Then it is suggestion after suggestion, from everyone on his team. Dave becomes tired of being told what to do and having to prove himself to his teammates. But, at least he didn’t cry.

    With ten minuets left to go, the kitchen is buzzing with plating up the scallop dishes. Dave goes all drill sergeant on the servers, reminding them not to put their fingers in the food, not to spill anything, and how to serve the plates. Dave is not happy with the server crew they have for the evening.

    Four Judges and a Whaaa?

    With the clock down to zero, the first set of dishes are ready to go out. The judges are Tom and Padma, of course, the generally annoying Gail Simmons, and everyone’s favorite Queer Eye guy, Ted Allen. Goodness, we love us some Ted. The other sixteen plates are to be served to…the cast of Season 3! Dave is all, “Talk to me in 4 weeks when you have a clue.” an Elia just thinks the whole thing is bizarre. They later report back to the other chefs, none of whom are all that receptive to being judged by a bunch of people they’ve never heard of who have no idea what they are about to be put through.

    The first course out is the scallop course. Dave presents a cold smoked scallop with a triple olive tapenade with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. He was aiming for clean, layered flavors, and it did look pretty yummy. Elia did a duo of scallops, carpaccio and seared, both with a citrus marmalade and endive salad for bitterness. The Season 3 folks seem about split down the middle on whose they liked best, and the judges seem to receive them both well.

    Next up is the lobster course, which pits the two team captains against each other. As Marcel and Stephen walk out, Marcel gets a shout out from a S3 contestant, Hung, whom he knows from Vegas. Hung, you may note, is the guy on the S3 commercials promising to be the villain. What goes on in Vegas to make these folks so nuts? Marcel has prepared a duo of lobster, one topped with melon and tomato and another with vanilla gelee (that is melting in the Florida heat) and cilantro and mango. Marcel comes around with table side service of lobster foam. (Note to self: Implement new dieting technique of thinking “lobster foam” any time the urge for a snack hits.) Stephen’s dish sounds a bit better: lobster poached in a saffron beurre blanc with a cauliflower crème anglaise. The foam service gets some snide remarks, but both dishes are fairly well received. Of course, Hung complains about Stephen’s dish, but that’s to be expected from a friend of Marcel.

    The third course finds the two winners of their respective seasons going head to head. Harold serves spicy duck meatballs with minted gnocchi in a braised duck sauce. Ilan, ever the spaz when it comes to duck, serves an almond stuffed duck breast (not deep fried—that didn’t pan out) with wild rice, white asparagus, and a raw egg yolk over the rice. Ilan says the raw egg yolk thing is Spanish, and I say it’s disgusting right up there with lobster foam. Ted pushes the broken yolk around the rice and comments on how “appetizing” the whole mess looks.

    The final course has Sam up against Tiffani. Sam has been relatively low-key this challenge, as has Tiffany, and it’s probably because they were concentrating on their dishes, because they both looked good. Sam prepared a seared kobe beef steak with the mushroom confit and onion relish. Tiffany made the kobe two ways: she’s got a piece roasted sitting on the parmesan polenta with a parsley sauce, then topped with a slice of carpaccio kobe and a piece of crispy parsley on top. I still wonder how the parsley got to be crispy; is that euphemism for dried parsley or did she fry it? Most people liked both dishes, though some of the Season 3 folks had issue with the carpaccio kobe. I wonder about these dishes, since kobe is supposed to be so wonderful by itself. Back when she had a show on E!, poor ole Anna Nicole got crap asking for A1 for her kobe; I’m not sure that cheesy polenta, parsley sauce, mushroom sauce, or a bunch of fried onions is all that different.

    “I didn’t miss this!”

    After the food service was completed, the eight chefs met the panel for the final Judge’s Table. The chefs, especially the first season guys, are soooo over this scene, it isn’t funny. Not much nervous twitching (well, Dave can’t help himself, really), no one really caring that much, just an overall “let’s get this over with so we can go drink some more wine” feel. Kind of how I’m feeling right now, actually.

    Dave and Elia are called up first. Gail really enjoyed Dave’s tapenade, and, although his dish sounded like it had a lot of flavors going on, it really worked. Tom liked the flavors but found the scallops a bit grainy. That seems to me to be a problem with the supplier, but what the heck do I know about scallops. Overall, they liked Elia’s dish as well; her two scallop presentations were individually very good, but Tom suggests that she should have just picked one to do and not have listed to Marcel on that account.

    Dave and Elia step back to allow Stephen and Marcel to come forward. Marcel is made to account for his use of gelee in the hot sun, but he still thinks it is a good idea. Padma actually liked the lobster foam, or at least said it was one of the best he’s ever done, which really could mean nothing, now that I think about it. Tom said that Marcel is a bit too precise, but that his knife skills were lacking on the chopping. Ilan, surprisingly, admitted that he dropped all of Marcel’s mango on the floor, leaving Marcel with only minutes to chop some more mango. Ilan said he didn’t do it on purpose, but Bravo’s editors wanted us to believe he did. Most everyone liked Stephen’s lobster infused with saffron.

    Harold and Ilan come before the judges next. Generally, they liked Harold’s dish but found it lacking in presentation. Tom said it felt incomplete. Gail didn’t like Ilan’s duck, saying that the breast itself was overcooked but the fat did not render properly and the sherry gastrique was buried under the other flavors. Ilan confessed that he was not happy with his dish.

    Finally, Tiffani and Sam are up before the judges. Ted right away asks Tiffani for the recipe for her dish, and she volunteers to come to his house and make it for him. Everyone loved her dish, saying it came together quite well. Sam said he was going for rustic-simple; Gail thought his flavors were a bit too strong.

    Tom then asks Tiffany and Sam if either of them had tasted the other’s dish, and they had not. Neither of them really were all that concerned with the other team’s work. Stephen and Marcel were the only two who looked at the other side’s dishes. Stephen concluded S1’s were “tight and sexy,” so he was not worried. Marcel said he loved all of his team’s dishes and thinks S2’s food was more solid.

    Winners once again.

    The teams take leave for a while, and the judges talk through each dish. Ted loved Dave’s dish, and Gail loved his tapenade. Tom liked Elia’s dish better. Ted hated Marcel’s “in your face” foam, and Gail and Tom loved Stephen’s take on lobster. Padma mentions someone thought Stephen’s was too heavy, but that probably was Hung’s opinion. Harold’s duck was o.k., not terribly impressive, and the gnocchi were superfluous, but Ilan’s duck was a “what were you thinking?!?!” kind of dish. Finally, most judges agreed that Tiffani’s dish was perfect, although Padma did like Sam’s use of pickling spices.

    The teams are called back in, and Tom announces the winners by course. Elia won the scallops course, Stephen won by a slight edge on the lobster course, Harold was the winner with the duck, and Tiffani won the beef course. With a 3-1 victory, Season 1 won the challenge and the Susan G. Komen foundation gets the $20,000. (I’d have liked to see Bravo give $20,000 to both charities; if Celebrity Fit Club can do it, so can Top Chef.)

    As parting words of advice for the Season 3 cast, Sam advises not to read the blogs, Ilan suggests keeping an open mind, and Marcel gives the most practical advice of all: use an astronomical amount of saffron and stay away from duos. We’ll see what those crazy Season 3 kids actually do next week.

  2. #2
    FORT Fogey ScoutMom's Avatar
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    Re: Top Chef Four Star All Stars Challenge Recap: Smackdown!

    Great recap (since I fell asleep somewhere in the middle). Thanks!

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    Being VIP Yardgnome's Avatar
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    Re: Top Chef Four Star All Stars Challenge Recap: Smackdown!

    Excellent recap, PG!

    I was so happy to see Season 1 back, not so much Season 2. Plus, I'm a little biased because Harold was part of season 1.

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    Re: Top Chef Four Star All Stars Challenge Recap: Smackdown!

    Great job PhoneGrrl. I'm looking forward to more!

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    Dreamer rt1ky's Avatar
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    Re: Top Chef Four Star All Stars Challenge Recap: Smackdown!

    Well done! You've shown a lot of patience by not immediately tuning out Marcel and Ilan everytime they were on screen.

  6. #6
    From the corner of my eye Jewelsy's Avatar
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    Re: Top Chef Four Star All Stars Challenge Recap: Smackdown!

    Excellent recap, PG. Thanks!

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    FORT Newbie akb07's Avatar
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    Re: Top Chef Four Star All Stars Challenge Recap: Smackdown!

    Great recap PG! This show reminded me that season one was much more fun to watch than season 2!

  8. #8
    FORT Regular jckatz's Avatar
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    Re: Top Chef Four Star All Stars Challenge Recap: Smackdown!

    It was sooo nice to see season 2 gets is (CENSORED) handed to them.

    Everyone, but them, new they were casted for their personalities not their skills.

    Lets hope Season 3 is cast for skills, and let nature take care of the personalities.

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