Top Chef All-Stars 2/23 Recap: When Things Go South
Angelo’s elimination last week didn’t come just as a surprise to viewers, but the chefs as well, especially Tiffany. Dale is still riding high after cleaning up on both the Quick Fire and Elimination Challenges. I hope the chefs got a day off or so to recover after their all-nighter at Target. The next morning, before heading to the next QF, the chefs hang around in their townhouse. Tiffany has donned a sparkly shirt in order to look better and feel better. Richard is thumbing through his recipe notebooks, making notes on an oyster chicken dish, as he discusses it with Mike. Antonia sits at the table as well, with a look of “WTH is Richard doing?” on her face.
Bitch Stole My Dish
At the QF, the chefs are met by Paula Deen the alleged “Queen of Southern Cooking” and lover of all things fried. It is no surprise that the $5,000 QF challenge will be to create a deep-fried dish in 30 minutes. Dale is excited at the prospect of more money and Antonia wants to stick to traditional and grabs some shrimp. Mike, “inspired” by Richard’s notebook, fries chicken “oysters” (the part where the thigh attaches to the body). Carla breads her fish too early, and knows it’s going to be a hard mess. Tiffany fries some chicken and pickles, like you’d find in any southern fried food place. I haven’t had fried pickles in some time, and my craving kicks in. Time is up, and, in a disastrous error, Antonia failed to plate a second dish for the judges. The chefs prepared these cholesterol number killing foods:
Antonia’s single dish is fried avocado, shrimp, and jalapeno, grilled corn, tomato, and fried herbs.
Dale’s fried steak wrapped oyster, with egg yolk omelet, parsley tips and chives.
Richard’s fried bacon with fried mayonnaise, tomato and cucumber.
Tiffany fried chicken and pickles, honey mustard sauce with cilantro and cumin salad.
Carla’s catfish with Dijon mustard, hushpuppies, coleslaw with mayo, hot sauce and mint.
Mike’s fried chicken oysters with mustard gravy and oyster liquid, served in an oyster shell just like Richard had in his book.
After sampling the plates, Paula decides she wasn’t wowed by Dale’s flavors and Carla made terribly heavy hushpuppies. Had Antonia put up two plates, she would have been far and away the winner, which just crushes Antonia. Richard’s fried mayonnaise was a “out of this world” but Mike’s oyster chicken takes the win. He’s got $5,000 and two pissed off chefs to deal with.
Cooking for a Good Cause
Moving on to the Elimination Challenge, Paula and Padma are joined by John Besh, owner of several New Orleans restaurants, at one of which I had the great displeasure to dine. Besh is in town for a fundraiser to help the Greater New Orleans Foundation; the Foundation has helped out many a fisherman with the effects of the BP oil spill. One on hand, I cannot stand John Besh, but on the other, we’re still feeling the BP spill; more oil washed up on Elmer’s Island last week and 60+ baby dolphins washed up dead along the gulf coast over the past couple of weeks possibly due to the spill. It’s going to be a tough challenge, as there will be 300 people in attendance. To “help” the chefs out, six previously eliminated All-Stars contestants come back: Angelo, Tre, Fabio, Spike, Tiffani, and Marcel. They’re each carrying a tray of one gulf seafood; the fish goes with the sous chef. Mike gets to chose first and nabs Tiffani and her brown shrimp. Richard picks Fabio and his snapper. Carla picks Tre and the red grouper. Tiffany picks the white shrimp and, reluctantly, Marcel. Antonia picks Spike and his crabs. Dale gets Angelo and his amberjack. They’ll have $200 to spend at Restaurant Depot and $500 at Whole Foods. Then they’ll only have 2½ hours to cook in the Top Chef Kitchen and a scant 30 minutes at the site of the fundraiser to get ready.
The chefs and their sous chefs chat for a few minutes about what they’re going to make before heading out to the stores. Antonia and Spike talk about crab cakes while Tiffani schools Mike on how to cook shrimp coated with grits. Angelo tells Dale he’s gotten under Richard’s skin, but Dale isn’t so sure. Richard wants to do snapper, grits and work in pulled pork, which sounds like an odd combination. Marcel tries to throw out strategy pointers to Tiffany, but she’s just going to ignore him as much as possible. Carla tries to get some discussion going on southern food with Tre, but he’s a city boy who gets his greens from cans.
The chefs attack Restaurant Depot for bulk supplies; it seems everyone gets gallons of Crystal hot sauce. Richard learns that Fabio likes him so much because Richard reminds him of his ex-wife. While at Whole Foods, we learn Carla is going to remake her epic failure of a QF fried fish.
After the shopping is done, the sous chefs head off and the chefs get back to the townhouse. Carla is stinging over her QF disaster and Antonia is still kicking herself on not doing two plates. An awkward silence sets in between Richard and Mike, while Antonia fills Carla and Tiffany in on what happened that morning with Richard’s notebooks. They call a violation of “Chef Law”; while it is true that you can’t copywrite a recipe, it just isn’t cool to crib something that you know you just saw that morning. It is just rude.
The next day, the chefs and their sous chefs attack the kitchen for a hard fought 2½ hours. Spike and Antonia are getting along, as are Tiffani and Mike, though it’s possible that Tiffani just cooked all of Mike’s food. Marcel gets on Tiffany’s nerves and tunes him out. It’s a mad dash to get everything on the carts—too many people are in the kitchen and somehow the nitrogen tanks start going off. Miraculously, everyone gets their food out the door.
At the venue, the 30 minutes to get ready are just too short. Angelo reassures Dale, Richard worries about putting the pork on the plate with the fish, and Carla chucks her corn cakes because they aren’t coming out right. The diners and judges arrive and the food begins to flow out.
Mike is up first, serving a grit-crusted gulf shrimp, sour cream and chive potatoes with pork and lobster sauce. The judges take the plate back to their table and love every bite. Richard and Fabio bicker like old married people as the judges arrive. The judges take samples of Richard’s crispy gulf snapper with pulled pork and citrus grits. Besh wondered if the snapper, citrus grits and pulled pork would work, but it did. Tom is also very impressed with the various flavors working together.
Dale has hit full crisis mode on his line, and stops it a while to regroup and get his stew to taste right. He knows he’s in trouble. Tiffany also has her hands full plating the dishes for the diners; Marcel says they ran out of sauce for her shrimp so she instructs him how to make more but doesn’t have time to taste it. Carla is also being slammed by the onslaught of diners and the judges arrive at her station. Carla serves fried grouper with collard greens and chow-chow pico. Paula doesn’t care for Carla’s greens at all and doesn’t think the dish works together. Tom is put off by the hot sauce on the fish and Besh finds the dish too salty.
The judges then visit Tiffany and sample her honey glazed shrimp, grits with jalapeno and cheese and shellfish sauce. Paula tears head off the shrimp, sucks it, and does not like what she finds. Besh liked the sweet shrimp glaze but finds it hides the taste of the shrimp. On the other hand, Tom didn’t like the sauce at all and the shrimp is a little over-cooked. The judges move on to taste Dale’s amberjack stew with andouille sausage and potatoes, with a Creole mustard crouton. Dale knows the potatoes are undercooked, and Padma gets the raw potato. Tom thinks there is way too much Creole mustard on the crouton and it over-powers everything in the dish. Finally, the judges taste Antonia’s blue crab cake, corn, jalapeno and andouille relish with crab broth. Besh likes it a lot because the crab taste comes out even with a strong sauce.
Second Shocking Elimination!
With the benefit concluding, the chefs bid adieu to their sous and head to the stew room. Carla, who continually believes she is expected to shine in a southern food challenge, chastises herself for putting pride, not love into her dish. Padma retrieves Richard, Mike and Antonia from the stew room, while Tiffany and Carla gripe about possibly going home on a southern food challenge. Richard, Mike and Antonia had the favorite dishes of the night, much to their relief. Richard claims he was inspired by the Georgia side of the Gulf of Mexico. Richard needs to purchase a map as soon as possible. Besh really liked Richard’s dish, even the pork. Mike wanted a traditional shrimp and grits (the idea Tiffani gave him in prep). Paula loved it, especially the grit coating on the shrimp. Besh says that Antonia’s dish had a lot of balance and loved the andouille. The one dish that had the best balance was Richard’s so he wins and he gets a six night trip to Barbados and $5,000 for airfare. He’s going to bring Fabio with his family.
Dale, Carla, and Tiffany head to Judges’ Table to hear what they did wrong. Tiffany didn’t pick Marcel, but the shrimp. He cooked them, and Besh points out that they were overcooked, and she knows it’s still her dish even if Marcel cooked them. Paula was thrown by the sweetness of the sauce. As for Dale’s dish Tom says the raw potatoes were a problem. Dale knew that it needed more time, but didn’t think to ask the judges to come back at a later time. Besh says the mustard was too strong on the crouton, which obstructed the amberjack. Carla found it to be an extremely stressful challenge; Tom didn’t understand the overuse of the hot sauce while Paula reiterated that the greens, chow-chow and fish did not work together.
As the judges deliberate, we hear the same comments again. Dale had raw potatoes, the fish got lost, and it was just andouille and mustard, like a hot dog. Carla killed a beautiful fish and turned it into chicken wings and hot sauce Tiffany’s shrimp was too sweet and not what Paula wanted. The bottom three return to have the axe fall on Dale. I feel a bit bad for him, but he did walk away with a good pot of cash.