Top Chef: All-Stars Power Rankings
Top Chef All Stars Recap
By Jason Lee
December 23, 2010
OUT IN FRONT
There can be little doubt that, at this point, only two chefs have looked like front runners for the finale. Granted, if the past seasons (even the past episodes) have taught us anything, holding onto a spot in the finale is like holding onto a stick of warm butter while jogging (you should try it sometime). For now, at least, Angelo and Richard are solidly in front.
ON THEIR TAIL WITH A RED TURTLE SHELL
Dale Talde utterly dominated the WD-50 challenge -- there was no question who was going to win and who deserved to win. Couple this with a QF team win in Episode 1 and I think Dale’s gotta be happy with where he is. Antonia’s new American cuisine seems to be working well with the judges. Spike has two team QF wins, but little to speak of as an individual chef. Will we see him fall to one of the lower tiers this episode?
3) Dale Talde
HIT A BANANA PEEL, BUT NOT OUT OF THE RACE
I still have Tiffani pegged for the finale, but she barely escaped elimination last week with her “parody” of a Wylie Dufresne dish. Marcel and Tiffany haven’t really stood out this season thus far (one team EC win for Marcel and nothing for Tiffany), but based on their performances in past seasons, I still think they could surprise.
BADLY IN NEED OF A LIGHTNING BOLT
A past cheftestant noted that sometimes the middle of the pack is the hardest position to be in - you get no feedback either way; such is the dilemma facing Carla and Mike. Tre got major props last week for his swordfish dish at Marea, but could have easily been sent home instead of Jen for his over-reduced sauce in episode two. Jamie looked great in episode 1, but added pointless smoke in her WD-50 dish last week. Finally, we have Casey, who has shown little of the panache that took her to the finale in Season 3, and Fabio, who has narrowly avoided elimination bythismuch in two of the past three episodes.
Welcome back loyal readers to So You Thought You Could Cook But Then Tom Colicchio Said Your Food Sucks, the show where good chefs go to die while mediocre chefs stumble on forward until someone takes mercy on their wide-eyed, dumbstruck “oh-wow-am-I-really-the-sixth-best-chef-this-season?” astonishment and cuts them loose. My name is Jason (Anthony) Bourdain and I’ll be your acidic, acerbic tour guide this episode.
(Incidentally, if anyone hasn’t guessed already, I don’t just carry a chip on my shoulder as a result of the wrong-headed, completely undeserved elimination of my beloved Jen, I carry a boulder. Get ready cheftestants; if you though Bourdain was bad, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet).
We rejoin the “all-stars” pubbing it up at a bar. Casey is still expressing surprise that Dale was sent home, widening her eyes and raising the pitch of her voice ever-so-slightly. Tiffani is determined not to be in the bottom again - I sentiment I definitely share. With Jen gone, Tiffani must now carry the “strong women chef” mantle for the show. Last week’s winner, Dale Talde, isn’t resting on his laurels, rightfully noting that any chef can get sent home in any challenge.
Meanwhile, Mike Isabella cites Angelo as his biggest competition. Sadly, I don’t disagree with his sentiment. Angelo is really showing that he’s a force to be reckoned with this season - though I wonder if this is largely due to the fact that he just finished Top Chef DC and is already acclimated to cooking with random time and arbitrary food limitations.
Speaking of limitations-for-the-sake-of-limitations, we’re off to our first Quickfire Challenge! In a bizarrely timed episode, the cheftestants will be making…stuffing? For some reason, I associate stuffing with Thanksgiving. Is that wrong? Do people also associate stuffing with Christmas? I dunno, seems weird to me.
But back to those limitations: the cheftestants will be making the best stuffing they possibly can, but will not be allowed to use any knives or cooking tools. Ew. As a self-professed neat freak (believe me, you should see my kitchen: it’s spotless), I can already tell that I’m not going to like this Quickfire.
Yep, I’m right. The chefs bolt en masse towards the refrigerators - it reminds me of a mob of teen girls at a Jonas Brothers concert. Or 40-year-old moms on Black Friday at 5:00 a.m.
And then, the disgusting part begins. Fabio starts grating cheese on some shelving (which, I’m sure, he didn’t wash). Carla opens up an onion by smashing it with the back of a skillet. Jaime is using a piece of pork as a spoon to stir her dish. It’s . . . pretty gross.
Usually, I understand the point of cooking limitations on Top Chef challenges - prove you can adapt, prove you know how to change a dish mid-stride, etc. But this? I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure that almost all chefs in America have knives. And if they don’t, then they shouldn’t be grating cheese on a shelf so that they can serve their patrons.
Anyhow, Tony Montuano is the guest judge (also known as the sixth place loser on Top Chef: Masters season 2) and he picks Tiffani, Casey and Carla on the bottom of the Quickfire. Tiffani had made her mom’s soy/maple stuffing too sweet (“my mom’s gonna kill me,” she laments afterwards), Casey’s stuffing had looked more like a plated appetizer than stuffing, and Carla had obliviously integrated black quinoa into her dish before realizing that it wouldn’t be done in 45 minutes (she had described it as “un-done-te,” a play on en dente, to Chef Montuano).
On top is Tre, with a spicy but well-balanced stuffing, and Marcel, who had actually stuffed his stuffing in a squab. To no one’s surprise, Tre is named the chef that showed the most resourcefulness and best flavors, winning the Christmas-stuffing Quickfire and immunity.
In yet another bizarrely-timed challenge, the Elimination Challenge will take place at the US Open??? Okay, so I realize that these things are taped in advance, but usually Top Chef is a little bit better about helping viewers overlook this (i.e. filming a 4th of July episode in advance so that it airs right before the 4th of July), but I guess they’ve lost their edge. The US Open (with Nadal’s memorable win over the Djoker to complete his career Grand Slam) took place back in August. This is simply sloppy work from the Top Chef producers. I think it’s time for them to pack their knives…
But, of course, Padma will have nothing of the sort. The cheftestants each draw tennis ball cans (weird) and are separated into two camps: those with yellow tennis balls and those with orange tennis balls. Are these colors meant to signify anything? If they do, it’s over my head.
The US Open challenge will pit chefs from each team against each other, head-to-head. The first team to get four wins (15 --> 30 --> 40 --> game) wins the challenge; the losing team will see two of their chefs eliminated.
At this point, the Top Chef producers focus all of their attention on Team Yellow, which means that (A) either they will be the team creating all of the drama or (B) they’ll be the team that loses. Or both.
Within minutes, we know that (A) will be taking place. Angelo and Spike hatch a devious (?) plan in terms of how they should order their tennis cheftestant gladiators. Meanwhile, the other team takes the inexplicable route of just focusing on their dishes.
The chefs continue strategizing back at the loft, whereupon Tre reveals that he used to be fat. If you watched the Night at the Museum episode, you also know that he sleeps nude. The idea of a fat, nude chef in bed is simply one of the least appetizing things that Top Chef has ever put on their show.
Finally, the cooking gets underway back in the kitchen. Angelo is creating drama (big surprise) because the mackerel that he bought the day before look slimy and gross (kind of like his conscience, if you ask me) and so he takes half of Tiffany’s tuna. Fabio is making gnocchi…which seems odd in a challenge where they have to “feed” top tennis athletes. Jamie is worried about her dried chickpeas (they’re not getting soft enough, quick enough) and…
Carla has cut her finger. Half of her fingernail is gone and her finger is bleeding profusely. In the past couple of episodes, Top Chef has all of a sudden become Red Asphalt.
Does Carla run to the doctor like a whiney little baby? Nope. Despite the fact that the medics on the show want her to go to the hospital, she tapes it up and soldiers on. Jamie keeps her focus on her not-soft chickpeas.
The chefs take to Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open…aaaaaaand? Okay, where are the tennis people? There’s no Nadal, no Federer, no Murray, no Williams Sisters. What’s the point of this challenge? Apparently, the cheftestants will be cooking in front of tennis fans (underwhelming) and will NOT be serving tennis players, but instead will be serving the big, fat judges.
So, ummm, what was the point of having this at the US Open, again?
Okay, okay, so they’ll be serving ONE pro tennis player: Taylor Dent. What? You’ve never heard of the guy? I’m not surprised. Even in the tennis community, Taylor Dent is usually better known as “that guy that used to be fat.”
Welps, he’s gonna get all he can eat in a few minutes. Padma calls for Team Yellow and Team Orange to send out their first dish. Fabio is up first for Team Orange. Team Drama (ooops, I mean, Team Yellow) quickly congregate and based on their strategy from the night before, they want to send out their weakest dish (to “waste” the other side’s strongest dish). This would be, according to Spike, Jamie’s dish. After all, her chickpeas are still as hard as the tennis balls that would be flying around if they were cooking at the US Open (oh wait, they ARE at the US Open . . . .).
Jamie (smartly, I think) refuses to go out first because she wants her chickpeas to have more time to cook, so Casey steps out. Casey serves up a grilled pork tenderloin with farro while Fabio has whole wheat gnocchi. Taylor, Padma and Tom all go with Fabio and he wins the point for his team.
At this point, Fabio loses it. Granted, he’s been on the verge of elimination for the past couple of episodes, but ass-like behavior is ass-like behavior. He whoops, he falls to the ground, he screams, he cries. I start to wonder whether or not he’d just won an Oscar for Life Is Beautiful.
Team Orange was supposed to send Marcel out next, but Dale’s dumplings are dying and he needs to serve them up. Marcel (big surprise) gets pissy.
Team Drama needs to figure out who to send up; Angelo unilaterally decides to dump their strategy. He wants some freakin’ momentum. He sends Tiffani out there. Tiffani serves up black bass sashimi with avocado, while Dale presents a dumpling with spicy carrot. Gail votes for Tiffani, Padma goes with Dale, Tom goes with Tiffani and so does Taylor. The score is now 15-15.
Next, Angelo from Team Drama takes on Marcel from Team Orange. Angelo has a smoked fish with yuzu gelee while Marcel has a cauliflower couscous with pomegranate seeds. Tom, Padma and Gail all vote for Angelo and Team Drama takes a 30-15 lead.
Jamie has hidden herself in a corner. She doesn’t want to serve her dish.
Meanwhile, Angelo is starting to panic and starts messing with everyone’s dishes on his team. Can we say “power hungry”?
It’s Tiffany with a spiced tuna with fennel peppercorns versus Antonia with a diver sea scallop and lentils. Tony Montuano likes Tiffany, Gail like Antonia, Taylor likes Antonia and Padma likes Tiffany. The deciding vote is Tom’s and because of her full, all-around flavor, he goes with Antonia. The score is tied 30-30.
Spike from Team Drama butts heads with Richard from Team Orange. Spike is worried because he knows that Richard is a damn good chef. So is Angelo. Consequently, Angelo adds some of his yuzu gelee at the bottom of Spike’s dish to “bring out the flavors.” Ughh, I hate Angelo. So does Spike. He calls him a “car salesman” and states that “you can’t trust him.” I wish he’d made that realization before letting Angelo stick his grubby paws into his soup.
Anyhow, Spike presents a tamarind soup against Richard’s thai bouleh with herbs and yogurt. Tom says that both proteins suck, but says that Spike’s shrimp is worse than Richard’s lamb. Padma sides with Richard as well. Tony likes Spike’s soup, but can’t get over the shrimp. Richard wins. Match point: Team Orange.
There are only two chefs left on Team Drama that can go: Jamie and Tre. Knowing that they need a win to stay in the game, Team Drama puts Tre up against Carla. Tre is a little flustered, and allows Angelo to cook his fish, which is promptly burned.
Carla serves an African groundnut soup with based sweet beans, while Tre as a coconut (burned) salmon with parsnip puree. Taylor loves the (burned) salmon and picks Tre. Padma, Gail and Tom loves Carla. She wins and so does her team.
Jamie, who didn’t have to put up a dish, breathes a sigh of relief.
Back in the Stew Room, Spike is pissed off that Jamie (with clearly the worst dish) didn’t stick to the strategy and go first. Padma interrupts the discussion to call up Fabio, Carla, Richard and Antonia - the four chefs that won points for Team Orange.
Richard proudly proclaims that his team’s strategy was to have no strategy (hey, it worked for certain Presidential candidates). Tony compliments Carla’s soup as “very homey, but elevated…a real surprise.” Gail loved the layers of flavors in Antonia’s dish, Tom loved the idea of Richard’s dish, and Tony calls Fabio’s whole-wheat gnocchi “a miracle.”
My guess is that Fabio wins this challenge; after all, he took what should have been the least-healthy dish (gnocchi) and turned it into a real winner. But in a big surprise, Carla’s soup is named the winner. Good for her. I’m happy to see her on top again.
Meanwhile, the four chefs on Team Drama that lost their points are called out: Casey, Tre, Tiffany and Spike. Back in the Stew Room, Richard makes a snide comment about Jamie having “a story to tell” - a clear reference to the fact that she didn’t serve a dish. Jamie rightly says, “I take offense at that comment; you mean cause I didn’t cook?” to which, Richard responds “yeah.”
Of course, Richard is overlooking the fact that Mike Isabella on his team didn’t present a dish either…but whatever.
Back in front of the firing squad, Spike states that their team’s strategy was to put out the worst dish first.
“Wait a minute, you thought that CASEY'S dish was the worst on your team?” Gail exclaims incredulously. Spike responds that Jamie’s dish was the worst but she refused to serve it. Tom annoyingly notes that the strategy backfired on them, as if it wasn’t already obvious to everyone.
As for Spike’s dish, he tries to put the blame where it belongs: in Angelo’s hands. He notes that Angelo took over his dish and stuck in elements that he hadn’t intended. Tom, again, notes that his shrimp were too bland, and Tony says that while Spike’ soup was good, there were too many hands in the dish (duh, Tony).
Tom invites Tiffany to blame Angelo for sabotage, but she takes the high road, saying that they are each responsible for their own dish. Gail then cuts Tiffany down from the high road, saying that the salad was “flaccid” and that “something on the spice rub didn’t sit well with me.” Tom compares her dish to drinking wine with no finish, saying it “dropped off.”
Tre, has immunity and can’t be eliminated, so the judges don’t deal with him too much. They do pointedly note, however, that the salmon was oily and overcooked (and who overcooked it?) and that his dish was absolutely their least favorite. If it weren’t for immunity, Tre would be going home.
Padma criticizes Casey’s dish as being “too heavy,” and Tony notes that it was largely due to perception: if there had been more farro and less pork, it might have seemed lighter. Casey completely disagrees. Tom notes that she was simply beaten by a better dish.
The judges discuss amongst themselves who should be sent home. Padma notes that Tre is lucky he had immunity, Tony says that Spike needed salt and not yuzu, Padma doesn’t think Casey understands the problems they had with the dish (though Tom thinks Casey understands but simply doesn’t agree), and Gail wanted more flavor from Tiffany’s dish.
My sense is that Spike goes home. He under-seasoned his shrimp and didn’t stand up to Angelo the way that a Top Chef should.
The four chefs are lined back up in front of the judges. Casey had a great dish but ended up being beaten by a better chef, Tre gave the main part of his dish to someone else, Spike had under-seasoned shrimp and Tiffany had a bland piece of tuna.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand Spike’s going home.
“I got screwed. I’m totally bummed for leaving early; there are others here that are worse than me,” Spike says disconsolately. I don’t disagree. “I think that some people on the team had a strategy of not serving their food, while others had a strategy of messing up other people’s food.” Again, I’m not sure I disagree.
It’s just too bad that those two individuals weren’t up for elimination. They certainly should have been.