Thursday, January 20, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Episode Seven Recap

At the beginning of this week's scintillating episode, we are reminded that Antonia is the cursed individual known to all as the "Black Hammer." In Season 4, it was always someone on her team who was eliminated. This season, it's no different. Let's see if the trend continues this week, shall we?

Rather than meet at the TC Kitchen, the recheftestants head over to Le Bernardin where they are greeted by everyone's favorite tall, gaunt, and graying judge, the snarktastic Tony Bourdain. Tony waxes rhapsodic about the restaurant's fish butcher, Justo Thomas, who can portion out 700 - 1000 lbs of fish in a day. The recheftestants are then introduced to the Butcher of Feesh who does a brief demo for them. After the demo, the recheftestants find that their Quickfire Challenge involves portioning a cod and a fluke in ten minutes, a job that Justo can do in eight.

Come on, fish-related challenges for two weeks in a row? Yet no Eric Ripert?

The knives fly. Fabio slices through his fingernail but continues cutting, bleeding all over his fish. And why is that, Fabio?

Thank you!

Despite not being a pussy, when time is called, he's on the bottom along with Carla, Tiffany, and Antonia, the three remaining female chefs in this competition. On the flip side, Dale, Blais, Mike, and Marcel have done a much better job and must now compete for the win by making a dish out of fish trimmings (collars, cheeks, etc.)

Blais tells us he once held the prestigious position of fish chef at McDonald's and I half expect him to whip up a Filet-O-Fish for us, but of course with liquid nitrogen "cheese" and frozen, deep-fried, tartar sauce. Instead he makes cod belly schnitzel, which maybe isn't all that different, considering schnitzel is breaded. Dale is ambitious and creates two dishes, because he grew up eating fish scraps and is familiar with interesting preparations. I tell ya, I'm liking Dale more and more this season. He's really grown up since Season 4, from cocky crotch-grabber to confident chef.

Overall, Bourdain prefers Dale's dish(es), and awards him the win and immunity in the next challenge.

Later, back at the TC Kitchen, the recheftestants find Padma standing with Ludo Lefebvre, the wackadoo Frenchy two-time Top Chef Masters loser and supreme annoyer of Rick Moonen. Padma notes that Ludo's just completed the latest in his series of "pop-up" restaurants, Ludo Bites 5. (Not only is he annoying, but he bites, too?) And what does this have to do with the price of melamine-tainted tea in China? Well, it's time for Restaurant Wars! Whee! (whee.) This season, our recheftestants must create their own Pop-up restaurants at The 24 hours. Welcome to the original 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, without the douchey Scott Conant! But first - picking teams.

Because Dale won the Quickfire, he's automatically a team captain and has the benefit of picking the other team's leader.

Great strategy, actually.

After alternating picks, we end up with Team Winner Dale - Blais, Tre, Fabio, Carla; and Team Loser Marcel - Angelo, Mike, Antonia, and Tiffany. Marcel chose Antonia. On purpose. Let's see where that gets him, shall we? He's already getting a super loser-douchebag edit. Even Mike Isabella is griping about him in his confidentials.

The teams go on to conceptualize restaurant and food. Team Dale decides on something fun and whimsical, a play on the ever-present NY corner bodega. Team Marcel is disorganized. Nobody on the team has any respect for Marcel, so they don't want to do anything his way (which actually seems somewhat methodical and common-sensical). Eventually they end up with a "Mediterranean-inspired" theme and call their restaurant, "Etch." Which sounds a mite too close to "wretch" for me.

How about "Revolt?" No, guess that was used already....

The next day, the recheftestants go to The Foundary where they find that their restaurants and kitchens will both be outdoors. And there's a raging hurricane storming its way up the East Coast and making landfall at Long Island City. Wait, what? That's not the case? Oh darn - I was hoping for a little more interest and excitement than the usual "I hate Marcel" bickering. Honestly, that shit is more tired than his Wolverine hairdo.

With five hours to prep, Marcel's team is, predictably, a battle of egos with nobody wanting to play nice with him. Granted, he's no great communicator, and his "I know best" approach is never going to win him any fans.

Meanwhile, on the other side, Blais is worried that they're a well-oiled machine and are all getting along so well. And that points to failure, how?

Tom comes in for a visit and finds that Team Bodega has their concept well in hand, even if he doesn't quite seem to understand it. On the other side of the courtyard, after telling Tom about his planned "reverse amuse" (which I assumes means it pisses-off the palate) Marcel blows him off claiming lots of work to do. Before Tom leaves, he tells the teams that there will be one winner in this competition who will receive $10K. Motivation! And maybe sabotage and back-stabbing! Fun!

Eventually we see the guests start to arrive, including Food & Wine's Dana Cowin. She and the rest of the diners will be eating at both restaurants. The regular judges - Padma, Tom, Tony, and Ludo - arrive and head to Bodega first. There they are enchanted by Fabio, who is running the front of the house like the swayve European he is. They order two of everything and just about rave over every morsel.

Meanwhile, over at Etch....

Things don't go as well for the judges at Marcel's restaurant. First they find that Tiffany's idea of working the front of the house is schmoozing with the guests in a forced high pitched voice, with lots of fake nails-on-chalkboard laughter. The food is uneven, and there's an on-going meltdown in the kitchen. Bravo then decides to fake us out by showing the judges making faces and gagging noises while the other, non-celebrity-chef guests rave about the food at Etch.

Back at Judges Table, Etch gets called out first. They are the worst team of the night, with only 17 of 76 diners favoring them over Bodega. Immediately upon hearing that, the individual chefs start squabbling and throwing Marcel under the bus. Mike calls him a time bomb, and Angelo opines that the entire evening was a "shit show." Unlike the last two times she ended up on the bottom, Antonia contributed a less-than-stellar dish to the team and was just as likely to get eliminated this week as Tiffany for her egg dish and front-of-house performance or Angelo for his lackluster crudo. Marcel presented mushy monkfish and his "reverse amuse" which was called a "perfect storm of fucking awfulness" and a "thumb in the eye at the end of the meal" by resident wordsmith Bourdain the Magnificent was probably enough to get him eliminated even if he wasn't the Captain of the rapidly sinking ship.

Team Bodega, meanwhile, is worried that perhaps they didn't do as well as they thought. Blais is in a sweat about it, really convincing himself that they lost and maybe it was his fault. Fabio, on the other hand, is pretty sure that they won, and he's right. The judges praise everyone and every thing, and Bourdain raves about Fabio's dessert and his smooth-yet-commanding presence on the floor. Although Dale was the leader of the team, we learn that Blais was the idea man who "elevated" all of the dishes. Not only that, the judges enjoyed the two preparations he presented and gave him the win. Finally! Blais gets a win, and 10K.

Team Loser is brought out for another browbeating. Bourdain tells them that prison breaks are organized with more efficiency and teamwork than Etch. Eventually the Black Hammer comes down on Marcel, whom we knew was the loser of this episode from pretty much the first ten minutes.

Sure. Right.

Next week: cooking for Wise Guys?


the dogs' mother said...

I wonder if any of those wise guys got arrested this morning...

JoyY said...

"It's Hammer time" was perfect...loved your post!

Kristine said...

Agreed. I still have coffee dribbling out of my nose from the "Hammer Time" quote. With the look captured on her face, priceless.

Anonymous said...

You have gotta stop with the "recheftestants," seriously. It's an incredibly annoying word to read. Good blog otherwise, captions are hilarious.

David Dust said...

I'm in 100% agreement w/JoyY and Kristine - "It's Hammer Time" made me howl!

Great job.


Cliff O'Neill said...

Yup. "Hammer Time" wins!

And I had totally forgotten about "Revolt." !!

You really should have a best-worst Restaurant Wars names blog entry! And I'd bet Etch would be a clear shot for #2 worst.