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All We Can Eat
Posted at 09:15 AM ET, 03/17/2011

Top Chef All Stars Episode 14: And then there were 3

Oh my dear, sweet readers, we’re in the home stretch, aren’t we? Are you happy with Richard, Mike, Tiffany and Antonia as our final four? Anyone else you’d rather see in there? I’ll confess: I’d rather have Carla in the final four than Tiffany. But a little birdie told me something about the finale that I won’t share here, at the top of this recap. I’ll save it for the end. And, if you don’t wanna know, just don’t read the “Next week” section of this post at the very end.

The show opens with the chefs doing their fake rehash of the just-eliminated chef’s departure. Then, Blais, Mike, Tiffany and Antonia stroll on into the Top Chef kitchen at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas where they are joined by Padma and Venezuelan chef and Miami restaurateur Lorena Garcia, who is there because she has a show on NBC, which is Bravo’s parent company. Or, because Bravo thinks Latin cuisine is also Bahamian? I don’t know. This week’s Quickfire is all about consistency and precision, says Padma, because a great chef makes a great dish the same way every time. Their challenge? Make 100 identical dishes in one hour. Which, um, really isn’t about consistency unless you’re doing 100 plates a night for 100 nights in a row, right?

The chefs pair up: Richard and Mike work together, which leaves Antonia to work with Tiffany.

Blais and Mike make a fresh pasta bolognese. Antonia and Tiffany do sliced beef tenderloin with chimichurri. They have to plate it on 100 separate numbered plates (which eventually get served to some tourists in the dining room), while Padma and Lorena taste both of them and critique their plating style. Lorena jabbers on about something, but I’m not really paying attention because she calls herself a restauraNteur, so she loses all credibility in my book. (Does that make me a writner? An anunt? A daunghter? A bintch? Gah.)

After some more incoherent blabbity-blah, she announces the winners: Antonia and Tiffany. Booooooooooooo!! Making fresh pasta for 100 and cooking it perfectly in one hour is much more difficult than roasting a beef tenderloin and topping it with a chunky green sauce that takes, literally, 15 seconds to make in a blender.

Up next is the Elimination Challenge, where the cheftestants have to cook with conch, a notoriously difficult mollusk to work with. They’re told to get some rest and we’ll see them the next day. Gah. Remember when the cheftestants would be awakened in the middle of the night for some challenges? Why aren’t they torturing them more? Why am I getting so worked up about this episode? We hear even more blah blah blah-ing about how they’re going to cook for a group of people from the Nassau yacht club for their 80th anniversary (which is an odd milestone to commemorate, but whatever), and then we find out the senior member of the yacht club who will host the dinner is called the Commodore. Sometimes, Bravo, you make this too EASY. (See what I did just then? *snort*)

The next day, after we have to watch a disgusting segment of the chefs brushing their teeth and doing their morning grooming, they board a boat where they SAIL ON (a gimme, really) to an island to cook for their challenge. Of course, Padma shows up in a bikini, and it’s clear why her baby daddy is mad they’re STILL not together anymore. Mike’s eyes are sproinging out of their sockets.

As the boat approaches the shore, the chefs jump into the water and swim-walk up to the island’s beach to evaluate their ingredients for the challenge. They find crates of fresh spiny lobster, snapper, grouper, and learn they have to snorkel for their conch. We then move to a montage of them snorkeling and diving for conch that look like they were probably placed there by Pappy’s Fish ’N’ Tackle just a few minutes before. Blais and Tiff struggle on their dives, while Antonia navigates the water with ease. They have an open-fire grill on which to cook. Blais says, “No liquid nitrogen, so it’s like survivalist cooking” which just cracks me up. Only you, Richard. Only you.

As we watch them steam and try to hammer out the conch from the shell, they’re all still in their bathing suits and I’m really missing Tre right about now. Blais is making sweet potato “noodles” and as someone who has celiac disease, I am loving this idea and need to try and make that this weekend. Incidentally, the music the editors chose to lay down during this prepping and cooking segment is something straight out of John Travolta’s “Saturday Night Fever” follow-up, “Stayin’ Alive.” Like, I fully expected Finola Hughes to drop from one of the giant palm trees, doing some high-kick splits in a unitard and braided headband across her forehead.

Padma, Tom, Gail, and Lorena arrive with the Commodore and his friends, and they sit down to eat. Padma is sporting what I think is her 9,341,568th one-shouldered outfit of the season. The chefs present their food, one-by-one.

Blais serves a sweet potato linguine with conch and spiny lobster; a riff on the linguine and clams of his Long Island childhood. Now, let me just say this: Richard and I actually know one another. In my kitchen right now is an immersion circulator that used to be his. We have a number of mutual friends. I have an enormous amount of respect for Blais, professionally, but seeing this dish? I want to kiss him, and kiss him hard. It looks soooooo delicious. Lorena claims her lobster is undercooked. But the kicker is that Tom and Lorena thought Richard actually made pasta, whereas Gail knew it was sweet potato designed to act and taste like pasta.

Antonia is up next and serves seared red snapper with conch tartare and lobster nage, topped with some diced vegetables. Gail takes one bite and needs to chug her water. The Bahamians like it because it’s spicy. Tom doesn’t taste the conch and everyone’s fish is inconsistently cooked.

Tiffany serves a conch and coconut chowder with sweet potatoes, and conch ceviche. The soup was hot when plated, but by the time it got to the table it was cold, so everyone thinks it’s cold on purpose. Oy vey. Tom says it’s a nice dish, but that the flavors weren’t developed enough.

Mike is the last to serve his dish: a banana leaf-steamed grouper with braised savory pineapple and conch vinaigrette... which sounds amaaaaaazeballs to me. Tom thinks it’s too rich, and Gail loves the pineapple.

The dinner is over, and the chefs sit in the hotel lobby stew room, then go before Judges’ Table all on their own. It’s late, they all look tired, and the sadist in me wants there to be a big twist: like at Judges’ Table, Tom makes them work the NIGHT SHIFT in the hotel restaurant. Instead, it’s business as usual, but we learn that one chef will be eliminated tonight, and three will go to the finals.

Tom was pleased that even though they cooked on a beach, there was not one grain of sand in any of the dishes.

Lorena thought there was a nice balance between the sweet and spice in Antonia’s dish, and Tom wanted more conch flavor. Padma thought Antonia’s was the most predictable. Antonia doesn’t think it’s a bad thing, and instead thinks chefs should cook what they do best.

Tom thought Richard’s dish was a “nice little play” and Gail thought it “worked.” Lorena said his conch was cooked to perfection, but that the lobster was undercooked.

Lorena thought Tiffany’s was cooked perfectly. Tom thought it was too sweet. Gail loved the flavors, but asked the temperature question: was it supposed to have been hot? Tiff confessed the wind cooled off all her dishes in between plating and serving.

Tom criticizes Mike’s use of butter, which isn’t tropical, and no one seems to be fawning over his dish, but neither are they saying it was the worst thing ever.

The judges deliberate, and it’s unclear who’s on top, and who’s going home. They loved how Richard connected his dish from his hometown (Long Island) to where he is now, and that it was well executed. As for Antonia, they thought the sauce was good, but the conch was the least impactful of all the dishes, according to Tom. The judges talk about Tiff’s temperature challenges, and they liked Mike’s dish, even though it was a little too greasy. Tom thought everything on the plate worked.

And, the winner is: Mike Isabella. Yay for Washington, DC!

So who’s going home? It’s Tiffany. And she’s heart-broken. I don’t think America will weep with her, but it is a bummer to see someone so upset about leaving.

Next week: Antonia. Richard. Mikey. Cooking for Michelle Bernstein, Wolfgang Puck, and Masaharu Morimoto. There’s swearing, a jammed pressure cooker, and rancid food. And, close your eyes if you don’t want to read this next part, but my sources tell me that next week, Another cheftestant gets eliminated, and it’s a final two cooking the following week -- and, they’re asked to prepare the meal of their lives to determine the winner. So, if you’re still with me reading this, who do you think the final two are? Mike and Richard? Mike and Antonia? Richard and Antonia? Do tell.

By Carol Blymire  |  09:15 AM ET, 03/17/2011

Categories:  Television | Tags:  Carol Blymire, Top Chef, television

 
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