Monday, February 28, 2011

Mike Is A Thief (Y’All), Paula Gets Witchy About Carla’s Greens Plus “Clean Food” Is An Objectionable Phrase (To Me Anyway)

Richard and Mike are sitting around the table. Richard is showing him some little notebook, which has a bunch of food ideas with plans and pictures that Richard has drawn. Is he going to show him his diary too?

They walk into the Top Chef kitchen and there is Paula Deen. The chefs react with universal delight. Carla is THRILLED! Her smile is wider than a Georgia prairie. Actually, I have no idea if Georgia even HAS prairies, but you get the idea.

Paula says down-south (y’all) that food is how they show their love for one another. The Quickfire Challenge is to make Miss Paula something…IN THE DEEP FRYER. I would have been disappointed if that HADN’T been the challenge. They have only THIRTY minutes to do it. That’s the part that kills me. Paula cackles as she says, “If you can eat it, you can fry it (y’all).” Oh, and the winner gets $5000.

Here are all the dishes for the episode, some of which are truly sensational.

Dale says his “flavor spectrum” is very different from Paula’s, but he thinks he can win her over with oysters wrapped with strips of beef, deep-fried, of course.

Mike tells us about the oyster of a chicken. (I agree, that IS the best part.) He says, “People will fry oysters or people will fry chicken, but people aren’t going to fry the chicken oyster.” He says he and Richard talked about a similar dish that morning and there was a picture in Richard’s notebook that stuck in his mind.

Richard is busy frying some mayonnaise, which, of course, he freezes into a hard ball before frying.

Mike looks at everyone’s complicated plates and proclaims (to us) that “Less is more and simple is better.”

Paula comes in wearing a huge smile (y’all). Antonia has forgotten to plate two plates, but Paula loves her fried avocado.

Paula says "Mmmm" about Dale’s dish.

Richard tells Paula about his dish, but she says she’s too busy staring at his hair to hear what he’s saying. She says her hair in the morning looks exactly like his straight-up-in-the-air spike. Nah, I think HE definitely uses more product than she does. After she tastes his dish, she says, “Oh my goodness you were after my heart, weren’tcha?”

Carla knows her fried fish isn’t good.

As Mike describes his chicken oyster dish to Paula (which is served IN an oyster shell), Richard tells us that’s plagiarism and that he’s waiting for Mike to catch his eye and acknowledge that the dish was his idea. Mike never does. (Thieves rarely do.)

Finally, Richard kind of winks at him and Mike laughs back. Mike says that he knows Richard thinks he stole his dish, but that he had seen it done before, and if Richard thought it was such a great idea, HE should have done it himself.

I actually can’t decide how I feel about this. I need to ruminate a bit more. I like an excuse to continue to dislike Mike, but I’m not sure it was the travesty that Richard thinks it was. I’ll get back to you.

Paula’s least favorites are Dale’s (no flavors that wowed her) and Carla’s (her hush puppies were like spitballs).

Her favorite was Antonia’s, but she can’t win because she didn’t plate two servings, so she’s ineligible. Paula also loves Richard’s and Mike’s. Richard says to us that because Mike stole his dish, he (Richard) is basically competing with himself. As if the whole thing had been scripted, Mike is the winner. Richard is po’ed and Mike says HE’S the winner, because he won the 5 G’s.

I really do find it hard to believe that Antonia, for some reason out of nowhere, forgets to plate a second dish and that “coincidentally” Mike and Richard have the next top two dishes AND that Mike wins with a dish he saw that morning in Richard’s notebook. Is this entire situation completely made up or do they weave together MANY hours of footage to make a dramatic story line? I guess the second is more likely, but it does strain the credibility factor a bit.

John Besh is introduced as a guest judge and the Elimination Challenge is to use Gulf seafood at a fundraiser for the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which helps “fishermen bring their businesses back.”

Mike tells us (rather stiltedly and awkwardly), “It’s not just about the food. It’s about giving back and helping out,” (and if he has to steal a few dishes to do it, then fine).

John says the chefs will be getting help from a few “friends”. Oh, a bunch of eliminated chefs come back. I hate when they do this.

They’re each carrying some Gulf seafood and the chefs get to choose what and who they want. Mike gets to choose first because he was the “winner” of the Quickfire. He pick Tiffani as his helper and she has the brown shrimp. He gets to pick who chooses second. He picks “his buddy” Richard, “because he was the inspiration (wink, wink) of my dish today”.

Richard picks Fabio and snapper. Carla picks Tre and red grouper. Tiffany picks the white shrimp and, unfortunately, Marcel, who comes with them. Antonia takes “Spike and his crabs”. Dale gets Angelo and amberjack.

Antonia loves Spike’s idea of adding andouille to her crab cakes. Angelo whispers to Dale that he (Dale) is getting under Richard’s skin.  Richard goes on about how he’s making a brand new dish and not stealing anyone else’s ideas.

Carla is unhappy to learn that Tre grew up in the city “WHAT?!!” she says to us. He doesn’t know about all the southern things she has in mind.

They all go shopping at Restaurant Depot and Whole Foods. They leave their sous chefs and head back to the house.

Antonia tells us that Mikey won by “bad chef etiquette”. Antonia whispers to Carla and Tiffany that Mike got his Quickfire idea from seeing Richard’s book that very morning. Tiffany gasps. No wait, she GAAAASPS!!!

Carla says it’s chef’s law not to steal dishes. “You don’t take another chef’s idea. That’s a no-no.” says Carla. Is it? I dunno.

I think it’s more a loose moral code that he broke. Couldn’t he have taken 12 seconds and said to Richard, would you mind if I presented chicken oysters on an oyster shell? Mike saw and recognized a great idea and went with it. Does that make him a villain and a thief OR a smart chef? Maybe all of the above.

Dale isn’t happy that there are extra people in the kitchen. He says he’s been working over the last six challenges to get them out of there and then they show up again…like bedbugs. Funny and kind of gross too.

Marcel keeps telling Tiffany to use the shrimp heads in her sauce to get more flavor. Finally, she says she’s just concerned about getting out 320 orders and when that’s taken care of she’ll think about it. Dale says she’s the perfect person to deal with Marcel. True. 

They rush around to finish. Wow, the kitchen looks like a war zone.

They arrive at the ballroom where the event is taking place. Dale says this is the hardest challenge because of the amount of people they’re feeding and the short amount of time they have.

Carla is funny. Her cornbread isn’t working out so she says she’s not going to use it. She says (to us), “Redemption (for her lousy Quickfire dish) is slipping away. Fahhhr, fahhhr away. Goodbye redemption.”

Lots of people arrive all at once. The judges arrive and Tom conveniently asks John all about his charity. He says the Greater New Orleans Foundation steps in to help fisherman with utility bills, mortgage payments and whatever they need to survive.

The judges like Mike’s grit crusted shrimp. John: He “hit the nail on the head.” Paula: “Wonderful.” Tom: “The flavors are all there, but it’s really clean.”

Have I ever told you how the hate the word “clean” when applied to food? It’s fine to refer to the kitchen floor as clean (not that mine ever is), but I find that the phrase “clean food” is often used by elitist types, who are among the few that can afford special, organic and non-additive-d food and produce. Of course, that’s how we all should eat as much of the time as we can, but we can’t all afford it all of the time.

Plus shouldn't food always be “clean”? Ugh, I really bristle at that term.

I buy organic when I can, but I also understand the economics of food and how inner city folks (among others) are often forced to eat at fast food joints, because that’s what’s nearby and what they can afford.

Let’s work to change that, but not by calling high-priced, harder-to-find food “clean”, which, by extension, means the other is DIRTY. That just puts a wedge between those that have a more generous food budget and those that don’t.

Sorry about that diatribe, and, honestly I think Tom probably was just using the word “clean” to mean unmuddied flavors, and not necessarily in the Whole Food trendy, organic way. BUT I still HATE using it with food.

The judges approach Richard’s station while he’s fighting with Fabio about getting the judges’ plates ready and his back is turned. The judges concentrate on tasting his dish and we have NO clue what they think. Finally, John says the dish works. Tom likes it and Padma says it’s pretty light. It sounds like Richard didn’t make the earth move, but he didn’t make any big mistakes either.

Ohhh, Jonathan Waxman is there with David Burke. Oh, AND Carmen Gonzalez. It’s a Top Chef Masters reunion. Jonathan likes the grits, Carmen does too, but she’s not sure they belong on the dish.

Dale and Angelo are slowing down. Dale says he’s working in slow-mo and he can’t do anything about it.

Carla says there are so many people and they keep coming and keep coming and keep…well, you get the idea. That’s not her only problem. Paula apologizes to the other judges for being a bitch (SHE said it) about the collard greens. She just “didn’t care for them”. Padma looks confused as she chews. Tom says there’s too much hot sauce on the fish and John says it’s too salty. It’s pretty clear she’s going to be deep-sixed or, at least, on the bottom.

Tiffany is up next. John likes the glaze on her shrimp, but doesn’t taste the shrimp that much. Paula didn’t think the shrimp was sweet enough…or wait, maybe she’s talking about the glaze. Tom thinks the shrimp is overcooked and doesn’t like the glaze. I think Marcel made the glaze for some of the shrimp. Uh-oh. The ladies are not doing well so far. 

Dale realizes AFTER he serves the judges that some of the potatoes in his amberjack stew are undercooked. Padma instantly says she got some undercooked potatoes. DRAT!!!

Tom says there’s “way too much mustard on that crouton” and that’s all you taste. Paula, bless her heart (y’all) likes the stew.

John says “Once you taste that crouton, the whole dish is finished.” Yikes! Is it possible that Angelo hijacked him and smeared extra mustard on? We didn’t see any of the prep. I guess it doesn’t matter HOW it happened, just that it did. 

John likes Antonia’s crabcake and how he can actually taste the crab. Tom thinks the sauce is great.

Paula thinks they all did well, considering how much pressure they were under. John says a few did well, but he was underwhelmed by some.

This isn’t good. I hope Dale’s potatoes aren’t his ticket out.

In the stew room, Carla and Tiffany are worried that they could go home on a Southern food challenge. Padma comes out and wants to see Antonia, Richard and Mike. They are relieved to learn they have the best dishes of the evening.

John likes Richard's pairing of the snapper with the pulled pork.

Paula loves Mike’s shrimp and thinks the grits coating was “genius”. AND “You had me on the potatoes, honey.” Mike guffaws along with Paula.

John says Antonia’s dish exhibited a lot of balance. Paula announces that Richard’s is the winning dish. He wins a 6 night trip to Barbados. He says he’s going to invite Fabio too.

The other chefs get called in, but not before Antonia asks Mike not burp on her or anything else. He really is gross. Yick.

Padma says, “Tiffany, you picked Marcel.” “I PICKED the shrimp” is her retort. Tom cackles. Tiffany says Marcel cooked the shrimp. John says they were overcooked. Paula says the sweetness of the dish from the glaze “threw her and confused the dish”. Oh, so Paula WAS saying the glaze was what she didn’t like.

Tom tells Dale that, among other problems, the potatoes were undercooked. He says he knew and that they were really busy making different batches.

Tom says if Dale knew the dish wasn’t ready, he should have just had the judges wait. Hold on, are they even ALLOWED to do that? THEN Tom would have complained that Dale got more time than his fellow chefs. So I guess it was a lose-lose situation for him. Then Tom mentions the overly-mustarded crouton. John says it was like “flavor warfare”. Ouch!

Carla says she was under terrible pressure. Paula says that the accompanying collards, chow chow and tomatoes didn’t make any sense to her. Carla says she gets it.

Okay, I’m going to hope it’s Tiffany or Carla, but I just don’t know. The judges discuss things while the chefs are back in the stew room. About Dale, Paula says she likes her potatoes done and the fish should have been the star and it wasn’t. Tom whines about the mustard some more. Okay, I get it. There was too much mustard, get over it and just don’t send home my Dale.

Then Tom says Carla had this beautiful grouper and basically made chicken wings out of it. Huh? But I get that he didn’t like it. John hated that it was so masked with hot sauce.

Paula says when she bit into Tiffany’s dish, her mouth wanted one thing and she got another. Dontcha just hate when that happens?

Tom says he asked himself, “Why is all this sweet stuff on the shrimp?” He’s right, that’s an outrage. She SHOULD go home for that, as long as it’s not Dale. I’m worried now.

The chefs go back in and it’s…I’m really worried…and it’s DALE! Oh no, my Dale! This stinks, even if his dish wasn’t the best. Oy! He’s so gracious to the judges and thanks them. His after-he-gets-kicked-off-the-show interview is so sweet. He takes off his glasses and wipes his eyes and just gives a huge sigh. ME TOO! That’s what I’m doing!

Mike is shocked. Antonia is too. Then Dale tells us that his first time on Top Chef, he didn’t like himself very much and he took it out on everyone around him. This time he says he’s grown up and he’s in a really good place.

YES! I can see that, Dale, (even though, I loved you the first time around). I knew you grew tremendously as a person and you continue to be a wonderful chef. <3<3<3

Dale says this was the hardest thing he’s ever done and after this, he can handle anything. Yes, you can! I know you can! He says he feels like he’s Superman.

That’s great that he’s affirmed lots of positive things in his life, but really, this does stink. And it does show me one thing. And that is that the best chef does NOT win Top Chef.

Let me say that again, (maybe I’ll feel better.) The results of these last two weeks really do show that the winner of Top Chef is not the best chef of the group. Maybe early on that might have been true, but not now, when it’s about so much more than cooking ability.

In fact, winning Top Chef says only one thing and one thing only about a chef – that he or she managed to outlast a bunch of other chefs in challenges that often had more to do with luck, stamina and sneakiness than actual culinary skills

Would I feel differently if Dale had won? Perhaps. I still would have thought he was the best chef of the bunch, but I might have been willing to admit that he won based on other factors than his food. Too bad I won’t have that chance.


Emily said...

Mike is a snake! I strongly dislike him now. He shouldn't have messed with my Richard!

I've never had a chicken oyster before. I don't even know what that is.

I was shocked when they sent Dale home. NOT RIGHT! He should have won or at least been in the final three. I liked Dale a lot better this season. I can't believe they kicked him off after all of the challenges he won.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I think it would have been more interesting if Paula didn't do the deep fry challenge. Doesn't Paula ever get tired of being associated with fried fat? Her earlier shows weren't always all about butter and grease. Why not shock everyone and say, "Make me a nice salad - no bacon allowed." I do like that she apologized for not being nice to the contestants. Alton Brown could learn a few things from here after TNFNS. Boy did that season make me hate him!

I don't care who stole what. I'd swoon for deep frid chicken oysters.

I do admit to using the term "clean eating". Do you know there is an entire magazine with that title? I just use the term to mean "unprocessed with no added sugar". I really think organics are overrated though. I am also concerned with the eltims involved in foodieism. "Local and seasonal" unfortunately don't go hand in hand with "accessible and affordable" and the poorest among us are suffering for it.

Sue said...

Yes, Em, he is!

You definitely have had the oyster of a chicken. You just didn't know that it was called that. It's the little nugget of meat that you get when you turn over the whole chicken (breast-side down) and dig out the oval-shaped piece where the thigh meets the body. I definitely should have mentioned that in my post. Sorry!

Yeah, Dale should NOT have gone home. The rest of the season is really going to lack something. I'm sad...and mad. >:-[

Hey Rach,
That is a really good point. It would have been fun to see Paula judge coq au vins or even enchiladas. And, yes, she is completely adorable and seems to be the loveliest person alive.

Mike WAS a snake for stealing Richard's idea of serving the oyster of the chicken in an actual oyster shell (which WAS really clever), BUT Richard was kind of an idiot for showing anyone his extra special ideas. He just wanted to show off and that's what he got! Even though, of course, Mike is slimy.

I have seen that magazine. It's fine except for the title. I couldn't agree with you more about the problem of getting affordable, accessible good-for-you food to everyone, not just the muckety mucks of society.