Monday, February 7, 2011

Top Chef – Old World Italian Cooking And No Machine Guns In Sight

Top Chef All Stars - An Offer They Can't Refuse

The biggest weapon is actually Tony's mouth, but more about that later. First, what a fantastic idea for a Quickfire Challenge! Padma, along with Isaac Mizrahi, tell the chefs that they will be cooking dishes and concentrating on presentation ONLY. Isaac will NOT be tasting anything, but instead will be judging with his eyes only. How interesting.

Strangely, he tells the chefs that his new collection is based on a Xerox machine. He doesn’t really explain, so we’re left to ponder that remark. We also learn that Padma is unveiling her new jewelry collection at New York fashion week, which explains the rather huge and gorgeous necklace roped around her neck. This isn’t the first time we’ve about her jewelry.

As the chefs bustle around the kitchen, we learn that:
Carla was a model in Paris and that’s where she began to love food.

Fabio’s inspiration for his dish is a beautiful woman, “walking in the rain trying to…don’t get messed up by the water”. Huh? And he WAS actually speaking English.

One of Antonia’s favorite books is Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree. That’s her inspiration for her dish, but she’s not cooking anything. She’s putting a bunch of junk on a plate and calling it a day.

Angelo loves fashion (really?) and his favorite designer is Roberto Cavalli, which he makes the mistake of telling Isaac to raised eyebrows.

When Fabio sees Angelo’s dish, which looks like shrink-wrapped food leftovers for the compost heap, he says it looks like “a bag of vomit”. Yeah, that too.

Mike is funny. He looks around and sees that “Antonia has a tree with gravel on a plate; Tre has different colored dots on his plate; Angelo has a bag with salt and an egg.” Plus Angelo is painting the word “crocodile” on his work bench to refer to Roberto Cavalli’s use of crocodile skin. Very strange, and he misspelled it too.

Isaac and Padma return. Here are this week’s dishes.

They start with Carla's. Hers is really glorious. 


Isaac nods enthusiastically when he sees it.

Isaac “appreciates” the abstract quality of Tre’s.

Next is Fabio’s. He launches into this very complicated description of his dish being a beautiful woman represented by tuna and the mushroom is the umbrella and so on. Plus there’s creepy looking writing on the plate. Isaac doesn’t say anything, he just squints in miscomprehension.

Dale has a bunch of mishmashed things on a plate. Isaac can’t keep his thoughts to himself. He says, “There’s something unappetizing” about the combination of things on the plate – hearts of palm, onion, cantaloupe.

Isaac actually says it looks like Dale finished cooking and the dish is on the table and THIS is what he left behind. Ouch! Dale tells us he’s a chef and he doesn’t care what a fashion designer thinks.

Isaac is a bit strange when he sees Mike’s dish, which he (Mike) says was inspired by Padma’s yellow dress. Isaac says there’s nothing more delicious than a raw egg yolk, especially (he says, while practically breathing in Padma’s ear) when it doesn’t have salmonella.  

Isaac loves Richard’s liquid nitrogen-ed black chocolate ice cream on the plate with green and white accents of stuff. Actually, to me it looks like the black volcano rocks from Hawaii. Interesting to look at, but would I want to eat that? Nah.

Isaac tells Antonia that The Giving Tree is his favorite book, so he doesn’t immediately laugh her out of the competition. But he does says the scale of her nuts is too big when compared to the tree. Whatev, Antonia is not impressed. She mocks (to us) Fabio’s tuna people and acid rain.

Tiffany and Isaac have a meaningful moment when they agree that dirt is beautiful. Tiffany has made dirt from rye bread crumbs, which is actually kind of clever. Isaac loves the colors of her grapes in the almond gazpacho.

Isaac gets to Angelo and shrugs when he hears his Roberto Cavalli announcement. Isaac HATES the writing on the table (without even addressing that the spelling is wrong). It makes him think of Charles Manson. Oh, that can’t be good.

The losers – Dale, Tre (too simplistic) and Angelo (“thumbs down”) about the painting on the table.

The best – Fabio (REALLY?!!), Carla (“the sheer handcrafting was really exceptional”…I agree) and Richard (Isaac says the base of black with the greens on top was “incredibly beautiful”). The winner is Richard and he wins immunity.

For the Elimination Challenge, they are told they will be cooking in one of New York’s most exclusive restaurants and that you can’t make reservations there and the tables are actually passed down from family members. Okay, I know this IS an Italian challenge from the previews and I KNOW EXACTLY which restaurant they’re talking about.

RAO'S. It's definitely Rao's. I’ll bet my Tommy gun on it.

They draw knives to determine teams. The knives say Frankie No, Junior and Dino the chef.

A bunch of Italian gangster types come into the kitchen. I know exactly who the guy on the end is. That’s the Rao’s guy. I just know it is. YES! It's Frankie “No”!

Frankie (No) Pellegrino is the owner of Rao’s and tells the chefs that it’s been in operation for 114 years and he is third generation and his son Junior is the fourth. Their challenge is to cook an Italian feast for his family and “to have some fun” while they do it. His Italian cohorts are all completely unsmiling. Food is no laughing matter to them.

Padma says they’re to use the family’s history as inspiration. The chefs that got Dino on their knives will prepare the antipasti. Junior is the primi course, which is normally pasta, and Frankie No’s chefs will do the secundi course or usually meat. The chefs will be judged individually on their dishes, so I guess they’re preparing 3 dishes for each course. Padma leaves and the chefs crowd around the bello Italians to find out about their history.

Dale, Mike and Tre talk to Junior. Mike and Frankie say they both got in trouble on Sunday mornings for stealing meatballs. Mike asks if Rao’s puts a modern spin on their dishes. Basically, the answer is no, they try to stay true to the original menu.

Tre’s not worried. He says people call him The Black Italian.

Junior tells them the philosophy of the restaurant is to make people feel comfortable, to make them feel as if they’re at home. (Yeah, since it sounds like the only people they let in ARE family, so of course they feel at home.)

Dino the chef tells Tiffany, Carla and Antonia that the menu is like going to his grandparents’ house.

That may not always be a pleasant association. H(usband) isn’t Italian, but did I ever tell you the story about when he was a kid and he ran kicking and screaming from the house because his grandmother threatened to serve salmon cakes? Presumably, the diners at Rao’s think more highly of their grandmother’s culinary skills.

Frankie No tells Fabio, Angelo and Richard that he loves meatloaf. Then Fabio starts telling him what HE loves. He won’t stop talking and finally Angelo says can we get in here?!! Richie asks about Auntie Ana. (We don’t find out who she is.) Frankie says she was always able to take unnecessary ingredients out of a dish and keep it simple.

They run around shopping. I‘ve liked it when they haven’t showed the shopping parts, which are kind of a waste of time. Oh, I guess they need the 60 second commercial for Whole Foods.

There are three Italian Americans among the chefs. Dale says he never cooks Italian food, but he loves to eat it. Mike is pumped up that he’s making a fresh rigatoni for the first time on Top Chef. Oh, I just made rigatoni. 

  

(Actually, I didn’t MAKE it, I cooked it, but it was good.) 

Tre won an episode of his Top Chef season with risotto. This time he’s making a more non-traditional version. Antonia says (to us) that it doesn’t look that he’s taking a lot of care with the risotto.

Mike says he doesn’t like being a favorite for a challenge. (That’s news to me – that he IS a favorite and that he wouldn’t like it.)

The chefs arrive at Rao’s and Antonia comments on how much she likes the old worldliness of it. Then she says she can practically smell the marinara in the walls. Is that a good thing?

Carla is making minestrone. She doesn’t think it should be that hard.

Antonia is making mussels and she says that she hopes the dish tastes the way she hopes it will.

Tiffany’s polenta burns in the oven. THAT could be a problem.

Padma and the others arrive at the restaurant. The Italian types are thrilled to greet Padma and Lorraine Bracco is there too with Tony and Tom.

Lorraine tells us the first time she went there is when Joe Pesci invited her and Ray Liotta to go when they were “studying” to do Goodfellas.

Two more guests are introduced - Nickie the bartender (for the last 36 years) at Rao’s and Joe, the manager of Rao’s.

Is there any way at all that these guys will think favorably about the cooking tonight compared to what they know from Rao’s regular kitchen? Are they really the most open-minded tasters? Oh, another guy is introduced – Ron - one of the co-owners of Rao’s New York.

The first group of chefs comes out to the dining room to introduce the dishes. Carla says she wanted to give a big bowl of love. Frankie No likes the family style presentation. Tony likes Carla’s soup, but Ron says you could find that soup in Wisconsin.

Tiffany describes the sausage in her polenta dish as “Italian” sausage. Tom comments that only a non-Italian would call it Italian, Italians ASSUME all sausage is Italian. Frankie No loves the touch of the sausage in the polenta. They all love it. Nickie says, “Bless Tiffany’s hands.” Hmmm, she’s making friends of these folks.

We see them serving up the mussels, but did I miss them talking about Antonia’s dish?

Oh, they DO talk about the mussels. Tony says her dish “really confident”. Lorraine says the garlic bread is “very tasty”.”Nice and intense,” says Padma. Tom says this dish reminds him of his grandfather. “It brings you back. It takes you someplace very special.”

Lorraine says Catherine Scorsese made all the food for Goodfellas. She says that a matriarchal presence is really important. We find out that Frankie No was in Goodfellas.

The next group comes out. Mike comes on a bit strong as he describes his rigatoni dish, but I think Lorraine is buying it. Uh-oh, they don’t like Dale’s dish, which he told them he cooks for his girlfriend. 

Tony says “some poor bastard in the witness protection program is eating this now.”

Apparently Dale cooked everything separately and then threw it together at the last minute. I guess that’s wrong…

Tom baits Lorraine and says if this were what your boyfriend cooked for you, you’d probably leave him? She says, “he’s not getting laid tonight.”

They don’t like Tre’s dish either. Lorraine says a traditional risotto is about the rice and that this is not what it’s supposed to be.

Tony: ”Total overkill with the garnish. Risotto is a thing to be featured, not covered over like you’re hiding a body.” Good one, Tony.

The next dish isn’t promising either. Mike’s pasta isn’t cooked enough. Padma says it isn’t even al dente and that it was hard to begin with. Ron says that “Mike’s dish was the least pleasing of the three.”

Junior says he TOLD them they could use dried pasta and he says if you mess that up, you ruin the whole dish. Tony goes a bit overboard, I think, when he says the dishes from these 3 guys look like what you’d find at “a steam table at your worst enemy’s wedding”.

The diners ooh and awe when the meat course is brought out. Manager Joe likes Angelo’s pork, but thought it was bit too busy. Bartender Nickie says, talking kind of gangsterishly out of the side of his mouth, “By the time you get to the pork chop, you’re almost filled with the garnish.”  Tony says it so swimming in sauce that it violates the “respect your ingredients” rule of Italian cooking.

Ron says Richard’s cutlet was the best of the three for him. Tom likes the pork dish. Frankie No likes Fabio’s “Old World” approach to the dish.

Tony: ”Fabio’s polenta wiped away the stain of the previous course.” WHO comes with these lines? Does he prepare a dozen or so zingers and then use them as they apply or does he really think that quickly on his feet or at the table as the case may be?

Frankie No tells everyone how thrilled he was by the dinner.

Back in the stew room, Mike goes on and on about how he cooked the pasta al dente. And how Tiffany’s dish didn’t sound like antipasti to him.

Padma comes out and calls in Antonia, Carla, Fabio and Tiffany. They’re so relieved when they’re told they have the top dishes of the evening that Tiffany starts crying. Lorraine tells her how much they loved her dish.

Tom loved the simplicity of Antonia’s dish. Tony tells Fabio he was in a dark place after the first course and his dish brought him back to the light. And the winner is Antonia. Fabio looks at her with daggers.

All the pasta course chefs get called in. Okay, I predict Mike will go home. Definitely, I’m completely sure.

Tony says if Mike had used some pasta out of the box he wouldn’t be here. Lorraine says it just wasn’t good and that she was sorry.

Dale says he felt rushed at the end. Lorraine says it was bland. She says she doesn’t know how pancetta could be bland but it was.

Tre says risotto should be firm and Tom says it should spread out when it goes on the plate. Tony says the garnishes were too overpowering.

The chefs leave, while the judges discuss things. Tom says the hard thing is that Italian is simple and doesn’t have to be showy. Tony says a light touch is needed for risotto. Lorraine says that Dale’s dish needed cream.

Okay, I still think it’s Mike. If there’s ONE THING that’s worse than a disappointing risotto, it’s a bad pasta dish, so it’ll be Mike going home.

And the loser is…WAIT! Tom says it’s a tough one, because they’re all great chefs. And the loser is…Tre. Hmmm. That’s an interesting outcome. Frankly, I didn’t think he was particuarly great all season, but this time I didn’t think he was the worst.

Why is it that every week the judging shifts somewhat? Sometimes we’re told no matter how great a chef has been in the past, THIS week he or she really screwed up and so bye-bye. But THIS week, it seems as if Tre did second worst, but because he’s been basically coasting along in previous episodes they sent him home.

Anyway, the challenges were really good this week. I think the cooking without tasting was fascinating and many of the chefs really showed their artistry. And the Italian challenge was harder than it looked, because there were so many different people to please. A Godfather in this case would have come in handy. 

6 comments:

Amy said...

I HATED the Quickfire. You can't have a cooking show and not have the taste of the food be judged. If they wanted to do the whole "eat with your eyes first" concept, they should have had Isaac and Padma pick the top 3 most lovely looking dishes, and then taste those and pick a winner. It has to look good, but taste good too, and that would have at least shown who could make a beautiful AND tasty dish.

I thought Mike was going home as well, especially since they showed Tre winning with a risotto dish in his season. I guess they put that in to set us up to guess wrong. I wonder if Tre changed the way he made risotto since then, if the judges were pickier now, or if maybe he screwed it up the last time and ended up making his wrong risotto the right way. I guess if you compare his hard rice to Mike's hard rigatoni, that was a wash, and Mike's sauce was good but Tre covered his risotto with unnecessary garnish.

Tracy said...

I was puzzled by Carla's explanation of her past - being a model and discovering food? I thought you didn't eat when you were a model.

Have you ever had Rao's jarred pasta sauce? I got it once when I needed to make a special meal and didn't have time to make my own sauce. It was not good -- bland and watery. I've wondered about just how good Rao's is ever since I tried it. Since I'll never get a table, I guess I'll just keep wondering.

astheroshe said...

What the Hell was with Issac M? He acted like he was superior to everyone and just could not be bothered! and when Angelo said Cavalli was his fav..Issac's reaction was unprofessional. I use to really like him, but he has lost points with me.

I agree with Amy..pick three pretty ones and then TASTE! How stupid. I guess they were just trying to mix it up.

Anytime they have an Italian challenge they throw LO Brocca in the mix. Are there really no other famous Italians?? I guess she has the whole GOODFELLA/SOPRANOS hx..but still. I am over her.

Poor Tre.."Black Italian" and all...I did like him.

Sue said...

Hi Amy,
Yes and no. That wouldn't have a bad idea to have them taste the top three. Actually, I like that alot. But I really liked the Quickfire, because it was so completely different and I was fascinated to see what the chefs would come up with. Also it was ISAAC MIZRAHI and who really gives a hoot if he thinks something tastes good. Looks good? He's qualified, but tastes good? I'd just as soon have my dry cleaner taste the dishes.

I still think Mike's culinary transgressions were worse than Tre's, but certainly, as a viewer, I preferred Tre going home. Mike is much more interesting to watch.

Tracy,
I know what you mean about Paris and Carla, but I think what she meant was that being in France triggered her love of food. She certainly isn’t the first person that has happened to.

That is sooo interesting about Rao’s sauce and really outrageous, considering what it costs. I’ve seen it and just couldn’t bring myself to buy it because of the price. When I use a jarred sauce, I always buy Barilla (or sometimes Bertolli, if I don’t look at the label carefully).

Hiya Astheroshe,

THAT’S Isaac Mizrahi! That’s his shtick. I thought his reaction about Roberto Cavalli was kind of funny and witchy, just like him.

Yeah, Amy’s idea was excellent. That IS what they should have done, but again, I don’t really care what Isaac says tastes the best. WHAT does HE know? Of course, I’m conveniently forgetting when the Real Housewives judged a Quickfire and it didn’t involve discussing the size of one’s implants, so they were definitely not qualified either.

I didn’t mind Lorraine at the table. It seems pretty clear that she’s very knowledgeable about homestyle Italian food. Actually, she seems pretty knowledgeable about homestyle Italian ANYTHING!

I think Tre will be just fine. He didn't embarrass himself in any way, and he is certainly telegenic! ;-)

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Isaac shouldn’t be so offended by other designers. Isn’t he the guy that went bankrupt and ended up selling his line at Target?

Two fans of The Dangerously Co-Dependent Tree? I should send them my alternate version of it!

I’d kick and scream too if someone tried to feed me salmon cakes. I once accidentally ate a piece of salmon cake when they were being offered as free samples at Whole Foods. I consider those few seconds of being forced to chew and swallow it (because there was no polite way of spitting it out) to be one of the top 10 most unpleasant in my life.
I’ve never been to Rao’s. I’ve often wondered if their super-expensive jars of pasta sauce that they sell at Stew Leonards are worth it.

I think when it comes to judging, they have no set rules. They throw off whoever they want to throw off all week. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

surendra said...

Lovely and colorful Italian food. my favorite food of Italian recipe . Great idea and mind blowing this post....


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