Sunday, March 6, 2011

Richard Is A Puppy Dog, Padma Is Brutal And Mike Makes Me Cry

Top Chef All-Stars Give Me Your Huddled Masses

We have to relive, unfortunately, Dale going home. Richard feels really bad about Dale leaving. He wanted to go to the end with him.

Antonia talks to her daughter, Xexe. (That’s how it’s spelled in the closed captioning, but she pronounces it Zayzay). Antonia misses her, but wants her to see her mother being passionate about things.

The chefs are in their house. Richard asks Antonia if she can predict what’s coming next, because she has a good nose for these things. She casually asks if Padma is coming to the house. Tiffany says she was thinking the same thing. All of a sudden (as if on cue), Padma appears. Antonia nearly flips out. Even Mike says, “My God!”

Padma tells them to get their chef’s coats on and meet her up on the roof. Gosh, they can see everything from there. She tells them that 18 chefs started and only 5 remain and what an accomplishment. Actually, that’s almost 1 in 4 odds. That’s really not so hard. I don’t think they should feel that great.

Padma tells them they’re taking a fairy to an historical landmark. What does that mean? OH, FERRY!

You think THAT'S bad? Philadelphians (like H) say furry for ferry and vurry for very. New Yorkers never tawk funny.

They learn they’re going to Ellis Island. Wow, they can see it from the roof. What an amazing sight! Mike has never been there. Padma says she’ll meet them there along with their guest judge.

They get on the Miss Freedom Ferry and strangely there are no other people on it. Hey, that’s a real Circle Line Ferry. There is a note for the chefs, which says that their Quickfire Challenge is to prepare a dish BEFORE they dock at Ellis Island, from the things in the snackbar. And they don’t actually know how long they have to “cook”. When they hear the horn, the challenge starts. When they hear it again, the challenge ends.

They rush around and find there’s no cooking equipment or anything else except the hot dog grill. There might be a microwave. Richard grabs an MRE heater thingie out of his knife wallet. Carla is making a salad, because she says it’s different from what everyone else is making.

Tiffany’s idea goes from nachos to popcorn with dried fruit. Mike is making some kind of nasty soup, thickened with torn-up hot dog buns. He says he wouldn’t serve it to his cat.

The horn sounds and they arrive at Ellis Island, where Padma greets them with Dan Barber. Now, if there’s ONE person who wouldn’t appreciate things make from garbage-y packaged stuff, it would be Dan Barber, who probably doesn’t use even a paper clip that he hasn’t raised himself, so this could be tough. 

Richard is first and he reminds us that Dan was his celebrity sous-chef in his Top Chef finale in Puerto Rico. He tells them that he used his own MRE thingie to make a version of banh mi and Dan says, “I wanna go to war with you, bud.”

OH, Tiffany made BOTH the nachos and the popcorn. Double bad, I guess. Padma asks if they had all the fixings for the nachos ready. Tiffany says yeah, so basically she threw together some inferior nachos. I guess it was good that she “made” the popcorn too.

Mike is describing his cheddar cheese sour cream and hot dog bun soup to the judges and Antonia tells us that she finds it funny that everyone is trying to elevate their dishes to make them sound good. She says his sounds disgusting. (It looks that way too.)

Carla’s orange and papaya salad with carrot and rosemary juice doesn’t look half bad (well, maybe only a third bad).

Richard mocks Antonia (to us) for taking the cheese off one sandwich and putting it with the bread from another sandwich and making a grilled cheese. I don’t see the problem.

Dan says that although he’s not used to this type of food on Top Chef (or anywhere else, probably), the chefs did a great job. However, he thinks Tiffany’s dish was a little plain, “too much like a throw away”. He thinks Richard’s dish was a creative way to use a frankfurter.

Dan says Mike’s Cheese Soup could sink the ship. Antonia pipes in (to us) “Mike’s dish was gross and disgusting, so I’m happy that he’s on the bottom.” Ditto.

Dan says (with Richard glaring) that Antonia’s technique of grilling the sandwich on the hot dog cooker was really smart, because it gave the sandwich a pork taste. Dan liked Carla’s orange salad. He said it was refreshing and very innovative to infuse rosemary chips in carrot juice to give the salad a rosemary flavor.

Richard looks like he’s going to pop someone if he doesn’t win. And the winner is Carla!!! Richard is glaring. He tells us that he’s a little bitter.

Padma tells the chefs that this is the last elimination challenge in New York. I wonder where they’re going for the finale. With everything that’s going on everywhere, I’ll feel better if I hear the final episodes are in Vancouver…or Minneapolis. 

Padma says Ellis Island is the symbol of the immigrant experience. For the Elimination Challenge, they have to assemble a dish that reflects their heritage and the journey of their ancestors.

Wait a sec! What if you have a really boring family tree? What if everyone came from Camden? Does this mean that the chefs have to spend a month on and what if heaven forbid…someone is adopted?!! This could get dicey.

Maybe I worry too much. Maybe I’m just mad that Dale won’t be there to cook adobo!@#@!

The next thing Padma tells us is that, “The African American experience was obviously very different from the immigrant who came through Ellis Island.” THEN the camera focuses on Carla and Tiffany in what I think is a kind of uncomfortable way. And they make it almost as if they have to explain themselves. Am I the only one to have a bit of an ick moment?

THEN Carla says, “The fact that some my ancestors came from Africa through the slave trade is just as important to me as someone else coming through Ellis island…We’re still a part of the fabric of America.”  WELL, EXACTLY!!! And she shouldn’t even have had to say that.

I can’t help but feel that this challenge is being framed someway insensitively. Fine to be in a kitchen somewhere and cook something that reflects your heritage, but to be ON Ellis Island where 2 of the contestant’s families had no chance of coming through is a little tricky.  

Oh listen to this, I wasn’t so off base. Top Chef actually hired a genealogist to do their family trees. Carla is thrilled! Padma says they have compiled historical documents and stories about their families.

Antonia says (to us) that this is great, because so much of the food they put out as chefs is about who they are as people.

All of a sudden, a bunch of people come out and it’s the chefs’ family members - Tiffany’s mom, Carla’s husband…Tiffany is so thrilled, she gives the ugly cry. Mike’s mom is there. He says he hasn’t seen her in 6 months. Because of the show? Or because he just hasn’t seen her? We don’t know.

Richard’s wife is there. She’s 5 months pregnant. Was this really the best time for him to leave his family. He says his mother passed away 2 months before? How DID he ever leave? By the by, they had the baby, Embry Lotus. Short for Embryo?

The chefs look at the materials the genealogists have prepared for them with their families. They’re sitting on benches outside of Ellis island. Couldn’t they have given somewhere more comfortable?

Tiffany asks her mom about family dishes. She says okra with tomatoes was a big one. Tiffany at first says no, because Tom doesn’t like okra and then she says that she’s not going to change a family tradition because of that. That’s either a clue that she’ll be gone or a hint that she will thrill Tom by cooking something he didn’t like in a way that he will.

Carla’s sweet husband looks through her stuff with her. She learns that her relatives were the last slaves to be freed in Lebanon, Tennessee. That’s pretty big. And she finds out that her great, great grandfather had his own printing business, which she feels must have given her the wherewithal to start HER own catering business. This is about so much more than cooking.

The interesting thing will be how they relate all this information to their dishes. Isn’t it going to be hard for the judges to judge them solely on the actual quality of their food. Mightn't they be swayed by an affecting life story?

Mike seems to have known a lot of his stuff already. Antonia is one quarter Jewish and three-quarters Italian. Then she learns that she and Mike have common relatives from Sicily. They are distant cousins. He says that’s why they fight so much.

Antonia is very affected when she learns about the strong men in her family who came to America to make a better life for their families.

They have to leave their families and go shop.

Richard says he wishes he were Italian, which would give a strong “backbone” to his cooking. He’s Irish and English, so “whiskey’s nice”.

Carla says, “For this plate of food, the judges are learning more about us as people.”

Back at the house, Mike and Antonia, as cousins, hug it out. They all love the picture of Mike in dance class, IN SPANDEX, when he was a kid. The gals laugh A LOT.

Tiffany says that she and Carla are BFF’s, even if Carla is much older. Huh? Why did she say that? And she is? Carla has such a young spirit.

They discover car keys and a DVD left on the table. They run downstairs, climb into a Toyota Hybrid SUV of some kind (which will obviously be the prize). They put in the DVD and there’s Padma telling them that the car WILL be their prize, Duh.

They arrive at Giando On The Water, where they’ll be cooking and serving. They run around cooking. Tiffany says she’s on a mission to get Tom to like okra.

Richard, funnily enough, finds out he has relatives that were chemists. That IS funny, considering his love of molecular gastronomy.

Mike actually comes out with a sweet thought. He says he had never cooked Italian professionally, but tonight he is and he says that it “all comes from the heart of my grandmother to me.” I get a little teary, but let's remember that I do the same thing when the the Kleiers are threatened with not making their full commissions.

The judges and guests arrive and sit down at the long table set for them outside. Oh, the guests are the family members. That’s cute.

The judges chat with the family. Back in the kitchen, Mike says he feels his grandmother on his shoulder.  As the clock runs out, he tells the other chefs that it was a pleasure working with all of them.

Here are all of the dishes.

Mike serves his dish first – gnocchi with a pork ragu. He begins to tear up a bit as he thanks his mom for being there. Aww. Is he actually growing on me?

Mike’s mom says he started cooking at three and learned from his grandmother.

Tom says that they’ve had a lot of problems with gnocchi on the show. There’s a drama-filled pause and a worried look from Mom. BUT this one is good, says Tom. Antonia’s mother really likes it too. Carla’s husband says it’s like a pillow. He’s dear. Dan says he stays away from gnocchi to start the meal because it’s so heavy, but not this one. Mom even says this one tops Mike’s grandmother’s.

Antonia is next. Everyone loves her veal and risotto. Richard’s wife, Jazmin, says she did a great job. Tom says it’s packed with flavor.

Tiffany comes out with a huge smile that matches her beautiful mother’s. She knows she took a chance with okra. Tom says he always finds it slimy. Second dramatic pause with a worried look from Mom (Tiffany’s). BUT this one is good, says Tom. He doesn’t think it’s a bit slimy. Jazmin says it’s a “great representation of her heritage”.

All the food is so good that Antonia’s mother asks if they’ve ever had a final FIVE. Tom says no.

Would it be awful if I said that Richard’s wife seems kind of tough and that Richard seems a bit cowed by her? He’s particularly worried about cooking for her. After his food is served, she studies her plate very seriously. Tom says, “It’s just…It’s all right.” And there’s a dramatic pause and a look that could kill from Jazmin. Tom explains, “I MEAN, not all right, it’s ALL right,” as in it’s ALL good. There’s a huge smile from Jazmin. Whew! That was close.

Dan asks Matthew, Carla’s husband, how they met. He says on Gail and Padma are particularly taken with that. They were married 8 months after they met.

Back in the kitchen, Carla’s plate isn’t as pretty as she hoped. Carla comes out with Matthew beaming at her. Gosh, he is darling!

Carla says her family is from all over the south. She passes the cheddar biscuits separately from the pork shoulder. Jazmin likes that homey touch. It’s Mike’s mother’s first time eating grits. She likes them.

Matthew, pleading Carla’s case, says: “Carla’s really big on creating food memories. And I think that if you’ve had this food, it attaches to those memories and if you haven’t…I think it would create one.” Sweet. Matthew is really pleased with everything she’s cooked.

Tom says their decision is going to be difficult.

The chefs come out and they get some time to say good bye to their families. The mothers and spouses seem to forget that the camera and mics are on. Mike’s mom says his was the best, easily. Tiffany gives an adorable nose rub to her mom.

Richard looks at his wife with puppy dog eyes, pleading for approval. "Flavors okay?", he asks agonizingly. "Flavors were great," she says approvingly. "The reduction was delicious." Richard: "People say some things about it?" "Yeah, the meat was delicious." Oy, I can’t listen to anymore of this.  

It’s amazing that Richard cooks with the authority that he does. I’m being mean, I guess. This is a huge challenge and determines who goes on to the finale, so, of course, he’s panicked about the reaction. But couldn’t he at least PRETEND to be a bit more confident? We can SEE you, Richard. “So do you think I’m safe?” he asks. “Yeah, I think you’re safe,” wifey says. He goes away happy with that at least.

Back in the stew room, they toast with champagne. Tiffany says her mom said everyone’s food was good. Antonia says (a Debbie-downer side coming out) that no one would have said anything bad. Padma comes out and calls them all in.

Tom says their families were all proud and they should be. Carla was inspired to learn she had family in so many southern states. She tells them she used liquid nitrogen to chill the corn. The judges were amazed.

Dan says to Richard that he “could see his thoughtfulness from start to finish on this plate.” Tom says it all made perfect sense.

The judges thought Antonia was really brave to serve risotto and they all praised it.

Tiffany raises her eyebrows and looks right at Tom. He says, “You did it.” “I did WHAT, CHEF?” “You converted me,” Tom admits. YAY! She screams. He says the okra wasn’t slimy, it was rich. AND he loved hearing Tiffany’s mother talk about food. “Her smile is your smile.”

They all loved Mike’s gnocchi. He tells them that his mother said, “You’re going to make gravy, right? And you’re going to tell them it’s gravy.” Yes, he said. Dan says he elevated a classic humble dish. Tom says he’s not sure he would have had the courage to listen to his mother, but he says, “The last dish I want to eat on earth is my mother’s gravy.”  Mike looks like he’s going to lose it, Padma asks him why.

He says he was really close to his grandmother when she passed away and he never cooked her homestyle Italian cooking because it was too painful and reminded him of what he had lost. Gail says he did his grandmother proud today. Sniff, sniff. Who doesn’t love a good grandmother story?

They all go into the stew room. Tiffany says that what Mike said about his grandmother was so big. Carla says she can understand him missing his grandmother. They go back in.

I’m pretty sure Mike is going to end up with the car. And the winner and the first person in the finale is…Antonia. Okay. That was a little strange, because one of the few bad things the judges said amongst themselves was that perhaps her meat was a bit salty.

Padma says the final round will take place in the Bahamas. I’m relieved.

Then Tom says Mike is safely in the final and he and Antonia can go back to the stew room. Mike is thrilled that he and his cousin are in the finale. They leave the room.

Next Padma, looking very stern, says, “Richard, please pack your knives.” “You’re going to the Bahamas.” 

SERIOUSLY, that was so mean. He was crushed, heartbroken and relieved within a span of 2 seconds. That’s not fair. And you can tell, he’s furious that they did it that way, but also, of course, relieved to be in the finals. He starts to says “why would you do that?” and he quickly takes a breath and leaves the room. That was horrible. He goes out and says. Safe!” and the three of them hug jubilantly.

Tom says we’ve been going back and forth and it’s been a hard decision. Padma says, “Carla…(Carla sighs and braces herself), Tiffany, you’re both going to the Bahamas.” They gasp and scream. Padma says it really was too tough a decision.

They go into the stew room. Carla is thrilled, of course. Mike says he’d hoped there would be four, but he’ll take five.

In the preview, we learn that next time in the finale, we’ll be seeing Padma in a bikini AND the chefs are competing against the winning chefs of their season. Does that mean we’ll be seeing Hosea for the first time ever? Too bad, but Carla should have the easiest time of all of them. But weren’t some of them in the same season? Yeah, Antonia and Richard were both in season 4. How will that work?

This was a pretty good episode, except uncommonly long, just like this post, and the end was slightly pointless. Why have them go through the entire challenge just to send no one home? Plus there seemed to be the most criticism of Carla’s dish, so it wouldn’t have seemed unlikely for her to go home.

It will be interesting to see how they do a finale with 5 chefs. It does lessen each chef's chances of winning, so probably no one was that thrilled they did that. Plus I was looking forward to having fewer chefs to keep track off. Any guesses about who wins? I say not Mike and, probably, not Carla. 


Anonymous said...

I wonder if they will eliminate two people in the Quickfire? I liked the first two seasons where there were only two people cooking in the finale.

I do not think Richard will win. You can see how all season he has been bitter/angry when he's not been in the top, and he ridicules the other contestant's dishes based on nonsense. Like how he made fun of Antonia's sandwich in this challenge; uh, she had limited options! And in the fondue challenge he made fun of Tiffany's chocolate fondue, when he made chocolate and bananas, which they'd asked him not to. I think if he doesn't beat Stephanie in the Quickfire, he's going to completely fall apart and lose again.

I hope it's Antonia. I liked her in her season and like her again now.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Embry? The dumb names people give their kids these days are so common I should stop being shocked.
I did catch the first half of a rerun of this. I admire those chefs for trying what they did with the snack bar stuff. That was a real challenge in some ways. That soup looked utterly horrid though. I am somewhat reminded of the time they had a quickfire a few seasons back where they had to make their dishes from what was in the vending machines.

I love the idea of doing an ancestry meal. I’ve often been tempted to do a meal that reflects my varied heritage. Since I’m mostly Italian with Swiss and Irish mixed in, I imagine a menu that starts with cheese fondue, has gnocchi or chicken saltimbocca for a main course (depending on whether I’m serving vegetarians) and a Baileys cake for dessert.

I was reminded with the Ellis Island thing about a day trip my Advocates for Peace club made in college where we spent some time at Ellis Island. We enjoyed the exhibits, but the one African American student had some interesting perspective and wrote rather eloquently about it in our monthly newsletter.

Sue said...

Hi Amy,
I was thinking the same thing about instantly getting rid of a bunch of people in the Quickfire, but I could not add one more word to my post. The only thing is it will be pretty disheartening for them to get to the Bahamas and to have one, two or three quickly sent home. I suppose, though, that the spurned chefs may be at the final meal.

HOW did you remember that it was Stephanie who beat Richard?

Antonia is very strong this season. Let's see what happens.

I know, I know. I would imagine it's a family name. People can get away with alot when they say that.

THIS Quickfire was actually worse than the vending machine one. Didn't they COOK in that one? (Maybe not.)

I like your heritage meal. I have no exciting ethnic origins. I would concentrate on my American roots. Chicken pies, squeezable margarine on something or other and canned cherry pie filling.

Ellis Island IS amazing. I love the exhibit which shows the actual items that some of the immigrants brought with them - always very few, but very meaningful.

Anonymous said...

Mike may not have cooked Italian professionally, but his new restaurant here in DC (Graffiato)is going to be Italian food -- I assume he'll learn by then, right?

Emily said...

I can't wait for Wednesday! I say Richard or Antonia. Antonia seems so confident!

Richard's wife WAS scary.

Anonymous said...

I have a sick memory for completely useless facts. I need to get on Jeopardy.