Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Top Chef All Stars - Beached and Battered

Top Chef All-Stars Island Sun

Still in the Bahamas, the four remaining chefs get up early to head to the next challenge. Richard is wearing the strangest hat I’ve ever seen. It’s a woolen knit cap with a visor and it’s purple! Plus there’s something white sticking out of it, which looks weird. A label? A bandage? Maybe it’s a secret drawing of a recipe that’s he’s trying to keep hidden from Mike.
The chefs get to the kitchen of the Bahamian Club at the Atlantis and there’s Padma with Lorena (It’s all about the love) Garcia, the judge from America’s Next Great Restaurant. (Shall we simply call her Lorena IAATL?)

Padma tells the chefs that the Quickfire is about consistency and precision. “A great chef makes (a) dish exactly the same EVERY time,” she says. The chefs nod.

In teams of two (so that makes 2 teams), they have to make 100 identical servings of their dish and Padma and Lorena (IAATL) Garcia will pick random plates and then compare them for consistency. Shouldn’t the chefs’ dishes be consistent anyway… without making such a big deal of it? And how will they choose ONE winner? Oh, the winning team splits $5000. They have one hour. THAT would be the major roadblock to me.

Mike says the guys are the favored ones. Obviously, they’ll lose.

Mike is making pasta. Richard is making a Bolognese. The gals are making a beef salad. Just setting out 100 plates takes a LONG time.

Richard patronizingly describes the other team’s dish as “slice and serve”. The guys are SO losing.

Padma and Lorena (IAATL) come back into the kitchen and pick 2 numbered plates from each team.

Padma says their dishes look consistent. This is slightly dumb.

Lorena (IAATL) asks how the guys portioned their dishes. WAIT FOR MIKE’S ANSWER. IT’S A GOOD ONE! He says…HE SAYS (this is important) that they portioned the pasta and sauce with…READY?!!...A SERVING SPOON!!! The guys look like they’re holding back smirks. I, however, don’t have to hold back mine.

What the hooey difference does it make HOW they served the friggin’ thing? If they had been making cookies, then, yes, an ice cream scoop, for example, is a good thing to use to get uniform-sized cookies. But the fact that they used a simple spoon - and Lorena (IAATL) acts as if, yes, that was exactly the right tool to use - is laughable!!!

They move on to Antonia and Tiffany. (I’d bet MY serving spoon that they will be the winners.) Padma says, “These PLATES seem to look very similar…which is good.” Yes, I would say that’s good, since that’s what the challenge was! Is it me or is this sounding really inane?

Obviously, no matter how many dishes a chef is making, they should look the same. They’re acting as if this is a novel concept.

Lorena likes that the slices of meat are the same size. Well, if they weren’t, the plates wouldn’t look alike, would they?

Mike remarks to us that he could have done the gals’ dish by himself, while he sent Richard to the store for a six-pack. And the winners are…Tiffany and Antonia.  Duh! Winning! (Sorry, that was just pure and simple pandering.) The guys are mad.

They are going off on a boat to an island for their Elimination Challenge, which is to create a lunch menu to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Nassau Yacht Club. (Yawn.)

The theme, Padma says, is deserted island. Richard immediately thinks of Lord of the Flies and that maybe they will have to catch a wild boar and kill it. Lorena Love (I shortened it) says they must incorporate conch into their dishes. Mike tells us he practiced with conch before he came out to the Bahamas and that it’s very difficult to work with. Richard says he has 20 pounds of conch in his freezer. (Boy, will he be unhappy to come home to THAT if he loses Top Chef!)

Next we see Padma in a bikini (with a translucent wrap), that they’ve been promo-ing all over the place. They leave for the island, not knowing anything about the kind of equipment they’re going to have.

Mike is trying to stay “Cool, calm and collective.” He is the least collective person there. When they get off the boat, they have to jump into four feet of water and run to the beach to open the boxes that are lying there. There are various ingredients and in the box labeled conch are snorkels and flippers. They realize they have to catch their own. Tiffany has never snorkeled before. I admit I would have given up.

I can’t see if they’ve been given spears or GUNS or nets. Antonia is catching hers in a net. The others have nets, as well. Tiffany can’t figure out how to use the snorkel so she goes freestyle. They all manage to catch some. That is amazing.

They have no electricity, no gadgets, and no liquid nitrogen, Richard says. This whole thing would be fun if they were off for a day on a deserted island and if $200,000 weren't riding on it. They have wood grills. They have to bang the conch shells open. Again, this would be great on a normal day. Mike puts the conch in their shells in boiling water for a second to loosen them up.

THIS is what I hate. They’ve spent all this time risking life and limb to CATCH the things, and THEN they have to shell them. Tiffany whoops it up when she pulls ONE conch out of the shell.

Padma and the judges arrive with the Yacht Club hotsy totsies. There follows a fascinating discussion about the reign of the Yacht Club King…or Commodore in sailing parlance.

This is shaping up to be every bit as illuminating as last week’s elimination challenge, which is to say, not compelling at all. The setting is spectacular, but the convo at the table is dim.

Okay, this is weird. Richard is plating up; he’s ready to go. And like a soldier bidding farewell to his family before going off to war, he says. “Mikey, I love you. Antonia, I love you.” EXCUUUSSSE ME, what about Tiffany? She HAS to be there. They’re on the same tiny stretch of beach on a deserted island. It’s just strange. Tiffany IS in the background.

Padma introduces Richard to the Commodore, his wife and “ALL their friends” she says. There are 8 people there, besides the judges. Two of them are the Commodore and his wife. That leaves 6. Hmm. This is all so odd. If they start talking about stamp collecting (no offence to any philatelists), I’m turning this off. That’s how riveting this is.

Lorena Love (LL) thinks Richard’s conch is undercooked. One of the Commodore’s (few) friends says they eat it that way in the islands and that it’s good, byatch! I’m just trying to liven things up.

The King of Commodores likes the mushroom with the conch. Poor Tom is confused and thinks he’s actually eating pasta, when it’s really ribbons of sweet potato. LL also thinks it’s pasta. Padma and Gail are in the know and realize it’s sweet potato. Whew! I’m glad that’s settled.

Oh wow, one of the friends is a sailfish champion. I’m not sure if that means he’s a sailor or a fisherman, but congrats! It’s getting windy and the clouds are darkening. That’s not good.

Antonia is next with her seared snapper and conch ceviche. The Bahamians turn out to be spice devils and LOVE her highly seasoned food. Tom, though, is not impressed with how small the conch is cut. He says you don’t know it’s really conch. And he adds, grumpily, that his fish is overcooked. He points to his neighbor and says his looks UNDERcooked. I think Antonia MAY be cooked too.

Tiffany is serving coconut chowder. The folks can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be hot or not. It’s not Tiffany’s fault that the fire couldn’t get really hot and the weather turned suddenly.  Oy, now I think it’s going to be her going home.

Gail is chatting up the sailor fish guy. Sorry, sailfish guy. Oh, I think a sailfish IS a boating apparatus of some kind.

Mike is next with his banana leaf-wrapped grouper. There’s one Englishman at the table who is very knowledgeable. He feels the fish is overwhelmed by the pineapple. Tom is grumpy (again) about the addition of butter. He just doesn’t understand why Mike would add BUTTER.

Gail likes his dish, referring to him as Michael numerous times. She’s trying to sound a bit yacht-clubbish. I think it would be funny to be there with all those stiffs and tawk Brooklynese and really play that up. Stiff or not, I’m sure they’re all perfectly nice.

Padma thanks them again for “allowing them to celebrate” with them. Oy! As soon as the cameras leave, the yachtsters will probably bring out the Goombay Smashes and get started limboing on the beach before they skinny dip with the conches.

Alright, I think it will be Tiffany. And how can there be EIGHTEEN minutes left? Oh, because they have some nonsense with the chefs figuring out who would be whom from Gilligan’s Island. Mike is the skipper (big and fat); Richard is the professor (smart); Tiffany is Ginger (no reason) and Antonia is Marianne. (Again, no reason).

Oh, we have so much time left because of the Top Chef Masters commercial, which seems to be more about the judges (including James Oseland) and host (snazzily coiffed Curtis Stone) than the actual chefs.

At Judges Table, Tom says they all did a great job. LL liked Antonia’s dish, but Tom didn’t like how small the conch was cut. Padma didn’t like the conventionality of it.

They move on to Richard. Tom cops to not knowing that it was sweet potato. Good for him.

Tiffany liked her own dish and so did LL. But Gail wanted it to be hot. Tiffany says it was when she was plating, but it got really windy. That’s so not fair. Tom thought it was a bit sweet.

On to Mike and Tom says butter doesn’t come into play in Caribbean flavors.

The chefs leave; the judges discuss. They come back in and Mike is the winner. Who’s going home? And it’s...Tiffany. Boohoo. I think Padma actually choked up as she told her to get out of there. That’s a shame. Tiffany did a good job. I think they all did amazing jobs, considering they were being asked to be Diver Dan’s instead of Top Chefs.

This episode bugged me. I didn’t want to see chefs diving into the water and risking harm and misfortune, catching wildlife in the ocean. What if they couldn’t swim? What if they wore contacts or glasses and couldn’t see? What if they got stung by a jelly fish or chomped on by a shark? This is SO unnecessary. Are we watching Top Chef of the Rugged Outdoors?

And this whole nonsense of not having proper equipment to cook with is so irritating. What exactly is this a test of? It’s NOT a test of the skills needed for putting fantastic food on a plate in a restaurant. That is ALL I require of a chef.

I want them to have all the equipment they need. In fact, I want them to have every piece of equipment they can dream of. And with that, I want them to have fabulous, fresh ingredients that they actually know how to work with. And it’s perfectly okay with me if the only test a chef goes through is to cook the same thing a million times perfectly. There’s your consistency and it needn’t involve flippers and a net.  


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I actually managed to watch this one while it was on - a rarity for me. I knew they were setting the boys' team up to lose in the quickfire. I think the producers made sure we saw every cocky moment so we could rejoice in their loss - not that I mind seeing Mike lose.

I also felt bad for them having to go catch their own conch. I should have been on that show. I'd just put on the snorkel and happily go conch hunting and give the spoils equally to all of the chefs. I suppose the producers must ask beforehand if the contestants can't swim and I'm sure they were prepared to go in the water (they seemed to be equipped swimwear-wise). Still it does seem a bit unkind - the same way it seemed wrong to make them catch their own fish. It seemed like an opportunity for everyone to make fun of how bad Mike looked with his shirt off and show how hot Antonia looked all voluptuous in her little tankini.

I think they probably had a hard time judging. Everyone made it so far and they must have really had to nitpick to send people home. They certainly did have conditions working against them. In a way I suppose that is one way to make the competition easier to judge. If they had a well-equipped kitchen and access to all ingredients they needed, they might all turn out incredible dishes and it would be even harder to judge.

Emily said...

This is a WINNING# recap! Sorry.

I agree; I don't want to watch the competitors diving for conch. I don't want to see them deep sea fishing, either. I want to see them cook!

Have you watched the newest episode yet?

Sue said...

Yeah, that's probably true that the producers find out if they have any landlubbers in advance, but still!

It definitely made the judges' job easier to have the chefs jump through hoops to get their dishes made. But I WANT them to have superb dishes that they have to sort through and that take some thought to decide which is the best.

Thanks...I think, Em,
Yes, I have watched the next one, but computer number two just died on me, so I'm a bit word processing-challenged right now!!! Ugh. I'll be writing about it soon...I hope.

Anonymous said...

Ugh I had written this long comment and it got eaten. So here was my favorite part of my comment.

It has always bugged me that nobody takes the female chefs seriously or views them as real contenders. Especially Mike (who has come off as sexist and homophobic) - Antonia, Carla and Tiffany all made it further in their respective seasons than he did in theirs. I suppose you could say his Mike's season was one of the most talented, with the Voltaggio brothers, Jen and Kevin the pork king. But still, they all made it further - Carla in the top 3, Antonia in the Top 4 (in Richard's season), and Tiffany the Top 5.

The only female chef anybody ever took seriously was Jenn. Because she was a hard-ass, because she knew she had to be to get respect.