Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Top Chef All-Stars - The Envelope Please And For Mike, Blood Is Only Thicker Than Water When It’s Convenient

Top Chef All-Stars Last Supper

The finale of Top Chef All Stars is tomorrow. Gosh, it feels as if we’ve been watching this season for ages!

The three remaining chefs, Antonia, Mike and Richard have to pick through a season of Quickfire horrors to decide what their last Quickfire dish will be. Because Mike won the last Elimination Challenge, he gets to choose first.

He picks Antonia to cook a dish only from canned foods. Antonia picks Richard to make a dish from hot dogs and hot dog accoutrements. And Richard, for some reason, gives Mike a one pot challenge, which is the easiest of the lot.

As they’re cooking, Padma comes in and throws a wrench in the works. They each will have one horrible thing added to the way they can cook their dish. It shakes out like this – Mike can use no utensils or tools; Richard can only use one hand; and Antonia has Carla tied to her and each of them can use only one hand. Mike is the least affected, since his dish was mostly finished.

Padma and Wolfgang Puck, the guest judge, come back to taste. Wolfgang says Antonia’s coconut curry soup has strong flavors, but good balance.

Richard in his usual over-achieving way, made a curried wurst AND bread AND ketchup. Wolfgang looks at it and says he could feed it to his kids. Richard looks crushed, but actually he meant it in a good way.

Mike’s braised pork shoulder with black beans is a bit tough, but again Wolfgang likes the balance. And Mike is the winner. He gets $5000 from Terlato Wines.

They move on to the Cloisters. For a minute I thought I missed the part where they went back to New York, and they went to the Cloisters in the Bronx. No, not exactly.

THESE Cloisters are at the “one and only” Ocean Club. The Bronx Cloisters are impressive with gorgeous views of the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River, but the Cloisters in the Bahamas are breathtaking.

Speaking of the Bronx, check this out and stay out of the way of any stray cobras! 

There they are met by Morimoto, Wolfgang Puck and Michelle Bernstein. The chefs’ Elimination Challenge is to create a last supper for these chefs based on their favorite foods. Mike as the Quickfire winner AGAIN gets to choose who gets whom. He chooses Morimoto for Antonia. Of course, he does. Here’s where their cousinhood means nothing (I’m not saying it should) and he probably is assuring her elimination.

He chooses Michelle Bernstein for himself and Richard gets Wolfgang. Mike says (to us) that he wants to compete in the finals against the best and he thinks Richard is the best.

It’s not that I think that Mike and Richard are so much better than Antonia, but Morimoto’s dish is obviously going to be the hardest, because it’s Japanese and much more alien to them.

Before the chefs confer, Padma says there’s one more “final surprise” in the envelope that she’s holding, which won’t be revealed until the next night. 

Wolfgang tells Richard he would want his last meal to be goulash, spätzle and apple strudel. Michelle wants fried chicken, biscuits and gravy. Whoo-hoo, how tough! NOT! And Morimoto tells Antonia that he wants rice, which has to picked through grain by grain, miso soup, pickles and sashimi. Good luck to her! She has one huge problem when the hamachi she was about to use is slimy and rancid. That’s not good. Wisely, she substitutes tuna.

Here are the dishes. They are tasted by the usual crew of judges - Tom, Gail and Padma. Plus these latest three chefs - Michelle Bernstein, Wolfgang and Morimoto – are there. AND Padma introduces Melanie Dunea, who wrote “The Last Supper”, where she interviewed FIFTY chefs about their last suppers.

Morimoto likes Antonia’s rice which was really the hardest element, but thinks her miso is salty. Tom says most Japanese food is very subtle, but hers is really highly spiced…TOO highly spiced.

Michelle is super happy with Mike’s reinterpretation of chicken and gravy. Instead of the biscuit he did an empanada. Morimoto says his white meat is dry. Tom doesn’t understand why he sous-vided the chicken first and THEN battered and fried it, because the batter kind of fell off.

Richard’s apple strudel came out amazingly well and Wolfgang says even his mother would have approved of this meal.

At the end of the meal, after much give and take between all the diners, the three chefs are told that Judges’ Table is taking place there and then. Michelle tells Mike that except for the chicken not being completely juicy and the breading falling off a bit, the dish would have been perfect. (Aren’t those kind of major things?)

Wolfgang says Richard got the flavors so right on, although the spätzle was tough.

Morimoto tells Antonia that her miso soup was salty, but that her food was very interesting.

Tom almost immediately says Richard will be cooking in the finale. Then Padma tells Antonia and Mike that only one of them will be moving on. And she asks them if they remember the envelope. Oy, what now? There are still more than 15 minutes left.

Padma hands the envelope to Antonia to open. She reads a card that says there is one more challenge left. Then Tom says they have 45 minutes to go back into the kitchen and make the judges one bite. The winner will move on to the final.

Not that I don’t think that’s an okay challenge, but I hate how they have these marathons of cooking, where the chefs give it their all, only to have to cook more. Then it becomes as much a physical challenge as a mental and skill-based one.

Mike’s dish was a well-prepared Caribbean lobster and beef tartare little taste. Antonia’s was a well-spiced, super flavorful grouper in a coconut lobster broth.

They go around the table, saying which dish they prefer. (The chefs aren't there.) 3 of them prefer Mike’s and 3 of them prefer Antonia’s with Wolfgang yet to speak.

Wolfgang says that he’d still be thinking of Antonia’s dish the next day, while Mike’s dish was technically prepared perfectly. We're left hanging during a commercial. And who wins? Mike. They can justify it somewhat, but Mike definitely didn’t walk away with it.

So in the end, the producers got exactly who they wanted in the finale and Richard finally gets the chance to redeem himself (in HIS eyes) and take the big prize. But will he? I’m not sure, because Mike is certainly on a roll and will do anything to win.


Anonymous said...

The quickfire challenge I thought was unfair. Richard & Mike at least got fresh ingredients. Antonia only got canned. Is it really fair to compare her canned food creation to fresh food creations?

And here is my problem with Richard. He keeps talking about how he choked in the finale of his season, which I think he did. But, he seems to think that had he not choked, he would have beat Stephanie. Stephanie was very good. She came in 1st a lot. She just got nominated for a James Beard award. So if he loses now, is he going to say he choked again? There is choking, and there is being out-cooked. Saying you choked when you were out-cooked takes away from the winner.

Sue said...

Hi Amy,
You're right. Not only was it pointless, the odds were so stacked against Antonia in BOTH challenges that it's amazing she didn't walk out of the kitchen.

That's your ONLY problem with Richard? His choking story fits into his world view of himself as a weak, incompetent victim.

The truth is, though, I NOW kind of like him and I realize how incredibly awesome his cooking is.

I think his cooking WAS better than Stephanie's in general, but I don't have the amazing memory that you do. I just don't remember being blown away by her in the same way that I have been by Richard's cooking THIS season.

Anonymous said...

Ha, no that was my main problem with Richard this week! I am very, very tired of his "I suck" pity party. I keep saying to my husband, if he thinks he's horrible, why is he always surprised that he lost?

Sue said...

Good point.