Top Chef All-Stars Season 8 Episode 13: Fit for a King

Welcome to the first of what I’ve heard (but do not promise) will be four Bahamas episodes. And possibly the worst night of Top Chef I’ve seen since LeeAnn was sent home in 2006. I’m not disagreeing with any decisions. I’m just, well, completely miserable how things turned out. Then again, LeeAnn’s done pretty well for herself, hasn’t she?

The five contestants gather, and the only one who really looks different is Blais. His hair is… normal. What, they wouldn’t let him bring hair gel with him on the plane? And he’s grown a bit of a beard. Enthusiastic stubble, really. His daughter Embry Lotus` is due any day now (at the time of filming in January. SPOILER: Embry was born in early February).

Eric Ripert is back as judge, since Jen is long gone and they had time to plan in the weeks between the main season and the Bahamas episodes (which can’t really be called the finale, not yet).

For the Quickfire, they find the winning chefs from their original seasons waiting for them:
Kevin Sbraga from Season 7 for Tiffany,
Michael Voltaggio from Season 6 for Isabella,
Hootie-Who? Hosea Rosenberg from Season 5 for Carla, and
Stephanie Izard from Season 4 for Blais and Antonia.

Isabella immediately thinks he wants to pair up with Michael Volt if they’re doing teams since MV is awesome (which is true), showing once again how sleazy he is in hiding behind more talented chefs. Damn, I hate Isabella. (for the record: I’ve never met him, he may be a very nice guy, but on both his Top Chef appearances with the exception of a few clips from last week, he’s been a total ass on camera). But his evil scheme won’t work: they are to compete against the chef from their original season in cooking an ingredient chosen for them by Tom, and the winner of each season will win $10,000.

Blais thinks, wow, now’s my chance to win where I choked. Hosea wants to prove to “the haters” that he deserved to win. Michael Volt wants to preserve his “somewhat” perfect record.

Season 4: Blais, Antonia, and Stephanie have a rack of veal to cook.
Antonia makes roasted veal with a leek and almond puree and a sauté of mushrooms, arugula and raisins. Her induction burner keeps going out on her while she’s cooking. Eric thinks her veal is way too dry. Tom thinks her veal is very tough though her flavors are pretty good so he picks her as winning over Stephanie kind of as the best of the worst; Antonia groans that it’s a great way to win.
Stephanie makes veal scaloppini with tapenade and a poached egg; tom thinks her veal is cooked well but she has too much going on; Eric is confused by the egg but her veal is cooked well so he picks her. Padma breaks the tie by choosing her as well, then she competes against Blais:
Blais makes veal two ways, a braised veal cap and seared loin, Tom says it’s a good play on salty and sweet, Eric concurs, he’s the hands down winner of the Season 4 group.

Season 5: Carla and Hosea have a rack of lamb.
Carla decides her soups and stews have been well-received so she’ll try that, but her induction burner keeps going off, as did Antonia’s, and she puts the rice in with her stew. She knows it’s a big mistake as soon as she does it. The rice doesn’t cook. She knows Hosea has to mess up totally for her to win, and she tells him she just gave him $10,000.
Hosea makes braised leg of lamb and wins unanimously over Carla’s undercooked rice.

Season 6: Isabella and Michael V have a whole duck. Isabella decides he’ll make MV do the butchering, to trip him up, but the tape clearly shows MV saying he’ll take care of the butchering, probably because he wants it done right. Did I mention Isabella is an ass? He sneers at MV for using a smoke gun, an immersion circulator, and a pressure cooker. I don’t know that MV used all those things. I certainly wouldn’t take Isabella’s word for it.
MV makes duck leg in bacon, duck breast, something about citrus and I could swear coffee pesto was in there somewhere, it kind of whizzed by me. Padma chooses his as the best dish.
Isabella makes cashew-dusted spiced duck breast with mushroom jus. Eric and Tom choose Isabella and he wins the Season 6 group. Which really depresses me.

Season 7: Tiffany and Kevin have pork, what looks like a suckling pig. Tiffany thinks, ok, I can do this, blow them away with flavor.
Tiffany makes stewed pork with potatoes, peppers, citrus, allspice. Tom says they’re both really good but he prefers Tiffany, and Eric agrees. Tiffany wins Season 7 group.
Kevin makes barbecued pork with cilantro and celery.

Elimination challenge They’ll be cooking for Bahamian royalty.

They have two and a half hours prep time with all the ingredients available in the kitchen (I’m not sure which kitchen, maybe the hotel?) and then they’ll have an hour too cook on site, which is… somewhere, they don’t know yet.

Isabella thinks of royalty as people who’ve eaten everything and traveled the world. Tiffany says she’s going to cook like she would for anyone else. Bless her. Blais interviews he’s cooked every fish found 100 mi of the Bahamas as training, and is prepared to hunt down a goat, kill it and cook it if need be. I believe him. Blais is making spiny lobster with pulled pork and pickled turnips. Antonia prepares lamb with bacon, Brussels sprouts, blue cheese, and hazelnut butter. Carla worked in the Bahamas, and wants to use that experience. She makes pork medallions and apple chips. Mentally she needs to get over being on the bottom for the QF, get rid of the self-doubt. She talks to Antonia and says she does better when she’s underestimated, because she’s afraid of failing when she thinks she’s got it. She’s cooking for everyone who’s ever been underestimated (aww, thanks, Carla, cooking for me!), and she starts to tear up. So do I. Nowhere near as much as I’m going to, though.

Isabella goes into ass mode. He thinks everyone is playing it safe. For him it’s not an honor to be there, it’s an honor to win and he’s going to fight. I’d like to remind you, Isabella, that Robin beat you in your season. Yeah, buddy, chew on that while you’re proclaiming yourself king of the world.

They pack up and a police escort arrives: police on motorcycles, and a huge Hummer type thing for the five of them. They head to their mysterious destination where royalty awaits. Isabella says every time I’ve had a police escort it’s because I’m going to jail, thank god those days are over (I call bullshit, I don’t think he’s ever been anywhere near a jail) and now I’m being escorted to royalty.

It’s a street festival of some kind, lots of colorful costumes, feathers, trumpets, drums, dancing. They get out of the Hummer thing and do some dancing. Isabella says he does the NJ Two Step, it has two steps, to his right and to his left. Carla dances it up. Tom comes out and introduces the King of Junkanoo, Yola. Carla says how could that have escaped me. They explain Junkanoo is a celebration like Carnival or Mardi gras. Which is true, except, well, it’s held on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. But since the episode aired the day after Mardi Gras, I guess they left that out. And since this was filmed in January, not during Christmas week, they had an extra Junkanoo celebration just for Top Chef. This has Fake written all over it – since this particular Junkanoo parade is only happening in one place instead of all over the island as it would at its proper time.

So the challenge is to cook for 50 people including the King of Junkanoo, which means it isn’t really royalty. It’s like cooking for the Queen of the Homecoming Parade. At the local Friendly’s. Tiffany is happy, because her dish is for these people. Antonia thinks her dish won’t be good here. The kitchen is not what they were expecting. They have deep fat fryers, a microwave, and flattops instead of convection ovens and high-BTU burners. Isabella says he’ll make it work.

Antonia puts plantain chips in the fryer, and the fryer next to it is smoking. She says several times someone should be told about the fryer – I don’t know what the responsibility of the camera guys is at that point, or if there’s a producer around, but Carla’s trying to turn the thermostat down and the thing bursts into flames. So now they have, as Blais puts it, 35 gallons of oil on fire. And they’re still milling around trying to figure out what to do, worrying about covering their food instead of GETTING THE HELL OUT OF THE KITCHEN THAT ‘S ON FIRE. Eventually they do leave. I seem to recall a kitchen fire on that stupid Rocco DiSpirito show and no one really batted an eye even when it went into the wall, maybe kitchens are like that, fires are to be expected. But I wouldn’t hang around.

They go off someplace to wait for the fire to be put out. Isabella asks Antonia what she did, and again I want to smack him. Blais says he thinks he’s in Antonia’s head, intentionally, because it’s a competition after all and she’s known for coming up with good dishes so if he can psych her out, maybe she’ll make a mistake. Blais! WTF? You’re better than that, man. You should be ashamed of yourself. Anyway, I don’t think Antonia needs anyone in her head, she says she’s in a bad space, having done poorly on the QF. And I don’t imagine being accused of starting a fire is helping matters.

Tom comes in and tells them the fire protection system contaminated everything with chemicals, the food has to be thrown away and the kitchen scrubbed down, and they will be starting over. Approximately the same food will be available; they can change their dish if they want. Tiffany isn’t happy; she had one up on everyone because she went simple. I agree with her; now the element of surprise, of adaptation, is gone. But it’s been replaced by a new element: fatigue, fire nerves, and general chaos.

They start over. Blais chooses to do a new dish because that’s the spirit of Top Chef, not to just crank out recipes you’ve memorized, and it doesn’t hurt that he knows what kind of place he’ll be finishing in. He’s going to make cannelloni filled with pickled turnip and braised lamb instead of spiny lobster and pulled pork with pickled turnip. I guess he really wanted to do pickled turnip. Antonia also changes her dish, from lamb with hazelnut butter, bacon and Brussels sprouts to shrimp and pork-infused grits, which is less formal and more traditional. Carla changes the apple chips she was making in some way but I’m not sure what it is, because they were wilting. But she’s still doing pork medallions. Everyone else pretty much stays the same. They’re provided with countertop fryers instead of the built-in ones. Carla decides to cook entire pork tenderloin in the fryer, not something she’d normally do but thinks it will cook more evenly. More evenly than what? I don’t know what other option she had since there is no oven in the venue. I don’t understand why she did this. It kind of sounds wonderful, actually, but the center is raw and she has to “McGuyver it,” so she slices the medallions and cooks them on the flattop. Uh oh. That doesn’t usually work on Chopped, and it’s the sort of thing that makes Alex Guarnaschelli groan. Isabella thinks it’s easier to prep the second time around, and that his execution is better than anyone else’s. Ass. Tiffany isn’t there for a Bahamas vacation, she wants to win. She feels good about her food. Antonia doesn’t t think her dish came from her. That reminds me of several stories I’ve read about women, usually teenage girls, who give birth and wonder where the baby came from. Well, where do you think it came from? Carla puts a “smear” of sweet potato on her plate, and she says she’s going to catch it for is smearing; her folks are going to accuse her of going over to the dark side. I think it’s a sign she’s lost herself again. Why not sous vide the pork, Carla, make it really elegant?

Something is off here. Tom describes the dishes at the table – why not the chefs? It’s like this was filmed at another time and they faked eating or something. Something’s fishy. Speaking of fishy – in her Bravo blog, Gail claims they didn’t understand the King of Junkanoo wasn’t real royalty either, they never realized it was a regular guy until they sat down with him. And these are people who’ve traveled the world? What’s wrong with them? That’s pretty stupid.

Carla serves fried pork medallions, sweet potatoes, and apple chips. Eric thinks it’s close to a desert, much too sweet. Gale’s pork is raw. Oh, no. Carla, honey, you don’t recover from raw pork. Eric’s is cooked perfectly, however, and he thinks Tom is just jealous.

Antonia makes crispy shrimp with pork grits and slaw. Eric thinks the shrimp are seriously overcooked. Gale says meat is buried, with no distinct flavor at all. Tom sneers at the shredded carrot on top: “Howard Johnson’s called, he wants his garnish back.” He doesn’t understand the pork in the grits. Padma says it looks like mystery meat from school cafeterias everywhere. Tom says it turns the grits from creamy grits to stringy meat and grits. Ouch.

Isabella makes Sous Vide Chicken, mushroom, yams, and lobster hash. Eric thinks the elements all make sense, Padma thinks the sauce is good, Tom likes all the surprises. Gale thought the white meat was dry but the dark meat in the hash was good.

Blais serves lamb, roasted loin and malted braised leg with pickled turnip cannelloni and mustard. The King says lamb is great. Eric says it’s delicate, not pungent, and the cannelloni is a little overcooked (I thought he said undercooked but then he says it’s too soft). Tom thinks the cannelloni is the best part of the dish. Blais is upset in the kitchen, convinced he screwed up.

Tiffany makes roasted pork tenderloin, dirty rice, tomato relish, and curried slaw. Gale enjoyed it, but it’s not exciting. Tom says it’s nice but simple. Eric says it’s not cooking for royalty, and it needs a sauce to keep it from being dry. Gale wanted more ginger tomato jam (that does sound good), and the curry slaw wasn’t very curry-ish; Tiffany admits she shouldn’t have called it that; she lost focus. Eric calls it street food, which from him is a big insult; remember the baseball challenge when he got all snooty about chicken skewers?

Traditional Hilarious Interstitial: Blais has a theory of nuts as music genres. Peanuts are rock and roll; walnuts are almost the same, sort of like British rock; almonds are ballet or classical music (I guess he doesn’t know much about classical music). Hazelnuts are hippie nuts; someone calls out “pistachios” and he decides pistachios are pop. Then they get into “Brazilian nuts” and Carla wonders if anyone actually eats them, they’re just in nut mixes because they’re big and they take up a lot of space (yes, people eat them, in fact an entire episode of House revolved around a spy being poisoned by eating too many Brazil nuts). The Nut theory of music. Ok.

In Stew, Blais says he hates everything he’s done. Carla says if there’s no difference between how you feel when you do well and when you don’t, how do you distinguish between them? She’s got a point, but I understand Blais since I never do anything well. Even if 99 people tell me it’s terrific, I’ll cling to the one who goes, “Meh.” I’m surprised Blais is that way, though. I don’t actually think he is, I think he just needs some stroking right now.

Padma calls all of them to Judges’ Table. She does a lot of one-shoulder things with ruffles, doesn’t she? This one is peach. Or maybe beige or pink. On my TV it looks peach-ish. She announces the meal as a whole missed the mark, and one chef will be going home. Tom admits it was tough with the fire and restart (ya think?), but that’s how it is.

Isabella wins. I’m going to throw up. Blais is also safe. But he’s disappointed, since second place sucks.

Carla goes home. Yeah, she had to, raw pork demands it. But I’m so sad. This is really the worst week ever, with Isabella on top and Carla cut. I don’t disagree with those decisions – the comments supported the results. But I’m still very disappointed.

They’re dragging this Padma-in-a-bikini thing out another week. And she’s wearing a sarong over it, so it’s more like a half a bikini. That’s probably even more enticing, isn’t it?

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