Top Chef All Stars Season 8, Episode 3 – New York’s Finest (Restaurants)

What this episode lacked in personality explosions, it more than made up for in culinary fireworks. Aerated fois gras? Sea urchin zabayon? A lot better than rants.

David Chang shows up for the QF. Wow, that’s quite a coup, he’s very hot in the foodie world these days. Four teams of four, based on how they walked in. First, do mise en place, thought it’s not a relay, do it simultaneously. Mise en place plus one dish. First team that finishes all prep gets 15 minutes, the others have less. No immunity, but each member of the winning team gets $5000. Fabio thinks Angelo wears his pants too tight but that’s ok, he’s a good chef. I don’t understand. I’ve never noticed the tightness of Angelo’s pants. Why is Fabio noticing?

I like the design of this challenge, because speed is translated into time to cook but doesn’t necessarily mean a win. And prep speed should lead to better food, not just bragging rights.

The mise en place tasks: french a rack of lamb, turn artichokes, dice some huge amount of garlic (4 cups?). Why isn’t Spike doing the butchering on his team? Tre and Blais are cutting, didn’t Spike win the butchering challenge hands down for frenching tomahawk steaks beautifully?

Blue – Steven, Blais, Tre, Spike – crispy lamb, trio of artichokes, chili aioli. WINNER. Richard is happy because he took the lead on the dish so he feels he’s earned the trust of his team. I suspect everyone on the team feels the same way.
White – Marcel, DaleT, Carla, TiffayF – Carpaccio – second place.
Red – DaleL, Antonia, Casey, Jamie – carpaccio, capers, herb salad. Parmesan and parsley overwhelmed it, bottom 2.
Green – Angelo, TiffanyD, Isabella, Fabio – they finished the mise en place first, had the most time, but were in the bottom 2. Tandoori cooked lamb, slivers of artichoke, spiced yogurt. Thyme and yogurt overwhelmed dish. Angelo is embarrassed. He should be.

Elimination challenge – The contestants will dine at a NY restaurant, then prepare a dish the chef would be proud to put on his/her menu. Teammates are competing with each other. They draw knives to choose the restaurant. They eat. They cook. The judges (including Anthony Bourdain, yay!) go from restaurant to restaurant to taste. Padma is wearing a flowy beige-pink off-the-shoulder dress. It gets in and out of cabs a lot. The fact that I’ve noticed it means something, probably means someone paid a lot of money to get that dress front and center. They’ll be pleased to know they succeeded, since clothes are the last thing I usually notice.

Ma Peche, David Chang: Green team, Angelo, Fabio, TiffanyD, Isabella. French Vietnamese food.
Angelo is having all kinds of fun. Makes fish, dill, salmon roe, white chocolate. Judges call it creative, exciting. He’s in the top.
TiffanyD – gets annoyed with Angelo’s explanations of the food. Makes something with a purple radish. The judges think it’s missing something. She’s in the middle.
Isabella – dismisses TiffanyD because her dish is raw fish. He’s in the middle.
Fabio – miffed he can’t do pasta. “I do Italian, I don’t do asian french.” No, really? He makes barbecued lamb, pistachio, his own ricotta. The judges call him a talented cook lost in the forest. Lamb was too fatty, cassoulet overreduced. No confidence on dish. Like he didn’t taste anything. Unrelated stuff. Bottom.

Townhouse, David Burke. Red team – Dale, Jamie, Casey, Antonia –Modern American cuisine. Sea urchin zabayon. Rack of lamb with roasted octopus.
Antonia – overwhelmed and concerned, basic things that grow into big things, wants to turn peas and carrots into 2 Michelin star dish. Pea puree, Mint, scallops, pickled carrot. Judges like the assertive seasoning. Top.
Casey – “There’s a fish in my cocktail glass.” Complains that Dale wants her to taste everything he’s making, he has too much going on. Halibut, tapioca, ginger carrot soup – brilliant idea, fish is well cooked. Middle.
Jamie – smoked tomato bacon soup, charred onion vinaigrette. Could’ve been better, not enough wow factor. Smoke doesn’t add much. Middle.
Dale – veal loin, French toast, sweet dish with veal, popcorn and peanuts, circus, humor
and kitsch. Judges don’t understand inspiration, breakfast? Too sweet. Didn’t taste good. Too sweet. Bottom.

Marea, Michael White. Blue team – Spike, Tre, Stephen, Blais -– coastal Italian. Sea urchin on crostini.
Tre gets annoyed with Stephen’s lecture, says some people call him the Black Italian. He doesn’t like sea urchin. Makes swordfish, artichokes, panna cotta. Delicious panna cotta. Top.
Blais knows he needs to edit himself, restraint. He thinks Stephen feels out of place. Mackerel crudo. Flavor forward. He makes Middle.
Spike makes branzino, caponata. The caponetta, isn’t. Middle.
Stephen eats there a lot, starts lecturing. He’s very happy, it’s a high-end restaurant, people with nice suits, just his kind of place. Given Tre’s comment about him being a great dresser last week, this amused me. Stephen is swearing at a blender. It looks like he hasn’t used a blender lately. Salmon over eggplant, uses too much fennel pollen, Bourdain thinks it tastes like a head shop, sandalwood. Bottom.

WD50, Wiley Dufresne. White team – Marcel, DaleT, Carla, TiffanyF–– avant garde. They eat aerated fois gras and a scrambled egg bloc.
DaleT read that Wiley loves eggs. He makes egg dumpling with pork belly and ramen, stays true to himself, inspired by Wylie. Judges love it, cool, breakfast inspired, like buttered toast. They praise him for restraining himself from playing with techniques, focusing on food. Top.
Carla looks forward to marrying classic and modern, but nervous, style is so different. She makes shrimp & grits. Nice job but safe. Smart given her background. Middle.
Marcel is overwhelmed with awe; he was once accused of culinary plagiarism by a WD sous chef. He makes vadouvan lamb, tzatziki, flatbread. Bourdain thinks he’s more restrained than expected. Wylie says he embraced the equipment, but hasn’t used techniques to improve the dish. Ouch. This is the second time Wylie has judged Marcel’s food. Middle. That must hurt.
TiffanyF – Marcel says she isn’t thinking about the diner in using techniques – interesting given the critique of his dish. Frozen melon with powdered ham & cheese, which sounds like it comes in a blue box. She wins Best Quote of the Night: “I probably should not have frozen my melons.” Bourdain says she lost control of the dish. It’s murky. Watery, mushy, a parody of WD50. Bottom.

Best dishes, one from each team: DaleT, Angelo, Antonia, Tre. Winner gets a 6 night trip to New Zealand. Angelo is praised for brilliant use of white chocolate, Antonia for elevating peas & carrots, Tre for his fish, DaleT for his egg. DaleT wins. I’m a little surprised, they say, “For representing the kitchen he was cooking in,” interesting, since he didn’t use any of the techniques Wylie Dufresne is famous for. But he was a fish out of water and he made a great dish with beloved eggs and it was creative even if it was creative in ways that did not use molecular gastronomy techniques, whereas Angelo was in his element in the Asian restaurant.

Worst dishes – Stephen, TiffanyF, Fabio, DaleL, and they are encouraged by the other contestants to fight hard but not too hard. They don’t fight at all really except for Fabio who’s always fighting for pasta and making excuses for anything that isn’t pasta. Stephen admits he blew it; lots of stuff shouldn’t have made it to the plate. TiffanyF is disappointed that she overused stuff.

Stephen and Dale are out. I was surprised – they specifically said Stephen did some things well, the salmon and pesto, yet they didn’t mention good things Fabio or Tiffany did. But I read Bourdain’s TC blog, and he said Fabio’s dish wasn’t that bad, he’d eat it again. So it sounds like their critique was overstated. Stephen admits he wasn’t up to par, which is growth for him, I’m impressed. Dale is sad, maybe he’ll come back for TC16, the Seniors round. I have a feeling TC might be coming to an end sooner than that.

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