Top Chef All Stars Season 8 Episode 14: Island Fever

Kasimir Malevich - White on White, 1918

The pre-credit postmortem is mostly Isabella being very pleased with himself and it makes me sick so I’m going to skip it. Shut up, Isabella. Though he does say something about Carla being everyone’s mother. I’m warning you, Isabella, shut up. That’s Carla you’re talking about.

The Quickfire challenge takes place in whatever kitchen they’re using. The chefs walk in and find Padma and Lorena Garcia (from The Next Great American Restaurant) and large stacks of plates. The Quickfire is about consistency and precision. Padma declares: Anyone can get lucky just once. [Oh?] A great chef makes a dish the same way every time. Blais agrees in interview, consistency is an important part of a great restaurant so people can come back and get the same dish they loved last time. See, that’s why I think being a restaurant chef would be boring, you make the same damn thing every night. The challenge is to make 100 identical dishes in one hour. Padma and Lorena will chose two at random (the plates are numbered) and choose a winner based on consistency. The winning team gets $5000. I guess they split it, though it isn’t spelled out.

Padma tells them to divide into pairs. Isabella doesn’t want cousin Antonia, she’s the Black Hammer. But the real reason is he likes to ride on male coattails and that’s Blais. They divide into Boys and Girls. Antonia says she would’ve selected Tiffany anyway, she’s calm and collected and has great technique. Isabella says the girls know they (the Boys) are better. Shut up, Isabella. Blais says the important thing is the same amount of food on each plate. He has a bead of sweat hanging off the tip of his nose and it’s making me very nervous.

The Boys make pork Bolognese with fresh macaroni and pecorino cheese. That’s Beefaroni, right? Or Porkaroni. Or, as they call it in New England, American chop suey. Isabella is going to make pasta from scratch. Hmm, didn’t he get into trouble doing that last time? Actually, if I didn’t despise him I’d think it was pretty cool he was going back to do it right. Blais interviews he’s disappointed he didn’t win last challenge but so far he’s had four wins and hasn’t been in the bottom yet. They made one batch of everything so the taste would be the same. They use a serving spoon to apportion the glop. Blais thinks it’s delicious and the plates look the same so he’s happy.

The Girls make seared tenderloin salad with lentils and celery leaves, cilantro, mint, and basil. And chimichuri. I’m not sure all of that made it onto the plate, but that’s what they kept saying. They have four components, so consistent plating will take time. They also make one batch of everything to help with consistency. Making a cold dish was part of their strategy.

Blais thinks he’s more ambitious. “When you don’t know what to do, sear tuna or beef on a salad.” Blais, what’s getting into you? You’ve been pretty snide in the Bahamas. It’s not becoming. Isabella says he could’ve done what the Girls did by himself and sent Richard out for beer. Shut up, Isabella. Antonia thinks fresh pasta in an hour is a feat, but plating four components is more difficult than scooping Bolognese onto a plate. Can you just hear a producer in the background saying, “So, what do you think of their dish, it’s not as hard, is it?” to both of them.

Padma and Lorena pick numbers. Padma picks 02 20, the birthday of baby daughter Krishna. They both felt the dishes looked and tasted consistent, but they pick the Girls as winners. Antonia says Blais and Isabella are “sour grapes salty losers.” At least I think that’s what she said. Salty? Isabella says, Whatever. Shut up, Isabella. Tiffany says it was an in your face moment. I know Isabella’s misogyny was done to death in his season, and everyone from his wife to Jen denied it, but he really is an ass. And a misogynist. Has he ever had anything good to say about a female chef?

Now for the Elimination Challenge:

The Commodore of the Nassau Yacht Club is having a lunch to celebrate the club’s 80th anniversary, and the chefs are cooking. The theme is “deserted island”. They must use conch, a popular ingredient in the Bahamas. Blais starts mumbling about catching a wild boar. Last week it was a goat. I think he wants to go hunting. Well, he’s sorta kind gonna get his chance. Isabella says he’s been practicing, it’s a difficult product to work with. If he’s really been practicing, that’s a good thing, everyone should’ve been practicing because it is a common Caribbean ingredient. Blais has to thread the needle just right to make it to the finals. He’s been baking bread, he’s grown a beard, all the things you should do to prepare for a finale. That’s my Blais! Tiffany says she’s made it past where she ended her season and goes into her Small Town Girl routine again.

They go to the dock to catch their boat to the island and Padma is wearing her much-heralded bikini and stringy sarong skirt. She does look good. I guess she wanted everyone to know that. Captain Andy, who Isabella calls Sammy Hagar’s twin brother, is going to take them to the island where they’ll cook. They have three and a half hours from when they hit the beach. They wonder what equipment they’ll have. Isabella assumes they won’t have to clean the conch.

They get to the beach and there’s a bunch of crates with all manner of food in them: beautiful produce, spiny lobster, grouper, snapper. The conch box has snorkels, goggles, and little pickaxes. Uh oh. It’s not hunting goat or boar, Blais, but it’s hunting of a sort. Right? Tiffany’s never gone snorkeling. “There’s sharks out there I’m pretty sure,” she interviews, it’s really cute. Blais doesn’t want to see Isabella topless- “and you don’t either.” No, I could’ve done without that. I guess the producers told them to be prepared for swimming, since everyone has swimwear under their clothes. You know, Antonia looks pretty good, much better than you would’ve thought from her Jimmy Fallon appearance where she looked awful. She rocks her tankini.

I think the conches were planted; they’re pretty easy, in maybe 8 feet of water. Antonia can swim quite well, says she used to swim a lot. The hard part is putting the conch in the net while treading water. Tiffany thinks she needs ten conch. Blais says the first conch he sees is too deep for his swimming skills, he can’t reach it. It’s fun to watch him try. I grew up in Florida so I did a lot of swimming, but I guess if you’ve never swum much you might have trouble. Tiffany realizes “the snorkeling thing isn’t working out for me,” takes the snorkel off and holds her breath. I think that’s what Antonia did too. She starts having fun with it. It takes them about a half hour to snorkel for conch.

Antonia has never worked with conch before and doesn’t know how much meat she will get out of each. I recall it’s hard to get out. Blais calls it survivalist cooking: no electricity, no toys, just a wood fire grill, pots and pans, and a table. And bottled water. Antonia worries about the sand. Blais plans to break open the shell with the little pickaxe hammer thing. Good – see, I think that’s why those were supplied, Blais. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, has never done this before since he can’t get conch in the shell back home. He does a cute riff of the orchestra of conch shell shucking, bam bam bam, click click click. I think the editors left in way too much footage of conch shell smashing. We get the idea.

Tiffany has never worked with conch either. It’s taking longer than she expected to get them out. This could be a disaster if she continues to struggle the way she’s struggling. I just noticed her chyron says “Private Social, Executive Chef” instead of Go Fish: Aha, Go Fish closed last November, and Private Social, a new restaurant with a double identity (part upscale, part downscale so rich and poor can go out to dinner together – huh?) took her on as exec, very cool. It sounds kind of screwy to me. The owners are “wedding industry” people, not restauranteurs, so it’s all on her shoulders. I hope it goes well for her.

Antonia feels the opposite of last time, this is a dish she likes, conch tartar, lobster nage, fresh and bright. I have discovered “a la nage” literally means “swimming” and more or less means a French technique of cooking lobster in an herbal broth with wine. She’s worked in many different restaurants, and the wood burning grill is most challenging station she’s ever worked. The flame is dying down as the wind whips up but she gets it going again.

Tiffany wants to push herself and do something different. She’s making conch and coconut chowder, with conch ceviche on top, so she’s making conch two ways. She wants the coconut to stand out, will include coconut cream. Tiffany is surprised by mild flavor of conch. She enjoys soups with a cool finish, so she’s putting ceviche on top of the soup to combine two temperatures. Seems to me it’ll heat up the ceviche pretty damn quick, but what do I know. She plates a little early and her soup sits out for a couple of minutes, with the high wind blowing. Maybe heating up the ceviche isn’t what she needs to worry about after all.

Blais is exhausted, dehydrated, feels 70 years old. It has been a workout, hasn’t it. He does a play on linguini and clams – Linguini and conch, because conch is to the Bahamas what clams are to the northeast. He sees how beautiful the inside of shell is, like a sweet potato, so he’s going to use sweet potato to mimic linguini. Sweet potato noodles. That sounds awesome. I’ve seen zucchini noodles but this sounds better. I’m going to have to find the directions. He interviews that he feels added pressure because he lost his season. He knows the gravity of this. Richard, honey, everyone lost. That’s the point. I think he means he was actually in the finals, and he’s the only one left who made it to the very last episode. Still, it’s a stupid comment. Why is Richard being stupid all of a sudden? Is it the tropical air? Just as he’s getting ready to serve, he looks around and notices everyone else has made Caribbean dishes, and he’s made a Hamptons-inspired dish. He missed the memo! Padma said use conch, not make a Caribbean lunch! Oh no!

Isabella is making banana-leaf wrapped grouper with a warm conch vinaigrette, and he’s going to cook the sweetness out of some pineapple so it’s savory. He interviews that he doesn’t pay attention to what other people are doing, doesn’t care. Then he says he thinks Antonia is masking flavor of conch, and she makes the same food no matter what. So I guess he is paying attention. Shut up, Isabella. He remembers the Vegas camp challenge where they cooked over fire pits. In Interview he sneers at Elia being sent home in the first episode for her banana-leaf wrapped fish but assures that he took it to the next level, it’s a refined but peasant dish. I don’t think he’s even listening to what he’s saying.

Another boat pulls up with their guests. Everyone is in white. Padma in one shoulder white of course. Everything is very white. The chuppah (ok, cabana? Some white gauze over a frame to provide shelter from sun), the clothes, the people. Mighty white. Thierry Huguenin, the Commodore, is a Swiss national with that French-German accent some Swiss have living in the Bahamas. And the servers are all black. The Nassau Yacht Club has 475 members. Do you think they’re all white? Gail is wearing one of Padma’s necklaces. Padma isn’t wearing any necklace. The ex-commodore is a guest, too. They discuss the term limits for Commodores and compare them to NY Mayor. The consensus is, it’s easier for the Mayor of New York to change the law so he can run again, than it is to change the rules of the yacht club. I believe that. I’ve served on church committees where opening a window can take three weeks. Someone points out the Commodore is a three time World Champion in Sailfish class. I’m not sure what Sailfish class is, but everyone seems impressed. Gail tells a story about sailing boxes in Canada on the Great Lakes. Not Sailfish class, I don’t think. Is Gail Canadian? I didn’t know that.

And the tasting:

Blais made Long Island sweet potato linguine with conch and spiny lobster. Lorena’s lobster is undercooked; Gail agrees, Lorena’s is undercooked but apparently everyone else’s is fine. One of the Yacht Club women says they don’t cook conch in the Bahamas but it’s good. Tom is surprised he made pasta from sweet potatoes, they actually try to figure out if it’s pasta or sweet potatoes. They’re very surprised, amazing. The Commodore likes the mushrooms. Addendum: And regarding the sweet potato linguine: the recipe is available now on Bravo. The tricky part seems to be the “Japanese Sheeting Mandolin” which translates, for real people, to a spiral vegetable slicer and can cost from $22 to $719. After that, it’s just a matter of heating the “noodles” in chicken broth until al dente. Pretty cool.

Antonia serves seared snapper with conch tartar and lobster nage. The ceviche has a punch, Lorena loves it, Gail gasps and drinks some wine. I think that means it’s spicy. Others describe her food as great and delicious. Tom says the conch is cut too small so it gets lost, his fish was overcooked, and someone else’s was overcooked.

Tiffany brings her coconut chowder with sweet potatoes and conch ceviche, garnished with coconut cream. The chowder is not hot. Lorena says she likes it because the ceviche is on top, someone likes the mango and sweet potato, but it’s too sweet. Tom says the flavor hasn’t been developed enough.

Isabella serves banana leaf wrapped grouper, braised pineapple and warm conch vinaigrette. One diner says the fish overwhelmed by pineapple. Tom says it didn’t need butter, the fish is rich already. Gail loves what Isabella did, the pineapple is savory and sour, not sweet.

And the now-traditional Interstitial at 40 minutes: They cast themselves in Gilligan’s Island. Blais volunteers to be the Professor, which fits. Isabella is the Skipper since he’s big and old (I don’t see him as old, actually, and until he took his shirt off I didn’t realize he was big) Tiffany would be Ginger. Tiffany doesn’t think she’s Ginger. She doesn’t know why she ends up in that role, she doesn’t wear evening gowns. Cut to her pounding on a conch shell with a hammer. I love you, Tiffany. You’re so yourself. Carla was Gilligan. I’ll buy that. I used to have a crush on Gilligan. They say they can see the real Gilligan’s Island the series pilot was filmed in Hawaii and then the series was filmed on studio sets, and The Real Gilligan’s Island from 2005 was filmed on an island off Florida and while the Bahamas are off Florida I don’t think it went that far. But I could be wrong. And don’t all small tropical islands look alike anyway?

An important announcement: Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen starts March 22 on the SyFy channel. That’s cool. It’s odd that it’s on the SyFy channel, but I’m glad it’s not Food Network, since they’d make him stop using real cooking terms and cook dinner in thirty minutes or for ten dollars.

In stew:
Isabella: “Did you taste my conch?”
Antonia: “I did taste your conch, Mikey.”
Ok, I can put aside my dislike for Isabella long enough to giggle at that.
Tiffany is happy with her dish, it’s exactly what she wanted to make. Blais never feels good, he did something in a different direction, classic. “Yeah,” says Antonia, “potato noodles are super classic, what’s wrong with you?”

They all go out to JT. Padma doesn’t come get them, they just go. Maybe there was a silent whistle only chefs can here. Tom was impressed there wasn’t any sand in any dish.

Antonia felt giving this was a direct reflection of being out there, where her mind went. I’m not sure what that means, maybe I typed it wrong. I think it means she liked her dish. Lorena found a nice balance, sweet and spicy. Tom wished the conch was cut a little bigger, to get more flavor; it was lost in the brunoise. He liked the amount of sear on the fish but the doneness was inconsistent. Padma didn’t like the conventionality, it was the most predictable dish. Antonia says, that’s my style of food.

Blais had a sense of authorship and uniqueness. Padma says the pasta is unusual, Tom says pasta was really good, he thought it was real pasta. Gail says didn’t associate some of the ingredients, mushrooms and fennel seed, with Caribbean food, but it worked. Lorena says the conch was perfectly cooked, but her lobster was undercooked. Back in Stew, Blais says he doesn’t believe it’s possible the lobster was undercooked.

Tiffany says everything today made sense. Lorena says everything was cooked perfectly, and the cilantro did it for her. I don’t understand, is cilantro that unusual? Gail pins her down on the soup being cold. Toms says the flavors were there, the basil and cilantro were nice, but it was a little on the sweet side.

Isabella felt he embraced the challenge and used local ingredients. Gail thought pineapple was amazing, Tom enjoyed banana leaf, which gave a smokiness, and mysterious flavor. The only thing Tom didn’t like was the butter.

Back in Stew, Isabella says something that you think you’re doing well and then you get a smack in the face. What smack? “Now I know why you’re stressed before judges table every time” to Blais. What is he talking about? Shut up, Isabella.

And the winner is Isabella. Ewwww. This is not good. But they felt he showcased the conch in the most unique way. He starts crowing: “I’m showing Blais I can compete with him and beat him.”

Tiffany’s out. She’s very gracious. She admits she was out-cooked.

Next week: another Last Supper. Antonia has a brace on her wrist. And something tastes rancid.

2 responses to “Top Chef All Stars Season 8 Episode 14: Island Fever

  1. Blais has made it a point to mention over and over again, that he SHOULD have and WOULD have won his season had he not choked. According to him, Stephanie didn’t win, HE LOST IT. And that’s the only reason Stephanie won. I’ve wanted to like him, but he’s really lost me when he continually comments on how shocked he is when some one else wins a challenge over him. Especially the women.

    • Thing is… I kinda see his point. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Stephanie, and the success of her restaurants is proving she’s got the chops and she deserved the win. And I wish more chefs on the show (and in RL) had her personality. But I love how playful Blais is with ideas and concepts. And I have to admit, I just love those tricks. Even on a beach with a wood fire, he comes up with sweet potato “pasta” that fools Tom, riffing on clams and linguini. I think I might like Stephanie’s food better, but I love how Richard’s mind works. Even when it doesn’t.

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