Top Chef All-Stars recap, Episode 6: We’re gonna need a bigger boat

SPOILER ALERT! This recap contains absolutely NO spoilers. Seriously. If you have not watched the show, it is probably a great idea for you to read this. I promise it won’t completely ruin everything for you.*

As usual, we pick up right where the last episode left off, with the chefs reeling from the previous elimination. And, early on, Bravo and Jamie reiterate what every single person in the country already knew: Jamie should have gone home.

We also get to see drunken Marcel yelling at Dale about how he supposedly only cooked eight portions of his winning dim sum. Words can’t describe how lamely ghetto he tries to act here. Marcel’s sour grapes quickly descends into full-blown faux thug “smack talkin”, including flailing arms and the phrase “then get out the bleepin’ game”. Word to your mother.

QUICKFIRE (Or is it?)

The bleary-eyed chefs roll out of bed at 4:30 AM and head into the kitchen, only to find that Padma and Tom apparently got to sleep in. The kitchen is empty, except for a kitschy “Gone Fishin’” plaque and directions for the chefs to hop into their (PLUG ALERT!) Toyota Siennas and drive out to Montauk Point, one of the most popular fishing spots in New York.

Tom and Padma await our cheftestants at the point and immediately blindside them: There is no Quickfire this week, and it is a double elimination.

The chefs must split into four teams of three and they have 5 hours to catch all of the fish that they will need to cook for a crowd of 200. If they don’t catch any fish, they are S.O.L. At this point, I’m already imagining myself hurling a wine bottle at the screen if any of the chef’s inabilities as anglers lead to their elimination. If these guys are going to lose the challenge, I want it to be because they cooked crappy food, not because their fishing guide gave them crappy advice.

The teams are:

Team #1 – Dale T., Tre, Carla (Boat: Sea Wife IV)

Team #2 – Mike, Angelo, Tiffany (Boat: Susie E. II)

Team #3, AKA “sucks to be you guys, you got Jamie” – Jamie, Tiffani, Antonia (Boat: Sea Wife IV)

Team #4 – Blais, Marcel, Fabio (Boat: Susie E. II)

We learn that both Fabio and Dale’s fathers were avid fisherman, so one would think that their teams would have an immediate edge. We also find out that Angelo is scared to get into a baby pool because his parents let him watch Jaws a few years too early. I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never panicked in the deep end and scrambled for the ladder with images of a giant great white pulling me under running through my mind. Except that happened when I was 10 years old.

The teams on the Sea Wife boat come out of the gate strong, and the Susie E teams have not pulled in a single fish as of 2.5 hours into the excursion. While I enjoy the drama of it all, I was relieved to see the Susie E boat start pulling in fish left and right to catch up.

This weeks’ sexual innuendo? The teams on Susie E help each other reel in their fish by sitting in front of the angler’s crotch and steadying their rod while one person works the reel. Mike I. makes a suggestive comment to Tiffany and Blais just spells it out for us: “We kind of have a weird technique that I don’t know that I’m proud of. I’m kinda sitting in Marcel’s lap, holding his rod…” (Eh, eh?!?!)

We also get to see Dale give birth to the biggest striped bass in Bravo history. The baby is crowning!!

Once everyone is content that they have enough fish to serve, menu planning begins. Team Blais/Marcel/Fabio makes a crucial mistake at this point. They let Marcel take charge, who thinks that they should only make one dish. Fabio is on board with this idea, because if they wind up on the bottom, the judges won’t be able to decide whom to send home for it. I’ll pick that logic apart later.

Professor Blais says, “I’m letting Marcel think that he came up with the entire dish. That is the key to managing Marcel.” Sound logic Richard, except that you actually let Marcel come up with the entire dish.

The chefs de-board and head straight to the market, which Angelo thinks is “banging”. And we get to see the budding bromance of Fabio and Richard, getting all buddy buddy strolling through the market with their cute little radio flyer wagon. No one said it better than Anotnia: “They are like the odd couple. The professor and the…strange Italian immigrant.”

Carla caught two bluefish, a “trashy fish”, but she knows that she must remove the bloodline, which is extremely bitter and fishy. This will serve her well (and others, not so well).

The chefs scramble onto Water Taxi Beach to begin prep work, and Jamie “Debbie Downer” Lauren seems to have finally gotten on the other chefs’ last nerve. She can’t stop complaining about everything, from the sand, to the heat, to the cucumber dripping on her. Though there were some great one-liners this week, my favorite was Antonia mumbling under her breath at Jamie: “What do you want me to tell you…you’re going home.”

Fabio, the “baby kisser”, is designated the prep chef for Marcel and Richard. He is fine not being “the rock star”, but his new bromance with Richard is soon tested after the 47th order that Blais barks at him.

Fabio: “Dude, shut up. You won’t get faster done if you keep asking.” Oh, Fabio. You and your endearing butchery of the English language. He had another quote about Blais that started with “I love him to death”, but after 16 rewinds on the DVR, I still couldn’t piece the second half of the sentence together.

Honestly, I’m on Richard’s side on this one. If Fabio didn’t want to be talked to like he is a prep chef, he shouldn’t have taken the job.

Tom C. makes the rounds, playing some wicked mind games with the chefs. His chats are filled with loaded questions (“Why only one dish?”) and sideways looks. Dale gets freaked out about using store bought tortillas, and Tiffani has to defend her choice of using blue fish. To say that Blais is nervous about his team’s succotash and their decision to cook only one dish would be an understatement.

This week’s quest judge, fish guru Kerry “No, it still isn’t Anthony Bourdain” Heffernan is the executive chef at South Gate restaurant, and Tom’s fishing buddy.

At the first Judge’s tasting, as he digs into Richard/Marcel/Fabio’s sea bass you can hear the contempt in Tom C. voice as he says “Yeah, this team only made ONE dish.”

TANGENT TIME!

The way that Angelo describes his dishes is an infraction that frustrates the hell out of me whenever I hear chefs talk this way: “Well, what we have here is a beautiful striped bass and a beautiful…blah blah blah.” I don’t want you to inject “beautiful”, “delightful”, or “wonderful” into the explanation of your food. I’ll be the judge of that.

Commercial interlude: Angelo thinks Mike would be a blowfish because he is gassy, Carla thinks Tre would be a creature buried in the sand because you don’t notice that he is there until he laughs, and Dale thinks Angelo would be a mermaid. Why would Angelo be a mermaid? He doesn’t say, because it just makes sense. Did you disagree with Dale? No, you didn’t. You probably said, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

JUDGE’S TABLE

Teams Dale/Carla/Tre & Mike/Tiffany/Angelo are this week’s top teams, and it is a high stakes challenge. The winner gets a trip to Amsterdam (Wait, is that stoner Antonia I hear crying from the stew room?). Though the diners loved Dale’s fish tacos, Carla’s tribute to a NY bagel (smoked blue fish lettuce wrap w/ toasted pumpernickel bagels) wins her a trip to Holland. HOOTIE HOO!!!!

Understandably, Carla is ecstatic over her win, but her jumping-up-and-down celebration in the stew room irks Marcel, who just figured out that he is on the bottom. I get that, but why be a D-bag and rain on her parade Marcel? Oh, that’s right. It is because you ARE a D-bag.

The losing teams (Antonia/Tiffani/Jamie and Blais/Marcel/Fabio) face a tough judges table. The judges quickly poke holes in Fabio’s theory, questioning whether Fabio really contributed to the dish and squarely placing blame on Blais/Marcel for a failed concept. Antonia learns that her dish was actually so good that she would have won the trip to Amsterdam if she hadn’t been on team “dead weight” that presented two other weak dishes.

You want to know why she is crying Padma? It isn’t because she should have critiqued the other two dishes. It is because she wants to legally eat mushrooms and go to the Van Gogh museum.

Tiffani should have been paying more attention to Carla, because the bloodlines that she left in her bluefish gave the dish a heavy fishy taste that the judges didn’t appreciate. And Jamie’s decision to add cucumber water on top of her striped bass w/ watermelon salad made for a bland, washed out dish.

The editors take it down to the wire, leaving us wondering if it will be a Marcel/Blais ejection or if Jamie and Tiffani will hit the bricks. I must say, I was more on the edge of my seat this episode than any this season. I was ready to flip out if Jamie stuck around while Richard went home.

Thankfully, there is justice in this world, and Jamie and Tiffani packed their knives and went.

Jamie, it has been a good run. As a Top Chef fan, I’m so very glad that you were finally cut. However, as a Top Chef re-capper, I’m sad to see you go. Your terrible work ethic and constant complaining gave me so much material to work with. Thankfully, Marcel and Angelo are still around.

Next week: RESTAURANT WARS!!! OOOHHHH YEAAAAAHHHHH!

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Chick-fil-A’s new spicy chicken biscuit

After eagerly waiting through the holidays for December 27th to roll around, I made my reservation at my local Chick-fil-A to sample the newest of their spicy offerings, the chicken biscuit.

Those of you that followed my blogging before I joined the AJC team already know this, but for those that don’t, you should understand something: I’m a complete slave to fast food breakfast. You know when you’ve been with someone for so long that they can finish your sentences? Well, I can name more than one drive-thru operator in Atlanta that will cut me off mid-order and finish it for me.

I’m not a proud man, just being honest.

I also love spicy food, so the new spicy chicken biscuit immediately piqued my interest. But I had many questions about how successful this would be, not the least of which being “Will people want to eat spicy food first thing in the morning?”

As I unwrapped the spicy chicken biscuit, I searched for any visual clues that would set this apart from the original. For all appearances, it looks almost the same, save for a few noticeable flakes of black pepper. Unlike the spicy chicken sandwich, which has an orange tint to it that screams “spicy”, the chicken biscuit looked just like the ones that I grew up eating. Even as I took my first bite, that telltale ring of cayenne that I expected was nowhere to be seen.

The first thing that I noticed is that the breading lacked the same level of spices that they use for the sandwich. After my first few bites, I noticed no semblance of heat. It tasted just like the original.

But, as is usually the case when dealing with a cayenne heavy spice rub, it caught up with me. It is a slow heat that catches you in the back of the throat just when you think that this one may be a dud. The flavors were familiar, but by the time I’d finished, I found myself returning to the counter to get a refill on my water.

Dialing back the spice was a wise move on Chick-fil-A’s part, as only the hardcore chili heads want their tops blown off before starting their day. I think that the level of heat is just right. There is enough spice to satisfy the capsaicin lovers, but not so much that it will ruin the average person’s morning.

One complaint that I hear often about their chicken biscuits is about the biscuit itself, and I agree that it is the weakest link in the dish. It was always more about the chicken for me, so it never really bothered me, but if you can’t stand the biscuit on the original, don’t expect anything different here.

Overall, I really enjoyed it – not surprising, since I like the original – and will probably add the spicy chicken biscuit into my rotation of “chasing an early grave” breakfast items.

I know that some of you have claimed your free spicy biscuit already…what did you think?

P.S. In other awesome fast-food breakfast news, the Atlanta Business Chronicle is reporting that Bojangles’ will open at least 25 more stores in the metro Atlanta area over the next few years.

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Top Chef All-Stars Recap, Episode 5: Dim sum, pet turtles, and daddy issues

At this point, if you don’t already know that this contains spoilers, then I feel no guilt for ruining the show for you.

After a week off, we pick up with our chefs discussing Angelo’s meddling with everyone’s food, and Jaime’s complete lack of cooking so far this season. Tip ‘o the cap to Richard Blais for his assessment of Jaime: “I haven’t seen her cook anything….she’s like the octopus, because you never see them. Something that comes out every once in a while, cooks some chickpeas, crawls back in their hole…”

As we get into the Quickfire, it is immediately apparent that speed is going to be central to this week’s episode. A “mystery chef” is going to prep and cook a dish as quickly as possible, and that will determine the chef’s time limit for their dishes. The winner quietly drives off with a new Toyota Prius and immunity.

Lo and behold, we get to see Tom Colicchio actually work in the kitchen. I honestly thought that Tom, who claimed to be “rusty”, would screw up a few times, and have a “wow, this really IS hard guys!” moment.

Not so much. Tom comes out and reminds the chefs and the audience why he owns restaurants that he never has to cook in. Because he has done that crap already, and he did it better than most. The chefs are awed by his speed and precision, and it is a great thing to watch. As Fabio put it, “Every move is synchronized with the next one. This guy is good.”

Marcel Moment # 1: When discussing watching Tom cook: “Seeing Tom cook like us is rad! I gotta give that guy respect, because I’ve seen it firsthand” <throws up a quasi-gang sign hand motion> All that was missing from that was a “yo” at the end.

Tom cranks out an apparently delicious dish of black bass with clams, zucchini, and tomato in 8 minutes and 37 seconds. Yup, you guys are screwed.

Oh, and by the way, I’ll believe that Angelo didn’t buy his wife out of a catalog before you can convince me that Tom didn’t practice that dish fifty times before doing it on camera. Rusty? HA!

The cheftestants now have 8:37 to prep and cook a dish, and Tom warns them that difficulty will be taken into consideration, so tuna tartar is not going to impress anyone. Queue the drum and Tiffani looking thwarted.

Always going against the grain, and being sneaky as hell, Marcel digs through Tom’s scraps for his black bass rather than fight fridge scramble. Blais goes straight for the foie gras – NEVER a bad decision, I might add – because it will cook quickly, but is challenging to cook properly. Despite being DIRECTLY told not to serve raw fish, Angelo thought that his “cool technique” for his yuzu branzino crudo would compensate for his laziness. Dude…crudo is raw fish with olive oil, salt, and citrus on it. Just because you chose an Asian citrus, doesn’t mean your technique impressed anyone.

Maybe it’s the cabernet talking, but was it just me, or was this episode rife with sexual innuendo? Are they just picking vices to highlight in each episode? So far, I thought they were just going to stick to weed references, but not this week. For example:

Innuendo #1 – Jaime: “I think speed is important in certain…contexts. I’ve dated people who are fast…I might be construed as fast..hahahaha” T-M-I.

The panic and completely unreasonable time constraint gets to quite a few of the chefs. Poor not-as-angry-as-he-used-to-be Dale. His attempt at pad Thai went completely south, leaving one paltry egg noodle surrounded by fish sauce. Tom spit it out into his napkin. Jaime manages to plate only a single clam. I’m honestly shocked that she didn’t twist her ankle and sit the whole thing out. They join half-assing-it-Angelo in the bottom.

Tom’s favorite dishes include Mike I’s pan roasted branzino, Marcel’s sea bass with dashi broth, and Blais’ seared foie gras.

Marcel Moment # 2: “Mike Isabella is actually after me, and the judges seem to really like his dish. I’m kinda wondering if they’re still getting some lingering flavors from my dish and it’s carrying into his…” Come on dude. Do you believe the crap that comes out of your mouth, or do you just like saying it on camera?

As if Marcel’s post interview bitterness didn’t broadcast it loudly enough, Mike I. wins immunity and the Prius.

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE

The chefs will work as a single team to take over Grand Harmony, one of the most popular dim sum restaurants in Chinatown, and will serve hundreds of diners during lunch rush. Remember kids, these aren’t star struck yuppies at a movie premier that watch Top Chef every season. This is lunch, in Chinatown, with a large room full of Chinese people who want good dim sum and don’t know who the @#$% you are. Good luck with that.

Marcel Moment # 3: “ Isabella..in the Prius…Jersey Shore…fist pumping…’ay can I get a cup of cawfee on da cwona for a qwarta?!” This coming from a dude with Pauly D’s hair cut.

The chefs begin menu planning, and this is where bad decisions are made. Jaime immediately suggests a scallop dish, which is a great segue into her Season 5 “Top Scallop” montage. Mike I. steps up to take the role of expediter, and Casey and Carla take on the responsibility of pushing the carts and serving the food. But all three of them still have to present a dish, and Mike has immunity. You sure you thought that one through ladies?

To round out the bad decision-making, Jaime decides that she can handle cooking a second dish. What, did all of those weeks of not cooking let you save up some extra juice for this challenge? You barely cooked a single clam in eight and half minutes.

The chefs pop open a few late night bottles of vino and kick back, savoring the last bit of relaxing they will do for the next 24 hours or so. Which brings us to…

Innuendo # 2, 3, and 4 – I’m not going to type out the whole exchange, but it involved Tiffani’s bra size (36 DD…where’s my “hootie hoo” Carla!?!), said bra being rubbed in Antonia’s face, and the line “fiddling around with their diddlies.”

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Top Chef Recap: Flag on the Blais

SPOILER ALERT!!!! In case you missed the large, bold, headline directly above this sentence, this is a Top Chef recap. That means I’m going to tell you what happens, while mocking the return of numerous D-bags that I thought I was done watching on television forever. You’ve been warned.

Top Chef All-Stars arrived and came out swinging. Whoever the genius at Bravo was that decided to bring back seven seasons worth of popular Top Chef contestants deserves a raise. Bravo, Bravo.

If you have never watched Top Chef before, then this season is nothing special. You don’t really know who these people are. But for devotees like me this is fan-freakin-tastic. We’re already invested. Sides have already been chosen.

As absurd as it is undeniable, the power of reality TV makes us feel like we know these people already, like old friends. We already know and love – or hate – them. And every elimination is going to upset someone out there. Except for maybe Stephen, because that guy is a joke. Seriously.

We start things off with the obligatory re-intros to the old gang as they arrive in their new house, fully stocked with GE appliances and 55-gallon drums of Swanson broth. Thankfully, the team at Bravo made the doorway large enough to fit the egos that the cast brought with them.

Many of the best villains, morons, and D-bags have returned. Marcel seems to be the exact same unreasonably arrogant boy-man that he was before, but no longer has his age as an excuse. We get more of feather ruffle Spike, who Bourdain lauds as “the craftiest mother-bleeper who has ever been on this show.” Stephen, who is likely nothing more than chum that the casting directors wanted to see re-devoured in this shark tank of culinary talent, has managed to get more pretentious and less impressive than the last time we saw him.

At first I thought it was just the MTV reality shows, but I’m getting the feeling that maturing as a person is a lot more difficult once you have been on camera.

But there are also some of our favorites, those that beg to be rooted for. Obviously, top of this list for most Atlantans is “Professor” Richard Blais. It is so refreshing to see Blais cooking food of the caliber of which he is capable again. When burgers have been all that we have seen of him for the last two years, it is easy to forget that he is a fantastically talented and inventive chef. But it makes me shed a tear that I can’t actually EAT that food in this town anymore.

The list could go on, but I’d bet you a bag of Buitoni frozen pasta that Jen C., the Dales, Jaime Lauren, Fabio, and Tiffany all have fan clubs praying for their vindication as well.

Before this becomes a dissertation, let’s skip to the highlights:

Quickfire Challenge

- The chefs are broken into teams according to their season’s host city, Chicago, New York, DC, Miami, Vegas, LA, and San Fran.

- Richard Blais LOVES liquid nitrogen. I laughed aloud when that was the first thing out of his mouth during menu planning. If it weren’t for the fact that his food rocks and consistently wins, it would be easy to mock how he seemly refuses to cook without a welder’s mask and Kevlar gloves. But his nitrogen mustard ice cream clenches the W for team Chicago (including Spike, Dale T., and Jaime). Fear the faux-hawk. (That’s +2 points each for those playing Fantasy TC at home.)

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