As we jump back into the stew room, immediately following Fabio’s departure, Blais looks like someone just ran over his puppy. Broken hearted over the loss of his bromance, Richard vents, “I wish he would have consulted with me. I run a burger restaurant!”
That is probably very true, but you can’t fix everyone’s dishes for them Richard. But that is sweet of you.
Back at the bar, Dale and Richard form a season 4 alliance. Side note – I love that every time we see the chefs at the bar, Dale is ALWAYS one of the only ones drinking a real cocktail instead of coffee.
The chefs walk into the Top Chef kitchen and, after an awkward spoken word version of the theme song from Padma, up pop the characters from Sesame Street! The guest judges for the Quickfire challenge are Sesame Street all-stars Elmo, Cookie Monster, and….that purple guy? WTF? Was Grover booked or something? (Purple guy’s name is Telly, and I don’t remember him from my childhood at all. Sorry Telly fans, but you know that he is B-team at best.)
The chefs are positively giddy over the sesame street thing, none more so than Antonia and Richard, whose kids are raging Elmo fans. Richard: “In my house, Elmo is like Elvis. If I mess this up, it will be devastating.”
For the Quickfire challenge, the chefs have 45 minutes to prepare…what else? …COOOOOKIIIEEESS! The winner gets $5K, and the respect of children everywhere.
Elmo (jokingly) suggests that the chefs use zucchini or carrots in their cookie. In a move of obvious pandering to Elmo, Richard decides to actually listen to him and use zucchini. No matter what happens, that exchange with the bright red puppet just made him a rock star to his little girl.
Many of the chefs are just trying to get by in this challenge. Dale isn’t really a “cookie guy”, Angelo hasn’t made cookies in 25 years (which means that he was 10 years old….hmmm…not buying that), and Mike claims that he has never even made a cookie before – something that Dale balks at, considering how many cookies Mike has eaten.
The chefs also take the opportunity to snipe one another constantly during the challenge. Antonia scoffs at Dale because he isn’t actually baking his cookies, calling him a “cookie cheater” and Mike I calls Richard out for not really making cookies at all: “Richard Blais is making whipped cream and freezing them and calling them ice cream cookies. Is there ever going to be a challenge where he doesn’t use liquid nitrogen?”
I can’t really argue with that logic, since that trick comes out EVERY WEEK.
The puppets come out from behind the table to taste the cookies. And by “taste”, I mean that Cookie Monster demolishes them in his mouth and showers the table in crumbs, but everyone gets a chuckle. I can only assume that the puppeteers sneak cookies under the table.
Now, maybe I missed something here…when Padma explains to purple whats-his-face that cinnamon and cardamom grow in the same part of the world, Elmo awkwardly replies with “TMI.” Was there some innuendo in there that I just didn’t notice?
Blais’ additional Daddy bonus points: getting Elmo to give Riley a personal shout out. There is just so much cute happening here I can barely contain myself.
Mike’s almond and dried cherry cookie w/ rose petal powdered sugar impresses purple guy, to which he replies, “Yeah, I’m a little fast sometimes.” Shouldn’t THIS be where Elmo chimes in with TMI?
Unfortunately, no matter how much Richard wanted to win this one for his daughter, Cookie Monster – as well as every other chef in the room – frowned on the fact that he didn’t actually make a cookie, even though Elmo could taste the zucchini.
The favorites were Dale’s pretzel and potato chip shortbread cookie with salted caramel chocolate ganache and Antonia’s dark chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips, caramel glaze, and sprinkles.
That brings the $5K down to Dale and Antonia. Let’s take a quick flashback to Antonia whining about Dale not actually baking his cookies….ahhh! It makes sense now. That is because she is a sore loser.
Dale wins the Quickfire and picks up $5,000.
And this week’s mega sponsor is….Target! (Or “Tarjay” to those of us that don’t want to feel poor when we shop there. Because if you make it sound French, it is obviously a step up from Wal-Mart….)
All of that Target sponsorship money buys the chefs a late night lock-in at one of their stores, and apparently, the right to feature Kevin Gillespie in 47 commercials during the episode.
Starting at midnight, the chefs will have 3 hours to scramble around and get EVERYTHING that they will need to cook a meal for 100 target employees. They aren’t even allowed to bring their own knives, which I’m sure irked more than a few of them. A chef’s knife collection is sacred, and last time I checked, Target doesn’’t exactly carry top of the line cutlery.
Oh, and in case you haven’t heard of a Super Target, Padma reassures them: “You don’t need to worry about ingredients. Target has an expanded store with a varied selection of fresh produce and groceries.” Judging by Mike’s “Oh really?” nod, that was news to him.
Once inside Target, all hell breaks loose. Chefs are sprinting everywhere, grabbing blenders, tables, and crock-pots. I’m with Dale when he says, “I’m exhausted when I leave a Target, let alone cooking and running around in a Target.”
This challenge is pretty insane if you ask me. Three hours to cook for 100 people is a tall order when they have a full professional kitchen at their disposal, but to have to assemble a cooking station before you even think about recipes is ridiculous.
We also get a glimpse into a new budding bromance! Mike I. and Angelo have stars in their eyes as they team up to shop together. Give those two a registry gun STAT! Mike even throws around pet names like “sweetie” as he makes Angelo do all of his bidding.
Carla is a hot mess. She keeps her caterer cap on for way too long, worrying about table linens and placemats when…oops! I have to actually shop for food!
I really don’t understand why so many of the chefs – and not to sound sexist, but it was mostly the lady chefs….and Angelo –were preoccupied with making their cooking station pretty. No one cares or remembers what your table looks like. I don’t remember anyone at Judge’s Table saying, “Yeah, her soup was crap, but did you see how well her fake flowers coordinated with the tablecloth??”
Back to Carla. Everyone else is already cooking and she is looking for linens. She has wastes over half of her time shopping. Hot. Freakin’. Mess.
The chefs have to adjust their dishes to deal with these absurd circumstances and sub-par equipment. Almost everyone is making a soup of some sort, with a few exceptions.
Dale draws his inspiration from his college days in his dorm room, when he was broke and drunk (and stoned), so he makes a grilled cheese with steak – cooked with an iron – and tomato soup. I love the throwback use of the iron, but you are telling me that Target doesn’t stock a grill press?
Time for a personal tangent.
I love Dale’s approach on this, because I can totally identify with it. Starting from when I was in college, I was notorious for coming home wasted from a bar and cooking some ungodly combination of things I find in my fridge at 3 AM. Seriously, you take me out for a big night on the town and throw me in a room with a George Foreman grill, some horseradish, a can of Vienna sausage, and some pita chips and I’ll cook the best $#%^ that you’ve ever eaten. Or, at least that is what I think at 3 AM.
I’d like to say that I grew out of that in college, but that would be a lie. The difference is that now I just have much higher quality random ingredients in my fridge.
Ok, Carla. WTF? After wasting an hour and half bouncing around Target like a pinball, you spend 30 more minutes setting up your table? Leaving herself with only an hour to cook, Carla realizes that she doesn’t have a protein to go with her curried apple soup. Expecting to cook a properly developed soup for a hundred people in one hour is insane.
Back in the lover’s corner, Angelo asks Mike to taste his potato soup, which Mike says is “a little thick” and “missing something”. Angelo hears “It needs salt”, which is not what Mike said. Angelo decides to add more salt and bacon to his soup. Even without the obvious editing, I could immediately tell that this was a mistake. It screams “overkill”. First, the longer that the soup cooks, the more that the flavors develop, so it is going to get saltier over time. Secondly, bacon is salty! Why add salt AND bacon?
As Thomas O’Brien, Target’s head designer and the most unnecessary addition to this episode, sets up all of the pretty tables, a horde of red shirted Target employees descend on the frantic chefs.
This week’s guest judges are Anthony Bourdain, rando designer guy, and Ming Tsai, Chef/Owner of Blue Ginger.
Breakdown of the soup…I mean, food:
Richard – Pork tenderloin with green chilies, apples, braised pork ribs, and corn pancakes.
Dale – Rib eye grilled cheese sandwich and spicy tomato soup.
Carla – Curry apply soup with tomato ginger jam and cucumber apple slaw.
Antonia – Parmesan eggs on garlic crostini with almond, tomato, and apple salad.
Mike – Spicy coconut soup with mushrooms, scallions, and lime.
Angelo – Baked potato soup with bacon, sour cream, potato skins, scallions, and cheddar cheese
Tiffany – Jambalaya with chicken, sausage, and shrimp with a summer salad.
The flavors in Richard’s arepas impressed the judges, though Bourdain mentioned that his dish was “butt ugly.” Dale’s dorm room grilled cheese was also a favorite. Ming was impressed by Dale’s brilliance in using an iron, and Bourdain, never passing up an excuse to make a weed reference, cites it as “stoner food” and wonders if they should give Dale a urine test. Sure thing Tony, right after you take yours.
Carla can’t even keep a straight face as she serves her soup to the judges. Not surprisingly, they say that it is screaming for protein and felt more like gravy than a soup that could stand on its own. Antonia’s gamble of cooking 100 over easy eggs under these conditions pays off, and Bourdain compliments her ballsiness. Mike, in a slip that I’ll chalk up to exhaustion, introduces his dish has having “fresh coconut milk”, which Padma absolutely POUNCES on.
Padma: “You found fresh coconut HERE?”
Mike: “No, I found coconut milk.”
Padma: “Yeah, then it’s not fresh coconut milk.”
While this exchange was entertaining for me, I’m sure some irate executive at the Target home office screamed out at his television “SHUT THE $%#$ UP MRS. RUSHDIE! You don’t have to sound so surprised that we might actually carry coconut!”
Tiffany’s jambalaya had soggy and rubbery chicken, and was just “OK”, according to Tom.
I was going to save this for my notes at the end of the post, but I felt this line needed to be properly addressed. Was I the only one that rolled my eyes when Angelo said this: “I feel pretty good about the dish, you know. My biggest concern at this point in time is that they understand the flavors.”
Understand the flavors?! Dude, you made baked potato soup. And in a super unique move, you added cheese, bacon, sour cream, and scallions. If the judges have ever eaten at an Applebee’s, they are familiar with those flavors. Good thing you did serve up a maverick dish like PB&J, or you would have really thrown their palates for a loop.
I honestly can’t stand how that guy feels the need to talk up his dishes to make them sound like more than they are.
With a little pat on the butt from Mike, Angelo serves up his soup. Well, the judges clearly understand the flavors, because it is one that they cook with every day: SALT.
All of the chefs are completely cracked out. It is past dawn and they have been up all night. It doesn’t look like the most fun stew room that I’ve ever seen.
The favorites this week are Dale, Richard, and Antonia. Not surprisingly, two of the three dishes didn’t include soup, and Dale’s tomato soup played second fiddle to his ironed steak and cheese sandwich. Pulling a twofer, Dale’s stoner food wins him $25K. That is $30K in prizes for Dale in this episode alone. Who said potheads are underachievers?
The bottom three aren’t surprising: Carla, Tiffany, and Angelo. Of course, Carla knew exactly why she was there. Angelo, AGAIN with the overcomplicating of his food, describes his soup as “obviously, a deconstruction of a baked potato.”
IT WAS POTATO SOUP! Get over yourself.
In addition to being overly salty, the judges also piled on that the soup was too rich and that Angelo was too heavy handed with the scallions. Tiffany gets skewered for her reliance on Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning, and the judges suggest that she should have let the flavors develop naturally rather than using a prepackaged spice.
Tiffany also treats us to a first class breakdown, which I will again chalk up to exhaustion. Regardless of how tired she was, it was still painful to watch. When asked for any parting thoughts before a decision is made, Tiffany launches into a disjointed tear-filled ramble about how she is from Beaumont, Texas, something about dreaming big, and how honored she is to be there. Poor thing.
Some folks on the Twittersphere seemed shocked by this, but Angelo’s deconstructed salt lick ended his time on Top Chef All-Stars. The other chefs are stunned, none more so than Mike. I saw that one coming a mile away.
Angelo said it best: “How could you get past salt?”
Please pack your deep-v and go.
Notes and quotes:
Where was Angelo’s fashion sense this episode? Dude was sporting shorts and knee high black socks. The only things missing were flip-flops and a fanny pack.
“I’m from Beaumont, I’m from Beaumont.” – Dale (In his best Tiffany voice)
“Beaumont cried again!” – Carla
“It looked like cow chips!” – Elmo, on Antonia’s cookies
The irony that Angelo went home for taking another chef’s advice on his food was not lost on me. Karma is a BEE-OTCH!
NEXT WEEK: It’s PAULA YALL!!!!!
P.S. – For those asking about my current progress in the Top Chef recap game, I stopped keeping score for the last few weeks because I was being beaten so badly. Honestly, it was embarrassing. But I promise, sometime when it isn’t 4 AM, I’ll update the scores and let you know…
- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog
- Jon Watson writes about Popular Eats for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Live To Feast