Spoiler al….ah, screw it. You know the drill.
In what has become typical fashion for this season, we open with the chefs in the stew room going through their normal “oh my gosh, I can’t believe that so and so went home. He/She was such a great chef. Man, none of us are safe” routine. In this case, that he/she was Angelo.
Because the sun is coming up, the chefs miss their regular decompression at the bar, and hit the hay. The next day, Mike and Richard are pouring over Blais’ notebooks. “Preparation is everything. I’ve filled up two notebooks already this season with plans, and they are detailed, with pictures.” Pictures of liquid nitrogen.
The chefs enter the Top Chef kitchen and IT’S PAULA YAAALLLL!!! HEEEEYYYYYY!!!
Carla and Tiffany, being from the south, are both uber-pumped, while Antonia knows that she is probably in for a “fry me something, roll it in butter, and dip it in some mayonnaise kind of a challenge.” For those that don’t know, when she isn’t filming cooking shows or signing cookbooks, Paula spends her evenings on a dingy mattress with a rusty syringe of liquid butter stuck in her arm.
Not surprisingly, this challenge is all about southern cooking.
“I don’t know if you can tell by my (grossly exaggerated for television) accent, but Southern cookin’ is very near and dear to my heart.” I’m trying to place it Paula….Minnesota, maybe? Ah, I’m no good with accents.
For this Quickfire challenge, the chefs must come impress Paula with a fried dish. Mrs. Deen advises them to let their imagination run wild: “If you can eat it, you can fry it…no calamari sprinkled on a salad…come on.” Some of the chefs take Paula’s advice to heart, and some don’t. The point is to make something creative, not something that you see fried all of the time.
Mike’s approach is to make fried “oysters” – using the oyster of a chicken, a little ball of delicious dark meat where the thigh attaches to the body – and serve it from an oyster shell. Of course, he got this idea straight out of Blais’ little black book earlier this morning, where Richard had the exact same idea sketched out, pictures and all. Even Mike, with a $#!% eating grin on his face, admits that he took the idea from Richard. Except he calls it “inspiration.”
Richard drops coffee and lime flavored mayonnaise in liquid nitrogen so that it forms a little ball of frozen mayo, and then deep-fries it. Yup. Liquid Nitrogen. Again. However, in this instance, I think it is a necessary step. Without it, he wouldn’t be able to do this dish at all. Deep frying mayo would be pretty difficult unless it would hold its shape in the fryer.
Carla whips up a dish that I have honestly never heard of anyone frying before. Seriously, it is genius: Catfish and hush puppies. Tiffany, in another original move, makes fried chicken wings and fried pickles. Seriously Tiffany? You even used the line “It’s what you would find any place that serves fried food.” Paula didn’t tell you to pump your imagination full of horse tranquilizer, she said to let it run wild.
Mike’s arrogance has hit about a 9.5 in this episode, especially while discussing the Quickfire challenge. After smugly brushing off the fact that he blatantly stole his dish from Richard, he also knocks the complexity of everyone else’s dishes – “At the end of the day, less is more and simple is better.”
So is coming up with your own ideas you shadeball.
Padma and Paula – That could be a great name for a TV show…you paying attention Bravo? – approach Antonia, the first chef up for the Quickfire tasting. Antonia has put together a delicious fried shrimp salad, with fried avocado, fried jalapeño, grilled corn, tomatoes, and fried herbs. Paula seems to love the dish. Except for the minor detail that Antonia only made one plate between both judges…she completely forgot to make a second plate. Whoopsy.
When Paula gets around to Richard, she can’t help but take a crack at his Jersey shore super spiked hair, which he takes in self-deprecating stride, saying that it is “one part duck fat and one part liquid nitrogen.”
Although, now that I think about it, he could have easily been referring to his food and not his hair. But, they never told us that he used duck fat for the fried mayo when he was cooking, so it is tough to tell. I’ll chalk that up to omissive editing.
Just when we thought it wasn’t possible for Richard’s hair to stand up any straighter, he stares DAGGERS at Mike when he hears him describe his dish. Mike knows full well what he did, avoiding eye contact with Blais, and using the cop out that he has seen other chefs do it before. While I agree with the notion that, in cooking, very few dishes out there are truly original and that chefs take inspiration and ideas from each other all the time, I’m not buying that Mike had ever heard of doing a fried chicken oyster on the half shell before.
Despite all of her over-the-top syrupy Southernness, I like Paula’s frankness. She doesn’t pull any punches, and I bet that she cusses like a sailor off camera.
First up are Paula’s least favorites.
Dale’s steak wrapped fried oyster didn’t have any flavors that wowed her, and she likens Carla’s hush puppies to spitballs. When Paula explains to Carla what hush puppies are like in the south, we get our first taste of the point that Carla HAMMERS home for the rest of this episode: She is from the South.
Carla, here is some advice that you won’t follow for the rest of this episode: Don’t remind people that you are from the South if you are going to continually screw up Southern cuisine.
Paula drops her fair share of fantastic quotes this episode, not the least of which is when she tells Antonia that she “could come over there, put you over my knee, and whip your cute little BLEEP.” Paula makes no bones about the fact that Antonia’s fried salad was the best dish, by far, but she has to rule her out on a technicality, costing her the $5K prize. That leaves Richard and recipe-stealin’ Mike as her remaining favorites. Not surprisingly, given Mike’s cocky attitude in his interviews, he wins the challenge and the money with his stolen dish.
Our second guest judge of the week is a serious culinary heavyweight: James Beard award winning John Besh, Chef/Owner of August in New Orleans.
Personal Side note: I’m heading to New Orleans this weekend for my Bachelor party, and watching this episode makes me resent the fact that there is no way that my drunkard groomsmen are taking me to August. If I don’t make it back in one piece and this is to be my last Top Chef recap, know that I went out having a good time and I love you guys.
Besh is hosting a benefit in New York for the Greater New Orleans foundation, a charity that helps prop up fisherman whose livelihood has been impacted by the Gulf oil spill, and the chefs are preparing the food. Each chef must choose a different Gulf seafood and prepare a dish based around it for 300 guests.
If you hadn’t noticed, we are down to only six chefs. And if you have ever watched Top Chef before, you know what that means: It’s time to bring back some of the losers!
To help the remaining cheftestants, Tre, Marcel, Tiffani F., Fabio, Angelo, and Spike walk in, carrying trays of seafood. The chefs get to pick their protein, but they must take the sous chef holding the tray with it. Of course, the producers were smart enough to give Marcel the platter that all of the chefs want: The huge white shrimp.
Because he won the Quickfire, Mike gets to choose first. Despite his attraction to the white shrimp, he doesn’t want to deal with Marcel, so he picks Tiffani and the brown shrimp. In the only semi-respectable move Mike makes, he gives Richard second choice because he inspired his “winning” dish.
Hmmmm…now let’s see here. Who will Richard pick? As he said, “I’m chef, I’ll cook anything. I’m not really concerned with the protein at all, I’m concerned about who I’ll work with.” Rationalize it all that you want Blais, everyone saw you making googly eyes at the swarthy Italian as soon as he walked in the room. He picks Fabio and the snapper. Blais: “I’m just lucky to have Fabio as a sous chef. He’s charismatic, he’s hospitable…”
You forgot “dreamy” Richard.
Tiffany just can’t resist the temptation of his shrimp, and settles on Marcel. This gave a great opportunity for the double entendre of the night: “The white shrimp.” Get it? Because Marcel is short?
We aren’t done with the puns yet, are we Antonia? “I’ll take Spike and his crabs.” HAHA. See, he is holding a tray full of crabs, but she could also be referring to the sexually transmitted disease! COMEDY!
Carla takes Tre and the red grouper, and Dale is left with the broken Angelo and his amberjack.
During menu planning, we find Mike once again propped up by a fellow chef. Tiffani used to live in New Orleans for a few years, and when he suggest doing shrimp and grits, she comes up with the idea to use the grits as a crust.
Carla about has a stroke when she finds out that Tre is a “city boy” and knows nothing about cooking southern food. WHA-WHA-WHAAAAT? Then she suggests taking away his NAACP card since he didn’t grow up eating collard greens.
As a white guy, I’m inclined to not touch this one with a ten-foot pole, but wasn’t she operating on a bit of a stereotype there? Just because he is black and raised in Texas, he should know how to make collard greens and chow chow?
The chefs have a total budget of $700 for their meal for 300 people, with $200 of that to be spent at Restaurant Depot. We get to see our reunited bromance of Richard and Fabio as they go shopping together. Aren’t they just so cute when they are being all domestic together?
Back at the house, we get one of our first “Real World” type moments – Antonia, Carla, and Tiffany are sitting around their bedroom, whispering about Mike’s thievery of Richard’s dish. OH NO YOU DIDN’T!
As Carla so aptly puts it: “There is Man law, and there is Chef law. You don’t take another chef’s idea…that’s a no-no.”
In the kitchen, Jersey Mike can’t keep his trap shut, talking smack to the other chefs while Tiffani cooks his dish for him. Though things seem hunky-dory with the shrimp and Ms. Beaumont, we finally seem the overbearing Marcel that we love to hate. “Use the shrimp heads, are you sure you don’t want to use the heads, cook these with the heads on them.” Tiffany can only take it for so long, and quickly shuts thuggy-smurf up.
Apparently, according to Dale, all you need to put Marcel in his place is a 5’10” Southern black woman and three snaps in a z formation.
Everyone scrambles to finish prep, and head into the dining room with 30 minutes before service. The sheer volume of diners overwhelms almost everyone. Once the diners start coming, they just don’t stop. This is the most that Fabio has cooked in seven years and Dale is ready to blow his brains out.
As the judges approach Richard and Fabio’s table, the get to listen in on the star-crossed lovers’ first tiff of the evening, however short lived. Dale and Angelo have to stop their line because they didn’t get enough cooking done in the kitchen, and Dale is becoming more and more frazzled by the plate. Carla manages to tell every person that will stop and listen that she is from the South, and that everyone expects her to knock this one out of the park. Except, I never heard a single person other than her say that or agree with her.
Here is the breakdown of everyone’s dishes:
Mike - Grit-Crusted Gulf Shrimp, Sour Cream & Chive Potatoes with Pork & Lobster Sauce.
Richard - Crispy Gulf Snapper with Pulled Pork & Citrus Grits.
Carla - Fried Grouper with Collard Greens & Chow-Chow Pico.
Tiffany - Honey Glazed Shrimp, Grits with Jalapeno & Cheese, Shellfish Sauce.
Dale - Amberjack Stew with Andouille Sausage & Potatoes, Creole Mustard Crouton.
Antonia - Blue Crab Cake, Corn, Jalapeno & Andouille Relish with Crab Broth.
As service ends, we get one last bromantic moment, as Fabio cradles a worried Richard’s face and assures him that everything is going to be OK.
First out of the stew room are Antonia, Richard, and Mike. Based on the judge’s comments, it is no surprise that these are the favorites. Blais gets high praise for his restraint and his unexpectedly successful combination of the pork and fish. Paula thought it was genius that Mike coated the shrimp with the grits – not his idea – and his sour cream and chive potatoes got her all nimbly-bimbly. John Besh compliments Antonia’s balanced dish, but thought that the hint of andouille sausage – also not her idea – really took the dish over the top.
And the winner is….Richard! He wins a 6-night trip to Hilton Barbados, plus $5K for airfare. He plans to spend a week lounging in the Caribbean with Fabio…oh, and his family too, I guess…
The winners send the remaining chefs to face potential doom. Oh, and we find out that Mike has a tendency to burp, fart, and flick boogers at people in the stew room. How exactly does a 13-year-old schoolyard bully get on this show anyway?
Even though she wanted the white shrimp, Tiffany made the mistake of letting Marcel over cook it for her. Dale is called out for serving undercooked potatoes, which he admits and blames on being rushed and “in the juice.” Tom suggests that he should have finished cooking them and just made them wait. Yeah right Tom, I’m sure you would have been completely fine with that. Potatoes aside, his mustard-bomb of a crouton still overpowered the rest of the dish. Carla’s hot sauce and mustard soaked fish didn’t impress anyone, and her combination of components flat out confused Paula.
Even though he crushed the last episode, post-anger management Dale heads home. I wasn’t happy about this one, because he was killing it this season, but it only takes one bad dish. If you still didn’t like him because of his antics in Season 4, his genuine and teary departure should have melted your icy heart a little.
NEXT WEEK: Padma steps into the lion’s cage, and we get to meet the families.
Notes and quotes:
I had to rewind my DVR three times just to make sure that I was right about this: We just went AN ENTIRE EPISODE without a weed reference!
Since when can you chug beer in the middle of Whole Foods? It must have been a Sunday and they couldn’t actually purchase the beer, so they had to sneak it…oh wait. They are in a normal state.
Did Crystal Hot Sauce sponsor this episode, or do Richard and Carla just freakin’ love it?
“I’m a BLEEP about my collard greens now, I’m sorry” – Paula Deen
“I know I’m gonna be suckin’ that head.” – Paula Deen
- 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