Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"I do hear the theme song of the Titanic in the background."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Forget the levity and comfort afforded by the Top Chef bar last episode. Instead, us humble viewers are forced to relive Spike's departure and Jamie's descent into utter uselessness. I'm not sure her job was waiting for her when she returned from filming.

As if to offer a pleasing succour to the bitterness swallowed by rehashing the last episode, the quickfire challenge is going to feature none other than Tom Colicchio! The chefs are informed that speed is critical to success in the restaurant world, and will thus be competing against the speed of an accomplished chef. This would be our dear Tom. They'll observe him preparing a dish as fast as he can, and will then create an award-winning dish in the same amount of time.

It's truly amazing to watch Tom work. He's extremely organized, and very, very fast, shucking oysters like he's the reincarnation of Hung. He finishes his dish, a concoction of black sea bass with clams simmered in a tomato and zucchini broth, in 8 minutes and 37 seconds. The chefs all agree that it's delicious. We should all remember that Tom, as a famous restauranteur and television personality, probably doesn't spend much of his time in the kitchen anymore. He has STILL GOT IT!

Though they are a bit distracted by the fact that once again, an extravagant prize (in the form of a Toyota Prius) will accompany immunity, the chefs engage in the typical "dash for the best proteins." Marcel decides to emulate Tom, Richard finds some "fois" (so obnoxious when they use all their pithy little abbreviations) and Angry Dale reveals, in an apparent lapse of sanity, that he's going to make egg noodles for pad thai. Did he think they had EIGHTY minutes and 37 seconds? And he thinks not having a wok is his only problem...

Jamie criticizes the idea of cooking for speed. Of course. Angelo goes against Tom's wishes and starts making a crudo. Angry Dale's noodles are a predictable disaster.

It's a giant mess in the kitchen as Tom and Padma begin to stride around tasting dishes. Fabio and Marcel both use Tom's ingredients. Jamie only produces one clam. Dale tries not to cry while Padma and Tom snicker at his single torn egg noodle. MIke Isabella's dish is plated beautifully, and because his dish comes right before Marcel's, the young sprout immediately assumes that bits of his flavor are cutting into the judge's opinion of Marcel's dish.

Dale, Jamie, and Angelo wind up on the bottom, basically for not finishing or following the rules. Richard's fois, Marcel's dashi, and Mike Isabella's dishes are the favorites. Mike wins the car, in a glorious display of happiness. Marcel fumes about flavor.

Elimination challenge:
Speed is clearly the theme of this episode, for the elimination challenge involves taking over lunch time rush at a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown. The chefs will have to keep their dim sum carts constantly filled throughout lunch, selecting dishes that will adapt well to their purposes. A few of them begin to plan while driving back to the townhouse in Mike's Prius.

The strategizing back at the house is complicated, understandably so. The challenge requires a chef to expedite the dishes from the kitchen as well as two chefs to perform the dreaded "front of the house" role, passing out carts and explaining dishes. Carla and Casey agree to "take one for the team."

Evening shenanigans at the house involve Tiffani's bra size and Mike's numerical calculations for how long it has taken him to win a car. Dale has a quiet moment in his room with a picture of his girlfriend. Aw, the angry one has a heart!

Shopping is slightly stressful for everyone but Dale and Angelo. Fabio is especially panicked, given his fear with dealing with anything not of an Italian nature. He's also crushed to discover that the adorable turtles he finds swimming around in a tank are going to be used for turtle soup. Casey takes another huge risk by making chicken feet, a decidedly popular but very specifically prepared dish.

While Dale is truly in his element back at the Chinatown kitchen, the rest of the chefs are nervous and unfamiliar with the equipment. Jamie's scallop dumplings are looking bad. Fabio fears he won't be able to braise his ribs. Casey has the unenviable task of removing the nails from her chicken feet. The kitchen is a huge steam bath, which is doing no favors for Tre's orange dessert.

In the last minutes before service, Mike Isabella runs upstairs to find a room completely full of Chinese diners. The guest judge is Susur Lee, a former Top Chef Masters participant. He is from Hong Kong, and eagerly anticipates the dim sum.

Service becomes a problem immediately, though Fabio's ribs and Angelo's shrimp roll are adequately distracting the judges. As they start to notice Carla's plain summer roll and the huge amounts of sesame seed on Tiffani's salad, things begin to roll steadily downhill. Richard Blais accurately describes the chefs' tendency to plate delicately, which doesn't fit the challenge. Eventually almost every chef heads upstairs to help.

On a happier note, Dale's sticky rice and cheung fi are very successful. Tiffany's steamed pork bun is perfectly authentic and the judges enjoy it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Jamie and Antonia's long beans or Tre's dessert.

The service gets so bad, "daddy" Tom has to head down to the kitchen to figure out what's going on. Antonia and Tiffany spend their time yelling, while Dale enjoys a few snacks and looks at his shoes. The Chinese patrons are on the verge of leaving, and Casey's inedible chicken foot is not convincing them to stay. Not surprisingly, Jamie's scallop dumpling is plain and uninteresting. A final highlight, though not enough to save the meal, is Antonia's shrimp toast.

In an unusual twist, the worst dishes are judged first. Carla, Casey, Jamie, Antonia, and Tre attempt to dig themselves out of a very deep hole, but when it came down to it, there was simply no way to get around those chicken feet. Casey's decision to help with front of the house kept her from properly preparing her dish, and the judges literally could not eat it. By this time, most viewers and I'm sure all of the chefs were ready to see Jamie go, and she certainly didn't use this opportunity to redeem herself. Casey is also one of the more popular all-stars competing. Even if it's not a decision we can all be happy about, one has to at least appreciate the consistency of the judges-eliminating the worst dish or worst performance despite previous efforts.

Dale, Tiffany, Fabio, and Angelo found themselves on the winning side, and in the end, Dale's conscientious effort to cook what he knew best helped him garner a win.

Two episodes away from Restaurant Wars! My fave!

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