To thoroughly enjoy the glory that is Top Chef All-Stars, we welcome comedian Max Silvestri, who will be here every week to take us through the season.
Where to start? Guys, last night was bananas! AND I DON'T MEAN PARFAIT. ( I can assure you, right off the bat, that I never mean parfait. "Did Max mean parfait?" is something we'll never need to worry about you having to say.) A lot of heavy shit went down and at my rough count it's only the second episode. I need to gird my emotional loins (or get someone help me gird them, like Padma) if this is the sort of ride on which we are going to be constantly taken. What is this, Top Chef or Picket Fences? Seventeen chefs remain, and I just noticed this very cool TIP TOE DANCING sequence during the credits:
Joe Jonas shows up with Padma in the kitchen for this week's Quickfire. Everybody goes crazy! Or the opposite. Dale T. mistook Joe Jonas for a pastry chef. Not true, Dale did not think that, but Dale definitely thinks he's being hilarious in the confessional by saying that he did. Careful, Dale T.! You are walking a fine line between likability and Jamie Town, and if you fall into the latter you will spend the whole season crafting insufferable bon mots and rolling your eyes and sighing at anyone who doesn't "get you." Don't go there! I very much want to be on Team Dale T., so help me out here.
Spike calls the Jonas Brothers "rock stars," which is an insult to actual rock music and also offensive in the way that calling any black singer a rapper is. Being white and having a guitar does not make Joe Jonas a rocker. Rock N' Roll Joe tells the chefs that the American Museum of Natural History is having their annual Night at the Museum sleepover, which I imagine to be a cinematic Scared Straight program where children are forced to stay up watching the first two "Night at the Museum" movies on repeat until they promise to never pay money to see a "comedy" with a budget over $100 million ever again, no matter how much their parents just want them to be quiet for two hours on a Saturday afternoon.
The chefs have to prepare a midnight snack for the kids, one that doesn't require utensils and fits in a paper bag, and Joe will judge whose gets served tonight at the museum. Joe cracks a monster yuk-em-up and just slays everybody with this hilarious prank-joke. "You have 30 seconds. Just kidding!" Oh man, Joe, still laughing about that one. You owe me a new keyboard!
The chefs scramble and as Gabe Delahaye says over at Videogum: "cook cook cook." What else is there to say? There is running, there is preparing, then there is heat applied to ingredients. I don't know. Watch the show. Dale L. gets all nervous serving children, because he clearly doesn't get kids at all. "I'd be better at making dog biscuits." Neat. He understands dogs' palates.
We get to see some photos of the chefs as young kids. Marcel had a wicked side-part and a hot mom. Stephen says he was very healthy growing up and we see his younger self in a leather office chair eating Matzoh and wearing a three-piece suit. We learn that Blais was a husky kid. No one told him how to eat so he ate cereal with heavy cream because it tasted good. What's the problem there?
Joe and Padma make the rounds tasting the food. Casey serves chocolate lasagna, which makes Mike want to throw up. Angelo serves Cheese Crisps 2010: The New Revolution, which is absolutely what Janet Jackson is going to call her follow up to Rhythm Nation 1814. Dale L., once again insisting he finds it impossible to empathize with children despite spending what I imagine to be YEARS as one, makes a big sugary blast of whatever. "It's going to be like a rave for 10-year-olds." And with dinosaurs! A lot like this very famous internet GIF.
Joe's least favorites are Tiffany D's messy pudding, Mike's chocolate polenta, and Stephen's health cookies. He liked Spike's carrot chips and Other Tiffany's chocolate rice crisp bomb, but he can't pick a winner! It's a tie. For Joe, picking a Quickfire winner is like deciding to whom to give your virginity: a nearly impossible decision but one that should be left up to a large group of children. Spike and Tiffany each pick teams and prepare their dishes at the museum tonight for the kids, and the kids will pick the winner.
Fabio gets picked last, but he is not sour about it. He seems in much better spirits compared to last week. Dale L. breaks down the teams like this: his team is the Spice Girls and Their Bodyguards (him and Tre), the other team is the Cool Guys and Their Babysitter (Carla). I like it! You should quit your job making dog biscuits and housing down weight gain powder and instead come work for Eater writing recaps.
The two teams prepare. There is some grumbling about working on someone else's dish but shut up everybody and do what you are told. Stephen sums up the challenge best: it'll come down to whether the kids want sweet or savory. And the kids? They are predictably insane. When they show up there is so much yelling and screaming and sprinting around. Fabio says, "Madness! They are like cows." What? I don't know about in Italy, but my LIMITED experience with cows is that they do not run around waving their arms until they are out of breath and they almost never have chocolate smeared all over their faces.
Despite lots of glad-handing and campaigning by Spike, kids do not enjoy carrot chips with raisins in them. Like, I'm a grown man, with a refined palate and no great love for sweets, and even now when my macrobiotic grandmother brings carrot chips to family gatherings, I'm all, "You needn't have bothered." After the kids evacuate their bowels at the surprise Joe Jonas appearance, they take a break from their sobbing and huffing and puffing to clearly vote Tiffany's chocolate thing the winner. Good job! You did it, Tiffany.
Because this is Top Chef, Tom shows up with a surprise. Sleeping's for losers, and the chefs are to prepare breakfast service for the kids and their parents, only a few hours from now. They can only use what's in the museum's kitchens, and they'll be split into two teams: The T-Rexes and the Brontosauruses. The T-Rex team only gets meat and animal products, and the Brontosauruses only get veggies. Tiffany as the winner has the advantage, and she immediately chooses to be a T-Rex. She will regret this.
The chefs will also be sleeping over in the museum, but the producers wisely don't force them to sleep intermingled with the children, as that would be creepy, especially considering Tre is all about sleeping naked. Stephen can barely handle the accommodations. "I live in a loft in downtown Manhattan. Very comfortable. This is creating a sense of... uncomfortability, if you will." If I will what? Not give you a hard time for making up a word and being a priss? You got it.
Everybody only gets 45 minutes or so to sleep, but a few of the guys decide to head out on a flashlight tour of the museum. Maybe they will meet Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt like in the movies! Instead they meet Fabio and, in Dale L.'s words, Casey when she wakes up.
Team T-Rex learns a hard lesson in their walk-in. T-Rexes eat ONLY meat. They are carnivores, not omnivores. So their team has no flour, no vegetables, no herbs, nothing. I hope these kids are on the Atkins Diet. Team Brontosaurus on the other hand has it made. Whoops, Tiffany, way to blow your advantage.
Taking the skin off some pork belly, Jamie slices her thumb. A medic tells her she needs stitches, and she leaves the kitchen with only a few hours before service. This does not impress any of the other chefs. As Fabio reminds us, he broke his finger in his season and plowed through anyway. Other chefs have similar stories. Later, Jamie will come back with only two stitches, which is comical. Good job, Jamie.
Everybody's tired and acting a little crazy, which maybe inspires some of their odd breakfast choices. Gnocchi? Wet pork belly with a hard boiled egg? Salmon with shrimp sauce? OK, sure. But the chefs must realize that in the Elimination, they are cooking for the judges, not for their audience. Nobody wants to be serving a western omelet right now.
The chefs prepare service outdoors, and our judges, along with the kids and parents, come out to taste. Along with Tom, Gail, and Padma, we have Katie Lee Joel, ex-wife of Billy Joel, a "cook" in her own right, and fired host of Season 1. Ha! I admire the balls on both Katie Lee and Top Chef for bringing her back. I remember almost nothing of Season 1, but apparently there was some weird romantic tension between her and Stephen? They show a quick flashback and it is confusing. "The drink is called an Orgasm." "It lives up to its name." "I bet it does." "I think I'd like to order from you a round of orgasms, on my box, I mean the rocks WHOOPS!" Gross to them both.
Also, Gail does that terrible thing where she talks to children like they are both deaf and slow. "DOESN'T THIS PARFAIT LOOK LIKE A PAINTING?" They can hear you, Gail. Stop yelling. And what does that mean, it looks like a painting? Like, it has colors and shapes? Cool. Professor Artface over here.
Back in the Bang Closet, Padma calls in Team Brontosaurus. They are this week's winners! Tom remarks that Fabio's gnocchi were maybe the first ever on the show that weren't hard, despite the compliments Fabio still jokingly tries to throw Spike under a bus. Their favorite dish though, despite a plum disagreement, is the banana parfait by Blais, Angelo, and Marcel. It looked very good, and the kids loved it. Rest easy for a night, guys, and bring in Team T-Rex.
The carnivores are not happy to be on the losing side. Tiffany feels like the advantage given to her by the Quickfire win was a trick, and she complains about it loudly. She thought a T-Rex meant being able to use everything. It nearly turns into a scientific discussion of what a particular type of dinosaur, a creature extinct for millions upon millions of years, specifically ate. "Can we get a scientist in here to say if dinosaurs ever ate flour?" Tom corrects her and lets her know that her only advantage was the choice. Sorry, Tiffany.
At this point, Jen turns red and flips out. She does not believe her team should be up here, and she tasted every bit of the other team's food and hated it. The hard boiled egg on top of her pork belly is criticized for being bland, and she loses it even more. "My food was perfect. It was exactly how I wanted it, and you are insane. I hate all of you and wouldn't piss down your throats if your stomachs were on fire." Yikes. Agree to disagree.
As they wait for the decision, someone asks Jen whether she always talked to the judges like that on her season. No, never, she says. "Welcome to Jen All-Star." Hmm. Welcome indeed. And goodbye. Because your bland eggs, wet bacon, and inability to see flaws in your cooking are sending you home. Jen is baffled.
Everyone is very startled that Jen is going home second, which is understandable considering her cooking background and reputation. But that's how it goes. In an intense moment of reality, we hear her flip out at what I imagine to be a producer as soon as she leaves the closet. Many things are bleeped, but the gist is that she doesn't think she was even close to the bottom. Was she screwed over?
It is a sobering moment for all the other chefs. These judges aren't playing around. Spike: "That's for real." Well. It's still not that real. Jen isn't dead, she is going home to her family and her job and she'll be just fine. It's only TV, guys! And there is much more of it.
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