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.
Before we begin on last night's episode, we have two things to celebrate. One, Jamie is gone! Not from this EARTH or anything, God forbid we run into her in person, but she is no longer on the show. Each week we will not have to see her face and then see her move her lips just as sounds emerge from her annoy-hole. She is so bad at talking, and being. We can't be sure Bravo won't show her in flashbacks, but ideally they'll warn us by talking about her before they show her, so I know whether to mute my entire brain with a hammer.
Also, we are halfway through the season! That's a big one. Only a shit ton more episodes left, and then the finale, and then we get a fifteen minute break before TOP CHEF: SOUPS & STEWS starts or whatever. Thanks Bravo. Ideally within a few years there will be a channel devoted entirely to Top Chef and its spinoffs and I can transition from only dreading Wednesday nights and Thursday mornings to dreading every hour of every day. Work on it, team!
Our remaining chefs arrive at Le Bernardin for the Quickfire. Anthony Bourdain is waiting for them and he wastes little time mentioning his book Medium Raw. "I don't know if you guys remember this chapter in Medium Raw." Relax, Tony. Even if we do, we don't, you know? Tony is kind enough to remind us that he spends a chapter working with Justo Thomas, a legitimate badass and the best fish butcherer in the world, as independently verified by nobody. He handles the fish prep station at Le Bernardin, and when he goes on vacation, it takes three trained sous chefs to replace him. I am impressed! And it makes all this cheftestapants look pretty stupid. Here is Justo, a very talented guy who works hard and is amazing at his job and spends little to no time arguing about what kind of head band to wear in the kitchen or whether the foam is foamy enough. Be like him, everybody.
The chefs watch Justo go nutso and lay waste to a fluke and a cod in under eight minutes. Oh my cod, am I right? Perfect portions, no waste, no scales, all beauty. Blais tries to ask him a polite question about why he doesn't cut right down the bone and Justo answers very politely in a way that makes Blais seem like a kindergarten child. Mike is intimidated. He hasn't butchered fish in a while, and the way he says "I'm not at the level that I was" reminds me of Martin Short saying "I'm not that strong a swimmer" in the classic SNL Men's Synchronized Swimming sketch. Mike's forehead is about the same size as well.
Quickfire time, and Tony gives the chefs ten minutes to portion the fluke and the cod. They get to it. Carla is very slow. Mike is very fast. Marcel tells us he had an allergic reaction and his hands got red but because he's so tough he just powers through and finishes. Do you know what would have been even tougher, Marcel? You not mentioning at all. Time's up, and Justo walks through and says "good job" a lot. It is funny how much hand-shaking goes on considering all the fish guts these guys just pounded through.
On the bottom are Fabio, Carla, Tiffany, and Antonia. Tiffany works with fish quite a lot at her restaurant and is embarrassed, correctly. On the top are Dale, Richard, Mike and Marcel. Only one of them will win immunity. Each of the top four has 45 minutes to make a meal out of the WASTE of the fish. This is great! The heads, the guts, collars, etc.
This is my favorite Quickfire in a long time. These four, some of the strongest left in the competition, really step up to do something inspired with the low-rent parts of the fish. Blais reveals he started as a cook at the fish station at McDonald's, which is of course a very important station, there being only one fish dish on the menu. Even then he was sending out the sandwiches without top buns, avant-garde from the beginning. Dale doesn't break a sweat: cooking with the lowliest animal parts was a common practice for his family. And Marcel informs us that "to throw away a life is very wasteful." Oh, really, Marcel? Well what if that life you are throwing away is already a waste, like, of everyone's time and patience? Like yours, for example? Then is it OK? Just asking for a friend. Dale's two dishes and his use of the liver win, and his family's comfort with animal guts nabs him Immunity.
The chefs meet up with Padma and guest judge Ludo Lefebvre. We're told Ludo has a wacky personality, and I guess we see a clip of him yelling then making a face on Top Chef Masters, but I am not convinced.
Ludo likes pop-up restaurants, which segues neatly to this week's Elimination Challenge, Restaurant Wars. Restaurant Wars! Everybody gets so excited or surprised or both. That doesn't make sense! Don't' FAKE it guys. We all knew this was coming. And weren't like half of you eliminated on this challenge? I don't know where all this love for Restaurant Wars comes from, but in my mind it is traditionally one of the most grueling and least satisfying challenges, with the failures and eliminations having little do with cooking but instead with concepts and other shit I don't give a crap about. Oh well. These guys can't wait, I'm sure.
They have 24 hours to throw together a pop-up at the Foundry, an event space in Long Island City. That is where Fred Armisen and Elizabeth Moss got married, and maybe this will go as well as that did. As the winner of the Quickfire, Dale gets to be a team captain AND pick the other team's captain. He VERY wisely chooses Marcel. This ends up being the defining moment of the challenge. Dale, of course, picked Marcel both because Marcel is the person with whom he'd want to work least, and also probably because Marcel as captain is most likely to self-destruct. Marcel, in a opposite-of-rare moment of delusion, believes he was given this chance to step up and show what he can do.
Dale picks Blais, Tre, Fabio and Carla, creating a super team. These are not the five strongest chefs necessarily, but it is already clear that their personalities and skills will complement one another nicely. Marcel takes Angelo, Isabella, Antonia and Tiffany. Dale is delighted. He picked a team that can run a marathon, and Marcel's got all sprinters.
Dale's team begins conceptualizing. They immediately agree on the name "Bodega" which calls to mind all sorts of convenient comfort food. A great name! These guys are going to do great. And Marcel? Eesh. To sum up both this concept meeting and the entirety of the rest of his team's interactions: oof. Tense. Awkward. Annoying. Every word Marcel says is like nails on a chalkboard. He does not understand how to communicate properly or how to direct people without being grating. It's all a mess. At first they are going to be called "Medi" but then eventually decide on "Etch." It is great how bad both those names are, but as we've found in the past, this is not Top Restaurant Namers.
WHEN DO THE CHEFS SHOP? I WANT TO SEE THEM SHOPPING. Anyway, SOMEHOW they procure ingredients and get them to their outdoor kitchens at the Foundry. Maybe they bought them at stores? We''ll never know. Both teams rush to set up their kitchens, their restaurants, their servers and the prep.
Tom comes through for a visit to sow seeds of doubt. Marcel tells Tom he's working on a "reverse amuse," which Tom finds as obnoxious as I do. Then Marcel brushes him because he's busy. Cool. You are a cool dude. I like your headband. Tom then goes and questions the name Bodega and its connection to the food, but he's just trying to poke holes in PERFECTION. Team Bodega all the way.
Fabio gets his cheesecake done fast and focuses on getting his restaurant and his servers together. As we might remember, Fab is the FOH master. Dale called him his steal of the draft. Fabio is proving him right. Tiffany, meanwhile, was forced into FOH and has yet to even take a look out on the floor as she struggles to get her egg dish ready. Marcel talked her into boiling her eggs a different way, and they aren't cooked properly. He blames her. "I can give you 14 different things to do with the egg, but if you can't make a six-minute egg properly, I can't help you." Woof. Marcel! "I was expecting more from these chefs." Everything you say is annoying.
Before we know it, diners are arriving. As we are reminded hundreds of thousands of times during tonight's meal, this is the first Restaurant Wars where the diners will be deciding the winner, not the judges. Fabio turns on the charm and begins to make every man and woman at Bodega or sitting home on their couch watching fall in love with him. He checks in on tables, directs the servers, and runs a tremendous ship. When Dale loses his cool and snaps at his waiters, Fabio steps in and handles it. Even Tom's impressed.
Meanwhile Tiffany shows that schmoozing and laughing loudly and awkwardly does not make for smooth service. Her waiters stand around confused while she chats and chats. The judges take notice. At Etch, food gets sent back left and right, including by Dana Cowin. In the back of Etch's kitchen, fights break out. Angelo nearly has to stop Isabella from punching Marcel. It's painful to watch.
What's there to say about Bodega? It seems like each dish they send out is better than the last, starting with some haute potato chips to start the meal. These guys have hit a home run in 24 hours.
Somehow, Etch walks away thinking they did a great job. Or at least Marcel does. Antonia's a little more honest. In the Gladware Closet, Padma comes in to call Etch before the Judges. There still seems to be some uncertainty over who won. Fabio has to give Blais mouth to mouth like 15 times. But, obviously, Etch was on the bottom. Something like 70 to 17 diners preferred Bodega to Etch.
The judges go down the line and crap on every single thing every one of Etch's team members did. It's not enjoyable. It makes my skin crawl. I almost put a pillow over my face because it was so tense. Mike snaps and calls Marcel a time bomb at one point but that's the least of it. These guys are messes.
Bodega won no doy and the Judges lavish them with compliments. If this were a real 24 hour pop-up, it'd be a hit. Blais gets 10k and the overall win, and as he wasn't the executive chef, that's a testament to his talent. Great job Blais! I am sorry I ran out of puns for your name a while ago. Or I just stopped trying. Either way, you are still the best.
Tony sums up Etch nicely: prison breaks are organized with more efficiency and teamwork. Yes, that's true, but also prison breaks are REALLY hard and this challenge is only PRETTY hard. The Etch chefs stand before the judges again, and thank the Jesus, Marcel is sent packing. His smug facade doesn't falter for a second, and gives everybody a big toothy smiley before peacing out. He tells the camera he made no mistakes besides picking the wrong team. He'd do nothing different. I bet you wouldn't, Marcel, and that's why you are terrible, and gone. Bye! Grow up.
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