We return tonight to Top Chef All-Stars from a two-week break. Why the repeat last Wednesday? Was Bravo giving us time to emotionally and physically recover from all the Au Revoir Marcel Parties we threw? Also why were all the parties called that, when I'm not even sure Marcel is French? These are great questions. The point is we had a week off and we can return to show this week refreshed, wide-eyed, and optimistic. It's a whole new day! Nothing will ever disappoint me again! (That feeling will last minutes at best.)
Only nine chefs remain. That is not that many. I think that means there are only 25 episodes left? Cool. Time is flying by. And luckily the finale of Top Chef All-Stars coincides with the premiere of the special double-length Top Chef: Frozen Dinners & Food People in Army Can Eat, so we don't have to waste a single Wednesday night not watching Quickfires. I love this franchise! I love it so much I want to squeeze it until its head pops off.
Our cheftestapants are greeted by Padma Lakshmi, who is the host of this program, and Isaac Mizrahi. Mizrahi, of course, is one of the world's premiere fashion designers a long time ago. He has a new reality TV show, I think. If only there was some way to search on the internet and find out for sure whether that's a fact, but unfortunately there's not. Also, for my first job interview in New York, I am pretty sure I bought a suit at Target he designed. It cost eighteen dollars and it was black and white pinstriped and I looked like a gangster in a middle school production of Jersey Boys (more [on] people looking like that later) and then the suit fell apart while I was wearing it in the interview. It was like when Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk except instead of getting bigger, he is just wearing really cheap clothing. "Don't make me tissue paper suit. You wouldn't like me when I'm in a tissue paper suit."
Also, remember that MTV prank show called Buzzkill from a million years ago? One of the guys looked startlingly like Isaac Mizrahi, so in one episode he dressed up as Isaac and went on a red carpet and had a very hilarious reunion with Whitney Houston who really thought it was Isaac Mizrahi. That reference is for the three people who remember that show! I like to think that in last night's Top Chef it was also a dude pretending to be Mizrahi, because that's how cartoonish and ridiculous he seemed.
As we all know, food and clothes are very related. Angelo certainly knows; he says that food and fashion are "two of my most passionate things." What is ANYONE talking about on this show? In this week's Quickfire, the chefs must prepare a dish that will be judged on aesthetics alone. No tasting! And the winner gets immunity. Cool.
What happens next is like the hit film Unstoppable except even better, because while Unstoppable disappointingly featured (spoiler alert) no train wrecks, this challenge is all train wrecks. Everything is a train wreck. Here is a video I found on YouTube that features the best moments of last night's Quickfire.
You know how sometimes you'll read an interview with a successful person, and they are like, "If I wasn't a wildly talented or at least well-compensated screenwriter, I'd whittle wood blocks into tiny samurai, all day long. If ever I can't write movies anymore, I'll move into the woods and whittle, because it is my hobby and my passion and I love it so much." And you're just like, "Sure." Well that's not the case with any of these chefs and art.
Oh man they are all just the worst at art. I'm no major art-head, but I feel like I have a good nose for GARBAGE, and the stuff most of the chefs make, to quote Indiana Jones, belongs in a museum. (The Museum of Modern Garbage.) Eater National editor Raphael created a slideshow of them all arting if you want to see.
Antonia loves the Giving Tree, so "nuts." Dale is from the Lower East Side so "graffiti." Angelo, because food and fashion, loves Robert Cavalli, so "alligator prints/bag of glitter farts." He also wrote crocodile on the table in shoe polish or something? What is going ON here? Also, this late in the game they are doing a challenge where taste literally doesn't matter? Why bother? But that is a question I could pose to many other parts of the Top Chef experience, so I'd best put it aside.
The one bright spot is Fabio's unhealthy obsession with an image of a lady being caught in the rain and she is melting and Fabio helps her and then eats her with a spoon and she tastes like rain but then he misses her because she's gone and he realizes his tears were the rain the whole time and time is a string and if you fold that string up in your hand all the points are touching at once therefore his dish is a piece of string with a poem written on the plate. Who even knows what he's talking about, but it's great!
Isaac's least favorites are the dishes of Dale, Tre, and Angelo. His reasoning: they are stupid in different ways. I will give Isaac a point here! He is correct. He nailed that they were not good. Good judging, Isaac. But don't quit your day job. (What is your day job?) On to his favorites: Fabio's melting lady tuna poem, Carla's latticed cucumber thing, and Richard's black thing. Blais wins! He's got immunity, which he doesn't need because he can't stop Blais'ing trails, every day of the week.
The chefs pull knives for the Elimination Challenge. They are very Italian! The nine chefs are split into three teams: Frankie No, Junior, and Dion the Chef. The knives have tiny little Italian flags on them. It's pretty cool to wrap the flag of a foreign country around a knife on a reality television show. Everyone appreciates that level of respect.
Some guys come in with big rings and suits. They are Italians, just like those knife flags. It is the owners and chefs of Rao's, the famed Harlem Italian eatery with only a few tables and a whole lot of history. It's the toughest restaurant to get into in the country, because I think you have to know a guy who killed somebody? Something like that. Also, if you think it is all offensive I am making broad Italian stereotypes in this recap, I'll tell you two things: 1. I'm Italian, and my dad is VERY Italian. And 2. This episode feels far more offensive than anything I could ever say.
The chefs are split up among the three restaurant guys: Dino the Chef's team will be making antipasto, Frankie Junior's guys will be making the primi course, and Team Frankie No will be making the secondi. This is a good challenge, almost, for a second! Each chef will be judged individually, and as all they will be serving a meal at the famed Rao's to its owners and operators, they best hew to the classics.
Once at the restaurant, the diners assemble. It's Tom, Padma, Anthony Bourdain, our three previously-seen Rao's owners as well as a manager and Nicky Vest, who is the bartender and has an amazing vest. What a good nickname! It's not one of those obnoxious ironic nicknames like "Tiny" where the guy is actually big and you're like, "Oh I get it." Here, his nickname is Nicky Vest because his name is Nicky and he definitely has a vest on. His name should be Nicky BEST.
Also, there is Lorraine Bracco! She is there because she is a friend of the restaurant's and also the star of Goodfellas and Sopranos, two pieces of pop culture that more than any others managed to perpetuate the stereotype of all Italian-Americans as spaghetti-eating criminals. Hi Lorraine! You seem fun.
The meal begins. The ladies (Antonia, Carla, and Tiffany) serve up steamed mussels, minestrone, and a polenta terrine, respectively. All are family-style and all are big hits. Good job, girls! Mike, Dale and Tre then bring out the pasta. Three big swings and a miss. Tre's risotto had a lot of vegetables and not enough creaminess, Dale had dry pasta and no sauce, and Mike's homemade rigatoni was a Julia-Roberts-level of toothsome. Yikes, guys. No offense, but I would have beaten you in this pasta competition. Way to disappoint.
Blais, Fabio and Angelo bring out the secondi. Blais's polenta is perfect, and his fried pancetta is a hit. Fabio's chicken cacciatore is a perfect classic Southern Italian dish, and Angelo maybe over-sauces his pork. Oh well. Still, they are certainly better then the Primis, or as I like to call them, the Preemies (because their bodies did not have enough time to develop the part of their brains that control how to make pasta well).
Also, man, Mike made such a big point out of making his own pasta, even after Junior told him multiple times he could use boxed pasta. And we got to see him make amazing gnocchi for the chefs at the house at one point! Why didn't he do that? This challenge could not have been more in his wheelhouse and he bit it. Poor showing, Isabella.
At the end of the dinner, Senior Frankie thanks his guests: Chefs Tom Colicchio and Anthony Bourdain, two revered cooks, and of course his old friend Lorraine Bracco, whom he's known so many years. He doesn't even mention Padma. "Who are you, again? Your job is to smile and look good in dresses? Well, mission accomplished. Thanks for not ruining the meal by making noise."
Back in the Stew Room, Padma calls in Tiffany, Carla, Antonia and Fabio. They're the best! Nice job, ladies and Fabio. I am a little let down to not see Blais there, but also I am a little let down whenever I am not seeing Blais. Even in my day to day life. Lorraine and the judges extoll the virtues of all four dishes, but ultimately, their favorite is Antonia's mussels with fennel and garlic. Whoa, congrats. Like, they looked great, but also mussels are the easiest and cheapest? It's the first thing anybody learns to cook and realizes it's not hard to mess up and costs no money. Fabio can't believe it. He's so Italian and wanted to win this so hard and Antonia won with a French dish. Oh well. Go tell it to the woman the rain.
When Antonia returns to the Stew Room, the look on Mike's face upon hearing that she won with mussels is near priceless. It's not totally priceless. It's more like under a hundred dollars, which is still pretty good. The judges want to see the entire Primi course. Yeah, you guys messed up.
Mike knows he screwed up the rigatoni and admits to it right away. It was still very bad! Every part of Dale's dish was a mess. As Lorraine says, he managed to make delicious ingredients taste bland, which is expressly the opposite of what Italian food is supposed to do. And then Tre gets berated for making his risotto too stiff, despite that being the way he was taught. And his veggies were too big. These seem like little points? Dale is clearly going home, right?
Wrong. I was wrong. I was positive Dale was gone. Instead, Tre, by far the classiest competitor, is sent him for making a slightly off risotto. I mean, maybe it was very off, but Dale's was a mess. Oh well! I did not taste the food, and I'm sure Tom wrote a long and boring blog on Bravo's website defending the decision that I'll never read. Bye Tre! I liked your laugh a lot.
Next week: 30 more episodes.