Chef Tell: It Just Conch Be True
I'll be kind to you people who will see this pop up but who haven't yet watched last night's episode of Top Chef All Stars, the conch-ed up episode resting listlessly in your DVR. I won't give anything away in this first paragraph where your eyes will involuntarily dart around as much as you wish they wouldn't.
I won't even put a smidge of a hint in this tease of a line here.
But I can't promise anything from here on out because, frankly, those of us who did watch need to discuss. So let's do this:
The Quickfire Challenge was a little misleading, no? Padma and guest judge, chef, restaurateur and America's Next Great Restaurant judge (nice cross-publicity move), Lorena Garcia, were all about consistency. At first, it seemed like they wanted the paired-off chefs (Antonia and Tiffany, Mike and Blais) to prepare a dish and the prepare it over again to prove they could do it identically -- as if from one day to another in a restaurant. But that wasn't it at all. It was more of a catering challenge with both red and blue teams cooking up giant amounts of their food in one batch and then plating a sea of dishes to be served at once by a small army of waiters.
Consistency was more an appearance issue than one of repeatedly turning out a dish. Fine, I guess. The girls' complex cold meat dish beat the boys' pasta dish. Then they were told of the impending Elimination Challenge.
They'd head to a deserted island for an anniversary fete celebrating the Nassau Yacht Club. They'd go by boat. They'd be greeted by Padma in a bikini and (Mike was totally right in his observation) Sammy Hagar's doppelganger. They'd have to use conch as it's the food of the Bahamas. Oh, and once they arrived they'd have to snorkel for the conch.
So, yeah, that all happened. Most of them hacked and hammered at their conch shells trying to get the stubborn sea snails out, but Mike Isabella, he just boiled them a bit and eased them from their homes. Smooth Mike Isabella. Let's hope that's not his MO with the ladies.
They cooked by beach fire and from a limited "pantry" of produce and proteins. They lamented how difficult it would be to keep the sand out of their dishes with the ocean winds and running about. And then the people in white came, and for a second it seemed like this time, elimination would be more final for one unlucky soul...
But it wasn't a sacrificial cult, only Tom, Padma, Gail, Lorena Garcia, a commodore, an ex-commodore (or is it former?) and some other people. It was just some lame "beachy" dress-code for the beach anniversary party. The chefs were safe from the Wicker Man, or the Conch Cult, as it were.
Blais fooled people into thinking he made pasta on the beach. He really just boiled sweet potato strips. His lobster was undercooked, but he didn't agree. He made creepy weird faces and said he hates everything he makes and wants to smash the plates. Not clear on how he could ever make the same thing twice, then, but whatever. I'm over it because you can't say you suck and then disagree when the judges say you fucked up.
Antonia made simple food. Her fish was cooked inconsistently. Her conch tartar was spicy and people liked that because in the Bahamas they like the spicy. She called out Blais for being a freakshow and told Padma she didn't think being called conventional was a bad thing.
Mike Isabella braised pineapple until it was savory and Gail wanted to marry it. He wrapped grouper in a banana leaf and gave it a flavor Tom couldn't identify. I'm guessing that rarely happens to someone like Tom anymore so Mike took the win.
Tiffany offered up a conch and coconut chowder that ended up lukewarm thanks to a windstorm that kicked up during her plating. She added a cold conch ceviche to the top that befuddled some and pleased other diners. It certainly didn't help the whole temperature issue. Also, Tom found the soup too sweet -- possibly because of her use of both fresh coconut milk and canned? She owned her issues but was sent packing knives.
Dallas no longer has a chef in the All Stars fight (two more episodes), but on his blog, Tom gave Tiffany big props for keeping up into the finale without formal training. He said he looks forward to eating her food in her setting when he comes to Dallas next. And we can't wait to hear about what he thinks when he does.
Tiffany gave an emotional goodbye. She was sweet and sincere when she said she'd been "outcooked" by her competitors. That's a modest stance, T-Derr. Because, see, we initially thought if Carla got sent home for underdone last week, perhaps Blais' underdone might have earned him the same, but we were wrong. Too sweet trumps raw shellfish I guess? At least you represented Dallas (and Beaumont) oh-so well with your healthy attitude. Speaking of which...
Below, Tiffany, ever the positive, jovial force we know and love, explains why winning or losing the competition didn't change her:
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