Chef Tell: All Stars Is All Drama

After the bigotry in the rear-view mirror that made Dallas' involvement with Top Chef Just Desserts not so sweet, last night's debut of Top Chef All Stars was so very freakin' awesome. There was drama, there was silliness, there was attitude, there was skill, there was fright...and there was Dallas boy Tre Wilcox saying he "ain't playin' around with this mother fucker." Amen.

Also, the tiny attitude problem with the hair of Wolverine Lite, Marcel, said he felt Tre was his biggest competition. Damn straight.

This season, the stakes are appropriately higher: $200,000 instead of the $100,000 the cheftestants would've taken home had they won their original season. Also, please allow me to use my Oprah voice when I announce this: AnthONY BourDAIN! Yep, everyone's favorite smokin' hot culinary genius and asshole (for those about to call me on something, Eric Ripert is just the smokin' hot genius, but not the asshole -- takes all kinds).

Anyway, the Quickfire was a team challenge but winners earned immunity. Each season's chefs teamed up to create a dish that would represent the city in which their competition took place.

Season One, San Francisco: Tiffani, Stephan
Season Two, Los Angeles: Elia, Marcel
Season Three, Miami: Casey, Tre, Dale L.
Season Four, Chicago: Antonia, Dale T., Spike, Richard
Season Five, New York City: Fabio, Carla, Jamie
Season Six, Las Vegas: Jennifer, Mike I.
Season Seven, Washington D.C.: Tiffany, Angelo

Tiffany and Angelo's crabcake essence and rockfish didn't make much of an impression with Tom and Padma, nor did "crabcake essence" sound appealing in any way. Tre, Casey and DaleL got props for their pork tenderloin and tostones, but the Chicago dog and mustard ice cream from Team Four Chefs won immunity and a nod from my gag reflex.

At that point, it was good to see all the familiar, funny, and entertaining faces, but the contest itself hadn't really kicked into high gear. That was before the Elimination Challenge made all the chefs turn varying shades of green and white.

They removed the domes set before them and found the banes of their existences, or, rather, the ingredients of the dishes that sent them home. They were instructed to use at least the same ingredients, and not stray too far, but to improve the dish and make it great.

Due to there being 18 chefs, they were split into two groups for prep and service. The nine not working would dine with the judges. After prep in the kitchen of the Russian Tea Room, the chefs of Round One returned to find a TV with sound so they could hear comments. And, for the most part, they took it in stride. Except Fabio. Sweet, funny, sensitive Fabio.

When Bourdain said his pasta looked like an inside-out animal, and repeatedly said he hated it, Fabio got--howyousay--offended. So, as you do, he seated himself directly across from Bourdain during second service and confronted him about how many times he counted him saying he didn't like it. Fifteen, I believe it was. I was butt-clinched uncomfortable. It was awesome.

Tiffany got mixed reviews on her seared halibut, coconut curry, rice balls and pea tendrils, as did Tre for his cured King salmon, grapefruit gelee and macadamia nut toasts. But Casey got raves for her much-improved molasses-glazed pork belly, pickled peaches and whipped creme fraiche.

But Dallas saw no love in the top. Spike pwned those Tramontana frozen scallops and landed in the top with Jamie, Richard and Angelo, the latter of whom took home the $10K high-stakes win. FYI, Richard was ineligible to win as he plated past the allotted time.

The bottom claimed Fabio, Stephen and Elia. Fabio had a few choice words for Bourdain, and I can't say they weren't valid or that the exchange was at all unsexy. With his Italian bravado in full effect he stated that while he was fully willing to take constructive criticism, but he did not appreciate being made fun of throughout an entire meal. And based on Tom Colicchio's lack of protest, it seemed he might have agreed with Fabs.

Regardless, Elia was sent packing for not having tried to change her recipe at well as for serving raw fish. It didn't look like cat innards but seemed even less appetizing.

This season: Tennis! Paula Deen! Elmo! Wait, what? I don't know! Jimmy Fallon! And cooking against Tom! I cannot wait.

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Merritt Martin
Contact: Merritt Martin