February 3rd, 2011
12:23 PM ET
After unexpectedly giving us an extra week to recover from Restaurant Wars, “Top Chef: All-Stars” is back, and we seem to be shifting from team to individual challenges.
But first, a Quickfire that truly gives life to the “eat with your eyes” mantra.
Guest judge and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi stops by the "Top Chef" kitchen for a challenge in which the contestants must make a dish that will be judged entirely on aesthetics and presentation.
(Angelo, I hereby grant you a one-challenge-only pass to describe your food as “beautiful.”)
It’s an interesting obstacle because, as Richard points out, the chefs have to get their heads wrapped around the idea that the food won’t be eaten at all. I know every “Top Chef” contestant worries about presentation, but they always have that safety net in the back of their minds that if it doesn’t look good, at least it’ll taste good.
Also, Mizrahi seriously got the short end of the guest judging stick. Take part in a cooking competition but not get to eat any of the food? I'd take a pass.
I can’t say for certain that he channels that frustration into his critiques, but some of his comments did get a bit harsh. For example, to Dale: “It seems like the food already got sent out, and this is what was left over.” Needless to say, Dale doesn’t win this Quickfire.
Neither does Angelo, whose crocodile skin-inspired concoction is only surpassed in “what was he thinking” levels by the fact that he wrote crocodile in huge letters across his presentation table. And he misspelled it as “CROCADILE.” (Insert disappointed head shaking here.)
The winner is Richard, whose black chocolate ice cream intrigues Mizrahi to the point of wanting to eat it. (Go ahead, Mizrahi, no one’s watching.) So I guess black is the new black, then?
On to the Elimination challenge, which required the cheftestants to cook up a feast at and inspired by famous Italian restaurant Rao’s. After we meet the requisite number of mobster jokes (I stopped counting after 5), we find out who will be cooking which course.
Antipasti (appetizer): Carla, Antonia, Tiffany
Primi (pasta): Mike, Dale, Tre
Secondi (meat): Angelo, Fabio, Richard
You’ll notice that each of those groupings has one chef who is of Italian heritage. And if you didn’t notice, Antonia, Mike and Fabio will be happy to mention it over and over again, especially Mike.
This launches a predictable round of “let’s not so half-jokingly talk about how an Italian chef must win the Italian food challenge.” I’m all for embracing one’s culture, but this is ridiculous. Tiffany has it right when she points out that it doesn’t matter where you’re from. To paraphrase the immortal Randy Jackson, if you can cook, you can cook. (I promise never to invoke Randy Jackson again.)
Of course, my argument takes a bit of a hit when two of the top four dishes come from Fabio and Antonia, and Antonia is named the winner. I still stand by my righteous indignation, but congratulations are certainly in order.
Interestingly, the bottom dishes all came from the group that cooked the pasta course. Dale has won a few challenges, so I felt comfortable that he wasn’t going. And with Mike being one of the few chefs left who provides some personality-driven drama, Tre is left on the chopping block. His risotto didn’t stand up to the test… because it stood up. Apparently, risotto is supposed to spread out the minute it touches the plate. Colicchio can (and will) explain it at length.
I wish I could say that Tre’s elimination will have an impact on the show, but honestly, I forget he’s there half of the time. He’s been middle of the road at best this season, and despite some funny interview segments, has faded into the background during most challenges. He seemed to take his ouster well, though, taking pride in the fact that he learned new skills and made new friends. Ultimately, that’s how this will end for every contestant except for one, and it was nice to hear someone acknowledge it.
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