‘Top Chef’ gives us the next Iron Chef
February 17th, 2011
12:54 PM ET

‘Top Chef’ gives us the next Iron Chef

Last week, I laid out my complaints about this All-Stars season of “Top Chef”: The contestants aren’t being challenged enough. It doesn’t feel like we’re getting enough personality. The stakes don’t seem very high.

Problems solved. All of them.

With a hilarious Quickfire and a truly difficult Elimination Challenge, this might have been my favorite episode of the season.

The Quickfire worked off of a simple formula: “Top Chef” + “Sesame Street” = Awesome.

Cookie Monster, Elmo and Telly challenged the chefs to make the best cookie they could (wonder who picked that one), and in the process turned the “Top Chef” kitchen into a joyful environment. The puppets were cracking jokes. The chefs were laughing uncontrollably. Padma seemed like a lively babysitter, keeping things fun but on track.

I don’t know if it was the result of using kids’ show stars, but the entire sequence took on a youthful energy that just made it fun to watch. Honestly, there hasn’t been a Quickfire this enjoyable since Hung’s cereal aisle acid trip candy land in season three.

Also, those "Sesame Street" characters can talk a little smack. They heckled Dale as he added pretzels and chips to his cookie, leaving him at a loss for words. (Take away Dale’s ability to curse, and he apparently has no outlet for response.) And Elmo very emphatically said that Antonia’s cookies, while delicious, looked like cow chips. (“He just said my cookies looked like [expletive].”)

Still, those two had the best cookies, with Dale’s sweet-and-salty combo taking the win.

If the Quickfire was all about fun, the Elimination Challenge was all about resourcefulness… and more than a bit of product placement. (“Top Chef” is usually pretty bad about that, but this was over the top.)

The chefs were let loose in an empty Target in the middle of the night. They had three hours to put together a dish for 100 employees, using only what they could find in the store.

Let me clarify: they could ONLY use stuff from the store. So in addition to coming up with and cooking a dish, they had to run around to find cooking appliances, dishes, even the tables to set up their stations.

Oh, and they had to do it all in the middle of the night while fighting off sleep deprivation. And just to add more pressure, the winner would get $25,000, the biggest payday for a single challenge in “Top Chef” history.

Three hours is about standard time for an Elimination challenge, but to add in the requirements of finding the means to cook your food and serve it seemed almost unreasonable. Antonia described it as a “giant quickfire,” which sounds about right. But hey, I asked for the contestants to be challenged, and this certainly did the trick.

Exhibit A: Half of them made soups, and were rightfully called out for taking the easy route. Exhibit B: Carla just about lost her mind running around that store and got so distracted trying to find tablecloths that her food suffered as a result. Exhibit C: Angelo (whose flavors are usually spot on) struggled to season his dish, eventually deciding to add both salt and bacon (uh-oh).

The challenge did show off some of the chefs’ skills and creativity, though. Antonia’s egg dish was high risk but high reward. But Dale was the true star. His grilled cheese and tomato soup (made partially with an iron) was creative and apparently delicious. He was clearly, and deservedly, the winner, with guest judge Ming Tsai proclaiming him an “iron chef.”

(I’ll make the puns here, thank you very much.)

Dale was joined at the top half of Judges’ Table by Antonia and Richard. I’m going to predict right now that this will be your final three for this season.

I would have predicted that Angelo would be a finalist, except he’s not on the show anymore. During a tearful bottom half of Judges’ Table with Tiffany and Carla, Angelo’s over-salted soup became his undoing. By his own admission, after two straight seasons of competition, his brain may have just hit overload. I haven’t always liked his personality, but his talent is undeniable.

Your thoughts on last night’s episode and Angelo’s elimination? Sound off below!

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Rachel

    I can't believe another Top Chef bromance has ended! I was sure Angelo would make it to the final 4... http://foodiegossip.blogspot.com/2011/02/top-chef-all-stars-angelo-sosa-mike.html

    February 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tpgal

    The addition of protein to the grilled cheese and the fact that it was crispy probably was the dominating factor for Dale.

    This episode is worth watching because it makes Mike look like a total *ss. He was celebrating Angelo's domination (of the bottom 3) before the announcement of who was leaving. If looks could kill I think super sweet Carla and homey Tiffany might have ended him.

    Regarding Angelo's exit – he WAS classy, as was Fabio last week. I appreciate that they want to win, but have perspective about the fact that it's just TV.

    Don't bother responding to my comments, I'm off to Target where all things are wonderful. Target Target Target. Heck, I'll be throwing away the Wustoff knifes I got as a wedding gift and picking up the latest Target version. TARGET

    February 17, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rusty Machine

    I still don't understand why Tiffany is still there. She consistently produces mediocre dishes. I can't remember the last time the judges considered her dish a top one. Yet she still comes back every week. Meanwhile gorgeous an more talented Tre is gone. 😦

    February 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Pistol Pete

    Angelo has signicantly changed during his two seasons on Top Chef – initially, he was a pompous jerk who was one of my least favorites but he has mellowed signficantly this season (while retaining his talent) – in this espisode, Mike was responsible for Angelo adding salt to his soup and the new Angelo did not blame Mike at Judge's table or in his farewell – classy move that Mike, who I hope is eliminated next, did not deserve

    February 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lauren

    I predict Richard, Dale & Carla for Top 3.
    Richards excitemnt over meeting Elmo and his daughter made me love him only more. Yes, love.

    February 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mark

    I thought the whole episode was Product Placement overkill but i was happy to see Angelo go. I've never liked him.

    February 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bruce

    About time Angelo was given the boot. He's too damn smug and such a backstabbing jerk. He's proven time and again to to throw other contestants under the bus and bashfully accept his unworthy wins.

    February 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AA

    Angelo did not have the worst dish. Everyone hated Carla's soup and she should have been shown the door. Carla's dish was a total disaster and all Angelo did was over salt and he goes home? What's wrong with this picture?

    February 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • justme

      Not only was it to salty, they said it had no flavor and was probably the simplest dish made.

      February 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. LBW

    Giada sells her pots and pans at Target. Guess that explains it.

    February 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Anna

    Tomato soup and grilled cheese a winner? Please, so pedestrian. If he elevated the dish itself, they didn't elaborate. So, how about rewarding a really creative dish instead of something any 13 year old could make. I watch this show to be inspired, not to see every day dishes like that.

    February 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. San Jose

    @whisper: You said it yourself, you don't watch this show. So how would you know if they need to "pack up and move on"? This is the best Top Chef season by far! But, by not watching it, you wouldn't know.

    February 17, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. San Jose

    I said it last week, and I'll say it again: Dale will win Top Chef All Stars! He is totally dominating it all. Richard will definitely be in the top 3, joined by either Carla or Antonia.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. whisper

    When a show has to resort to doing an "all-Stars" edition that is when you know its time to pack up and move on.

    I dont watch this show, my comment was for every single "reality" show that resorts to doing All-star shows.

    Just stop kicking the dead horse.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • justme

      Survivor had their all-star about 4 or 5 years ago, they're still on the air.

      February 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • in60657

      I wish they would do a Top Chef:Redemption where they have the first few (say within the first 3 episodes) chefs kicked off from the previous seasons come back and compete. We didn't get to know those personalities before they were gone.

      February 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. KATHIE

    A "Spoiler Alert" would've been nice....

    February 17, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • minkakross

      no joke, I DVRed it and don't know if I should bother to watch now. You can tell alot without naming the winners and losers.

      February 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Top Ramen

    Oh, you gotta be kidding me – this was embarrassingly, jump-the-shark bad, with the overwrought and tedious product placement for Target, only a complete sell-out like Padma could've given that hideously overwrought monologue on the wonders of Target:

    "And chefs, don't worry, you won't need to bring your knives, as Target has everything you'd ever need. The freshest food, the best prices, oh! it's a magical place, love Target, I'm gonna rename my baby Target. Target Target Target. Oh, I love Target, and I'm not being paid to say this. Oh, Target – I only sleep with guys that shop at Target..."

    and, as for "Top Chef" aspect, well, I'll just let the "winning dish" speak to that.

    Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup

    Made with an iron.

    Just throw in a cup of "weak tea", and you'll have Arnold Palmer's lunch at the Retirement Home.

    Top Chef? More like "Top Ramen."

    Oh, and does anyone not wash their new utensils and cookware before using them? Please – disgusting.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barak Ollama

      Dude, chill the f()ck out!

      By the way, Target provides top quality items at a very reasonable price...

      February 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  16. mooooooooo

    This is all really confusing to me. I am a cow. MOOO.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |

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