February 24th, 2011
12:42 PM ET
I think last night’s episode of “Top Chef” taught us all a very important lesson: “There is man law, and there is Chef Law.”
After some initial foreshadowing from an interview and at-home clip, we head to the Quickfire challenge, with Paula Deen as guest judge. Antonia beat me to the joke, predicting that this will be a “fry me something, roll it in butter, dip it in some mayonnaise kind of challenge.”
She is spot on, of course. The challenge is to create a deep-fried dish, with the winner taking home $5,000. Antonia shines, and Paula proclaims her dish easily the best. (By the way, fair warning before you click for more: There's an elimination spoiler at the end of this recap.)
Except, Antonia isn’t the winner. She only plated one dish when the rules required two. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but Antonia takes it like a champ. Another top dish came from Richard. He managed to deep-fry mayo; of COURSE Paula loved it.
But the winner was Mike, with his “chicken oyster” dish. (It’s a part of the chicken that looks like an oyster… or something.) The catch here goes back to that foreshadowing clip. You see, Richard keeps notebooks of dish ideas, and in letting Mike look through them earlier that morning, they came across this exact dish, both in components and presentation (serving it on an oyster shell).
Needless to say, Richard is ticked, even though Mike fully admits that the dish was inspired by Richard. At first, I didn’t think this was that big of a deal. People share/borrow ideas all the time, and Mike presumably won on taste, which was completely due to his cooking.
But being a neophyte in the ways of Chef Law, I was apparently mistaken about how egregious an offense this was. When the female contestants discuss it later, and we get that awesome quote from Carla about Chef Law, it becomes clear that Mike was out of line. It doesn’t change the fact that he won the $5K, though.
On to the Elimination challenge: cooking southern-style Gulf seafood for a charity event benefiting Gulf fishermen affected by the oil spill.
They were tasked with serving 300 guests, so the chefs get some help in the form of eliminated contestants. The fun twist here is that each potential sous chef carries in a protein, and you pick them as a pair. For example, Marcel (a non-coveted helper) comes with white shrimp (a very coveted protein).
Once service starts, it becomes apparent that the chefs are going to get crushed. The sheer onslaught of diners puts almost everyone behind. Dale said it felt like service was moving in slow motion.
We usually get positive comments from diners about most dishes during Elimination challenges, but not this time. The diners and judges are on the same page all the way through, making the division between the good and poor dishes obvious.
Antonia, Richard and Mike are the stand-outs, with Richard declared the winner. He paired seafood with pulled pork, a risky move that paid off and offered some redemption for losing the Quickfire to Mike. (Does Chef Law include some version of karma?)
Of course, that means Carla, Dale and Tiffany had the least favorite dishes of the night. All of them seemed to suffer from the same problem: masking the featured seafood by overpowering their dishes with sauces and seasonings.
Tiffany, who was saddled with Marcel, had turned over a good portion of her dish to him to make, and I thought that meant she was a goner. But instead, last night was the end of the road for Dale.
Remember when I mentioned a foreshadowing interview at the start of the show? It was Dale, saying that everyone will eventually have to be eliminated except for one person. He takes his elimination incredibly well, showing joy and gratitude in front of his colleagues and displaying some real emotion directly to the camera.
After the first episode of this season, I said it seemed like Dale had matured. He thinks so too, and he talks about it on his way out, saying that he’s in a much better place now both as a person and as a chef than he was during his original season. I’m sad that he won’t be moving forward, but I’m glad to know he’s found a sense of accomplishment in what he’s done.
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