'Top Chef': Family brings out the best
March 3rd, 2011
01:32 PM ET

'Top Chef': Family brings out the best

This week’s “Top Chef” was the last episode before we move on to the finals rounds, so it’s arguably the most intense point of the competition.

Somehow, that gave us one of the most cordial episodes of the season. (If you don’t want to know what happened, stop reading now.)

Before the Quickfire, we see the chefs hanging out in their loft, with Richard asking Antonia to predict what’s going to happen. Antonia: “Is Padma coming in here?” Cue Padma’s entrance and the ensuing contestant freak out.

She didn’t show up for a breakfast challenge. She just wanted to show them (and us) what a great view the loft has of Ellis Island, where the chefs head to via ferry.

But the trip is also where the Quickfire challenge takes place. The chefs have to make a dish from the food in the snack bar. The interesting catch is that the challenge lasts the duration of the trip to Ellis Island. So there’s a time limit, but no physical clock, which ups the pressure.

Making dishes from snack bar food doesn’t give you too many options, so this ends up as a battle of “best I could do,” with the chefs trashing each other’s food. Since we otherwise see a nice level of camaraderie between these five, I’m going to chalk the sniping up to nerves.

Mike knows his bread-based soup tastes as bad as it looks. Richard gets points for creativity based on his method of cooking, using the MRE bag that he carries with him (who doesn’t, really). But it’s Carla who takes the win for her orange salad.

At Ellis Island, the location provides the theme for the Elimination challenge: cooking based on where you come from. The show hired a genealogist to trace each contestant’s ancestry, and brought family members in to go through the information with the chefs. Mike, Antonia and Tiffany’s moms are there, along with Carla’s husband and Richard’s wife.

The big reveal here is that Mike and Antonia might just be related, since parts of their family trees share the same named branch. The show and contestants play this up for all it’s worth, and it’s endearing, especially since these two have been butting heads in a brother-sister kind of way. I don’t put too much stock in it myself, but since it feeds into the “contestants actually like each other” motif, I’ll go along for the ride.

As for the challenge itself, the judges are joined by the family members. It becomes apparent that no one is going to be too critical during the meal, including the judges. And you can’t blame them. Could you really trash someone’s dish in front of his or her mother? I didn’t think so.

Of course, they don’t have too much to be critical about. Carla redeems herself from her previous setbacks with southern food. Antonia redeems risotto for the season. Tom proclaims Richard’s dish to be “all right” (and then clarifies that he means it’s all correct, not moderately successful). Tom even liked Tiffany’s okra. (Apparently Tom hates okra; I somehow missed this over the course of eight seasons.)

The most heartwarming story, surprisingly, comes from Mike. He’s Italian, but rarely if ever cooks Italian food. That’s because he used to make it with his grandmother, and when she passed away, he vowed never to make it because he didn’t want to be reminded of the sadness. On his mother’s advice, he makes gnocchi that not only does everyone enjoy, but his mother says is better than Mike’s grandmother’s.

Okay, so the judges didn't have any critiques during dinner - surely we’ll get some nitpicks at Judges’ Table, right? Wrong. There wasn’t a single negative thing said. This just became a celebration of the contestants and their food.

Antonia wins, but I couldn’t figure out who should go home. Apparently, neither could the judges. After a cruel fake-out from Padma to Richard (“Please pack your knives… because you’re going to the finals”), EVERYONE is moving on to the finals rounds, which are taking place in the Bahamas.

At first, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the non-decision, which I think has only happened once before in the show’s history (Restaurant Wars, Season 3). But in an episode that showcased how talented these chefs are, if the judges honestly couldn’t find fault with anyone’s food, then this is probably the best call, although I assume it means two eliminations in the next episode.

Before we head off to the Bahamas, sound off below about last night’s episode.


soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. JainaJade

    If I remember correctly this happened in another season, down to the fake out. The contestant was told to pack their knives because they were going to the finals and then the one other chef left was told the same thing. This resulted in a top 4 going to the final location, but for the life of me I can't remember what season this was.

    March 4, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      JainaJade -

      It was Season 2. Can't remember the exact contestants, but I think it was Elia and Marcel up for elimination (Sam & Ilan having already safely been favorably judged) and then judges sent them all to Hawaii. If I remember, Marcel had a reaction somewhat like the Professor ("Padma!"). Funny they picked the two craziest of the contestants to pull that with :)

      March 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Johnny

    What was the point of the quickfire? Did Carla win money or any advantage at all?

    March 3, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rachael

    Even though there are still 2 episodes left, what was the point of last night's? And what would they have done with the Ellis Island concept if Fabio were there? Let's just hope the Top Chef Masters has a better season. http://foodiegossip.blogspot.com/2011/03/top-chef-masters-season-3-gets-makeover.html

    March 3, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Michael

    I enjoyed the episode, and I am glad to see all five chefs advance, but I don't think it's particularly fair that Mike and Tiffany, neither of whom have won an elimination challenge (that I can remember) this season are allowed to continue when the other 3 contestants have won fairly consistently the entire season. That said, it was touching to see the softer side of Mike. Bravo generally portrays him as a bad-boy, and it's good to see them refine that characterization.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |

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