March 10th, 2011
03:03 PM ET
If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Especially when 30 gallons of frying oil bursts into flames.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Top Chef: All-Stars” has landed in the Bahamas for this season’s final rounds, with five chefs making the trip.
We dive right into the Quickfire challenge, where the All-Stars cook head-to-head against the winners of their respective seasons. This means double-duty for Season 4’s Stephanie, who competes against both Richard and Antonia. The winner of each face-off takes home $10,000.
Tiffany notches her first win of the season by beating Kevin. Hosea takes down Carla, mostly due to her undercooked rice (remember that; it’ll come up again). Mike I. takes down Mike V. (which honestly shocked me). And in the Season 4 head-to-head-to-head, Stephanie beats Antonia, but Richard beats Stephanie.
For the Elimination challenge, the chefs are told that they’ll be cooking for Bahamian royalty. But when they’re driven to the location for service, it’s a local restaurant. It turns out that the royalty is the King of Junkanoo, a Bahamian celebration that’s along the lines of Mardi Gras.
During prep, one of the kitchen’s deep fryers starts smoking. Antonia, who’s working with the fryer right next to it, voices her concerns that it’s going to catch on fire. (Pause.) WHOOMPF! “Clear the kitchen!”
Richard makes some jokes about people being more worried about their food than their personal safety, but I have to imagine this rattled the contestants a fair bit. Will they still be able to cook? Will they have to change locations? They’re already in a pressure-packed environment, and I think this enhanced the jitters for everyone.
The fire department shows up to contain the flames, but when Tom surveys the damage, he realizes that the chemicals from the extinguishers contaminated everyone’s food. He breaks the bad news to the chefs: they’ll be cooking tonight, but they’ll have to start over.
The chefs now have a chance to re-work their dishes or even change them entirely. Richard decides to switch things up completely, mostly for the challenge of it, it seems. Antonia makes the same call, but I think it’s because she wasn’t confident her original dish would work for this crowd. It’s also possible that Richard got in her head, since he was playing some mind games during the downtime during the fire.
Tiffany and Mike, though, stay the course. Carla sticks with the same ingredients, but makes some modifications to her cooking process, including using techniques that she admits she would normally never do (because that worked out so well for her in her original season’s finale). The result, unfortunately, is some pork that is bordering on raw. (I warned you the undercooked issue would come up again.)
Overall, the dishes are underwhelming and get a fairly lackluster reception from the judges. There are some highlights, but the dinner ends with the judges debating what spooked the contestants more: the misdirection of what type of royalty they were cooking for, or the kitchen fire.
At Judges’ Table, Antonia admitted that she wasn’t proud of the dish she served. But even more critical is Richard, who flatly says that he hates everything he does.
I’m calling foul here. I understand that Richard is neurotic and self-critical, and how that could be what pushes him to be such an impressive chef. But he spent a good chunk of this episode talking about how great he is and how he knows he was the best chef in his original season. You can’t have it both ways, dude.
Richard’s safe, but the winner of this round is Mike. I wouldn’t have pegged him as one of the stronger chefs when this season started, but he’s making a push at the end here (including that Quickfire win over Mike V., arguably the best winner in the first 7 seasons).
As for eliminations, again, serving something undercooked is Carla’s undoing. It’s heartbreaking to see her go (she really is a fan favorite), but serving raw food trumps serving bad food.
So we’re moving on to next week with four contestants. Does that mean we have two challenges still to go? Will the finale involve the most contestants to date? They might have answered those questions in the preview for next week, but that preview also included Padma in a bikini, so I was (understandably) distracted. Either way, see you then!
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