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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Episode 11 Recap: For the Gulf

Food Network's Paula Deen on Top Chef All Stars
On this week’s Top Chef All Stars, episode 11 (“For the Gulf”), the chefs get paid a very special visit from Paula Deen, who is a guest judge, along with fab New Orleans chef, John Besh. And we see the return of some of our favorite former Top Cheftestants and a far more satisfying ending than we’ve seen for the past three weeks.  This may have been one of my all-time favorite episodes of Top Chef All Stars yet! Six chefs remain… And here’s the Top Chef All Stars Episode 11 Recap:

The episode starts with the chefs commiserating in the pantry over Angelo Sosa's departure. Mike Isabella looks as though he’s about to cry, Richard Blais and Dale Talde are blown away, and Tiffany Derry is still trying to grasp the fact that she’s still there. Dale goes off on another one if his cocky rants about winning both of last week’s challenges. Reality is setting in and if someone as talented as Angelo can be sent home, nobody is safe.

Back at the house, Richard takes solace in planning (he’s filled 2 notebooks during this season so far) and Tiffany tries to spruce up her spirits by sprucing up her face (eyeshadow) – she’s worried she’ll be nixed just before the final four, like her last season.

Our favorite Food Network celebrity chef, Paula Deen, joins Padma Lakshmi as guest judge in this week’s Quickfire challenge. And Tiffany Derry and Carla Hall go ballistic the second they see the Southern chef. Hootie!

Richard Blais uses liquid nitrogen to make Fried Mayonnaise
The Quickfire Challenge:
It’s all about good ol’ fashioned Southern cooking. The chefs have 30 minutes to whip up a deep fried dish that will impress Paula Deen. The prize for the best dish is $5,000. Paula stresses: No calamari sprinkled on a salad – come on.
  • Dale Talde makes Fried Steak-wrapped Oysters and thinks it’s a winning dish. Have you never been to a KFC, Dale? Umm… Yuck.
  • Antonia Lafaso makes a Fried Shrimp, Avocado and Jalapeno. Didn’t Ms. Deen stress the “no salad” rule?
  • Mike Isabella decides to take an idea he saw in Richard Blais’s notebook and make Fried Chicken Oysters. Using someone else’s idea, Mikey? I’m so disappointed in you.
  • Richard Blais makes Fried Bacon with Fried Mayonnaise, using (wait for it)… Liquid nitrogen. Richie just loves his nitro – and I’m pretty blown away by the fried mayo concept. Headline reads: “Foodgasm leads to Coronary Embolism
  • Carla Hall makes Fried Catfish and hush Puppies that don’t turn out the way she wanted them to.
  • Tiffany Derry makes Fried Chicken Wings & Pickles. She’s sticking to what she knows and what she loves.

Antonia notices that everyone else has two dishes and she only has one. She says “did I forget to plate a second plate? OMG, I did”. I don’t remember Paula telling the chefs to make two dishes. Did I miss something?

Dale and Carla are on the bottom – Dale’s beef-wrapped oysters lacked flavor that “wow’d” Paula Deen and Carla’s hush puppies were compared to spitballs, kinda (owch).

Antonia, Richard and Mike are on the top. Antonia’s dish was Paula’s absolute favorite – but she didn’t follow the rules. Paula thinks Richard’s fried mayo is out of this world. And Mike’s chicken oyster nailed the presentation. Richard is pissed because he’s actually competing against his own dish.

And Mike Isabella wins 5 grand – and the honest thing to do is split the dough with Richard, but we all know he won’t. Congrats for the shady win, Mike Izzy.

My favorite New Orleans chef and restaurateur, John Besh, walks in to announce the Elimination Challenge!

Former Top Chef contestants add some heat to the kitchen.
The Elimination Challenge:
The chefs will prepare Gulf Coast seafood for 300 people at a Greater New Orleans Foundation fundraising event. And then six of the former cheftestants walk into the room: Angelo Sosa, Fabio Viviani, Spike Mendelsohn, Tre Wilcox, Tiffani Faison and Marcel Vigneron! Kinda bummed that Casey Thompson wasn’t part of the mix, but was so thrilled to see some of my beloved chefs return. The chefs each get to pick a former cheftestants to partner with. And here are the teams:
  • Mike Isabella goes first. You would think he’d pick Angelo Sosa, after sharing such a beautiful bromance, after all, who else would want to work with him? But no! Mike Izzy picks Tiffani F. and brown shrimp. He says that Tiffani F. is a beast in the kitchen. I agree (love Tiffani), but isn’t it “bros before hos”?
  • Richard Blais picks next – and of course he picks Fabio Viviani. Bromance lives again. Snapper’s good – Fabio’s great!
  • Carla Hall picks Tre Wilcox and the red grouper.
  • Tiffany Derry picks “the white shrimp”… Oh ,and Marcel… (**giggle**)
  • Antonia Lafaso takes “Spike and his crabs” (that didn’t sound right).
  • And Dale Talde is left with Angelo Sosa and the amjack. Poor Angelo is picked last? Still trying to make sense of that.

The chefs collaborate with their partners. Dale is over-confident. Richard works in the fact that his dish is a "new" dish that has never been done before and is not stolen from any of the other chefs. Carla thought Tre understood Southern food, but it turns out that he’s just a city boy.

The Richard/Fabio Bromance is Alive and Strong!
The chefs go shopping at Restaurant Depot and only 30 minutes to shop. Fabio and Richard’s bromance is beyond endearing and Carla decides to retry her fish. The chefs say good night to their sous chefs and head home for the night. Carla is stressed, Richard gives Mike the cold shoulder and Antonia gossips with Carla and Tiffany, telling them about Mikey’s recipe-stealing antics. Mikey has been branded by “chef law”.

The next day at the fundraiser, the chefs have two and one half hours to prep. Everyone is rushing and Marcel keeps bugging Tiffany about shrimp heads – but she shuts him up with all the grace of a butterfly. Dale bitches about the crowded kitchen, Mike needles Richard. It’s fun to watch the pressure build.

At the Greater New Orleans Foundation fundraising event, the chefs finish their dishes just as the attendees arrive.
  • Mike Isabella prepares a Grit-Crusted Gulf Shrimp, served over Sour Cream & Chive Potatoes.
  • Richard Blais prepares Crispy Gulf Snapper with Pulled Pork & Citrus Grits.
  • Carla Hall prepares Fried Grouper with Collard Greens & Chow-Chow Pico.
  • Tiffany Derry prepares Honey Glazed Shrimp, Grits with Jalapeno & Cheese, Shellfish Sauce.
  • Dale Talde prepares Amberjack Stew with Andouille Sausage & Potatoes, Creole Mustard Crouton.
  • Antonia Lafaso prepares a Blue Crab Cake with a Corn, Jalapeno & Andouille Relish.

Chef John Besh, Paula Deen, Tom Colicchio & Padma Lakshmi
You can tell by the diners’ and judges’ comments which dishes were on top. The judges were either really impressed or really disappointed…

The chefs say good bye to their former contestants and head back to face the judges table.

The Judges’ Table:
The chefs are in the pantry and commiserate over such a touch challenge when Padma walks in and tells Antonia, Richard and Mike to go to the judges table. Funny how this is a re-do of the Quickfire challenge. At least Mike Isabella is competing with his own dish this time. John Besh gives Richard high praise for pairing red snapped with pulled pork. Paula Deen thought the way Mike Isabella coated the shrimp with the grits was genius – and his face turns beet red. John Besh thought Antonia’s Andouille sausage was just special. And the winner is…

Richard!! This totally makes up for his stolen Quickfire recipe. Richard wins a trip to Hilton Barbados and $5,000 for airfare. He plans to invite Fabio to join him and his family. The bromance lives on! They return to the pantry and send the other three chefs back. When the other chefs leave, Antonia asks mike to move away from her if he plans on belching, farting or flicking boogars… Really?

Tiffany, Carla and Dale stand before the judges in shame. Tiffany tells the judges that Marcel cooked the shrimp for her (and that really helped her), but the judges inform her that the shrimp were overcooked. She says “it’s still my dish”. Way to own up Tiffany (even though it wasn’t your fault)! Dale is told that the potatoes in his dish were raw and there was too much mustard. Carla is told that her dish was too spicy and none of the veggies complemented each other.

Dale Talde packs his knives and goes.
And Padma says…

“Dale, please pack your knives and go.”

Dale, you saw this coming before we did. I’m a little surprised, but kind of relieved. I won’t be missing his nasty comments, but did he have to cry?? Now I feel bad about ripping on him so much.

Next week on Top Chef All Stars Episode 12: 5 chefs are left. Padma shows up at the cheftestants’ apartment, surprising the hell out of them. It looks like they’re preparing dishes on a NY ferry boat? And the chefs are reunited with loved ones – Tiffany feels rejuvenated by this.

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