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Top Chef: 4-Star All-Stars - June 6

Let me start this out by saying that I ALMOST like the Top Chef series.

Almost you say? Well, I like the fact that the show is solid and the contestants are very very good. What I don't like about it is that the judges, in determining who will win the competition, judge it on 2 facets:

1. Safe is better than taking a risk.
2. The person who is liked the most must win, regardless of if the other chef is cooking circles around him.

Yes, I thought that Tiffani and Marcel should have been the winners of Top Chef 1 and 2, respectively. They both took chances and both knew how to make a good meal despite stepping on toes. Marcel even survived a hair-cutting attack and was composed enough to get to the finals. But the judges didn't award them. instead, they awarded the prizes the boring chefs who didn't make any enemies, but who also didn't make any exciting meals. Harold and Ilan are just like their meals - bland.

Grrrr.

That being said, I will be recapping Top Chef 3, and we start the season by having a Top Chef 1 Vs. Top Chef 2 competition. The teams will be cooking for charity, and the winning team will be awarded $20,000.

And here are your teams:

TOP CHEF 1

Dave Martin - The fan favorite, Dave made the top half of the first season competition.
Tiffani Faizon - She came in second place, and she was my favorite of the season.
Stephen Asprinio - Not as much of a fan favorite, Stephen also made the top half of the season.
Harold Deterle - The winner of Top Chef 1. Boooorrrrrring.

TOP CHEF 2

Ilan Hall - He won Top Chef 2. Probably should have come in third.
Sam Talbot - He should have been in the finals, but a disastrous semi-finals dish paved the way for Ilan to win it.
Elia Bourrand - She also made it to the final four, but her hairstyles were much more popular than her dishes.
Marcel Vignuron - I thought he should have won the whole thing. He did overemphasize the foams a wee bit too much.

Host Padma Lakshmi welcomes everyone back to the restaurant, where Harold announces his new restaurant, set to open in Spring 2007. Lee Anne Wong, who placed in 4th in season 1, is now the coordinating producer for the show and she will be giving the chefs orders. Heh.

On to season 2's Where are they Now. Ilan has been taking his time on getting his act together on getting his new restaurant open. Marcel, strangely, keeps his mouth shut - especially when Stephen openly declares that season 1 is better than season 2.

To determine the team captains, we're doing a...Quickfire Challenge! That pisses everyone off, especially Marcel and Dave. The challenge - cook two eggs - with one hand behind your back. The hand must also be in an oversized cooking mitt, and anyone caught using the hand will be disqualified. The best team within 10 minutes will get a meaningful advantage into the final round.

The teams are forced to help each other open various containers. Ilan is forced to use a blender with his mouth (!) while Dave uses a blender and Stephen grabs a spatula. Marcel claiming for Smackdown purposes, decides to actually use SAFFRON in a challenge. Heh.

Let's see the dishes -

Dave -
EGGS OF FIRE - Asian Spiced Scrambled Eggs
He admits that the eggs are over cooked, but hopes that it will add to the motif. I doubt it, Dave.

Tiffani -
Herb and Cream Poached Eggs with Parmesan Cheese
She loved the flavor, but was concerned that the eggs were cooked too loose.

Stephen
'The Perfect Omelet'
We actually don't know what goes in the perfect omelet, but we'll take Stephen's word on it that he's been making this dish for years.

Harold
Parmesan Shirred Eggs with Soy Butter
It sounds great. it looks...uh...nasty. 'I was thinking to myself...I definitely could not put myself through this again.'

Marcel
Scrambled Eggs with Saffron Foam
Marcel - 'Saffron foam, baby'. Tom - 'Why am I not surprised?'

Ilan
Egg White Omelette with Bearnaise Sauce (Don't look at me. This is how they spelled it)
Ilan admits that he seasoned it blindly. That's not a good thing to admit, Ilan.

Elia
Panko-Fried Eggs with Taragon and Paprika
It's definitely the most exotic dish so far, but I wouldn't want to touch it.

Sam
Fried Eggs over Pickled Cranberries and Cherries with a Pine Nut Vinaigrette
Tom calls it 'Interesting', which makes Sam cringe.

Tom praises Stephen's Omelet choice, while calling Harold for losing a yolk. He gives the best meal to Top Chef 1 to...Stephen. He also picks the charity - the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

As for Season 2 - Tom would have given it to Ilan - but it was too salty and he gives it to Marcel instead. I'll let Marcel sum this one up - 'I defeated the biggest competition from my season, Ilan, today, by doing none other than a saffron foam. Seriously, come on - was that not the biggest Smackdown of all time?' Point, Marcel.

Marcel's charity will be Share Our Strength, whose purpose is to deal with hunger in the states. However, the team with the advantage will be Season 1, as Stephen's Dish takes the top honors.

Now for the Elimination Challenge - Each team will prepare a 4 course meal.

Course 1 - Scallops
Course 2 - Lobster
Course 3 - Duck
Course 4 - Kobe Beef

20 Plates will be created for each dish. Season 1 will get $300 worth of shopping money, while Season 2, being the losing team, gets $200. Stephen decides to take the extra $100 and spend it on wine for decor. The teams have 2 hours of cooking time.

After the teams quickly discuss, here's who will be cooking what -

Course 1 - Scallops
Dave Vs. Elia

Course 2 - Lobster
Stephen Vs. Marcel

Course 3 - Duck
Harold Vs. Ilan

Course 4 - Kobe Beef
Tiffani Vs. Sam

Marcel quickly organizes the team, and everyone is happy with what they get - except for Ilan, who admits that 2 hours of cooking time will not be enough for him to get a good duck going. On Season 1's side, David wants to overrule the team's Mediterranean theme, but he and the rest of the team are interrupted by Ilan, who in an attempt to eavesdrop starts rummaging through the fridge behind them. Stephen takes the team and moves them elsewhere. 'As for as Season 2 being immature and unprofessional, I think Ilan takes the boat there.' Toot, toot.

During dinner, both teams try to get information from the other, with not much success happening on either side. Marcel tries another approach - baiting. He goes after Dave for not using natural ingredients, and promptly gets a 'bitch' name tag thrown at him. Everyone else from both Season 1 and 2 try to shut him up as Marcel apologizes and leaves the room. Usually I don't agree with Harold, but Top Chef 1 is definitely the classier team.

Dave is looking at his dish to be 'fun', while Stephen, who's making a butter poached lobster tail (with SAFFRON), feels that he should easily defeat Marcel. Harold is going old school sicilian on his duck, while Ilan thinks that it's exciting, Harold is more nervous, 'I have too many people watching. I can not go down to this guy'.

It's time for Tom to check out the meals with an hour left to go into the preparation. Tom worries about enough time for Ilan's dish, while Marcel promises a Smackdown. Tom asks Stephen about the wine, and remarks what would happen if the wine Stephen selected actually goes better with the other team's meal. Oops. Stephen can only stare at him and prepare the lobster.

Marcel says that he's 'Weeded'. he's going to be thinking something else as a loud crash appears from behind him. The crash comes from Ilan, who drops Elia's and Marcel's mango all over the floor. Marcel tries to be nice about it, but he knows that he's pressed for time now. Maybe Marcel would prefer Ilan to be on weed - in the other room, away from the rest of the chefs.

Dave is being told what to do, and he's not happy about it. 'I don't want to prove myself to these guys anymore. I don't need that'. Uh...Earth to Dave - this is a cooking competition in teams. You will be told what to do. Deal with it. With 10 minutes to go, Dave needs someone to prepare chives and Harold complies. He then starts to order everyone around and season 1 is chuckling. Not so much on Season 3, where Marcel has to quickly plate to make up time from having to remake the diced mango.

Dave and Elia come out to the judges - Padma, Queer Eyes' Ted Allen, Gail Simmons from Food and Wine Magazine, Head Judge Tom Colicchio, and...the 15 contestants from Season 3 of Top Chef. Elia calls it 'Bizarre', while Dave tells them that he'd love to taste their food in 4 weeks.

Time for the competition -

ROUND 1

Dave -
Cold Smoked Scallops and Triple Olive Tepenade with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Dave talks about how the meal goes nicely with the rest of the dishes to be served.

Elia -
Duo of Scallops Carpaccio and Seared with Citrus Marmalade and Endive Salad
She calls it light-hearted fare as well.

The tasters liked the Scallops with the marmalade - but hated the Carpaccio. It's going to be interesting how they judge it.

Dave and Elia come back to their teams and announce who the judging panel is. Both teams take the news the same (which is the attitude of 'wait until they get into the competition - heh heh heh'). However, the scenes are starkly different as they are about to serve the lobster; Stephen is just going over some quick touches, while Marcel is scrambling and taking over the mango preparation from a flustered Ilan, who is still trying to figure out how to make his duck work.

ROUND 2

Marcel -
Lobster Duo - Melon and Tomato, Cilantro and Mango with Vanilla Gelee and Lobster FOAM
Marcel? Foam? Can't be. Where's the Saffron? Marcel comes from table to table, serving the foam.

Stephen -
Lobster poached in Buerre Blanc with California Creme Anglaise...and oh yes, SAFFRON

Marcel notices his good friend Hung, and notes that if Hung is in the competition that they have some serious contestants this season. I'm also guessing that Hung will bring the serious attitude as well. Not coincidentally, Hung LOVES Marcel's dish, while not liking Stephen's at all. Stephen served the wine, which says that it will help. The look on Hung's face after tasting the wins clearly shows that it doesn't.

Something else not working is Ilan's Duck. He is forced to scrap it and pan sear it, while putting yolks on the rice, while Harold, like Stephen, only needs to make some last second touch-ups.

ROUND 3

Harold -
Spicy Duck Meatballs with Minted Gnocchi in a braised Duck Sauce hung says that Harold's dish is simple, yet tasty. The contestants see how Season 1's meals are working together.

Ilan -
Almond Stuffed Duck Breast with Wild Rice, White Asparagus and Raw Egg Yolk. It's not bad for a last second dish. I'm expecting it to get flattened by Harold.

None of the chefs liked Ilan's dish, and even the contestants, noting that Season 1 has a distinct theme and Season 2's meals are disjointed, are guessing that Season 2 does not like each other at all. I can't disagree with that.

ROUND 4

Sam -
Seared Kobe Beef with Mushroom Confit and Onion Relish

Tiffani -
Kobe Beef two ways - Roasted and Carpaccio with Polenta

Everyone likes both meals, so this meal could be a toss-up. Most of the contestants think that they could be better than either Season 1 or Season 2, while Tom hears and notes this with a twinkle in his eye. Wait until they get to compete...heh, heh, heh...

The Judging

Dave was talking about making his food for the region. Tom didn't like the texture, while Gail didn't like the tasting. Tom didn't like how Elia made 2 types of scallops and wishes that she didn't listen to Marcel. Speaking of which, he comes under fire for rough cutting the lobster. Marcel says that he had to, because he was too busy recutting the mango, something that Ilan admits to dropping, but not on purpose. Suuuuurrrre...

On to the duck. Tom called Harold's meal incomplete, while Ilan's duck was overcooked and the fat was not taken off completely. Ted wants Tiffani's recipe, while Sam's flavors were considered strong. Stephen and Marcel do what was expected - as they both declare each team the winner. Marcel says that he learned a lot, on both cooking food and working with personality. he did say that he didn't change his style just because he was painted as the bad guy, but Tiffani said that she learned to loosen up more and to let that be more visible. Interesting...

The judges thought that the best meals were Stephen's Lobster and Tiffani's Kobe Beef. The worst meals, by far...both ducks, from both winners of Top Chef. So how exactly did they win Top Chef again?

Grrrrrrrrrrr....

The results -

Dave Vs. Elia. Winner...Elia.

Season 2 up, 1-0

Marcel Vs. Stephen. WInner...Stephen

Tied, 1-1

Harold Vs. Ilan. Winner...Harold

Season 1 leads, 2-1

Tiffani Vs. Sam. Winner....Tiffani

Season 1 Wins, 3-1

Stephen called it and got it right. Susan G. Komen gets $20,000. 'We won $20,000 for a fantastic cause.'

So any final thoughts from the chefs?

Marcel - Use lots of Saffron and don't create Duos. Thanks, Marcel. Elia - Be yourself. Sam - Don't read the blogs. Tiffani - Don't forget who you are as a cook. Ilan - Come in with an open mind.

The chefs all pack their knives and go. That ends the prelude to Top Chef 3. Tune in 7 days later to see what happens when the critics become the critiqued.

 

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