Top Chef All Stars: No way for the conch two-ways
I actually had to think for a few minutes to remember last night's Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef, perhaps because it was as much, or more, about plating than food.
The chefs, who are still in the Bahamas, had to split into two teams of two and create a hundred identical plates. Instantly, Mike and Richard seized on each other (the women weren't even contenders at this point, Mike scoffed), leaving Tiffany and Antonia to work together. The men made pork bolognese with homemade noodles; the women seared steak salad. Though theirs was the simpler dish, it required more plating skill, and the women won.
The men's gracious response? A display of unconcealed rage and disbelief.
The second part of the program presented Padma striding along the beach in high heels and a bikini. Everyone was given boxes of gleaming fresh fish and produce, with only one thing missing: conch, which had to be the centerpiece of the meals prepared for the Nassau Yacht Club's eightieth anniversary. So the chefs went diving for conch, which afforded us the unwelcome sight of Mike's torso. (Hey, the guys got Padma; couldn't we at least have had a Tre flashback?) Then they fought to extract the living creatures from their tough shells, and prepared the food on a sandy beach over wood-fired grills.
The judges found Antonia's red snapper with conch tartare and lobster too conventional (can't say I've ever tasted anything like it, but that just shows the limits of my culinary education). Inspired by the sunset hues of the conch shells, Richard made a fake pasta of thinly sliced raw sweet potato, topping it with conch and lobster, and the judges were impressed. I find Mike both sexist and obnoxious, but his offering of grouper cooked in a grilled banana leaf, with conch vinaigrette and braised pineapple, sounded both delicious and inventive, and I couldn't begrudge him his win. (Note to producers: it can make a person a little nuts to go onto the Top Chef site for a recipe and find "curry powder" listed as an ingredient. What kind of curry powder, for heaven's sake?)
Tiffany faltered. She prepared conch two-ways -- as a chowder, and a ceviche. It's not clear why she thought it would be interesting to put the cold ceviche into the warm chowder, which cooled down further in the transit time from cooking area to table. Also, her dish was too sweet. It was sad to see Tiffany go home. She's younger and less experienced than the others, but her calmness and technique are admirable, and I think she'll mature into someone to be reckoned with.
Mike seems unstoppable at this point, but I'm still pulling for Antonia.
(One last sociological observation: In addition to the schoolyard antics of the male contestants, the judges were much more obsequious toward the yacht-club people than I've ever seen them being to regular working folk when they pop up on the show.)
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