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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 12/ 9/2010

Top Chef All-Stars Ep. 2: It'll have you in stitches

By Carol Blymire

All week long, Bravo's promos and the cast's Tweets pimping this episode were all about the "shocking and surprising ending." This better, be good, Bravo.

What a relief to start the episode in the kitchen instead of the chef house. But then, one of the Jonai appears with Padma. And for the first time in his life his presence is met with not with "squeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!" but with blank looks, furrowed brows, a grimace or two, and a palpable sense of "really?" While Antonia thinks her daughter will be psyched she met Joe Jonas, Dale T. had no clue who he was and thus assumed he was a pastry chef. Which, is a total insult to pastry chefs, Dale. Apologize now, please. But really, Joe Jonas on Top Chef? Who thought that was a good idea?

Padma looks vaguely uncomfortable standing next to him as they announce that the Quickfire Challenge is making a brown bag-friendly midnight snack for kids who attend the sleepover party at the American Museum of Natural History that night. They have 45 minutes, and the winner gets immunity in the Elimination Challenge.

The cheftestants start cooking, and Dale T. says, "Who knows what Joe Jonas is used to eating," and I shout back at the TV what he likes to eat, but this is a family newspaper so we're just gonna move on. Mike Isabella insults his mother's cooking while Marcel tenderly pays homage to his mom's attention to food and nutrition. Tiffani tries to use liquid nitrogen, but needs Blais' help to get it going (shocker). Padma and Joe taste all 17 snacks, and I can tell who's going to win and who's going to lose.

As predicted, they didn't like Tiffany's coconut rice pudding with grapefruit sauce, Mike's polenta-chocolate-coconut snack (barf), or Stephen's weird snickerdoodle-white chocolate-coconut-apricot-mint cookie (double barf). I'm surprised they didn't bust Fabio for his Harry & David chocolate-dipped, candy-coated apple slices.

Padma and Joe adored Spike's potato and carrot chips with marshmallow-mascarpone dip and Tiffani's Rice Krispies treat snowball explosion. Calling it a tie, they decided to let the kids decide at the museum that night. Spike and Tiffani split the group in two -- Tiffani chose all women and Dale L., while Spike ended up with all the guys and Carla -- and they prepared 300 snack servings. As they cooked together, it was the first time I saw Angelo be part of a team and not a) boss everyone around, or b) sabotage the challenge in some way. Has he reformed his evil ways? Man, I hope not.

While the kids sample the snacks, Spike works the crowd and Antonia tries to cheer on Tiffani's snack. It's obvious who the winner is when the camera focuses for what feels like an hour on some nutbag-tweaked-out-on-sugar kid making faces and bouncing all over the place. No doubt in anyone's mind that kid was hyped up on Tiffani's sugar bomb. Carrot and potato chips don't make you look like Chucky on a bender.

And, as we all knew would be the case, Tiffani's snack wins! And 647 cases of diabetes were diagnosed an hour later. Huzzah!

Tom Colicchio shows up, and the chefs seem to be caught off guard. He tells them the Elimination Challenge starts right away, and I half expected a Bieber appearance. Instead, he tells them they're sleeping in the museum, and then making breakfast for the kids and their parents. They can cook with only what they find in the museum kitchen. Their menu inspiration comes from the diets of the very dinosaurs they're standing under: T-Rex and Brontosaurus. That means, one team cooks a meat and dairy breakfast, and the other team cooks a fruit, vegetable, and grains breakfast. As the Quickfire winner, Tiffani chooses first and goes for the meat option. Both teams spend a little time planning their menus and individual responsibilities without knowing exactly what the ingredients will be until they arrive in the museum kitchen in a few hours.

They're led to the Hall of North American Mammals to sleep among the taxidermied moose and bison, and Tre laments that he can't sleep in the nude like he usually does, and I'm all YES YOU CAN. Some of the guys forgo their allotted 45 minutes of sleep and take a flashlight tour of the museum (which I totally would've done, too). The rest of them doze off for a bit, and when they wake up some conversations happen, but I can't hear what they're saying because Tre's biceps are whispering sweet nothings in my ear.

Both teams head to the kitchen to see what they have to work with. The T-Rex team seems shocked and dismayed that although Tom told them their menu would be comprised of only meat and dairy, that they have only -- wait for it -- meat and dairy. Carla and the rest of Spike's team are stoked about the bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables they get to prepare and serve. The T-Rex team whines and complains at every turn, and I long for Tim Gunn to show up and whip them into shape.

Five minutes into preparing one of the meat dishes, Jamie cuts her finger, is seen by the medic and leaves to get stitches. There's much eye-rolling and "girl, please"-ing, which delights me to no end. Worse injuries have happened on this show, and the chefs just keep on cooking. Jamie's absence means Jen cooks alone on her team and has to turn out a pork belly and egg dish. And I begin to wonder if Jen sucker-punching Jamie is the surprise/shock ending, 'cause it would be well deserved.

The Brontosaurus team seems to be working well together with some strong partnering, but it's hard to pay attention to everything they're doing because all I can think of is what it would've been like to live in the CreTREceous Era. Raowr.

The cheftestants move outside to set up their buffet stations for the kids and parents, and as they're doing the final prep, good old Jamie saunters in. Back from the ER, she reports that she had a whopping two stitches, and even nice, nice Dale L. disses her behind her back for being such a wuss and a cop-out. Casey tastes Jen's pork belly and egg dish and says it tastes like wet bacon. Jen says she loves it. Angelo, Marcel and Richard plate their fruit dish, Angelo asks Carla to cut the plums without checking with Marcel first and boo-yah, the old Angelo is back.

The kids and their parents line up for the food, and the judges -- Tom, Gail and Padma -- make their way to the tables, as well, with Padma rocking some killer boots. This week's guest judge? Season One host, Katie Lee, whose face does not move. Cue the hate mail from all the Bourdain fanboys and fangirls, 'cause it's only the second episode of the season and already our "new" judge has been replaced by a 'Toxbot. The judges taste both teams' food, and Katie pronounces gnocchi "no-kee" instead of "nyo-kee," but I'll cut her some slack because if you can't move your face, then I would imagine talking, let alone the enunciation of basic culinary terms, is a bit of a challenge.

There are some dishes that rock and dishes that bomb, and Padma calls Team Brontosaurus to Judges' Table first. As winners of the Elimination Challenge, they go down the line and talk about who made which dishes. Turns out the judges liked the banana parfait with fresh fruit the best, which means Angelo, Marcel and Richard are the winners this week. Angelo is now 2 for 2. They all head back to the Stew Room and send out the deflated T-Rex team.

As Tiffani's team stands before Judges' Table it's unnerving to watch Jen, in particular, as she twitches, shifts back and forth and gets combative with the judges about why they're wrong and she's right about her dish being perfect. She can't stand still, she's all over the place; it's certainly not the Jen we're used to seeing on this show. The judges thought Dale L. and Tiffani's steak and eggs was the best of the losing team's offering, so they're safe. Tiffany and Antonia's frittati are razzed for being uneven, and Katie says they're like something you'd find on a cruise ship. Oh honey, Patrick O'Connell you're not. Tre and Casey's salmon was cooked well, but the sauce was too aggressive. Jen and Jamie's soft, textureless pork belly and flavorless egg dish is also a loser. Back in the Stew Room, Jamie opines that if she hadn't left for the ER, her team would've won. They just couldn't win without her. Saucer of milk for one, please.

It's at this point I'm wondering where the big shocking and surprising final scene is. Maybe Jen really does clock Jamie? Does Casey flip over Judges' Table and yell "prostitution whore"? Is Dale tardy for the party? Turns out, it's that despite Tom saying he doesn't mind Jen's combativeness, Jen gets eliminated. Which shouldn't be that shocking, really because it's hard to screw up pork belly, let's be honest. When Jen hears Padma tell her to pack her knives, she has a very strange laughing spell that sure feels like the beginning of a nervous breakdown at Judges Table. Back in the Stew Room and outside the hallway, the awkward, almost manic laughing and bleeped-out swearing continues.

And there sits Jamie . . . who cooked nothing, and yet is safe from elimination. Two women, in stitches. Did the right one go home?

Up next week: Double elimination. Uni foam. Rack of octopus. Tiffani's frozen melons. And Bourdain making a predictable marijuana reference because he wants to make sure we remember how cool he is.

By Carol Blymire  | December 9, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chefs, Television  | Tags:  Carol Blymire, chefs, television  
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What an amazing re-cap, did we watch this together. You literally captured every single one of my thoughts--particularly about Tre! Yum!!! And Jamie (who I've NEVER liked ...)

I'll be reading these every week. Kudos!

Posted by: gadu | December 9, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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