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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Top Chef All-Stars Ep. 5: Large talons

By Carol Blymire

Happy new year, and welcome back to Top Chef All-Stars! And what a way to kick off the new year, by being greeted in tonight's episode by the one, the only Joan Collins... oh wait, never mind. It's Padma. She just raided Joan's closet is all.

We're told the theme for tonight is "speed," and the Quickfire is set up by none other than Tom Colicchio. It's a timed challenge that begins with Tom making a dish from start to finish -- gathering ingredients and equipment, prepping, cooking and plating -- with the clock starting at zero and ending, when he was done, at 8 minutes and 37 seconds. In that time, he pulled off a composed plate of seared (though slightly burned) black sea bass with clams, tomato, and zucchini.

The cheftestants now have to make a similar dish in the same amount of time. Tom and Padma will factor in degree of difficulty into their decisions, and caution the chefs not to make a crudo or tartare. The winner gets immunity in the Elimination Challenge, as well as a Toyota Prius. Man, the prizes are really good this season, aren't they? When they cut to Marcel saying, "Immunity? Pffsshhh, I'm not worried about going home" I think -- nay, I yell -- "FOR THE LOVE OF CHARLES NELSON REILLY, Bravo, STOP SPOILING THIS SHOW!!!!!"

As the chefs scrambled for their ingredients and started cooking, I sat here thinking to myself: What can I make in 8:37? One or two things, for sure, but my kitchen is tiny and I don't have to run or reach for gear or food to do it. Then, I wondered what Top Noncooker Jamie could cook in 8:37, and chuckled to myself that she probably wouldn't even bother because you don't get kicked off the show for a poor showing in the Quickfire. Shoot, I bet the ER doc who put in her one stitch the other week did in less than 8 minutes and 37 seconds.

Tom and Padma tasted all the dishes and gave a big old FAIL to Dale's sad, unfinished Pad Thai, Jamie's unfinished clams, and Angelo's crudo of some fish I can't remember. Tom loved Mike's pan-roasted branzino, Richard's foie gras, and Marcel's black bass with dashi. And it's DC's own Mike Isabella who wins the Quickfire, garnering immunity AND a brand-spanking new Prius. Better get an Obama sticker on there quick, Mike -- isn't it against the law to have a Prius without one?

Continuing the "speed" theme, the Elimination Challenge takes place in Chinatown. Marcel mentions it's his favorite place for massages and now I can't get THAT image out of my head. Blerg. The cheftestants have to cook as a team at Grand Harmony restaurant and do a lunchtime dim sum service for about 200 people. They go back to the apartment to plan and, of course, no one really takes a strong leadership role in coordinating the menu and staffing -- shocker. Because Mike has immunity, he'll expedite and not cook. Carla and Casey volunteer to be the runners, pushing the carts in the dining room. Richard's last words are "this has got disaster written all over it." Which of course, equals good TV.

The next day, they shop at an Asian supermarket. Fabio sees live turtles in a tank, and we cut to footage of him walking his pet turtle on a leash at home in California. Fabio just lost 649,000 cool and sexy points. Casey buys a ton of chicken feet -- which is a ballsy move in my book. Tre buys something, but I'm not paying attention to what that is because I'd really just like him to take off his shirt. Uh, I mean, tell me about his dish.

In the kitchen at Grand Harmony, Jamie says her dumplings aren't working -- WHAT A SHOCK. Casey's cutting the toenails off the chicken feet, and I'm choking back vomit just a little bit. Tre's having trouble with his orange dessert because the kitchen is too hot. I think the dessert might set better if he just took off his shirt. They totally teach that at culinary school.

The dining room fills up with hungry people, and the judges arrive soon after. Tonight's guest judge is chef Susur Lee of Shang and DC's Zentan. Once, again, Bourdain is MIA, just like Ripert was last season. I mean, I don't really care because I don't think he adds a whole lot to the show (:::: dodging cleavers thrown by all the fanboys ::::), but Bravo pimped him out like the Second Coming in the promos, so what gives?

The judges taste everything while Casey and Carla begin service in the rest of the dining room. Thirty seconds in, Mike is yelling for more food from the kitchen.

Here's a rundown of what each cheftestant made:

  • Tiffani: cabbage, cilantro, and sesame salad with crispy curry chicken
  • Fabio: soy and honey-glazed spicy pork rib
  • Carla: summer roll with vegetables and a lemongrass dipping sauce
  • Angelo: shrimp and pork spring roll
  • Marcel: boneless chicken wing with scallion mayonnaise
  • Richard: no idea; it was never presented nor described, but it looked like some sort of pork roll
  • Jamie and Antonia: long beans with Chinese sausage
  • Dale and Angelo: cheung fun with XO shrimp
  • Dale: sweet sticky rice with Chinese bacon, wrapped in a banana leaf
  • Tiffany: spicy pork with preserved vegetables on a steamed bun
  • Tre: orange-ginger dessert with fresh water chestnuts and Thai basil
  • Casey: chicken feet with a scallion pancake
  • Antonia: shrimp toast with pickled scallions and mushrooms
  • Mike: pork and prawn dumplings with spicy soy sauce
  • Jamie: scallop dumplings with water chestnuts and Chinese chives

The camera cuts from the judges to various diners and servers who are also tasting the food, and we hear comments such as "no idea what I just ate" and "Caucasian dim sum." Casey abandons the dining room and heads back down to the kitchen to see why her chicken feet aren't making their way up to service.

During this whole segment, I'm bothered and yet not surprised by the lack of speed among the competitors. I think it's probably been a long time since most of them have worked in a restaurant kitchen. Since their time on the show, many of them have been doing public appearances, events, consulting and who knows what else A few are moving fast -- Blais, Angelo, Dale -- but most of them are la-di-dah-farting around, and it's making me twitchy.

The food just stops coming out, people in the dining room get up to leave, and Tom goes into the kitchen to kick some sense into them. Antonia tries to rally everyone to move, and Stitch just stands around and whines. Mike grabs a bite to eat, Dale wipes off his clogs, and it still feels like they're slogging through molasses and not pushing themselves. They get the last of their food out, and pack up to leave.

Back in the Stew Room, Antonia and Tiffany bitch about the lack of coordination in the kitchen, and Padma calls Casey, Antonia, Carla, Jamie and Tre to Judges' Table first. Nice switcheroo, because we know from the tasting comments that these are the worst dishes.

Jamie's dumplings were criticized for being lame, annoying and bitchy, and I just made that up because I think Jamie is lame, annoying and bitchy. The judges really didn't like her dumplings, though. True story. Nor did they like the way her long beans were cooked; they were too oily. Casey's chicken feet were undercooked and tough. Tre knew his dessert didn't hold up well in the heat. Carla's summer rolls were bland, and Susur Lee tells her she cooked with her eyes and not her stomach, which guts her, clearly. They're sent back to the Stew Room for a bit.

Standing before the judges next are Tiffany, Angelo, Dale and Fabio. Susur is surprised Fabio could even make Chinese food. They also thought Tiffany's pork bun was bright with a lot of flavor. Tom and Susur really seemed to like Dale's dish, while Padma and Gale liked Angelo's spring rolls. Dale is crowned tonight's winner.

The cheftestants of the losing dishes come back to Judges' Table. Tre's dessert is called "hospital food" and "insipid," and Casey's chicken feet "a disaster" and "inedible," though it's noted she took a big risk in cooking something audacious. Antonia and Jamie are criticized for the beans, and Jamie again for the gross dumplings, so I'm thinking it's finally time for Stitch to go home.

But sadly, it's one of my favorites, Casey, who is sent packing.

And I kind of hate Top Chef.

Up Next Week: Who even cares, because Jamie will, once again, not do anything well or at all, and still get to stay in the competition.

By Carol Blymire  | January 6, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Television  | Tags:  Carol Blymire, Top Chef  
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Agreed, Jamie should have gone home!

Posted by: MILWI | January 6, 2011 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I really do hope Jamie packs her knives. Though surprisingly enough she isn't the worst off when you look at who's dominating this season.

Posted by: BlenderBabe | January 12, 2011 3:07 PM | Report abuse

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