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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 02/10/2011

Top Chef All-Stars Ep. 9: Fondue and Fallon

By Carol Blymire

I suppose I can rouse myself from the fainting couch, where I've been suffering from the vapors ever since Tre's dismissal from the show last week. Woe is me. I guess, with just eight cheftestants remaining, it's time to really and truly focus on the food instead of a certain chef's pecs. Fine. Be that way.

Tonight's Quickfire Challenge: Make a unique fondue -- not just cheese and bread, or fruit and chocolate. Now, I'm a woman of a certain age, so this challenge strikes an emotional chord with me, 'cause I have very fond memories of a trip to Switzerland and a certain boy who fed me fondue very late one night, with the Alps as a backdrop. However, the chefs on the show are a little younger than I am because they're talking about their parents hosting naked fondue parties, and -- no offense, Mom and Dad -- but that is the last thing I want to imagine when I think of dipping something into a pot of lovely goodness that is fondue.

The chefs find out they'll have to judge each other's fondue to name the winner, and they get cooking. Here's what they make for the challenge:

  • Blais: banana with amaretto, ras el hanout, chili chocolate and liquid nitrogen (DROOL)
  • Tiffany: apple-ricotta fritter with hazelnut and chocolate
  • Angelo: goat cheese and beets with walnuts, served on endive leaves
  • Carla: beef tenderloin and shrimp with coconut-lime curry sauce (DROOL)
  • Dale: a riff on Pho (dare we call it "phondue"?)
  • Mike: spiced lamb kebabs with feta cheese dip (DROOL; and, I think I ate this nine kabillion times at Zaytinya when he was cooking there)
  • Antonia: smoked salmon, fromage blanc and creme fraiche (DROOL)
  • Fabio: blini with caviar, creme fraiche, fromage blanc
I'm kind of stoked about this challenge because I feel like it's been a while since this show a) made me want to cook; and b) made me salivate. The chefs rank each others' fondues, and we learn that Fabio's, Tiffany's and Mike's are the least favorites. Or, the fondon'ts, as it were. The top three dishes were Antonia's, Dale's and Angelo's. The winner is Dale, which is kind of odd, since his fondue really just looked like poking a fork into a pot of fondue and hoping you got some pork on the end of the tines. Whatever. Blais looks perplexed. I echo that perplexed-ness, Blais. I really do.

The chefs are driven over to 30 Rockefeller Center for their Elimination Challenge with Jimmy Fallon. They walk out onstage, and it ends up being some sort of convoluted thing where the chefs have to take cellphone photos of things they'll have to cook for Jimmy Fallon's birthday dinner. I guess if, maybe, I watched Fallon's show this would all make sense, but right now? Does. Not. Compute.

Antonia and her ill-fitting jeans get to make beef tongue. Fabio gets to cook a burger and fries. The rest shoot their photos, but it's edited in such a way that it's not necessarily clear who gets what -- other than Carla spazzing out over getting potpie and Tiffany being stoked she gets to make chicken and dumplings. They cook at Colicchio and Sons. They're told Fallon hates mushrooms, mayonnaise and eggplant. So, I kind of automatically think he's a d-bag, right?

The chefs shop at Whole Foods, then head back to the chefpartment for the night where they're forced to do some bull-crap segment with the sponsor's Buitoni pasta. Or, as this very newspaper's deputy food editor, Bonnie Benwick, so aptly said on Twitter: "They are eating from the Glad family of pastas." Indeed.

The next morning, we spend a little time with the chefs in the apartment as they get dressed for the day. And it's just our luck that we have to see Mike's bare belly and Dale's tank top, instead of any body part of Tre's. Can you tell I'm still in mourning? Damn you, Bravo. CURSE YOU.

They all head over to Colicchio and Sons to cook where they have just two hours before they serve Jimmy Fallon, his friends, family and the Judges. Gail Simmons is back in full force, but "new, permanent judge" Bourdain is replaced by Fallon on the judging panel. The chefs present their dishes in pairs, and here's what they served Jimmy and his guests for his (alleged, and probably fake) birthday dinner:

  • Antonia: beef tongue, pumpernickel rye bread, caramelized onions and dill slaw

  • Fabio: chuck, brisket, and shortrib hamburger with cheddar sauce and homemade pickles
Tom thought Fabio's burger had a gross texture and the cheese sauce was lame, while everyone seemed to love Antonia's dish. I double-hate Fabio's dish because he keeps calling it a "booger" in his accent, which seems to be even more exaggerated than it was on his first season on the show, just sayin'.
  • Blais: ramen noodles with seared pork belly, duck leg and duck egg (DROOL)
  • Tiffany: "chicken and dumplins" with poblano chili, lime, cilantro and roasted red peppers

Everyone slurped and loved Richard's ramen even though Fallon thought there should've been laser beams shooting out of it. But there wasn't a lot of love for Tiff's dish.

  • Dale: cheesesteak on soft pretzel rolls (DROOL)
  • Carla: "bomb diggity" chicken potpie (DROOL)

Dale's dish is deemed too salty by Jimmy and Gail, but Carla's potpie is a homerun. And, as someone who was born and raised in Amish country, I loved seeing the food of my people so lovingly done by Carla and so voraciously eaten by the judges.

  • Angelo: BBQ pulled pork with a coffee-allspice-chipotle-dill rub
  • Mike: sausage and peppers, "Fenway style"

Gail loved Mike's sandwich and the guys cracked sausage jokes. But everyone at the table drooled over Angelo's pork.

At the end of the dinner, the chefs bring out an ice cream cake for Jimmy, and he profusely thanks the chefs for it, even though it's clear they didn't make it. Awk-berg.

Back in the Stew Room, Padma (in her Strawberry-Shortcake-Meets-Christie-Brinkley-in-the-"Uptown Girl"-video dress) calls Carla, Angelo and Antonia to Judges' Table first. They have the best dishes of the challenge. The judges give Angelo a tongue bath over the spice rub for his dish. They also poured a stockpot full of praise on Carla for putting a bit of crust on the bottom of her potpie -- which we can all agree is the best part. They sort-of praise Antonia for her beef tongue dish, but it seems like she's only out there because the chefs apparently made up a dumb song about beef tongue that Padma makes them sing in row-row-row-your-boat style. But enough of that nonsense, because it's time to name the winner: Carla! Hootie! Not only does she win a cooking segment on Jimmy's show, she also gets a trip to Tokyo. (Score!) Congrats, Carla.

The sad trombone wah-wahs as Tiffany, Fabio and Dale head to Judges' Table next. I am bummed thinking that Tiffany will probably be sent home, because Dale and Fabio always seem to mug for the camera and the producers love that crap. As the judges offer their criticism, Tom says he thought Tiffany's dumplings were flat and Jimmy wanted more comfort from the dish. All the judges thought Fabio's "booger" was too meatball-y and meatloaf-y, not burger-y enough. And Tom especially hated the cheese sauce on the side. Jimmy thought Dale's dish was too salty.

So who's going home? It's Fabio!!! No more exaggerated Italian accent! No more mugging for the camera! No more fake laughter! No more spouting off lame advice like, "You are the only shadow standing in your own sunshine."

In all, kind of a boring episode, yes? Which, if you're having one of America's top late-night hosts grace your presence, should've been a heck of a lot funnier and better-paced. Instead, it was slow, weird and forced. But my predictions for Final Four stay the same: Blais, Dale/Angelo, Carla, Antonia. Agree?

On next week's show: The cheftestants go to Target and cook for Elmo, Cookie Monster and Telly. Which means, there's Tre-like hotness under the table -- because, have you seen Kevin Clash, the guy who does Elmo? Wowza. I'll take two tickets to the gun show, please. And the preview also shows us that Bourdain is back, making his 9,349,873,493,948th joke about "stoner food." 'Cause, that never gets old.

By Carol Blymire  | February 10, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Television  | Tags:  Carol Blymire, Top Chef, television  
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Next: Lunch Room Chatter: The shame of being a foodie


Blechh on that Buitoni lobster and shrimp ravioli. Notice the chefs didn't comment on their dinner?

I tried that stuff around episode 3 or 4, because the commercials made it sound good, even though I KNEW it couldn't be. Horrible! So much of that fake frozen food garlic taste and no flavor from the seafood. Double yuck.

Posted by: NonyMous | February 10, 2011 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Oh but I'm so hurt to see sweet Fabio go, I hoped he'd stay forever just for fun.
Ahh and pot pie wins! That’s reassuring, that comfort food isn’t dead. I hope the trend lasts a long time. Get it Carla! She thinks winning is in the cards, but I'm not so sure.

Posted by: BlenderBabe | February 10, 2011 5:07 PM | Report abuse

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