Watching the show, I realize I look angry during the meal and later, at Judges' Table. That's because I was angry. I felt betrayed by these otherwise talented cooks. Allow me to explain: I love Italy. It's a relatively new and still passionate love as (other than a brief trip as a teenager), I hadn't been there until a few years ago. Now I go a lot. My wife is Italian. My daughter is a citizen. I vacation with my new family in Lombardy and Sardinia every year -- and make sure to shoot as many episodes of my show as I can nearby (for obvious reasons.) I am happiest these days sitting at a bare wood table at an agriturismo somewhere in the Italian countryside, drinking rough local wines and eating the local salumi and pasta. I don't ask for a lot. I don't need a lot. Simple. Competent. Back in New York, I, by necessity, choose Italian restaurants that my wife finds "acceptable." That doesn't mean fancy. That means restaurants who know how not to f--k up a simple, good thing. Like pasta. There is no shortage of decent Italian restaurants these days, so you'd think our contestants would do better. But… MINCHIA! A bowl of steamed mussels and garlic bread won the day! That should tell you something. That should tell you a lot.
So, there we are: Me, Tom, Padma, Frankie , Junior, bartender Nicky "Vest," co-owner, Ron, chef Dino, manager Joe -- and the magnificent Lorraine Bracco. We sit there in Rao's tiny dining room surrounded by history, expecting a nice, unfussy family meal -- like somebody's Italian mother -- anybody's Italian mother might make. For antipasti, we got a decent but over-refined and unassertive minestrone from Carla that Ron said tasted like the Wisconsin version. A very good sausage-flecked polenta dish with garnishes from Tiffany that was very tasty but neither Italian, really, nor particularly Italian American. And the aforementioned steamed mussels with white wine and fennel with garlic bread from Antonia that, at very least, got the mood and the expectations of her clients exactly right. A big, steaming bowl of properly cooked mussels, with crusty, strongly-garlicked bread. (Fabio later complained that fennel is "French." I suggest he visit Sicily.). This was exactly the kind of thing we were hoping for -- and expecting: a bowl we could all grab out of. With good stuff in it. Some sauce we could mop with bread.
Antonia "got" the challenge, perfectly. As she often does very well, she identified and managed expectations -- and delivered on them. If anything, this encouraged us to hope for more. The pasta course was next -- and three very talented chefs were on it! There was joy and anticipation at the table as Lorraine regaled us with stories from the making of Goodfellas and The Sopranos and we were excited by the promise of better things to come.
Instead, these three veteran chefs managed to f--k up THE WHOLE PASTA COURSE. Where we might have dreamed of some good, country-ass, rustic pasta -- we got cazzo instead. It is mind-boggling the bungled fundamentals, the elementary misunderstanding of basic Italian staples, the missed signals that went on in the kitchen during this course. Mike Isabella, at least, understood the challenge. His rigatoni with braised calamari and cherry tomatoes should have been great. The sauce (or the "gravy" as some old timers might call it), was just right: classic, familiar, delicious. But he'd ignored the very wise Junior Pellegrino who had advised earlier that "you can use dry pastas," and attempted to make
his own fresh rigatoni. It was hard, too tough and it didn't cook enough (I'm not convinced it ever could) -- as a result it never took in the sauce, and went down like a mouthful of bullets. To his credit, he knew. I have never seen a more unhappy, shamed, and repentant-looking contestant stand before us at Judges' Table. The usually brilliant Dale, who has been doing very well this season, also chose to ignore Junior's words of wisdom and attempted homemade fettucine with brussel sprouts, pancetta,
and pecorino--which also should have been good. The pasta was dry, brittle, and under-sauced so that it stuck together. While it is correct (or authentically Italian) when making pastas to use the sauce as condiment rather than the main event, this was so free of any kind of lube as to be
glued together, flavorless and unpleasant to eat. Even Lorraine, who had a very hard time saying anything bad about anybody at the table, remarked that had her boyfriend served her that plate of food he "wouldn't be getting laid tonight."
I lived in Venice for a long time. They make risotto with ONE ingredient in it. Maybe a little parsley on top. If it happens not to be fish (because the chef is some mainlander), they might put cheese on top. That's it. Now I'm ... what's the opposite of homesick? Home is Chicago. I'm awaysick, that's what I am.
"The Wisconsin version" I'm disappointed that someone who has visited Madison and seen what Wisconsin has to offer would repeat that comment with a straight face. For the record, there is some awesome food here. There is some mediocre food here too. But I'm pretty sure you could say the same about New York, New Jersey, or any other state in the country. Please think before making a state I am so proud of into a punchline, because you will lose a very devoted fan of both your writing and the show.
Great blog, as usual, mille grazie! Now will you please take Tom C. south of Rome? I can't believe he's never been to Campania or Sicily - he's an Italian chef! WTF Tom? Tony, please bring him with you and take him around Sicily, and make sure to film him eating a cannolo from Oscar's in Palermo.
I was very sad to see Tre go home, but wasn't he a total MAN in showing us how a mature, gracious and genuinely good human being takes a loss? I was so impressed with how he responded to the judges and the fellow chefs after getting eliminated and what he said in his exit interview. He may not be as talented as some chefs still in the competition, but he totally won me over with his character tonight. Best wishes to Tre!
I have been a fan of your writing and television shows for a long time. I am disappointed to see you repeating the ill-informed and offensive statements made about food in Wisconsin on tonight's episode. One of my favorite episodes of No Reservations had you touring Cleveland, OH with Michael Ruhlman and Michael Symon. In that episode you showed that Cleveland, a midwestern city that doesn't have a reputation for fine cuisine, in fact had a great deal to offer the world of food. Based on those experiences I would like to think that if Ron had said that Carla's minestrone had reminded him of Ohio that you would have taken exception to the comment.
This state that I love is not a backwater, the people that live here are not provincial. To spit out "Wisconsin," like some kind of dirty culinary epithet is beneath you sir, and it shows a tremendous lack of respect for a state that you visited on your tour very recently. The fact is that Wisconsin has some great food, equal to that which can be found in New York, or Chicago or San Francisco or even Cleveland. I also freely admit that Wisconsin has some mediocre food as well, the same as all of the places listed above.
I have been a a faithful viewer since day one of Top Chef, and can confidently say I have not missed any episode. I had to write tonight following the Rao's Challenge. I have already watched it twice, and am puzzled by a comment from one of the guests, and I am hoping that Chef Bourdain would be able to explain it, please. After tasting Carla's minnestrone, one of the guests (and I apologize that I dont know the name of the gentleman who said it)said that it was good, but "tastes like it could come from Wisconsin." - You referred to it in your blog? I am from Wisconsin, with Italian grandparents, and there are many generation Italians here, who are amazing chefs, in fantastic restaurants.. ...so the meaning of the comment was?.. Thank-you!!
While I appreciate the judges reasonings for picking Antonia's dish, mussels, seriously? When are you all going to give Fabio a break? 2 back to back great showings and a more complicated dish than mussels, yet he gets passed over again? WTF
As always wonderful blog Mr. Bourdain. You hit the nail on the head, you knocked it out of the park. It's hard to believe that simple mussels beat out Fabio's traditional chicken cacciatore. Poor Fabio, if ever he would get a win, I thought his cooking in this challenge would be the one. On the other hand, I thought we were going to get rid of that annoing Mike Isabella. It would have been sweet justice to have that hack Italian boy go home on Italian night. Why is he so cocky, his cooking sucks. The amuity challenge really sucked. I guess the producers are behind that one, terrible. I can't stop laughing when Carla tells us she used to be a model!!! Holy shit. For what horror movies. She's a nice lady, and a good chef but wtf. She has said that before and I laugh hysterically every time.
Very funny you should insult Tre about his risotto, when you praised him and even pronounced him winner in his season for making risotto. You are brash and somewhat of a wild canon. I would not be surprised if you negate all the great compliments you gave Fabio today. Being brash, doesn't make you anymore of a man. Get some simple manners!
I truly wish you had been around for the Quickfire. Maybe your wonderfully caustic presence -- which makes Top Chef something to look forward to every week -- would have deflated the pinheaded concept of Isaac Mizrahi judging a competition that supports the notion that how food looks is more important than how it tastes.
What would have happened had one of the "cheftestants" (a horrible invention of a word, by the way) had sculpted a steaming pile of feces into something that resembled a beautiful dish of chocolate ice cream? Would that have edged out Richard's rendition of a plate that looked like someone had dumped the contents of a used ashtray onto it? And would it have been worth eating?
The fact that you and Dr. Evil -- sorry -- Tom didn't have anything to say about this week's Quickfire only suggests that you either weren't around for it or you were kept away on purpose, knowing that you wouldn't have put up with it. It's too bad, because maybe if you had been, you would have called justifiable bullsh-t on the proceedings and convinced whoever's in charge (I'm guessing Padma this week) that such an idea shouldn't have made it past the ashtray that was dumped onto Richard's dish.
It is truly inspiring that the simplest dish could defeat all of the elaborate busy-ness. That great cooking is an approachable thing encourages all of us home cooks to try to be better. This episode made me think of your Tuscany episode, where you cooked more simply at the end of the episode (something that I feel like you knew to do the first time, but good tv needs drama, right?) and of course the Venice episode with the risotto with the small fish based broth. My lady and I have a piggy bank set up just for that risotto. Thanks for writing the blog, Tony!
I can honestly say that watching the 1st and 3rd courses being served was sheer FOOD PORN!!! So sorry that the pasta course was so tragic. Do you suppose that, because Mike and Dale are such talented chefs, their egos got the better of them and wouldn't allow themselves to use dry pasta?
And as long as we're on the subject, THANK YOU for defending the use of dry pasta. You're absolutely right -- there is nothing shameful about using it. It is much easier to work with and holds up much better. As someone who now lives in a gluten free household, I'd give anything to put a big steaming bowl of Barilla spaghetti with Marinara on the floor and just do a swan dive. Rice pasta and corn pasta, though marginally passable when making a lasagna, just isn't the same. Also, neither rice nor corn pasta work AT ALL for cold pasta dishes, and as a big fan of cold pasta salads, and leftover cold spaghetti for breakfast, having to be gluten free just SUCKS OUT LOUD!!!!!
Though it may be too late to suggest, you should have a QF or EC that speaks to those of us who have had to give up things like wheat gluten products. Make us forget being denied all the yummy things made with wheat flour... *sigh*
In the meantime, keep bringin the food porn! LOL
This makes two weeks in a row that Fabio has gotten hosed. I think he should have won restaurant wars for his front of the house acrobatics in conjuntion with an awesome dessert, and he should have won this week for his perfectly cooked chicken and the side that restored your faith in humanity. He wuz robbed!
I love these recaps. They're so witty and spot-on. The only thing I'm a bit confused about is Fabio's comment. I thought he said the whole mussel dish was French (not just the fennel). And isn't he right on that? Moules Marinière is a classic French dish introduced to Americans by Julia Child in 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. I've travelled through Italy quite a lot myself and don't recall seeing this dish on any menu. Maybe I just missed it? I'm not arguing that Antonia shouldn't have won, but just that Fabio's comment was correct. As someone who loves to cook, I do watch Top Chef for more than entertainment but for education as well. And I have to say, this point about the mussels confuses me. Any clarification would be much appreciated! Is it French, Italian or maybe just Italian-American?
Love your descriptions, and reading about the episode fills in a lot of gaps that the editing creates. I was sad to see Tre go, and I didn't get the sense that his dish was so much worse than the others - I do get that from what you wrote. I think the concept of simple gets confused in peoples' heads with easy, and that's why there was a negative or more like, non-reaction in the stew room when Antonia walked in with the win - at least, that's my read on it, or was it that the bad boy club was pissed that a girl took it?
So, I take issue with your contention that the contestants could have just used the pasta out of the box along with great meatballs or a sauce and sailed to the win. We're in season 8 now and how many times have contestants gotten slammed at judges table for not making their own (pasta, sausage, etc). Sure Junior said they could use pasta out of the box. They might even use pasta out of the box in their own restaurant. But no way are Dale, Mike I. and Tre using it. They've seen too many other people get nailed on it for them to even consider it as an option.
love your side comments, they make your blog the first one I read! Fabio really needs to get over himself. There are chefs in the US that know how to make great Italian food. I too have been to Italy, and the food is divine!
The quickfire on this episode was terrible. I don't understand why anyone would have to be judged on food that people don't eat. That's like having clothes be judged on the mannequin but you don't get to touch it or walk in it. Last week's quickfire (designed by Anthony with Justo Thomas) was brilliant. Is there any way we can just get rid of Padma and have Anthony full time?
give me a break, dude! bracco let the cat out of the bag with her comment" we got to keep it in the family" i suspect italian family...go bloew yourself on that one, tony!
soon these comments will be filled with moronic foodies who will nit pick the decision, deriding the idea that "Antonia's damn mussels, simplest, easiest goddamn thing in the world to make" could win and second guessing chefs who know more about this cuisine than 99.99% of people in the nation. Thanks as always for a funny and insightful take on a fun and uncomplicated challenge. For tonight all they had to do was cook and it was fun to watch.
Anthony, I wished I could have been a judged because I would have never sent Tre home. However, I would have been pissed off about eating uncooked pasta.
Once again, a great blog. Thank you for telling us why Fabio didn't get the win. I was thinking he got totally robbed again and is being treated like the red headed stepchild.
Anthony you do right one of the best blogs I've ever read on this site. You truly are a word smith. And you know good food. I think the viewers agree Antonia deserved the win. Be well. Very happy your a judge as well. Fabio has that italian temper. Wow.
My god, you are my favorite blogger/writer. When I read your blogs after each episode, I feel that I was there! What a great gift you give to me (all viewers) when you are able to convey the "feeling" of the room and the "taste" of the food. It makes me smile. I will never be able to eat at the restaurant, but won't mind now that you made me feel like I was there. Thank You
Tony - you're always right on the money. I'm of Italian descent and I always tell my non-Italian heritage friends (including my husband who's English) that you don't need to make fresh pasta all the time. Barilla, DeCecco will suffice.
While I was watching this episode, my reaction to Antonia's mussels was "smart girl. If she pulls it off, she will win". It brought back memories of Christmas Eve with my Italian family. With all the fish entrees, my brothers mussels were always the star. Looked like the entire judging panel got some good bread dipping too.
Love your blog as always and will be sad when the series comes to an end.
I love you Mr. Bourdain. I am so happy you are a judge this year. If only you would judge every episode and every season, then I would really be happy!
I wish Mike Isabella's dish would have turned out the way it was meant. If even one dish during the pasta course could have scored, that could have been the meal of a lifetime.
What was up with the chefs in the stew room when Antonia came back and said she won? They just don't get it. What a bunch of asses! They all need "KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID" tatooed to their collective foreheads, or maybe across their backsides. Her dish looked soooooooo good. That pasta (all 3 dishes) looked frightening.
" ... so maybe I missed why Padma was dressed like a Superfriend."
This? This right here? Why me loves me some Bourdain.
That dress was hideous!!
Your blogs make for great story telling that I feel as though a friend's recounting dinner last night with friends. A hoot!
That was without a doubt the stupidest Quickfire challenge they have ever had. I adore Angelo. He is obviously a good chef. But I find it very funny that he cannot spell "crocodile". I really wanted Fabio to win, but I didn't taste the food. Good episode.
All my top chef buddies were very disappointed with last night's outcome. I see Tom and Tony explain the decisions, but I guess the challenge was the problem. We don't watch Top Chef to see pop tarts put in toasters or mussels cooked with wine and toast. Hundreds of years of cooking experience between us buddies in San Francisco, and the "beauty of simplicity" is all fine and good, but too simple is just not interesting on t.v.
The unsportsmanlike conduct exhibited by the other cheftestants when Antonia won was pretty pathetic.
For the 2nd week in a row, Fabio is edged out. As I don't like mussels, what are the chances he'll share his chicken & polenta recipe with us? Keep going, Fabio! We're rooting for you!
Hurray for a FOAM-FREE creative and entertaining show. Interesting Quickfire challenge and would like to see more of the “we are not going to taste it” but just make it look pretty dishes. Richard’s black stuff was actually eye-appealing with the green sprigs thrown in for pizzazz. Keep up the great work.
Ditto on the comment regarding Tre's professionalism as he was asked to pack his knives and leave. Jennifer take note!
Mr. Bourdain....my sister is a HUGE fan of yours but I've never much followed your writing, show, etc. In fact, tonight was the first time I've read your blog and it's because of your performance on the show. I love how brutally honest you are (throwing in the f-word quite a few times--not that cursing is refreshing per se but it demonstrates that you are just saying what you think, no matter what network runs the show). I really enjoyed what you had to say about the episode and more importantly, that you didn't repeat what Colicchio said--the risotto should be "soupy". I make risotto all the time (and was taught by someone of direct Italian descent) and while mine is creamy, it's never soupy. I loved Tre so thanks for the explanation. By the way, I would have voted for mussels no matter what! Love, love, love those....and never easy to come by in the South!