I don’t think I’ve seen our chefs more excited to meet a guest judge in all my days on Top Chef than they were this week when they met Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Telly Monster. And not just those chefs who are parents. All of them were thrilled, since most of the chefs competing grew up watching Sesame Street. And don’t get me started on the crew, who were so happy to show up for work that day!
I admit to having been excited myself, even though I was just a bit older and “past it” when Sesame Street first hit the airwaves, so I didn’t discover Elmo and friends until my older son began watching the show. That boy loved Elmo with the reverence my grandmother saved for the Pope. And now my toddler, who calls Elmo “La-La” (because of Elmo’s theme song, in which “la-la, la-la” is the chief lyric), is a raging fan. He’s unimpressed when he sees Daddy on TV… but loses it with joy when La-La’s on the screen. His two favorite items are firetrucks and La-La. We actually found him a Firefighter Elmo which he calls “Woo-woo-woo-woo La-La.”; So cute it hurts. A friend’s three-year-old was excited to dress as Elmo to attend a Halloween party this year… until he entered the room and every other preschooler acted like teenaged girls at a Justin Beiber concert. He narrowly escaped the stampede and couldn’t get the costume off quickly enough. I could go on and on. It’s crazy, the hold Elmo has over the tiny tots.
…Or so I thought until I got to spend time with him in person (in muppet?) on Top Chef. I no longer find it crazy at all. The outsized charisma of that little furry red monster is utterly disarming. Kevin Clash, who plays Elmo, David Rudman, who plays Cookie Monster, and Martin P. Robinson, who plays Telly Monster (and looks like him, too!), were so much fun to hang out with, and even more fun to watch at work. They’re ambassadors of happy, leaving a trail of joy wherever they go. I don’t normally have to be at the set for tapings of the Quickfire Challenges, but there was no way I was going to miss this -- I brought my toddler and the two daughters of dear friends, and we had a blast hanging out with them in the green room. They have great senses of humor and of fun. Even the muppet wrangler was fun, whose tasks include making sure the muppets fur is fluffed just so.
It was amazing to watch Kevin Clash, David Rudman (Cookie Monster), and Martin P. Robinson at work. These puppeteers are so adept at what they do, are so very talented, and make it all seem so fluid and effortless that folks almost forget it’s not the muppets themselves talking, despite actually watching the muppeteers in action. It was astonishing. Kevin Clash can actually make it seem as though he and Elmo are talking simultaneously -- I've never seen anything like it. Watching their exit from the table after the Quickfire Challenge was so cool -- they were hilarious. It was far and away one of the best days we all have ever had on Top Chef.
I remember in season 5 when the chefs collectively turned in an underwhelming effort, Tom came in saying that making a good deviled egg isn't where the competition needs to be. So Carla winning for her pot pie last week and being allowed to stay this week for a sauce posing as a soup seems a little crazy to me for the ALL STARS edition.
It's always nice to get your insight. Editing, while necessary, really can limit the audience's understanding of your decisions....I always wait for the blogs before I scream out in agony over the winner or loser.... Keep on keepin' on.
Okay-Dale used an iron. I know Target carries George Foreman grills - didn't he think to use that instead? Looking at the challenge, I kept thinking, "grab an electric skillet, a foreman grill and a slow cooker and a toaster oven." Were they that tired and loopy? And poor Carla - she says she loves Target, yet she coiuldn't find table coverings? If you shop at Target, you know where things are. Still rooting for Carla though. Could've even told her where to find the salmon. Loved to see Ming Tsai-he's a favorite of mine. Looking forward to next week. Now for Mike to go . . .
Karmic justice. How many times have I watched a chef go home because Angelo's interference caused them to second guess their flavoring choice. He was hoisted on his own pitard (sp). Thank you for dealing out his punishment.
Sesame Street... I too was a little past it when it debuted way back in the late '60's/early '70's, but my younger sister was a huge fan, and I've always considered Cookie (yes a first name basis) to be the star. I enjoyed the Quick Fire, but of course I suspected that the judges were the mystery men behind the curtain. I was glad that the producers didn't make them appear in front of the camera. All in all, a fun challenge.
The Elimination Challenge - I enjoyed reading how you would have approached it, and of course it made much more sense. If Carla had really known that she would make a soup, surely she would have started it much earlier. As someone who frequents Target, I know that there are loads of quick-cooking proteins (salmon, chicken, steak, hamburger) that could have been used. I was surprised to see very little pure protein (Richard's pork loin) and so many soups.
I am sorry to see Angelo go. I always saw him as the torpedo in his season, but this year, he seemed much more willing to treat the others as equals. He never had a bond with anyone in Season 7 like he seemed to have forged with Mike I. Jimmy Fallon said it best last week; it's like seeing friends and family go.
Between Dale and Carla, they are raking it in! Dale was especially smart in doing simple food VERY well. That seems to be the unspoken key this season. $30K in one day is an incredible payoff for a cookie and a soup & sandwich.
Thanks for another great blog, Tom!
OMG, now all the commentors are going to descend upon the judges for the salty elimination this week. Hope you have a thick skin, Tom. Interesting challenge, but, I don't know if the rules were explained well enough to the tv audience. Were they also supposed to design and decorate their serving space? Does Target not have griddles? Or do irons make better grilled cheese sandwiches? If so, I guess I'll have to try it.
I don't understand how the muppets tasted the cookies, Colicchio? You mean there are PEOPLE making Telly and Elmo move and talk? I'm not sure I want to know that.
Enjoy reading your blogs, Tom. I was sorry to see Angelo pack his knives. I'm shocked that Tiffany is still in the competition. At this point, she has had more lives than a cat. So far this season, I'm impressed by Dale T. the most. He appears to be one of the most talented of the bunch and one of the most focused. He deserves to win it all.
Loved, Loved, Loved this episode. 2 of the best challenges ever. Laughed till I cried with the Sesame Street characters. The Target challenge was brilliant.
I just love that you shared your son's love for Sesame Street and all things Elmo. Great Blog, and Great Quick Fire. I'm sorry to see Angelo go, as much as I was sorry to see Jen leave so early in the season. I love that Angelo left with class and admiration for all of the chefs, and on the flip side, I loved that Jen fought for her dish that sent her home.
Actually, that was my #1 question about this challenge as well. It didn't make ANY sense to me that people were grabbing equipment before deciding what they were going to make. I think if Carla, and everyone else who decided to make soup, grabbed the ingredients and the preliminary cooking supplies first, she could have simmered that bad boy for a couple hours while she ran around shopping for a tablecloth!!
I love this show, but this season in particular has been very weird, I can't understand the way the judges are deciding who to send home! What seems like an unforgivable sin in one episode, in the next is not that bad... and vice versa, what makes someone win one week, the next is ignored! What is going on, I think they should make sure they are more consistent in what they consider important or not and they would have less people getting angry. For example, last week Dale over salted his dish to the point that nobody could eat it, it was said that he ruined the dish but he didn't go home and just the next episode, Angelo makes the SAME mistake and he is sent home!!! So, in one episode over salting and rendering inedible is not so bad and the next it sends you home. I love the show, but please be careful with those things because that what makes people angry and question the truthfulness of the show from being an honest competition to see who is the best to be just a sensationalist show that only caters to numb minds and cares little about the food... and speaking of what, the quick fire of the "fashion designer", the WORST EVER!!! please, I prefer you repeat ideas than come up with ridiculous nonsense like that!... "we are only going to see it", it doesn't matter if it is made out of dirt or has salmonella for that matter... food is for eating! please let them cook!
Tom: It is time for Top Chef to return to being a cooking contest rather than be an obstacle course. Top Chef Masters would never have one of your colleagues try to prepare a dish under the circumstances you have so far done in this season. Talented chefs should be challenged by the ingredients, cuisine, time constraints, or need for originality of their recipes, not by whether or not they cook anywhere at anytime with whatever equipment or lousy ingredients are provided. Just look at what type of dishes have won recently and how embarrasing it must be to fail to boil noodles correctly or salt a soup properly.
I understand why you had to send Angelo home, but it was still so very disappointing. I think this will come to be known as the season of sending people home before their time.
I think Tiffany should have gone home. She has been in this competition long enough and she doesn't deserve this chance. She has NEVER won a challenge and she brought out the pity card at judges table. Angelo is a better chef than her and she seriously NEEDs to go home next week. I don't understand what is going on in the judges' minds. Her food lack everything and she has an arrogant attitude. I am extremely unhappy about this season.
Thanks, Tom. I really enjoyed this episode. It was fun, light and involved a different set of skills and interpretation. I enjoy watching the show and even more so, reading your blog the next day.
Awww you were sooo cute talking all about Elmo & your sons!! : ) This was an awesome challenge and now feel like I understand a little more why Angelo's over salted was worse than Dale's last week!!
Sorry to see Angelo go, but adding extra salt when you're using bacon.... he should have known better. As always, thanks for the blog.
I find it hard to believe that Mike Isabella did not taste the saltiness and encouraged Angelo to add more. I think he set him up to fail hugely.
Loved, loved, loved the muppet challenge! Great fun and great cookies. The rest of the show . . . not so much.
Top Fool Angelo! He trusted Richard!? Was Angelo’s salt worse than Dale’s salt? Perfect double standard. Both dishes were inedible due to too much salt. But Dale survived to bake stoner cookies for fluffy muppets. Angelo counted on Richard’s honesty. Moron. That was reason enough to say Bye Bye Angelo. But if Angelo had sobbed to the judges about being born in a small Connecticut stable outside Durham during a horrible sleet storm… perhaps. “Angelo, who also consults on the menu for Buddakan, the Stephen Starr hotspot restaurant in NYC, always has salt, Japanese fish sauce, cinnamon, green cardamom, and lily bulbs handy in the kitchen.” Perhaps too much salt.
If I remember correctly, during the first season of Top Chef Masters, the chefs had to cook in dorm rooms.
Angelo deserved to go, blah, blah, blah, I'm not going to argue it. But what is the point of making the contestants stay up all night and cook in a department store? What exactly does it prove? It was a advertisement for Target's supposed fresh food masquerading as a challenge. At no job is someone at their best when they haven't slept for nearly 24 hours. Also, Dale's "innovation" of using an iron isn't innovative at all (it's been done by jailhouse inmates for decades) and it was also a complete gimmick. A gimmick that worked, obviously, because he won the challenge.
What episode are you talking about ?? Angelo was joined at the hips to Mike Isabella this challenge. Isabella told him his soup was a little salty in response to which Angelo added more salt to it. What did Richard have to do with it?
You made me cry.
Not because of the judging. No, I get the difference between somewhat too salty but still reasonably edible and completely inedible.
I cried because of your memories of Jim Henson. I dreamed of graduating college and working for him. He died before I could. Everything I've ever read or seen or heard about him jives with my notion that he was the right person to lead generations of kids through childhood.
My daughter (2 and a bit) is obsessed with Abby Cadabby and Elmo. She accidentally left her Elmo book in my office one day and cried for so long we had to go get it for her. She got to meet Elmo last year and it was a huge thrill for her. Glad your kids got to do the same!
Target does have griddles, and electric skillets, and panini makers and I'm sure they were used in addition to the iron if Dale was making dozens of sandwiches. Hated to see Angelo go for a myriad of reasons, and even though Tiffany is a Dallas chef (where I've lived most of my life), I simply can't stand her this season...esp. since Restaurant Wars...that fake hostess voice and her silly laughter and her Beaumont crap and her crying and her mediocrity and her...blah, blah, blah...just annoys the shit out of me lately. In a nutshell, two Tiffanys have ruined this season for me. (Jen, Dale, Spike, Fabio, and now Angelo and others (can't remember if Tre or Casey were sent while Beaumont was on the bottom and don't care about Stephen, wine metrosexual annoying snob) were all gone prematurely because under-the-radar Tiffs remained) Bottom line, so many great cheftestants were eliminated while these folks endured when they shouldn't have. I keep hoping and praying, given all the criticism about inconsistent judging that sadly happened this year, that the episodes they film for the finale might include an extra week to allow some of the good ones back to compete for the chance. Did it matter if they decorated their space? They showed the design guy from Target doing it. The judges voted on the food only in this one, not the customers, so better time should have been spent on just cooking a great deal. An hour to find ingredients and cookware and utensils and determine menu, 30 minutes to prep, hour and a half to cook. Hated so many made soup...they had ample time, really, to do better than that!
I did not enjoy the challenge. Running around KMart and throwing something together that could be eaten, well, who cares. I could likely have done as well because, well I feel as if I do that a lot at my house, except not with a hot plate. I would rather see the chefs have nice ingredients and see what they do with it. Oh, well maybe I'll make some soup tonight.
I love your blog and look forward to reading it after each new episode; from the standpoint of a writer and editor, I appreciate both your attention to details of style, form and content ... but adding to this week's post your immense appreciation for Muppets and Jim Henson gave you a lifelong fan!
It also seems strangely appropriate that this wonderful episode should air at the same moment legislators may cut funding for PBS, seriously effecting the ability for children across the country to enjoy and learn from the wonderful lessons found along magical, musical Sesame Street. I hope this episode reminds viewers of Sesame Street's importance. and possibly inspires some to take action and donate to their local public station or write to their local lawmaker.
I appreciate the creativity with which this challenge was structured. And commenters complaining about the judging simply aren't paying attention. Each challenge is judged in a vacuum in that dishes are not compared to a previous weeks'. Therefore, there isn't a double standard for Angelo being sent home for a salty dish when Dale was not last week. Further, Tom explained clearly in this blog post the difference between the two dishes: Dale's was salty but still edible, while Angelo's was simply not edible.
I am still feeling bummed out at Angelo going. i really feel that he was robbed in his season. This season should be called 'average cooks'. Seriously, the likes of Angelo, Blais and Dale are too good for 'All Stars'. Even I feel uncomfortable watching these chefs winning with food that I can make at home. I really don't understand why people think Angelo deserved this, whilst the other chefs have cursed, moaned, displayed bad attitude and disrespect towards each other, Angelo has remained respectful, passionate about his proffession and displayed a calm demenuor. I don't think he was trying to sabatage anyone in his season or this season, its the way it was dubbed in my opinion. You have to look at the whole picture, in each episode he was always the one to stay focused on cooking. That being said, its just as well Jen and Angelo are out, these challenges are getting ridiculous and insulting. I feel as though the chefs are being treated as 'lesser chefs'. Angelo and Jen are better than that. Tom and producers, its not too late to redeem yourself, have an episode where you bring in Angelo, Jen, Tre so that a true top chef can win- not true home cook like Carla. God forbid someone like Tiffany or Carla should win on the basis that they make delicious home cooked food like 'pot pie'. It would be like watching Hosea win all over again. Actually, maybe you should change the name of the show to 'Lucky cook!' Angelo, Jen and RIchard would be the true and altimate finale, we can see talent versus talent battle it out for the profession they love. Angry Dale has a bad attitude and so far has been lucky, same with Antonia, even I can make a yummy muscle with fennel dish. Please bring back Angelo and Jen so that we can have a great cooking show.
I never write in about T.V. shows. I don't text my vote and I don't follow along on Twitter. But I have to say that Muppet Quickfire was HILARIOUS! That was so funny, I was so glad to have it on DVR so my mom can come over and see it. I never miss an episode, but that was hands down the best yet.
The joy on the set for the Sesame Street judges radiated off the screen! I loved, loved, loved this episode!! Their "critiques" as they tasted each cookie was hysterical.
Question: Did the muppeteers judge the food for the quickfire challenge?
I love your blog, Tom. You seem gruff on the show but your writings show your passion for cooking and your compassion for the contestants.
I can't take it any more! No one ever said that Dale's food was inedible, and it's been talked about for two weeks. Thank you Tom, for explaining it AGAIN, hopefully people will start to catch on.
I thought Dale had a pretty clear picture of what he was doing when he grabbed those irons...has he not gotten the memo about the panini? I guess Scouts don't eventually become chefs, no love for the Coleman stove?
Chefs stop using salt! Give the judges a salt shaker. The next top chef should have the judges taste the food without knowledge of it's chef until winners and losers are determined.
Good blog, Tom. I loved Angelo last season and during All Stars, but I understand your explanation. To the other commenters: remember the judges do not vote on overall performace or skill, but on one individual dish. That's why "Beaumont" stays on an on--she's not that great, but she hasn't done anything terrible yet.
My favorite part of the show was Padma's spice geography lecture followed by Elmo saying, "Really? ... TMI."
Loved the Target setting. How fun to have free run of the store after hours and grab whatever you want. But if the producers were trying to show off Target's range of grocerys, the ever-absent proteins and flowing cauldrens of soups didn't help much. Usually when I watch Top Chef, I want to eat. This time, I wanted to sleep.
Me Love Cookie!! If I were one of the Chefs, I would have thrown my arms around that big furry blue guy and squeezed the stuffing out of him!!
What I find really interesting is that I could have easily won both challenges this week! I'm a normal, suburban mom. Cookies? What's your pleasure? Ready in just a few minutes! Target? Sure! I know exactly where the tablecloths, salmon, pasta, and panini presses are! Let me at it! It was fun to see the experts completely perplexed by using simple small kitchen appliances!
Great season so far!
I am loving this season more and more. There are few people that have been lucky that someone else made a worse dish than them, and thus have stayed longer than thye should have. I am very impressed with Antonia, I don't remember her being that good in her season. I am glad Dale took his anger management classes, as he is becoming one of my favorites. I like this season because it is not about deconstructed dishes or uber fancy cuisine. While the Volataggio bother made very pretty dishes, I could not imagine the flavors. This season I know what a grill cheese taste like and I can imagine how delicious it must have been to win the challege. Also, I loved the muppets there. It was an adorable quick fire. Thanks for the blog and keep the quality of the show going.
When Antonia said she was going to make eggs I thought she was a goner. When the comments were positive and she was called in the top 3 I thought sure she was going to win. She busted out 100 eggs! Congrats to Dale, but time to give some props to Antonia for taking the risk and nailing it.
I was surprised that Blais didn't win with his dish. He was the only chef to prepare an actual meal! Everyone else made snack food. Richard got rooked. Angelo coasted for quite a while. However, Tiffany has truly baffled me. She seems so off her game compared to her season. Perhaps doing back to back seasons is not such a good idea. She had no time to reflect and regroup.
Thanks for the behind-the-scenes scoop on the Muppets! It was fun to see the chefs' reactions - especially the parents. Padma looked like such a bewitched MOM - it was very cute.
A fellow fan/foodie and I also couldn't understand why the chefs didn't go get their food first! It made no sense to waste so much energy running around that giant store grabbing everything in site. I think Bourdain is right -- fatigue is setting in. Who doesn't want to do an all-out shopping grab at a Target? But, they are there to make food. Sorry to see Angelo go. From my spot in front of the TV, Tiffany's looked like a frozen dinner, but obviously didn't taste as badly as one. Yay Dale for upping his game and delivering YUM in a bowl. It is nice to see this new, more adult version of Dale -- much more likeable than his original stint on the show. Going to be a tough road from here out - can't wait!
Baked potato soup is absolutely my favorite comfort food, and I've made it many, many times. It's a simple dish, but surprisingly easy to screw up. The flavors must not overpower one another, the salt must be just so, and you need to keep it from getting too heavy. Texture can range anywhere from being brothy (too thin) to having a porridge-like consistency (too thick).
As a viewer, I believe Angelo's fatal mistake was adding both bacon AND salt to the dish when he and Mike felt it was lacking something. Bacon itself is very salty, and one or the other should have sufficed by itself. You really need to be vigilant about how much you add, because once you reach the threshold, even a pinch can be too much. I worked in a steakhouse where our baked potato soup was second only to the actual steaks; some customers came in just for it. But you know what? If it was too salty, it didn't sell well that night. That's how badly too much salt can screw up a simple soup.
I also respectfully disagree that acid would have been the best choice to balance it out; you don't need acid to make a great-tasting baked potato, and I think the same advice follows for a baked potato soup. As far as it being too heavy, you can use something lighter than heavy cream or whole milk as part of your base and still make it taste good: add a bit of sour cream to compensate. I've found using a little extra chicken broth also helps lighten it up (you just, again, need to watch your salt).
Angelo realized his mistake and tried dumping some bottled water in to mitigate the harshness, but I guess that didn't fix it properly. He seems like a talented chef, but he and Tiffany both have the disadvantage that they came straight in from their own season, and it shows that they're dog-tired. The rest of them are probably starting to crack from the pressure, too, but Angelo and Tiffany are amazing for having the stamina to come this far.
As for who should go home and who shouldn't go home, and whose dish is awesome and whose dish sucked, I think I'm going to put my faith in Mr. Colicchio and the rest of the panel over the editing jobs Bravo does. Mr. Colicchio, for one, is a highly decorated chef himself (think earning multiple Medals of Honor), and none of us taste the food they're judging. The network is going to take the worst criticisms it has on film and air them for the best possible ratings, and to try and keep you guessing as to who is actually eliminated. Toby Young admitted in an interview that before coming on board he mistakenly believed the show was all about the most colorful soundbyte you could come up with, because that's the tactic the network uses to draw viewers. And if you pay close enough attention, you can tell when the participants' narratives are different words cannibalized together into a sentence through audio editing; the pacing and pitch of the sentence is not uniform. Sometimes on rare occasions they even use the same exact line of dialogue more than once! You also don't get to see the whole footage of Judge's table. So we, the viewers, are most likely getting a skewed perception of what is really going on.
Out of all eight seasons, I've only ever earnestly disagreed on technical merit once, and that was in Season 2 when Sam was sent home for "not cooking anything," when the season itself had a challenge that didn't allow the use of any heat -- which to me promoted an acceptable approach. I don't think heat is essential to make an awesome-tasting dish. Ceviche is a great example of this.
I think everyone has their favorites and they're sad to see them go. I was very disappointed when Casey was eliminated, because I really wanted her to win. Then Tre and Fabio fell to the guillotine. Them's the breaks. Now I'm hoping Carla will take home the gold. The point is, don't take the show too personally. It's meant for entertainment purposes, and if you happen to learn something or gain a greater appreciate for food and the culinary world, that's even better. I know I have.
Carry on, Top Chef, carry on.
Well if Mike set Angelo to fail it's only turn around fair play after what Angelo did to Spike earlier this season and what he did to that sweet little Bagian girl on his season. Karma is hell! I guess the producers of the show finally stop making Angelo pretty face beguile them and saw him for the greasy slimy snake he is. I truly hope he gets to come back with a better spirit of fair play to redeem himself without trying to undermine and blame others.
I found this episode a little odd. If someone can heat up some Campbell's soup in a rice cooker, and make a grilled cheese sandwich on a griddle and win an elimination challenge full of All-Stars, that either tells me that these chefs are completely incapable of making decent meals, and would have lost to my elementary school lunch lady, or that the palates of the judges are somehow lacking. It was a sign that something has gone horribly wrong on Top Chef.
It seems the more the show goes on, the more it drifts toward the drama. Previous shows had more of a food focus, and seemed to have more explanatory notes on what the chefs were doing, to help those at home learn things. I watch Top Chef to see what cool and interesting creations these chefs are able to come up with, and to inspire me to try different things in my kitchen, or learn new techniques. When the challenges relate to bizzare circumstances, like cooking only using Target small electrics, it does absolutely nothing for me because the circumstances aren't relatable. While it is interesting in terms of drama, in terms of food, it falls completely flat. In some ways, that is also why I have mixed emotions about Richard's food. The guy is a favorite, clearly talented, and I could enjoy watching him host his own show. However, some of the things that he does, like working with liquid nitrogen, are completely out of the question for a home chef, which makes some of his food unrelatable to the home audience. Other things he does show brilliant insight that helps home cooks.
Just as an aside, one more thing I have noticed, by now it seems like most of the contestants have learned the tastes of the judges, which explains why people that make "perfectly cooked eggs" always end up in the top pile. It used to be the same with lamb dishes. I am not sure what can be done about it, but it was worth mentioning.
I knew when he added salt AND bacon that Angelo was toast.....thought Antonia had nailed this one turning out a great plate while cooking all those eggs, especially considering that kids in dorm rooms are probably making grill cheeses 'iron style' as I type this.
I’m disappointed to see Angelo eliminated. I agree with some of the posts throughout the past few weeks regarding the opinion that the elimination challenges have become ridiculous.
Does anyone else besides me get the impression that this season was produced just to hand the Top Chef crown to Blaise?