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In New York, where Chinatown abuts Little Italy, it stands to reason that where there was a Chinese food challenge, one featuring Italian-American fare could not be too far behind.
And what better place for it than Raos? As anyone in New York will tell you, Rao's is the quintessential Italian-American restaurant. But from most of them, it'll be hearsay. That's because its famously nearly impossible to get a reservation at Rao's. Rao's has been in the same location since it first opened in 1896, it has only 10 tables in the entire place, the restaurant does one seating per table per night, and for many decades now, the tables have been spoken for every night of the week.
Now, those with standing reservations know that if they're not using the table on their night, they'd best get friends and family to stand in for them those seats must be filled. And they do. So when you call the reservation line, you will likely get a recording telling you that the restaurant has no reservations available for the coming year call back again next year. I ate at Rao's once prior to this Elimination Challenge, when a table for six was auctioned off at a fund raiser and the winning bidder invited me to join the party.
It was good Southern-Italian fare (i.e., as made by Italian-Americans, as I'll discuss shortly), reminiscent of that of my childhood, both at restaurants such as Spirito's and DiMartino's in Elizabeth, NJ (and even Chestnut Tavern in Union, NJ, the second restaurant in which I ever worked), and at home.
Our presence at the dinner table was required every night when I was growing up, and most especially on Sundays, when family around the table expanded to include aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Sunday dinner was served between three and four in the afternoon and always included three courses. We started with a salad of some sort, an antipasto. We'd next have gravy and macaroni (we never called it sauce and pasta), and we'd then have the meat that had been cooked in the gravy as our third course. We wouldn't deviate from that, be it spring, summer, fall or winter.
Tom - the quickfire this time was ridiculous. It should be about the flavor of the food, not how much the salmon looks like a woman protecting herself from the rain..
I am an avid watcher of the show, and I largely appreciate every moment. However, I was pretty offended tonight by two of the judges comments about Wisconsin. Certainly, the state does not get a lot of press for its food. That does not mean there is not good food to be found here. I grew up in this midwestern state but I have also traveled to Italy, and I can honestly say some of the best Italian food I've had since getting back has been found in Wisconsin. I let the super bowl challenge from a few seasons ago slide even though Wisconsin was made out to be a not-so-subtle food punchline in that episode, but I really can not stand to hear more about how we silly midwesterners don't know about good food. There's great food to be found in every state in this country, and last time I checked, there's mediocre food to be found in New York, too.
Loved the challenge this week! I was sad to see Tre leave, but his dish did look lackluster. I loved the family-style mussels idea. The "Quick-fire" idea was horrible, and I hate the chefs even had to do it.
I am just disgusted that Tre was given the shaft for the second time. I am a person who does not like pasta--at all. Maybe it's because, as one of the judge's said, I have always had poorly cooked pasta. So it's hard for me to understand how TWO of the pasta cooks who sent out undercooked pasta that was described as beyond al dente could remain and Tre be sent home because his risotto did not spread out on the plate. How could Mike "understand" the challenge, and yet be kept around for such poor food. I'm through with your show. I have cancelled the weekly reminder on my iPhone. I've come to the conclusion that many of those eliminated are sent home for reasons other than sending out poorly executed food. May you all go to hell.
I'm curious about what changed with Tre's risotto between his win for risotto in his season and his loss for it in this season. Have the judges come to a new agreement about what risotto should be? Assuming Tre's understanding of risotto--based on his culinary training--didn't change, I have to think this is more an issue of the judges deciding that the in texture for risotto is the only acceptable texture for a rice dish called a risotto, and I think that is a disservice to Tre.
Wow I really can't believe Tre went home. I'm not saying he had a good dish but I really thought Mike or Dale should have been eliminated.
Its clear from the begin... Italian stick together and clearly Mike was not going home. How can you in one breath u say they were "not asked to make Italian food" and then say Tre dish was wrong based on what you would be served in Italian - you just contradicted yourself. Listen we all know only one person can win, but it seemed very Unprofessional to make the comment that Tre was not looking for a pass when he clearly understood how to make Risotto because you ate it and loved it during his season. Maybe you forgot that one, Tom
Great challenge chef Tom. I have loved Italian food, especially pasta (marcaroni) all my life. Even if I wasn't Italian, I would still love it. I could eat it seven days a week. I take your word for it that Antonia's dish was the best. Allthough Fabio's dish looked great. I wanted him to get a win. He worked so hard on a great traditional dish, while Antonia's mussels were so simple. But I get it. I was hoping annoying Mike Isabella would go home.That would have been justifiable. Italian boy sent home on Italian night, precious. It gets me that he is so cocky. He's not as good as he thinks. Marcel is a much better cook. Great challenge, but I must say the amunity challenge was horrible. WTF. Weird, and dumb. I guess that was the producers idea. Terrible. Looking foward to next weeks challenge.
I'm not sure I understand the logic; The challenge did not require the chefs to make Italian food and furthermore that Italian food has evolved in America over time because of access to different ingredients. Totally understandable, but then you send Tre home for not making a traditionally made risotto? Did it taste bad?and was it worse then uncooked pasta and Dale's bad tasting dish? Anyway good episode.
Really enjoying the season! Every week is painful though.... can't wait to see how it all plays out!
I think it would be fun if, for a season, the winner of the elimination challenge got to either pick, or be in on deciding who gets voted off out of the bottom group. That would spice things up a bit!!!! People would really be sucking up to each other then :)
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 know we'll be getting a lot of flack." a cop out comment. Along with "prepared to be wrong 18 times". Why bother Tom. The winning takes about 10-15 minutes to prepare, they had two hours. Come on. Getting a little fustrated here.
Loved this challenge! I grew up in NJ and am a first generation American - from a German grandmother who happened to marry an Italian man from Sicily. I know all about the Gravy - I have my Great Grandmother's recipe...I serve it, with love, every chance I get when I get my family together.
That being said, I was sorry to see Antonia, one of my fav "cheftastants", say what she did about being "sorry for all of NJ Italians" when commenting on Mike's dish.
On a more positive note, I too, love the simplicity of mussels cooked perfectly with just the right amount of garlic. My husband is a wonderful cook and has so many fantastic dishes - but, always, when asked what my favorite is, I will answer, his Sauteed Mushrooms in Garlic...
Love Top Chef and Love your Blogs
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 Colicchio 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." 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!!
Really getting interesting on who will go home because of the talent level. But I have to say that quickfire was the worst challenge ever.
I must say i have been hooked on this show. But for the life of me i think you guys need to bring some of those chefs back. I admit I am not able to taste the food as you but i do feel that in some instances you bend the rules. Jamie for example did not cook at all for two full episodes. How in the world is that fair. It appears that she skated through and some really good chefs were let go. Angelo tampering with peoples dishes? Are you not aware of what we are seeing or is the room full of pot smoke. It takes away from the integrity of the show when you allow that. It is a real turn off. I have seen you bring people back to compete that had no business, based on your comments ,coming back. Ratings are one thing but im starting to wonder what your smoking because i hate to watch rigged competitions, its a real turn off. Tre
I was very sad Tre was ousted. Indeed, as you suggest, the whole bottom 3 was scary because it's hard to see any go. Thank you for explaining why to the judges it was the worst dish, since many are asserted Dale should have been ousted.
I must say i have been hooked on this show. But for the life of me i think you guys need to bring some of those chefs back. I admit I am not able to taste the food as you but i do feel that in some instances you bend the rules. Jamie for example did not cook at all for two full episodes. How in the world is that fair. It appears that she skated through and some really good chefs were let go. Angelo tampering with peoples dishes? Are you not aware of what we are seeing or is the room full of pot smoke. It takes away from the integrity of the show when you allow that. It is a real turn off. I have seen you bring people back to get a second chance to compete that had no business, based on your comments,coming back in other seasons. Ratings are one thing but im starting to wonder what your smoking because i hate to watch rigged competitions, its a real turn off. Tre was one of my favs, so was Spike. This competition does not seem to be too fair to some. I would like to see you have the chefs that you sent home get a chance to compete for a chance come back to this show and get their spot back. I would definitely watch that. for right now im a bit turned off. And i thought your show was better than iron chef. lol that's and interesting thought id like to see you take on an iron chef.lol now i would watch that too.
I find it very telling that your blog didn't mention a word about the Isaac Mizrahi-judged Quickfire -- easily the absolute dumbest challenge since Top Chef started. As executive producer of this show, how could you possibly allow a key stage of the competition involve judging food on how it looks instead of how it tastes? Richard's entry looked like someone dumped a used ashtray on whatever food was under there -- and somehow the "judges" decided it was the best looking dish, and one they would want to taste. Really? I should hope that you approach this week's episode under protest, that somehow somebody high up on the power chain (Padma, perhaps?) said that Isaac Mizrahi needed to be a part of the show. I thought it was about food. You know, food that you want to eat, and not just look at.
I was really sad to see Tre go. He was my favorite of the whole bunch. However, the minute I saw his risotto, I knew he was doomed. I love risotto. I love to make and serve risotto. But I would NEVER make risotto in a competition of this type. Too many things can go wrong, even if he had known risotto has to be creamy. It absolutely doesn't hold well.
I loved the challenge. and I would love to get to eat at Rao's.
Thanks for provocative comments as always. I recognize the childhood and family appeal of Antonia's steamed mussels (especially as noted for you), but am sadly disappointed that Fabio's "Old-World" dish didn't get the nod. Sometimes as a avid viewer and long-time fan, it feels to me that Fabio does not get the recognition he deserves for his truly "family" food. Perhaps he is overlooked?
Tre spoke with grace and impressive style as he left.
As a side note, I wonder if the judges would consider bringing back one contestant that went home too early as a way of heightening the competition and making a statement about superior talent. (Of course I say this knowing the season has already been filmed.) But I miss Jennifer tremendously and often find myself wondering what she would have contributed to a given challenge. Her early departure left a gap in the competition.
I don't want to contribute to the inevitable Tre consternation as I did not taste the food. My gripe is with the quickfire and I'm surprised that the producers could have let the idea for it through. The idea of having a quickfire that has nothing (nothing!) to do with actually tasting the food undermines the integrity of Top Chef. It's lucky that Richard won the quickfire as he never looked like he would be in trouble on the elimination challenge. I think the choice to have a purely visual quickfire was a cop-out to the viewers, who normally have incomplete information on what's going on in the challenges as we can't experience the most important part of it: taste. Unfortunately, that's what food is about, so until somebody invents taste-o-vision, we'll always miss out on part of the plot. Please never have such a challenge again.
I think it's also instructive that Tom doesn't comment at all on the quickfire in his blog this week.
Tom, the vibe was most impressive thing about this episode. It made me think that a table in an good old family-owned Italian restaurant could be a last refuge in today's insane world. The memories you shared about family Sunday dinners echo that vibe. Good stuff!
I kind of piss off, because they sent tre home. question wouldnt think if the challedge was dealing with italian food, you would think they should have sent the italian man home. If a black man cant make italian food is onething, but if a italian cant make his own food he should have went home. it a no brainer. So this confirm the joke you here about the black guy, the chinese man and the italian man. The black man still get the short end of the stick.
Tom, meant to also say that most of us know trust your judgment - don't worry about those who don't! The show wouldn't be the success it is and for this long otherwise. Keep up the good work!
I enjoyed last night's challenge, but the QuickFire was just flat out irrelevant, in my view. I agree that the aesthetics of food are important, but how can that be more important than the taste of the food? That makes no sense. I realize that part of the goal is to change up the challenges to make them interesting, but this was just way off the mark for what I've come to expect from this show.
Glad Antonia won; I called that when her dish came out. Sad to see Tre go, but you are right - it's at the point now where good people are going to be going home. I think it could have just as easily been Dale, but either way, it is what it is.
This Jersey girl who was raised by her Italian-American grandmother applauds you for your mention of gravy and macaroni. Really spoke to my childhood eating experiences growing up.
And thank you for explicating the differences between Italian and Italian-American food, and why that is the case. I loved this blog entry, Keep 'em coming.
I love a nice runny and creamy risotto ( who doesn't? ) but to emphatically dictate that this is how it should be made all over Italy is frankly incorrect. In Tuscany risotto is much drier and resembles more closely to a pilaf. Though quite delicious in it's own right it does not resemble the soupy risotto that Chef Tom describes. Tre's dish did indeed look thick and starchy and "gilded" by unnecessary garnish. It was badly executed and a poor decision on his part as good risotto is all about timing and texture. I wish however that in the future "regional" preferences could be explained.
im so glad you called it gravy.. your childhood sounds like mine.. all mom had to say was gravy for dinner and you knew it was "macaroni" meatballs, sausage, country ribs, last nites leftover sirloin, and a "hunk" of pork thrown in the "gravy" with ricotta on the macaroni and italian bread from the bakery with butter.
I was very surprised to see that Fabio had lost with his chicken dish and Antonia had won with a simple dish of mussels. As someone who is Italian and who was raised cooking in an Italian-American kitchen, I know the process of making mussels is relatively pretty simple and didn't see how Antonia's dish could be the "winning" dish. But, after reading Tom's blog, I completely understand how each dish was judged and why Antonia won. Italian food is about simple, fresh ingredients made with a lot of flavor; (and a lot love too) obviously Antonia 's dish had all the right components. Thank you Tom.
Very, Very defensive, Tom. Your assessment of the impropriety of Tre's dish revealed a cultural bias that seemed, until now, out of place on this show. But, as I read your words, I see that you can rationalize anything when you rule the game. It was clear that Dale or Mike should have gone, because their dishes (as displayed by those who ate it) tasted bad. Tre's dish looked good on the screen, and I'm sure tasted pretty good, too, except for those too narrow-minded by expectations to taste it. As has been said so many times on the show, "was it a good dish or not?" But for this episode, the judges (and most likely the producers) enforced a result contrary to that rule and decided form rather than substance was more important. I know a lot of folks just lost respect for you and the show because of that.
Tom your description of growing up was spot on with my family as well and brought up a flood of memories. I grew up in CT along long island sound and always took it as fact that mussels and clams were an Italian dish. As great as it was to see the inside of Rao’s; since I will probably see earth from space first. The best part of the episode was watching the response to Antonia’s win.
I think Marcel has not been treated properly. It was not the time for him to go. I don't want to speculate on any thing. All I want to say is that Marcel has a lot of talent. He is professional and seems to be a nice person. It is sad to watch how others are very cruel to him. I watch the show last night, and it was very boring without Marcel.
Tom, I can wait to see you participate on a cooking show. I love to see you not make mistakes.
I can understand decision - but seems off the mark from other eliminations. Usually, something that is inedible - like uncooked pasta - would be the sure thing to go home. Even a good sauce wouldn't save something like that.
Here we go again, and yes, Chef, we are going to start to give you flack. In your explaination of the judging the win couldn't be given to Fabio because he's Italian and he didn't understand that Italian Americans had to adapt. We as Antonio got that and the challenge was about Italian American food and what she cooked was French but that wasn't the point of the challenge. Confusing but sounds logical. It's logical and does make sense UNTIL you judge and boot off Tre for not cooking risotto in the traditional Italian style. Not Italian American style, Italian. He adapted and cooked risotto in the manner that he learn and adapted to American produced ingredients. Again..you sound logical until you interpret the reasoning. Double standard. Mike should have went home because he didn't prepare FRESH homemade pasta regardless of how good the sauce was. Fabio was robbed and your faulting him for being a first generation immigrant that should understand the Italian American immigrants for decades mentality. Dang. Tre is a gracious, polite and talented chef. That we agree on. Best wishes to Tre.
Tom, we were cracking up watching you eat last night. You have NEVER eaten like that at any other challenge. Your mouth was full and you were smiling whenever the camera showed you.
There's nuttin' betta than Italian food, nuttin!!! :)
Tom, thanks for the explanation about the risotto. Never had it, but now I can't wait to try some.
Fellow Top Chefians, did you love the moment when Antonia walked back into the stew room and announced she'd won? Jaws dropped, crickets chirped, and then, finally, some perfunctory congratulations.
This comment has nothing to do with last night's show. I just want to ask if there could be in the future a challange for preparing a completely gluten free meal. My son, granddaughter and myself all must eat gluten free. It would be great to have a show that focuses on gluten free cooking. Perhaps next year's Top Chef could have an episode that deals with this issue. I love your show. Pat ps My family would gladly judge a gluten free meal!!!
I don't have a problem with Tre going home. I was just shocked it wasn't Dale after the way the comments were edited. My sister and I were discussing it, and were sure it was going to be Dale. Now that I've read the blog, I understand better.
All I have to say is "go girls". It was good to see 3 women rise to the top (and Fabio). I would love to try Antonoia's dish. It sounds fantastic.
Thanks Tom. Great blog as always. I loved, loved, loved this episode. Also, I was disappointed with the poor sportsmanship when Antonia won. And thanks for bringing Lorraine Bracco back. Luv her.
Great show this week (the quick fire was a bit odd) but dining at Rao's was an experience in and of itself. Needless to say, many of us will never have the opportunity to dine there but seeing the chefs do their best was impressive.
Great job to everyone involved.
Wait a minute...this wasn't a "make an Italian dish" contest? Since when??? That was EXACTLY the contest, why else have the 3 Italian courses? Once again, you guys missed the mark on scoring people according to the challenge presented and the final success of the dish. Fabio was absolutely right in saying that his dish should have won...it met the challenge and you all loved his dish...really dishes, since he made both chicken cacciatore and polenta. Stop laying the favorites and get back to fair judging...SHEESH!
I just hope that the strongest chefs will slug it out in the finale. I still hope to see Dale there even with this bottom 3 finish this episode.
Seriously I am so over the love for Richard. I have this sinking feeling that he has this in the bag though.
Thanks for the background on Italian-American cooking. I am curious about something though.... during this episode clips were shown of Tre winning a challenge over Hung for his risotto. Was the risotto from that season made differently or is the context of the challenge the key factor?
As always, love the show. And yes, it is hard to see people leave, but that is what a competition is all about.