"I wouldn't serve that to my cat," says Mike Isabella, gazing dubiously at the sour cream and hot dog bun "soup" he's dribbled into a cardboard container like the contents of a bedpan. But he would, apparently, serve it to Dan Barber, much admired chef of local, sustainable, seasonal proving ground, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Watching poor Dan -- who's all about freshness -- poke unenthusiastically at the scrapings from a ferry snack bar, most of which looked like baby vomit -- was but one of the many entertainments of this week's Top Chef. Frankly, I thought the Quickfire was pointless and cruel. Ferry snack bars have, perhaps, the very worst food on earth -- they make one yearn for airports. Had I been one of the five already-exhausted contestants on this episode, suddenly challenged to winnow something remotely edible from the veritable taint of eateries, I might well have jumped overboard. But watching the inappropriate match up of one of the nation's premier advocates for healthy, green, and socially-responsible food sources with the foodie equivelant of Chernobyl was Comedy Gold.
Whhhooa! Geneology! That's what I was thinking when the contestants were surprised by their scrupulously researched family trees. This could have been awkward. I mean... imagine... you're a contestant on Top Chef. You've seen it all. You've made it through all those challenges, comrades on both sides of you fallen, and yet you have survived. And suddenly, out of the blue, they assemble a thorough file on your family history and put in on TV for millions to see. What if it turns out you're like... cousins with Joseph Mengele? Or Howie Mandel? Or if they dig up a picture of you dressed in tight spandex with a blond bowl cut from your grammar school homage to "Dance Fever"? That would kinda suck.
To ratchet up the bathos even more, out come the family members. Tiffany starts with the waterworks right off. Mike Isabella tears up, which was probably a good idea as his image was in desperate need of rehabilitation after last week's shameful pilfering of his fellow chef's recipe. In fact the whole Grandma angle was very well-timed for young Mike who was really in danger of falling irrevocably into the Black Hat position. We met Antonia's mom and learned where and how Antonia got some of her chops. And Richard became a little more fleshed out, a little more knowable with the appearance of his pregnant wife. Everybody became instantly more likable. It even turns out that Antonia and her flatulent tormentor Isabella are distantly related. Who to send home? They're all suddenly so adorable! What if their food sucks? And how is Colicchio going to talk shit about any of these dishes in front of their moms? What kind of monster could do such a thing?!This issue was avoided it turned out. Everybody cooked well. Really well. And smart. Nobody choked. Everybody seemed to have understood the challenge -- and what guest judge Dan Barber was likely to respond to.
Richard did braised short ribs with fried bone marrow and sea beans that looked genius and sounded delicious.
Tiffany did braised short ribs with fried grits and okra, neatly avoiding a potential okra problem with Colicchio -- who generally hates the stuff.
Carla did braised pork shoulder with fried grits and cheese biscuits.
Mike did gnocchi with braised pork and burata.
But Antonia won the day with a riff on Osso Bucco -- with what sure looked like a perfect risotto garnished with fava beans and inflected with lemon zest. Viewers take note by the way: that is what risotto should look like. And it must have been delicious as hell because it beat out what appeared to be another brilliant performance by Richard.
Speaking of Richard, that was just cruel , calling his name as if for elimination.... "Richard... pack your knives and... (long pause) ...get your ass to the motherf---in' Bahamas!" Gloomy bastard is notorious for walking around with a grey cloud over his head every challenge, seemingly convinced that this is the day the axe is going to fall. Would have served the judges right had he blown chunks over Judges' Table. It was like a fake execution. And I believe that's a contravention of the Geneva Convention.
Carla had a look on her face like the thought it was her time. But you could tell from Tom's face-long before it was revealed that no one would be going home in tears this day -- that all five were going to the finals. He's a big softy after all.