Where to start this week? How about fried food? Because a fried food Quickfire Challenge is not only mandatory when your big name guest is Paula Deen (!!!), the queen of Southern cooking, but it’s the perfect hangover antidote and, let me tell you, I have a major “I can’t believe who was just eliminated” hangover this morning. But more on that later.
Ms. Deen’s challenge to the chefs was simple: Impress her with their deep fryer skills. “No calamaris sprinkled on top of a salad. C’mon.” I love this woman. And while the final results weren’t quite up to This Is Why You’re Fat levels of indulgence – except Richard with his fried mayonnaise, holy crap – there was plenty of drama to clog up the ‘ole arteries.
First, Antonia forgot to put up two plates. During the verdict, Paula Deen declared she wanted to put Antonia over her knee for screwing up on that technicality because her dish of fried shrimp and fried avocado was by far the best. So not only did Antonia get threatened with a spanking, she lost out on $5,000. Total suck. (And I may or may not be utterly obsessed with the idea of fried avocado. But I’d eat avocado dropped on a scorching hot sidewalk, I love it so much.)
Now let’s talk about Mike, or as I will now refer to him: Fuckin’ Mike Isabella. Fuckin’ Mike Isabella won the Quickfire after Antonia was disqualified. Fuckin’ Mike Isabella won the challenge with an idea he blatantly and shamelessly stole from Richard; an idea he saw in Richard’s recipe idea notebook that morning. Carla summed up this serious breach of chef etiquette thusly: “There is Man Law and there is Chef Law.” And Fuckin’ Mike Isabella pissed all over that and won himself $5,000. As a visibly angry and frustrated Richard put it, he was competing against himself in the Quickfire and F.M.I.’s utter lack of remorse or scruples was just salt in the wound. Is this the slimiest stunt ever pulled in the Top Chef kitchen? Perhaps it’s the slimiest to play out on camera, who knows? What I do know is that I want a reckoning to knock this asshole out of this competition and off my TV. This is Top Chef, not Top Coattails-of-Far-Superior-Chefs. But, on the other hand, I want to plant my foot squarely up Blaise’s ass for even showing off that notebook in the first place. That guy’s like a four-year old with idea diarrhea. He just can’t keep his shit to himself. STOP SHOWING YOUR CARDS, RICHARD.
On the bottom of this challenge: Dale, who found the principles of Southern cooking to be entirely alien, and Carla, who made hush puppies like “spitballs.” Remember that because it is a major portent. With only six chefs left, the psychological crumbling commenced in a big way last night, and I know the final elimination left me feeling – despite my chef loyalties – as if the wrong person was sent home. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Famed New Orleans chef John Besh joined Paula Deen in judging the Elimination Challenge, which was as straight-forward as the Quickfire: Highlight Gulf seafood, Southern-style, in catering an event for the Greater New Orleans Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping fishermen affected by the Gulf Oil Spill. The twist? Former cheftestants – Tiffani, Tre, Fabio, Angelo, Marcel, and Spike – returned to serve as sous chefs and each was associated with a particular Gulf protein. Pick a protein, that’s the sous chef you ended up with.
This was not as exciting as it sounds, even with the awkward pairing of Tiffany and Marcel. (Tiffany reeeeally wanted those white shrimp and Marcel reeeeally wanted Tiffany to use those shrimp heads for more flavor.) Whenever a challenge centers around maintaining the integrity of a particular ingredient, you know a few people are going to fail spectacularly, and throw the whole “Southern-style” and “300 people” caveat on top and there was some definite sweating going on. Carla completely psyched herself out after her disastrous hush puppies and catfish in the Quickfire, and she knew it. Determined to prove she could cook Southern food like a true Southerner (and choosing city boy Tre/red grouper as her partner in protein), she put her pride on the line and blew it. Again. And Dale, with a shell-shocked Angelo and amberjack fish in tow, never quite conceptualized his stew, and despite Angelo’s reassurances that everything was peachy, he stumbled through service as if barely aware of his surroundings. It was painful. Painful.
Meanwhile, Antonia and Spike, F.M.I. and Tiffani, and Richard and Fabio (The Ultimate Bromance) rocked out their service and landed in the top. I feel obligated to note that the main compliment afforded to F.M.I.’s dish – the grit-crusted shrimp – was actually Tiffani’s idea. HMMMMMMM. The judges loved Antonia’s blue crab cake and were particularly enamored with the sauce and delicate crab meat. And Richard’s whimsical citrus grits with pulled pork and snapper was the big hit, garnering him the win. I almost squeed myself into a puddle on my couch when Richard declared he’d be inviting Fabio along on the Barbados trip he won. SO MUCH LOVE FOR THESE TWO.
The final judging for the bottom three was brutal, and not in a knives-come-out, throw-everyone-under-the-bus way, but in a soul-sucking, defeated way. Muy depressing. Mustard was the enemy here. The judges nailed both Carla and Dale for masking the flavor of their respective proteins with the spicy condiment, and Dale served undercooked potatoes to the judges. Tiffany fell victim to the chef’s cardinal sin of not tasting the second batch of honey glaze she used on her shrimp. Marcel made the batch and she neglected to tell him to dilute it with water. Admirably, she did not blame this mistake on Marcel but owned it. Every single one of them knew they’d screwed up and made no half-hearted attempts to defend themselves.
Now, I was pretty sure Carla was the goner here. Dale has been so strong all season and was coming off last week with back to back wins. So my jaw hit the floor when the judges sent Dale packing. Just like that. I think the only person more shocked than me was Carla. I mean, the decision shocked all of the sexual innuendo-laden one-liners Paula Deen was spouting right the hell outta me.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled Carla got her lease on life in this competition, but I wish the circumstances didn’t leave me feeling like someone was robbed. Yes, one bad dish can send you home, but – ugh. UGH. Dale goes home and Fuckin’ Mike Isabella lives to be unoriginal another day?
Am I being weird here, people? Do you think Dale deserved to go? What do you think of the final five? Are you as anxious to see F.M.I. have his ass handed to him as I am? Sound off the comments. Or comfort me. Or something.