Recap: Top Chef All-Stars, Episode 7, Restaurant Wars
This week on Top Chef: All Stars, it was the episode we have all been waiting for: Restaurant Wars! The final 10 contestants split into teams and went head-to-head to see who could create the better dining experience. It was a tough battle and things got ugly really fast—and no, I'm not talking about Angelo's wardrobe. Who used to work the fryer at a fast food joint? Who served a dish that made Anthony Bourdain want to vomit? And who got sent home after a miserable performance in the kitchen? It's all ahead in this week's recap!
[Warning: Spoilers ahead!]
The show kicked off with Anthony Bourdain introducing us to Justo Thomas, the gentleman who butchers 1,000 pounds of fish between 7 a.m. and noon at Le Bernardin in New York City every day. After a quick lesson from the fish whisperer, the chefs had eight minutes to cut and portion one cod and one fluke to Le Bernardin's high standards.
Tiffany, who works as the executive chef at a seafood restaurant, thought she had this Quickfire in the bag. However, she worked incredibly slowly and cut the fish in the wrong direction, and was one of the worst performers of the day. Fabio was also in the bottom of the pack. A few minutes into the difficult challenge, he ran the knife across his thumb and started bleeding everywhere. He didn't stop to bandage his wound—he just kept going. Oh, Fabio. You're so hardcore.
The top performers were Dale, Richard, Mike, and Marcel. The four of them then had 45 minutes to create a dish using fish heads, wings, fins, and other parts of the fish that are often neglected in the kitchen. While cooking, Blais took the opportunity to talk about his past and proudly declared he used to work the fish fryer at McDonald's. Frankly, I think that explains a lot about his love of frozen foods—and fondless of clownish hairstyles.
Anthony Bourdain and guest judge Justo said all the food was great, but ultimately Dale was named the winner and given immunity for the upcoming elimination challenge. He prepared a salt roasted cod collar with bacon, and he used the liver, which won him extra points with Bourdain.
Finally! The moment we've all been waiting for...Restaurant Wars! It's the highly anticipated elimination challenge in which the contestants conceptualize and build their own restaurants and compete head to head to offer the most pleasurable dining experience. This season, the chefs were asked to create a pop-up restaurant, which is a trendy new(ish) form of dining that chef Ludo Lefebvre is pioneering in California. It's a temporary restaurant that "pops up" and only exists for a few months before it disappears.
Dale won the Quickfire, so he was named a team captain. He chose Marcel to be the other captain, and they picked their teams one by one:
TEAM BODEGA: Dale, Richard, Tre, Fabio, and Carla.
TEAM ETCH: Marcel, Angelo, Mike, Antonia, and Tiffany.
What would an episode of Top Chef All Stars be without a memorable cooking metaphor from Fabio? "Dale picked a good team that can run a marathon," he said. "But Marcel picked a team of sprinters. Cooking is a marathon. Marcel, you are going DOWN." More importantly, Fabio's neck completely disappeared as he was talking. That's how you know he REALLY means business.
Team Bodega was calm, smooth, and collected. They created a menu of upscale bodega food, and worked together really well. They prepared fried codfish, braised pork shoulder, tuna in a playful can-shaped dish, blueberry pie, and cheesecake. Of course, Fabio ran front of house, and really did a great job with it. The judges loved every bite of food they put into their mouths, and were thrilled with Fabio's attentiveness. Despite Dale having a douchy diva moment and telling some poor, unsuspecting servers to "back the eff off" of the dishes earlier in the evening, it was an overwhelming success.
Things weren't so great over on Team Etch (is that the worst name ever or what?). They were disjointed, and spent more time fighting with each other than actually cooking. They tried to create a Mediterranean menu, and prepared fluke crudo, octopus, monkfish, lamb, and gnudi with oxtail. The diners sent back a lot of their food because the lamb was undercooked and the eggs were salty and mushy. Tiffany didn't exactly do a stellar job with the front of the house, either; she mostly just walked around giggling to herself like a crazy person.
Restaurant Wars is usually really exciting and incredibly competitive, but this year it wasn't climactic at all. It was ridiculously easy to tell who was going to win from the minute the show started. And the results weren't even close! Dale's Team Bodega took the win in a landslide victory, with 59 out of 76 diners preferring the Bodega experience over Etch.
Golden Child Richard Blais, he who can do no wrong in the eyes of the judges, was named the winner of the Restaurant Wars battle. The judges thought his raw tuna belly with crispy chicken skin was well balanced and perfectly executed. As an added bonus, he also won a $10,000 cash prize. "An hour ago I thought I was going home," Blais said as Padma announced his name...thus making him the culinary equivalent of that annoying kid we all know in school who swore he failed the test but ended up getting an A++.
I thought Fabio got robbed. He should have won this challenge! He did a phenomenal job with front of house, and the judges—especially Bourdain—loved his amaretto cheesecake with candied lemon peel and cappuccino mousse. Sorry, Fabio. As they say in Italy, "That was total bullshittio!"
Team Etch (as in "this God-awful culinary experience will be forever etched into your memory") really should have been named Team Trainwreck. It was just that bad. Tiffany was horrible at front of house management, and her egg dish was a hot mess. Antonia's gnudi was over-reduced and salty, and Angelo only focused on his own mediocre dish instead of bailing the team out.
The worst dish of the night went to team captain Marcel. He made a "duo of peaches" and covered it with coconut foam and powder. It apparently tasted as disgusting as it looked, because Bourdain referred to it as "a perfect storm of f*cking awfulness."
And with that, Marcel was eliminated from Top Chef All Stars. He said the only mistake that he made was "picking the wrong team." Yeah, that—and screaming at your teammates like a lunatic—and serving a bowl of what looked like human peach vomit to Anthony Bourdain, Padma, and Tom. Way to go, Marcel!
And that brought this week's episode to an end! What did you think of the Restaurant Wars battle, Serious Eaters? Should Blais have won? Should Marcel have gone?