So, this episode brought two things I turn into a blubbering pre-teen girl over - tennis and Top Chef. I will get into tennis a bit more later, but for now the Quickfire. Tony Mantuano! If Mario Batali is the King of Italian Cooking in America and Lidia Bastianich is the Queen, Tony is a fucking Duke. Seriously. There's probably a bunch of Italian chefs in NY and SF pissed I said that. Fuck them. Go eat at Spiaggia, and you'll see why I say that.
The chefs have to cook without any tools. Imagine you get home. You're hungry. You know you've got a full fridge of food that just needs to be prepped and thrown together. You've got no money to go out. Oh, yeah, you also have no knives, no spoons, nothing to prep with. Just pans. You'd fucking break down and cry. Staring longingly at the chicken in the fridge, and the onion that somehow needs to be sliced, garlic to smash. The desperate may try throwing it all in the pan whole and hope to god flavors blend and marry. The truly desperate would think raw onion and garlic is tasty right about now. These guys didn't. They had to cook stuffing without their tools. It led to some interesting improvisations - Fabio grating cheese on the racks holding pans; Marcel using plastic wrap to pipe stuffing into his squab; Carla attempts to dice an onion by smashing it with a pan; Blaise using a lid as a spoon; Jamie stirs her stuff with a hunk of bacon. I want a spoon to stir stuff made from bacon now. Can someone get on that shit for me? Thanks! In the end Carla undercooked her quinoa (she called it "un done-te"), Tiffani made too sweet stuffing, Casey didn't make stuffing. Tre made a stuffing that looked incredibly straight forward, but from Tony Mantuano's comments probably tasted like angels were having an orgy on your tongue. Marcel put up a solid dish that wasn't quite orgasmic, but damn good. Tre wins the Quickfire and immunity. Oh yeah, he also won $20,000. A serious chunk of change for anyone.
And on to the Elimination challenge. Padma tells them they're going to be cooking in a head to head challenge at the US Open and to cook healthy high energy food because the players require that. I was torn between ruining my pants and jumping up and down in anger. I was there for the fortnight! When the fuck did they do this challenge?! I saw Rick Moonen, Tony Mantuano, Jonathan Waxman, Susan Fenniger and Carmen Gonzalez. At no point did I see signs going, "Come watch Top Chef All Stars!" And there was a bit of a crowd in the stands. At Louis Armstrong! Where the fuck was I??? Was it the quarters? Was I busy rooting for Novak Djokovic over Gael Monfils? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it wasn't awesome to see the aforementioned chefs, but I've been a Top Chef junkie since Season 1. I was annoyed in Season 2 when only Cliff got sent home over hairgate when everyone should have been eliminated and Marcel given the win by default. Hell, Tom said he wanted that to happen but the producers overruled him. By the way, I know it's Louis Armstrong because the court isn't quite dwarfed by the seats. The seats are also closer to the court. If it were Ashe Stadium, there would be a lot more space between the seats and the court. Way less intimate at Ashe.
But back to the Elimination, Padma comes out with a serviette with cans of tennis balls. The cans are labeled "Top Chef," and I kinda want one of those cans now. If anyone knows where I can get one, let me know. It'd go up on my "trophy case," next to the signed stuff by everyone from Andre Agassi to Mark Philippousis to Andy Roddick. Each can has only one ball colored orange or yellow. Tennis balls are usually yellow, it's called "optic yellow." As they get used they fade to greenish. Teams are split up, and the teams strategize. Team Yellow is Tre, Spike, Angelo, Tiffany, Tiffani, Casey and Jamie. Team Orange is Antonia, Marcel, Blaise, Dale, Carla, Mike and Fabio. The rules are that each team will send out one competitor to go head to head for tasting. If you win, your team gets a point. The members of the winning team, who made point worthy dishes, are possible contenders for the overall win. The members of the losing team, who lost at the attempt for a point, are up for elimination. In light of this, Spike suggests that they put their worst dishes first, thinking that Team Orange would put their best dishes first. Basically, Spike thinks Orange is gonna play like Andy Roddick and try to just bomb aces onto the court. Spike wants to play like Roger Federer. Chip the ball back into play and win on the ground game through a mastery of ball control and power. The Chefs shop at Whole Foods and then get to cooking.
In the prep kitchen, minor drama ensues. Angelo's mackerel is slimy and nasty and snags some of Tiffany's tuna. Carla lops off the top of her finger. Nifty bit of info, if you chop off the very top of your finger, it will grow back. Carla proves herself to be a BOSS and just has the EMT bandage it and she keeps prepping. In the course of Tom's walk through of the kitchen, he finds that Team Yellow is tight lipped about strategy. Antonia is shocked, and the camera appears to portray her as trying to spy on Yellow for her team. Tom finally gets to hear the strategy in a back prep area from Angelo and Spike. He seems intrigued, but lets them know that there's an hour left to cook.
Now it's onto the court. If you've never been to Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, go. It is one of the greatest venues for sport. Period. It is also the only major stadium open to the public when the tournament chiefly held there is not in session. For $40 you can go play on Arthur Ashe with some friends and feel like you're McEnroe or Evert, Sampras or Graf, Borg or Navratilova. Let me tell you, for all the time I've played and all the matches I've been in, nothing quite compares to playing on a stadium court and hearing the echo of the ball hitting your string bed. You feel like a better player, even if you're not. That sound is amazing and stays with you. Tennis fans will know what I'm talking about. For those reading this just for the cooking, it's like getting to cook inside the kitchen at The French Laundry or el Bulli, even though no one else but you and some friends are gonna eat it. The last time I got to play at BJKNTC, I hit a good friend in the back of the head with the ball on a serve. Lesson learned? When I try to serve like Roddick people get hurt.
Chefs get onto the court and start getting their stuff set up. Judges come out, and they're joined by a player - Taylor Dent. Dent was a pretty good former player. Not great, but he kept alive the serve and volley style I loved so much. With the slower courts of the modern era, serve and volley is a good way to give up points to the guy at the baseline. I have to admit to being a little ticked off here, as the way Padma phrased her intro, I thought there'd be a lot of pro players. Poop.
The chefs are ready to go. Well, mostly. Jaime doesn't want to go up because her beans aren't done. They're al dente. No one likes al dente beans. Because they're not al dente. They're un done-te. Thank you, Carla. I'm borrowing that and using it forever and ever! With Spike's strategy she should be going first. But she's not. She seems to shrink away. Fabio plates and is ready to present and team Yellow is still trying to figure out who's going. There's a term in tennis called "icing the server." The rule is, if the server is on the line and ready to serve, you HAVE to be at the line. Even if the server doesn't use up their entire 20 second break, you have to be there. If you don't, and the server serves and you weren't there to return it, it's their point. In pro tennis, because certain players are whiney little bitches who think they should get the full time between points no matter what, players are given warnings for time violations. Multiple warning can result in point and game penalties. Fabio's ready and he's on the team that's "serving." Yellow's inconsistency, in my opinion, should have resulted in a warning to keep with the tennis theme. Casey jumps up and goes in against Fabio's gnocchi. She loses with a pork loin and faro dish that was heavy on the pork and not enough faro. 15-0, Orange.
Next up is Tiffani serving for Yellow with black bass sashimi, against Dale's dumpling with spicy carrot foam. Marcel was ready to go up, but Dale felt his dumplings were dying and begged to go in. Marcel gets ticked because he was already plating. Apparently Dale's dumplings had already died. Tiffani wins. 15-all.
Marcel finally gets to go, and he's matched up with Angelo. Marcel serves up a cauliflower couscous with tuna against Angelo's smoked tuna in a spoon. What the fuck is up with serving in a spoon? Marcel's dish doesn't measure up to Angelo's spoon presentation. Yellow is up 15-30.
Next is the rest of Tiffany's tuna with fennel and lentils against Antonia's scallop dish. Tiffany didn't season so it's now tied again at 30-all.
Up next is Richard's "Thai-bouleh," a play on tabouleh with lamb and Thai spices against Spike. Spike made tomato and tamarind soup with shrimp. Unfortunately Spike lets Tiffany D and Angelo get in on the dish. They both make modifications to his dish, modifications he's not happy with. I'm sorry, Spike, but at some point you'd better stab the fucker for touching your shit. He didn't help anyone last season, and he's not helping anyone this season. Both of them get dinged on poor proteins, Spike is under-seasoned and Blaise's lamb is too gamy. Blaise edges out the win, and it's now 40-30. Match point.
This is the point where the server has a chance to close out the entire match. Not just a game or set, the Match. Big M. If you close it out, you're gravy. If nerves get in the way, you could be in for a world of hurt as your opponent breaks back and maybe gets back into the game. I've seen many awesome player fall apart, both in pro and amateur tournaments, who let Match Point get away from them and went on to lose after a sizable lead. And this point is pretty fucking big. Not only is it deciding which team goes home, but it's Carla against Tre. Two chefs known for big, bold homey flavors with some ballsy and refined presentation. Carla makes her spicy peanut stew, and just owns it. She's not willing to let anyone dog her dish, because it's her favorite and she knows what's in it. Tre answers with a salmon and parsnip puree that shanks out of bounds and into the nosebleeds. Carla wins. Game, set and match - Team Orange.
Into the stew room we go. I've got no tennis analogy for this. If you can come up with one, I will be appreciative. Fabio, Carla, Blaise and Antonia get called to Judge's Table and are praised for their dishes. Padma also springs that the winner gets a 5 night trip to Italy. Carla wins and goes to Italy. This is pretty badass, because Carla's one of those people that fans of the show universally love. Seriously. If you don't love when Carla pulls out a win, there's something wrong with you. The top competitors come back and ask for Spike, Casey, Tre and Tiffany to go to Judge's Table.
Before we see JT, we see Blaise calling Jaime out on not having presented a dish. Jaime naturally gets indignant about this, but I don't think she has a leg to stand on. Yeah, your dish wasn't ready. Yeah, your ass may be on the line, but you are supposed to compete, and you didn't. I love you, Jaime, but you just don't have a valid argument right now.
At JT, the errors for each dish are recapped and the chefs are questioned. Spike gets dinged on his soup, with some mixed signals. The soup was great, but the shrimp weren't seasoned. The soup wasn't so great, and the shrimp were worse. I'm not sure what the Judge's are getting at with the conflicting information. Sure, different palates and everything, but uhh...huh?!? Spike fires off his defense that Angelo (and Tiffany to a more minor extent) had meddled with his dish. Tiffany defends Angelo saying that yeah, he did pick at it, but Spike's ultimately responsible. I get what she's saying, and yeah, Spike dropped the ball by letting Angelo fiddle with his shit. I'm kind of waiting at this point to watch someone stab the shit out of Angelo. Just really bury their 8" Global or Shun Chef's Knife in his face. It's not cool, Angelo. You aren't fucking helping and you know you aren't helping. Do you really want to come off as That Guy? Knock it off. Casey adamantly disagrees with the judges that her dish wasn't bad, and she's got a point. She just got beat by an even better dish. Tom slaps Tre down a bit for not really caring, since he had immunity and $20k. Tiffany gets hit for having bland tuna. They send Spike home. Which bothers me, because if Tiffany had fucking bland tuna and Spike's broth was described by Tom as being wonderful...why the fuck was Spike sent home? Maybe for dropping the ball in controlling his food? If that's the case, totally valid. But, I dunno...I'm leaning towards Tiffany based on the judge's comments. And yeah, honestly, Jaime was saved by Tre losing. If it weren't for that, I feel that at 40-all, no ad, Jaime would be the one packing her knives.
I am tickled, though that in Top Chef, love is meaningless. And just like in a tennis match, the only person you can really depend on out there is yourself. It's one on one (on one, etc) out there. No one to fall back on. No coach to pull you through. You'd better have your best shit with you when you step onto the court or into the Top Chef kitchen. I wonder if they can do Wimbledon next year...