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Top Chef All Stars Review: Insert Conch Pun Here

Part 2 of the Top Chef All Stars finale starts off very solemn because of Carla’s departure. There’s not a lot of time for tears of course, because the chefs are in the homestretch of a reality show competition in the Bahamas. So on to the…

Quickfire Challenge! Padma is there to greet the chefs like always and with her this time is Lorena Garcia, one of the judges from America’s Next Great Restaurant. They tell the cheftestants the challenge is to get into teams of two and cook 100 identical dishes in an hour for some hungry diners. The idea is that making one delicious dish is one thing, making that same dish a hundred times over is something else completely. They need to be consistent and precise.

The teams are boys versus girls,  Mike and Blais going against Antonia and Tiffany, which is always fun. The girls win the challenge and the guys seem shocked the ladies are able to cook for some reason. The girls prepare a seared beef tenderloin salad with lentils and celery leaves which made it harder to dish up than the boys’ pork Bolognese with fresh macaroni and pecorino cheese. In the end Lorena decides Antonia and Tiffany’s dish has more flavor and is more “precise.”

It was around this time I began wondering when Padma was going to show up in a bikini like the promos promised. But first, the Elimination Challenge!  This challenge involved creating a lunch to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Nassau Yacht Club. The ingredient they all have to use is conch. The chefs get into some swim gear and find Padma down at the pier in a bikini (yay!) and heels (because that’s what is in style right now I guess). I’m not complaining.

The chefs go out to a “deserted” island and find several crates filled with every ingredient they need (grouper, snapper, spiny lobster) except for conch.  The conch crate holds snorkeling gear, which is a dead giveaway they’ll have to go get the conch themselves.

The chefs waddle into shallow waters to go conch hunting. The most entertaining part of this endeavor was Blais’ “swimming” technique, which is also known as “drowning.”

They do get around to cooking for the challenge, and here’s the rundown:

Blais makes sweet potato linguini with conch and spiny lobster.  The judges don’t notice his linguini is made out of sweet potatoes and think it’s normal pasta. Oh, and his lobster is a little undercooked, which is a pet peeve of mine. You can’t undercook dishes in the finale, Richard!

Antonia cooks red snapper with conch tartare and lobster nage. People love the flavor, of course Antonia always seems to be able to bring the flavors out in her dishes. But Colicchio couldn’t taste the conch which was the point of the challenge.

Tiffany creates conch and coconut chowder with sweet potatoes and conch ceviche. Her chowder, which was supposed to be hot, was served cold to the judges.

Mike fashions banana leaf-wrapped grouper, braised pineapple and conch vinaigrette. Most thought this was a well cooked dish. Mike, who many see as the villain this season, is slowly growing on me. He’s just impressing me more and more towards the end of the show.

Mike wins this challenge  and poor struggling Tiffany goes home.  This sets up a great final three, with the still favored Blais, the extremely talented Antonia and the not-so-villainous Mike.  On to the next finale showdown!

Season 8, Episode 14 “Island Fever” (original air date March 26, 2011)

Top Chef: All-Stars airs Wednesday 10/9c on Bravo.

Images courtesy of Virginia Sherwood and Bravo.

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