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Top Chef All-Stars - Ep. #8 - 02/02/11 (Spoilers)

Ya know, shoveling is for the birds! I'm pooped after shoveling and chipping ice off the driveway all day! But it's Top Chef night - and we were sans TC last week, AND I still have electrical power. So onward. :-)

The bar scene after last week's competition - Mike reiterates that he wasn't going to let Marcel get away with pulling out details about problems with service, so he piped up. Antonia says that there's a list of people she wants to go home, and Mike is at the top of her list!

For this QuickFire, the cheftestants' plating and presentation skills will be on display. Isaac Mizrahi is guest judge. When he sees Mizrahi, Fabio says he's thinking "Oh no! I think he going to say 'Chefs - you going to make a great dish - and I will have to wear it!'" LOL

The Quickfire is all about Inspiration - plate's presentation, per Padma, is designed to attract the palate. As such - she and Isaac will be judging on the plating only - they *will not* be tasting it!

During the cooking, Blais says many of the chefs seem to have problems with the fact that the judges aren't going to be tasting. But he knows Mizrahi wears black a lot, so he's making a black ice cream.

Antonia isn't cooking anything - it seems she's using all raw foods.

Per Fabio, Angelo's dish looks like a bag of vomit. Tee hee! It really does look kinda gross - and he writes "Crocodile" across his table. And then tells Mizrahi that his favorite designer is Roberto Cavalli. Nice way to suck up to the guest judge, Angelo. NOT!

OK - for judging, lots of the plates LOOKED beautiful, but would you want to eat them? Mizrahi did NOT like Dale's dish at all. Dale says he doesn't care what a fashion designer thinks about his food. MEOW!!! Mizrahi also really disliked Angelo's dish and writing on the table was completely unnecessary.

Bottom group - Dale, Tre and Angelo
Top group - Fabio, Carol and Richard

And Richard wins, and gets immunity!

For the Elimination, they will have to create a traditional 3-course Italian meal. They draw knives - Frankie No, Junior, and Dino the Chef. They bring in Frankie Pellegrino, owner of Rao's, his son, Frankie Jr., and Dino, the Exec Chef @ Rao's.

Frankie Team - Antonia, Carla, and Tiffany - Antipasti/Appetizer course
Junior Team - Dale, Tre and Mike - Primi/Pasta course
Dino Team - Richard, Fabio and Angelo - Secondi/Meat course

They will be judged on their *individual* dish, although they'll be cooking within their course. They have several hours to prep, and then they head over to Rao's to finish cooking and plate and serve.

Antonia, Carla and Tiffany are up first with their Antipasti. And the three women all seem to be working well together - all of a sudden, Tiffany's polenta is burning on the tray!

Guest judges? Designer Isaac Mizrahi and actress Lorraine Bracco - she's a repeat guest judge from many seasons past! Joe, the GM of Rao's, Nicky, the bartender at Rao's, and someone else from Rao's NY (sorry fella, didn't catch your name! LOL) Bracco talks about coming to Rao's the first time with Joe Pesci when they were studying to film Goodfellas.

Carla's soup gets called "something you can get in Wisconsin" by the Rao's GM. Ouch! Tiffany's polenta seems to go over VERY well. Antonia's mussels were VERY well received as well - no one had a bad comment. And it looks like they all three got the "family style" idea.

Next up - Primi course - Dale, Tre and Mike are cooking. And upon bringing the dishes to the table, I have to say Dale's dish looks WONDERFUL! But it doesn't get good reviews - no sauce, and Bourdain says "someone in the Witness Protection Program is eating this right now".

Tre's risotto also didn't do well. Rut-roh! Meanwhile, Angelo, Fabio and Richard are in the kitchen cooking. And Mike's pasta is now reviewed. It was the LEAST pleasing of the three, according to one of the Rao group - his pasta wasn't just al dente, it was way undercooked!

Blais has said he always thinks that Fabio's not going to make it in finishing his dish in time, but at the end, he said "Fabio's a magician - he pulls a rabbit out of his hat and Whoop! He's done!"

Angelo's pork chop is swimming in sauce, and Nicky the Bartender says you're full by eating all of the garnish before the pork. Fabio's pan-fried polenta gets rave reviews from the Rao's group, and Blais's cacciatore dish also gets good reviews.

In the in-between, Mike shows the cheftestants how to make gnocchi in Top Chef University (back at the house). Antonia seems impressed that he's hand-cutting them vs. using a gnocchi (cutter?), but tells him to not let it go to his head. Then Angelo walks in and asks "What's burning?" LOL

So who's in the bottom? I'm thinking Angelo, Mike and probably Tre. And the top, I'm thinking maybe Fabio, Antonia, and maybe Richard?

Padma comes into the Stew Room, and asks to see Antonia, Carla, Fabio and Tiffany. After they leave, Richard asks "Have they ever called the bottom group 2x in a row?" Dale replies "It's All-Stars - they can do whatever they want!"

And they ARE the top group! Carla's soup was well liked by Lorraine Bracco, despite the dislike from the Rao GM. :-) And Antonia wins! Now her father won't be disappointed in her! Fabio's pissed off, saying he made the most traditional dish, and Antonia beat him with a "French dish." And when they go back into the Stew Room, Mike says "I'm surprised that Antonia won - she did just steam some mussels." Ouchie.

The bottom group is Mike, Dale and Tre...all from the second course. Mike knew he'd be there because of the undercooked pasta. Bourdain said if he had used pasta from a box, he wouldn't be there - and Mike said he had thought about it. REALLY? You KNOW the judges would have called him out for using a boxed pasta!

Dale's dish was faulted for no sauce, and they didn't seem to like the pasta either. Tre's risotto was made stiffer than the way it should be - it wasn't creamy enough. Tom Colicchio said when it's spooned onto a plate, it's supposed to spread out. And Bourdain said that it was buried in garnish.

Tom said back at Judge's Table, good Italian food should be simple. And THAT is probably why Antonia won! I'm thinking it's going to be Mike going home....or Tre. I really hope it's not Tre *or* Dale. And MAYBE, just MAYBE - the Elves gave us a hint at the beginning of the show with Antonia saying Mike's at the top of her list to go home...and SHE won - so maybe Mike's going home? LOL

OK, we're back at Judge's Table. Tom tells Mike the sauce was fine; but the pasta wasn't good. Tre's rice wasn't good either, and Dale's pasta wasn't good. Yowch.

DAMMIT! Tre's gone. Shoot, shoot, shoot! I was so hoping he'd stay longer.

And next week, looks like Jimmy Fallon's the Guest Judge - THAT ought to be fun, based on the previews!

Well, that's all she wrote, boys and girls. It's time for Linda to go sleepies. :-) See ya next week, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel. (Actually, I'll see you tomorrow morning after reading what everyone else writes!)

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  1. Lorraine Bracco is the Paula Abdul of Top Chef IMO. I'm always like wow WTF is she on...look back on her other appearances I swear.

    5 Replies
    1. re: chris2269

      i agree with that.

      but this was a good episode i thought! lots of dishes that id love to try!

      1. re: chris2269

        I think that's just the way she is. If you ever saw her on The Sopranos, she was almost always very laid back in her demeanor.

        1. re: LindaWhit

          With all respect Linda, her laid back demeanor on The Sopranos is just acting. Check her out in Goodfellas when she has a gun to Henry Hill's head, (Ray Liotta.), or when she's screaming and leaning on the buzzer of Henry's girlfriend as in, "Mr. Superintdent, you have a whore living in 3r, Janice Rossi..."). I like her as a judge, she adds an Italian slant to home cooking. I'm a big Lorraine Bracco fan. I don't get the comparisons to Paula Abdul because I don't watch Idol.

        2. re: chris2269

          she always seems drunk to me. nothing to do with her acting skills in her movies - she just seems a bit brassy on the show. have always liked her acting, on Goodfellas and Sopranos.

        3. Hmm...sad to see Tre go. Would have liked to have seen Mike, out of that group of three, go.

          Glad they judged individually rather than by "team".

          But overall...

          Kind of bored by this episode. Or, perhaps more accurately, really bored by this episode.

          1. I loved how often the guests used the phrase "Italian food is all about simple ingredients...letting the ingredients shine". You can replace the word "Italian" with virtually every other cuisine. Such a throwaway sentence.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ooroger

              I thought so, too. And they said it like 10 times.

              1. re: ooroger

                You never hear anybody describing a cuisine as "indifferent to ingredients." That said, I think the "simple ingredients" catchphrase is really code for "not French" and "not requiring refined technique."

                But then, what was Trey ousted for, if not lack of technique? Nevermind. It's all B.S.

                1. re: LaPomme

                  Actually, French cuisine can be "simple," depending on the region.

                  And while every cuisine is about the ingredients, if you think about it, many Asian cuisines use long lists of spices and ingredients and layered flavours, so they're not quite so simple. Maybe that's what they meant?

              2. I'm glad that you have power and were able to do the recap after two weeks off!

                On the QF, I agree that Angelo's dish did not look attractive. Plus he spelled it "Crocadile". I'm with Fabio on this one--it's pretty silly to just judge a dish on its attractiveness and not even check that it's edible.

                1. This is one of those episodes that leaves me scratching my head.

                  For the winning dish, Antonia gets the nod for mussels in a broth. Huh? I'm not a chef but like to cook and yet I avoided mussels for years, thinking they'd be complicated. It turns out they are simple to make. The mussels part it easy (if you can source them fresh)... and the sauces/broth part is limitless. Fabio (and the rest) were rightfully irritated. He, for example, cooked a much more involved 2-part course. Simplicity is nice, but you shouldn't win a chef's competition by hitting a bunt.

                  Likewise, I don't get the judge's hate for Mike's dish. Yes, he's an annoying personality. But he actually attempted fresh pasta. Maybe he failed. Maybe it didn't work. But there were several comments that implied he'd be smarter if he cooked the boxed stuff. What?

                  To me, this episode seemed to reward non-creative food and penalized attempts at creativity/authenticity. Strange.

                  173 Replies
                  1. re: tastyjon

                    I disagree, moules/frites are a Last Supper meal for me and I have mussels almost everywhere I go that serves them (and I make them). There are vast differences in the bowls of mussels that one gets when ordering out. Some are a miracle in a bowl and some ruin your day. To make them that well, to impress that panel, I say "Bravo Antonia!" And if that edit was accurate how classless was it for the guys not to congratulate her?
                    One more thing; what was that designer on? How in the world did Fabio's plate get in the top 3? I thought Carla's was by far the best of the quickfire.

                    1. re: tofuburrito

                      What about Fabio's complaint that steamed mussles, moules as you wrote, is actually French? I agree with Tastyjon that any competent chef should be able to make some mussels. Apparently the other chefs feel the same way - too shocked to give her much credit.

                      I thought Richard really nailed the QF because he paid attention to who his target is, i.e., a guy who wears black all the time.

                      1. re: tofuburrito

                        She didn't make moules frites. She made moules. That's it. Steam them for 2 minutes with butter, shallots and wine (+ whatever) and that's a fine dish. I agree its often a wonderful meal, but I don't get how the win celebrated her uniqueness. What was her signature spin? Did she do anything that made them her own brand? Are you rushing out to find her unique twist?

                        That's my point. She won with a dish that's likely been done a 1,000 times before by a 1,000 chefs. They rewarded sameness. That was the strange theme of this show. Usually one is rewarded for creativity and ambition, but this episode seemed to reward one for being safe and meeting expectations. Meanwhile the folks who tried to make fresh food from scratch were chided for not buying dried, pre-made basics. Blah.

                        It celebrated karaoke. Even more, it suggested taking short cuts and being content with mass produced products.

                        I'd hate to say it but maybe "Top Chef" has jumped the shark,

                        1. re: tastyjon

                          I'm aware she didn't make frites, I was just mentioning something I like, sorry for straying. Are mussels specifically French? There are several recipes that include mussels in the Mario Batalli cookbook I have. Not being an expert on Italian cooking, I don't know how prevalent they are or if they are region specific but it seems just about every country with a coastline eats mussels.
                          As for Fabio and Mike dismissing Antonia's cooking; when did chicken cacciatore and fresh pasta become rocket science? I've made both and they don't seem any more complicated than steamed mussels to me.

                          1. re: tofuburrito

                            Antonia even said that mussels were something she liked to order at Italian restaurants. I've found them on many menus IN Italy.

                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              I've found Chinese food in Italy, does that make them Italian?

                              1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                Are you saying that people in Italy never ate mussels until they were brought in by people from somewhere else?

                                1. re: tofuburrito

                                  Mussels (cozze) are eaten everywhere there's a coastline. They're French, Belgian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and probably a whole lot more. I have recipes from all these genres in my recipe file.

                                  I'm a mussel lover, and prepare them often in many different ways. Some preps are very similar. But then, Provence used to be part of Italy, and Liguria used to be part of Provence.

                                  1. re: tofuburrito

                                    I didn't say that. I'm looking for educated reasons as to why Fabio is right or wrong.

                                    1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                      In reference to Fabio's dismissal of Antonia's dish as being French, Bourdain (in his blog) recommended that Fabio take a trip to Sicily.
                                      I assume this is what you're talking about but I'm not really sure. You (on Fabio's behalf) seem to be questioning whether mussels are an authentic element in Italian cooking. Although I think Fabio was questioning the use of fennel. Again, going to a Mario Batalli cook book, I see plenty of recipes with fennel. So I don't really get the authenticity argument.

                                      1. re: tofuburrito

                                        I thought Fabio was referring to the steamed mussels with fennel as a French dish but I don't really know for sure. Is it possible that Fabio doesn't consider Sicily a part of Italy? I know Sicily is geographically a part of Italy but I don't know what the Italians think of Sicilians.

                                        As for Batali, you're citing a guy who is American. Doesn't mean you're wrong or Batali's wrong - just want to understand whether Fabio had a legit gripe.

                                        1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                          Just had a look at the recipes and found it interesting that Fabio used Shitake mushrooms in his dish.

                                    2. re: tofuburrito

                                      Italians never ate pasta until it was brought in by Marco Polo from somewhere else.

                                      1. re: chicgail

                                        <Italians never ate pasta until it was brought in by Marco Polo from somewhere else.>

                                        That is SO not true. I can't believe you are resurrecting that old myth. there's not enough room here to cite the food history to disprove you, but you really ought to already KNOW that.

                                        1. re: ChefJune

                                          Ok, but Italians didn't have tomatoes until sometime in the 16th century.

                                        2. re: chicgail

                                          That's been greatly disproved. Pasta was in Italy for centuries before Marco Polo. I've been reading the Encyclopedia of Pasta and there is large source list for reading up on the subject in it.

                                          1. re: gastrotect

                                            Yowsa, folks. I stand corrected, my head bowed in shame. I am newly informed of this.

                                      2. re: Worldwide Diner

                                        Uh, yeah, WWD, that's what i was saying. i can't tell the difference between chinese food and italian food if i eat it in Italy.

                                        mussels aren't Italian. they are just mussels. there some preparations for mussels that are more typically italian, or more typically chinese, or more typically french.

                                        1. re: mariacarmen

                                          This eating Chinese food in Italy analogy doesn't make any sense to me. Mussels are used in some regions of traditional Italian cooking because Italy has coastlines that include mussels. Fennel grows in Italy and presumably has for a long time so one would expect to see it used in Italian cooking in the regions where it grows. Using two native ingredients in a dish makes sense when asked to prepare a dish from that region. Why is that such an issue?
                                          If you say mussels aren't Italian you would have to apply that to every ingredient, nothing is Italian, it's just food. No one said mussels were Italian exclusive.

                                          1. re: tofuburrito

                                            i don't think you meant this to me - it was WWD's analogy. I disagree with it too.

                                          2. re: mariacarmen

                                            "Antonia even said that mussels were something she liked to order at Italian restaurants. I've found them on many menus IN Italy."
                                            ***
                                            That implies that because you've seen them on menus in Italy, the dish must be Italian. What if I say I've seen beef and broccoli in Italy, that dish must be Italian? My point is that seeing somethin on menus in Italy proves nothing. My question has always been does Fabio have a legit gripe. I'm looking for educated answers, with documentation, not guesswork simply because there're mussels and fennels in Italy. There're mussels and fennel in China too but they they put them together in a steamed dish.

                                            1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                              broccoli and beef, by themselves, are not italian or chinese. it is the PREP that makes them into some ethnicity, if at all. I was talking about the preparation of a dish, not the ingredients themselves.

                                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                                broccoli and beef, by themselves, are not italian or chinese. it is the PREP that makes them into some ethnicity, if at all. I was talking about the preparation of a dish, not the ingredients themselves.
                                                -----
                                                That wasn't what you wrote. In any case, you don't seem to know anything about Italian mussel dishes.

                                              2. re: Worldwide Diner

                                                Fennel may be available in China but it is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean.
                                                I think you can infer if someone say's they found mussels and/or fennel on menus in Italy they are referring to restaurants that serve local cuisine, not a Chinese restaurant in Italy.
                                                If Bourdain & Ripert saying Fabio is wrong, the judges not questioning the appropriateness of the dish and similar recipes being found in Mario's book on Italian cooking isn't enough for you, you'll have to dig up your own evidence.

                                                1. re: tofuburrito

                                                  @ tofuburrito regarding Fabio's comment about Antonia's mussels dish not being Italian in nature:

                                                  Have a look at larkinaita's post just below:
                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7636...

                                                  You might also be interested in what alidrum had to say further below:
                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7636...
                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7636...
                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7636...

                                                  Cheers. :-)

                                                2. re: Worldwide Diner

                                                  Fabio has a very legitimate gripe. Of course mussels are found anywhere there's a coast, but Antonia's preparation was NOT Italian. Although someone will say that butter is used in Northern Italian cooking (for sauteeing meats, for making risottos, etc.), butter is NOT used for seafood. I lived in Italy for 5 years, my husband is Italian, and I learned to cook from my Italian mother-in-law, and I can tell you that the GOBS of butter she was adding to the pan as the mussels were opening would send chills down an Italian's spine. I haven't read Bourdain's blog, and of course you can find mussels in Sicily, but in butter like that? no. (And, as an aside, Bourdain may know everything about asian cooking, but I've heard him say pretty bizzare things about foods of certain regions in Italy [I'm thinking specifically of a special on Sardegna I have seen]). Mussels with fennel and butter just isn't an Italian preparation (and especially this southern Italian homey feel Rao's wants to replicate). The judges should have called her out on that (as well as the novice-level of the dish...THIS is top chef material??), but they didn't. Neither did they call Carla out on the fact that minestrone is not an antipasto. (I mean, Tom got all judgy about the consistency of Tre's risotto, which I get, but no one bothered to explain to Carla what an antipasto is and is not??) I can imagine it was difficult for Fabio to see that not only these points were not addressed, but that Antonia won for a dish so easy to prepare and off the mark geographically!! Fabio may not be the most talented chef of the group, but this had to have been grating (and the fact that Antonia was somehow waxing on about being of Italian descent while making this NON Italian preparation....) I am a huge fan of Top Chef, but the judges really lost credibility in this episode (because the producers want to back certain contestants, because they can't speak poorly about the food/owners of an establishment like Rao's, who knows?)

                                                  1. re: larkinaitana

                                                    There was no authenticity requirement.

                                                    jb

                                                    1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                      What does that even mean? If the task is to cook a French meal, then McDonald's french fries should win because they taste good? They have potatoes in France. This is a cooking competition, of course fidelity to the cuisine is needed. Mussels cooked in butter is not an Italian preparation; it should not win at an Italian restaurant challenge.

                                                      1. re: larkinaitana

                                                        thanks larkinaitana...if you read my posts below, this was the point I was trying to make...dairy and seafood and italians don't mix. I think Fabio was irritated because he thought the challenge was about preparing a proper course in the proper Italian style..

                                                        and I wholeheartedly agree with your take on carla and her minestrone as an appetizer...what's up with that?

                                                        1. re: alidrum

                                                          There's hardly a red sauce place I've ever been in that doesn't serve shrimp parmigiana. So while I don't doubt your information about authenticity of the mussels dish in your experience, the dairy/seafood "don't mix" rule doesn't apply in Italian American restaurants in at least one case/dish.

                                                          1. re: alidrum

                                                            "Neither did they call Carla out on the fact that minestrone is not an antipasto. (I mean, Tom got all judgy about the consistency of Tre's risotto, which I get, but no one bothered to explain to Carla what an antipasto is and is not??)"

                                                            "and I wholeheartedly agree with your take on carla and her minestrone as an appetizer...what's up with that?"

                                                            When the contestants tasked with preparing antipasti were talking with the chef from Rao's, they asked him about the menu, and cold vs. hot antipasti, and he said they typically would offer one hot antipasto, a soup. This opened the door for Carla to serve what she did. As others have pointed out, Rao's is Italian American, not Italian, and they were tasked with creating food inspired by Rao's. Minestrone is very typically offered as a first course in Italian American restaurants.

                                                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                              yes..."first", meaning "primo". Soup with short pasta is not an appetizer!! Who knows what soup was served on their menu as an appetizer. I'm sure there are Italian-American restaurants that serve god knows what, but that doesn't mean it's Italian, and Carla should have known better.

                                                              1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                "I'm sure there are Italian-American restaurants that serve god knows what, but that doesn't mean it's Italian, and Carla should have known better.

                                                                Again, this challenge was about Italian-American food, not Italian-Italian food, so if what Carla served was appropriate in an Italian-American context, it was appropriate to the challenge. The same is true of Antonia's dish, regardless of whether Italian cooks would use butter with mussels. I don't believe either failed to honor the challenge, even if the way they cooked and/or served their dishes isn't true to what's done in Italy.

                                                                There are many old-school Italian-American restaurants in the US, and there is also a thriving culture of regional Italian restaurants in a number of our cities, including in NYC. If one of them had been the setting for this challenge, and the brief had been to cook dishes that would fit in with and be inspired by its menu, the conversation here might be different if Carla and Antonia did the same things.

                                                                1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                  "I'm sure there are Italian-American restaurants that serve god knows what, but that doesn't mean it's Italian, and Carla should have known better."

                                                                  I'm confused about why you keep insisting she did something wrong. She was told by Rao's, the location and inspiration for the challenge, that soup was a perfectly appropriate choice. She's not cooking it in Italy for persnickety Italians, after all! :-) Rao's house, Rao's rules.

                                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                                    Well, according to the detailed recipe on bravotv she actually cooked polenta. [ You need to go to the recipe and see what they wrote as the subheadings :-) ]
                                                                    http://www.bravotv.com/foodies/recipe...

                                                                  2. re: larkinaitana

                                                                    Why should Carla know better? Do you think the chefs need to be well versed in every cuisine? There was the dimsum challenge where some chefs had no idea what was dimsum food. The challenge was about Italian American food that Rao's serves, not Italian food and if the owners and staff of Rao's were impressed, that says it all--more than if her dish would work in Italy.

                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                      While I don't think that the contestants should know the intricacies of all cuisines, I think we can absolutely expect them to be well versed in what an antipasto is!! (as opposed to a primo or secondo). Shouldn't we raise the bar a little? If they are expected to know how to make a souffle (remember Eric?), shouldn't they at least be able to distinguish the components of a course? This is, after all, *top chef*!

                                                                      1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                        Why is knowing what an antipasto important? I don't expect them to know what constitutes all the different courses of every meal. I wouldn't expect all the chefs to know how to prepare the first course of a Chinese banquet and what is traditionally served even if this is Top Chef.

                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                          Why is knowing what an antipasto is important for a chef? Ummm...respectfully, are you serious? You have to learn the alphabet before you learn to read. There are things a chef needs to know before calling him/herself that! This is a competition, a prestigious competition, and I think that we are confusing talented home chefs and what they know, with what these competitors, who are professionals and who have and obligation to know their stuff! Do you think Thomas Kellar or Eric Ripert didn't have to actually study the funadmentals at some point? Creativity is important; talent is important, but too much "creativity" without actual preparation and you get Angelo's "crocadile".

                                                                          1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                            Carla was told by the Chef at Rao's that they serve a soup as an antipasto. You are assuming Carla didn't know that that was non traditional. She was told a soup would be fine for her course and she made a soup.

                                                                            jb

                                                                            1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                              A chef who studies the fundamentals of Italian cuisine should have better understanding of what an antipasto is. However, not every chef is well versed in every cuisine. Do I expect Ripert to be able to make a great dim sum dish? Fabio a great starter for a Chinese banquet? Keller a great Native American dish? How much knowledge are you expecting them to have? Chefs specialize and I can't think of one who would have worldwide knowledge. While some Italians might think they're the center of the culinary world, they're not.

                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                A student of cuisine of course would learn the basics of European cuisine. Division of courses is basics. And yes, I would expect Ripert to make a great dim sum and --if Keller had some point of reference, a good Native American dish. That's what this competition is about--a group of chefs with different specializations being thrown into various unsettling situations in which they have to rely on their knowledge and be challenged. Of course I would expect the undisputed top chefs to be up to the task (I'm not saying be perfect, but yes, be up to the challenge...again, that's the point of the competition!! And I think that there needs to be some acknowledgment that French Cuisine, Italian cuisine have had the influence that they have here in the US . Center of the world , no. A very important part of the tradition? Of course.

                                                                                1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                  So Fabio should be out because he couldn't make a traditional dimsum dish, although he made an excellent enough of a dish to put him in the top?

                                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                                    But isn't there a different between riffing on a basic theme (a traditional dimsum dish, ravioli, etc.) and violating the basic fundamentals of its preparation (serving fish when the challenge is pork); what Carla did (and I LOVE Carla, I'm sorry to keep using her as an example) was just wrong; not soup in general, but THAT soup, that hearty pasta laden soup, is not an antipasto.

                                                                                    1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                      But larkinaitana, you keep on ignoring the fact that Rao's serves soup as an antipasto. Truly, it is not usually considered as such, but this was a cooking challenge at Rao's, following their model -- they explicitly said that they serve soup as an antipasto. Doesn't that change things considerably?

                                                                                      1. re: roxlet

                                                                                        I'm not belaboring a point to be obtuse, but as I said before, there's soup and there's soup. Could Rao's serve a light zucchini soup with truffle shaved on top and call it an antipasto? I guess. But when you put pasta in it, it becomes the thing that one of they themselves called "what you get at an Italian restaurant in Wisconsin" (no offense, Wisconsin has some great food...but Italian isn't what I think of). Soup...I guess that can be a riff, okay. But you put pasta (or rice, or gnocchi, gnudi, whatever) in it, and it becomes something else.

                                                                                        1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                          I have eaten at Rao's and believe me, they cleave to their own model, which was obviously the jumping off point for this challenge, whether you think it should be or not. It is what they do thereby encouraging others to do likewise -- without limiting the type or kind of soup. No one said -- no soup with pasta or only "light" soups. Nope, they said soup. 'Nuff said.

                                                                                          1. re: roxlet

                                                                                            you got to eat at Raos?? wow - how did that happen? so who do you know? (hope you know I don't mean that disrespectfully, just so curious!)

                                                                                            1. re: roxlet

                                                                                              Wow, cool! I too am curious to hear more about your Rao's experience. Was it amazing, foodwise? Presumably it was amazing experience-wise... Inquiring minds want to know!

                                                                                              On their Bravo blogs, Tom said he'd only been to Rao's once before and that was because someone won a reservation for 6 at an auction (or something along those lines) and invited him to come along. Bourdain said he'd never been.

                                                                                              I'm very curious to read about your experience!

                                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                I used to have a very senior job at CBS in programming, and there was a producer who was always trying to get me to buy his shows and he was a regular. I have no idea if he still is a regular, and since I can no longer do anything for him, I doubt he'd invite me again anyway! I remember Lorraine Bracco was there once when we went, but I already knew her since we had the same manicurist at the time. The dish I remember most vividly was the pasta fagioli, and I also had a veal saltimboca (I think ). I went back a second time, but truly I don't remember what I had. This was in the mid to late 80s, so a very long time ago. I always remember the pasta fagioli since it was so much like the one my mother used to make, and she had passed away a few years before. It almost made me cry when I ate it-- it was that Proustian for me then.

                                                                                                1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                  Neat story. Thank you for sharing.

                                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                                  1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                    pasta fagiola? i hope that wasn't an appetizer

                                                                                                    1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                      Roxlet, that's a really sweet story about your mom....
                                                                                                      Thanks!

                                                                                                2. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                                  there are soups with pasta in them in italy. that are soups

                                                                                                  1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                                    One thing that is being forgotten is that Bravo and Top Chef make the rules and can do as they wish.

                                                                                    2. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                      But, as several people have already pointed out, this was not an Italian cuisine challenge. It was an Italian-American cuisine challenge. So there they are, at what I guess is supposed to be a great Italian-American restaurant, told that soup is fine for that course. Whether or not soup is considered part of the antipasto course in Italy seems completely irrelevant to the challenge.

                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                          Exactly. The fact that this was an "Italian-American" challenge AND the fact that the Chef from Rao's *said* that a soup would be an appropriate course are BOTH being ignored completely.

                                                                                          Which just means the conversation is just going to go around and around if those points are not accepted as FACT for this episode.

                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                            I think you are both right.

                                                                                            Carla made a soup, fine by both the rules of the road and the house, in this case. Nothing wrong with making a soup.

                                                                                            I think Lark's issue is her choice of soup. While there are a bevy of soup that are appropriate for opening course, minestrone is not one of them. Because of the pasta inclusion, it is more suited as a pasta course item, I suppose.

                                                                                            (BTW, not saying I'm on either side, just trying to recap what I'm hearing. I think you both are right.)

                                                                                            1. re: Pylon

                                                                                              Yes, that's what I mean. Clearly, Rao's does "cleave" =) to its own style.
                                                                                              I'm interested in hearing from people who have actually eaten there. It seems like typical italian-american fare closed behind this golden door. Is that unfair?

                                                                                2. re: alidrum

                                                                                  Alidrum--yes, I read top-down, and I got to you saying the same thing only later. The Dairy-seafood mix is a good analogy.

                                                                                  I agree exactly...I'm not defending Fabio as the top competitor, but you do have to feel for him...in an italian food challenge, to see what he saw and not have the judges mention that so many of the dishes were off or wrong had to have been frustrating.

                                                                                  1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                    ".in an italian food challenge, to see what he saw and not have the judges mention that so many of the dishes were off or wrong had to have been frustrating."

                                                                                    It was a USA food challenge, with Italian-American inspiration.

                                                                                    1. re: mcf

                                                                                      But why is this an exception? The contestants were berated for making "american" dim sum; the French certainly have rules to their cooking? I find it annoying that Italian cuisine is a free for all, when other cuisines are treated differently, with a respect for tradition, ingredients and preparation.

                                                                                      1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                        "But why is this an exception?"

                                                                                        Perhaps you are new to TC? I've watched every year, and chefs are usually challenged to make dishes "inspired by" but not rote reproductions of regional cuisines. This was one such challenge; they were not asked to reproduce traditional Italian dishes. I don't see this as an exception. Perhaps you might understand the challenge better if you read the blogs?

                                                                                        Antonia won because she made the best tasting dish, that's the bottom line. She obviously cooked with great respect for her family tradition, her ingredients and preparation and her dish tasted best of all. Wah lah! :-)

                                                                                        Fabio was clearly operating under the misapprehension that the challenge was to make old world Italian food from Italy, as he kept reeling off dish after dish he knew how to make from his Italian upbringing til another contestant asked him to let them speak and get some questions answered. Fabio made an apparently very good dish that was beaten by one that tasted better. Since Italian American judges grew up accustomed to non traditional Italian ingredients in their Italian households, cuisine from Italy wasn't what they were rating it against.

                                                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                                                          Thank you, mcf, for the welcome. I'm new the the blog. Top Chef I've watched since its inception, and I believe that I understand the challenges. While we cannot ourselves know the taste of the individual dishes and must take lightening vest's word for it, there are rules to not only the challenges, but that govern cuisines as well. I'm not sure what you mean by "old world" Italian (?), but --i'll say it for the last time--Antonia's preparation is not Italian; nor is it Italian-American (butter and fennel is NOT Italian American--even if someone somewhere can find it on some Italian American restaurant). It may or may not have tasted good, but it was not an example of either! I am from an Italian-American family, and I lived in Italy for 5 years and on and off the last 4. The food I grew up with is very different from what I learned how to cook in Italy. I do understand the different. If Dale had made dim sum, or RIchard some mustard ice-cream, that might have tasted good, but neither would not have been Italian. Just because mussels are found in Italy (and in LIS next to Rao's, for all I know) does not mean that the way in which they are prepared is Italian. Hence, my perplexity as to how she could have won.

                                                                                          1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                            Read Colicchio's blog and you'll know how and why she won.

                                                                                            1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                              As i've pointed out, Fabio was in the top for his dim sum but it wasn't a dim sum dish. You apparently expect every chef to understand every cuisine but Fabio was very open in saying he had no idea how to cook Chinese food. Does that make him less of a chef? I can't think of any chef who knows all the intricacies of every cuisine, especially when presented with a challenge of making food that Rao's, an Italian American restaurant in the US, might.

                                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                                It made Fabio--in that instance--a quick study. Someone who knows the fundamentals and can "figure it out"...that is, a Top Chef! This is again the point. Fabio didn't prepare his gnocchi for the dimsum. It makes him--in this instance--an embodiment of what the competition stands for. I've said this before--of course not every chef can know everything. But the really good ones have such a preparation that, when they taste something or see a dish, they can figure it out. That's my point

                                                                                                1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                                  That's gonna depend on whether they are familiar with the basic ingredients in said dish, for starters. If you don't recognize the basic ingredients, you have no chance. Likewise, some ingredients need elaborate processes to transform that even a very skilled chef wouldn't know unless he had studied the cuisine in question - Chinese style chicken feet for example. Or try to recreate some of the cliches of molecular gastronomy without some time studying that style.

                                                                                                  The 'fundamentals' of cooking aren't really universal.

                                                                                                  In short, I disagree.

                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                    Agree to disagree. =) The show is assuming basic knowledge of a number of dishes and ingredients (no one forced Casey to do chicken feet, and the wisest among them knew they they didn't know enough about them to do them well). But I think we can agree that that is why it's compelling television...who cares when Fabio makes great gnocchi? He can do that in his sleep...what's interesting is when he makes dim sum and the judges think he does it well. The contestants with the best overall preparation and familiarity with a wide range of dishes, preparations and traditions(I'm thinking Hung and Stefan) are the most exciting to watch. The ones with the least versatility (like when they said idiotic things like, "ugh, I never do ______" and the fill-in is usually something not too out of the way, like pasta, vegetarian, red meat, etc.) are the least exciting. Ilan would be a good example of that. It seems to me pretty accepted that he was not the most exciting win, because he can do Spanish, Spanish and more Spanish. and not much else.

                                                                                                  2. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                                    So you're saying Fabio making a non-Chinese dish, a non-dimsum dish for a dimsum challenge makes him a quick study but Carla making an Italian dish, although not necessarily an antipasto, makes her wrong. It's not as if Carla made hot and sour soup for the Rao's challenge.

                                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                                      ITA. I was going to make the exact same point! I'm glad I read the whole thread first!

                                                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                                                        The judges said that Fabio's "take"/riff/whatever on dim sum was intuitive and a great dish. The owners of Rao or judges, I don't remember who, said that Carla's minestrone tasted like something on a menu at an Italian-American place in Wisconsin. I'm thinking that was not meant as a compliment, so yes, I think it makes her wrong, and not only by me but by the judges!
                                                                                                        (and in whatever cuisine, serving something as heavy as minestrone as a *starter* (I'm emphasizing the real meaning of the word) doesn't make sense.

                                                                                                        1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                                          One person said it, and it was not universally agreed upon.

                                                                                                          1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                                            The judges also put Carla in the top and called it a great dish.

                                                                                        2. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                          It appeared to me the mussels were cooked in white wine and the butter added at the end.

                                                                                      2. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                        It wasn't an Italian food challenge. It was an Italian American food challenge. Further, it was an Italian-American INSPIRED challenge.

                                                                                        It doesn't matter if she used butter with the mussels or if soup isn't an antipasto. The point wasn't to recreate an authentic meal straight from the south of Italy.

                                                                                        1. re: ac106

                                                                                          the judges clearly said that the mussels won because they TASTED the best, not because they adhered most closely to Italian cuisine. Italian/French, irrelevant.....

                                                                                          1. re: karenfinan

                                                                                            That's what challenges often come down to--it's not how closely you follow the rules but how good the food is. I think it's unfair when contestants win and don't follow the rules. That said, since Antonia said this is how her American Italian family ate and that's what Rao's cooked, I don't think it's the case here of not following the rules. I think Antonia is a better judge of what is Italian American food than Fabio.

                                                                                            1. re: karenfinan

                                                                                              would that have been the case if Fabio decided to do gnocchi at the dim sum challenge? Of course not... And of course it matters.

                                                                                              1. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                                Fabio did not do a traditional dim sum dish but prepared something that wowed the judges and he was in the top for it. It didn't matter.

                                                                                          2. re: larkinaitana

                                                                                            Given this thread, is anyone else totally amused to see the Buitoni "Italian Masterpiece" commercials during Top Chef (not to mention the interlude in the TCAS house) push the "lobster and shrimp ravioli with garlic BUTTER sauce" product?

                                                                                            1. re: momjamin

                                                                                              and it wasn't even shrimp scampi or parmigiana?

                                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                                Nope. You can check the products at buitoni.com ;-)

                                                                                  2. re: tofuburrito

                                                                                    Mussels aren't specifically French. I think the fennel might be more French than Italian preparation, typically.

                                                                                    1. re: mcf

                                                                                      Ripert said that if the preparation was French it would have cream in it, although the Italians also use cream sometimes.

                                                                                      1. re: KailuaGirl

                                                                                        I've never had cream in my mussels meuniere, so that kind of doesn't make sense to me. Maybe he was joking?

                                                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                                                          Beats me. He could have been joking. Lots of people do think of French food as always having heavy sauces - lots of cream and butter, etc. Check out his vlog, though. In the first half he had quite a bit to say about the QF. The second half, he was also talking about Fabio and his remarks about mussels being French.
                                                                                          ER says that to some it might seem strange for a French chef to be talking about what's authentic Italian, but he's Italian on one side and French on the other. It's always good to listen to him, anyway. :-)

                                                                                      2. re: mcf

                                                                                        Bourdain commented on this in his blog actually, that it was a dopey comment for anyone that has been to Italy to say that fennel was strictly "French".

                                                                                        Bourdain's blog was fantastic as always, great writing. He is up there with Linda's recaps. Both almost as good as the show itself.

                                                                                        1. re: yankeefan

                                                                                          "Bourdain's blog was fantastic as always, great writing. He is up there with Linda's recaps."
                                                                                          ~~~~~~~~~~
                                                                                          OK, now THAT is just crazy talk! I appreciate the vote of confidence, but holy frijoles, Batman - Bourdain's blog is WAY better than my recaps, by a NYC mile! I couldn't hand out the snark like AB can if my life depended on it.

                                                                                          I may be pretty decent in getting the deets down on paper, so to speak. But AB reigns supreme as Snarkmaster. :-)

                                                                                          1. re: yankeefan

                                                                                            Who said fennel was "strictly French?"

                                                                                      3. re: tofuburrito

                                                                                        Glad someone else noticed that lag before Antonia received any congratulations. I also wondered if it was real or an edit. I think the delay was actual since I thought I heard Antonia say something about the lack of courtesy. Did anyone hear precisely what Antonia said?

                                                                                        1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                          Unless Antonia is a particularly good actress, and could have anticipated the editing, the delay appeared to be real, based on her visible reaction.

                                                                                          1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                            I missed that. Very disappointing to read what you and Indy wrote, if the lag in time frame is true.

                                                                                            1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                              agreed - i thought it was very rude of the guys to not congratulate her right away and also for the eerie quiet that was given.
                                                                                              mussels to me are pretty classic italian and a first course. she did them well and that's what counts. i also noticed a lot of backlast online last night on twitter with everyone giving antonia slack for winning, that was just plain rude...and i don't even really like antonia this season (loved her, her original season though).

                                                                                              1. re: pie22

                                                                                                I thought it was weird that she didn't seem to get any prize...or maybe it was announced earlier and I missed it> Usually the winning chef gets SOMETHING...she just kind of stood there and finally people congratulated her. Strange.

                                                                                                1. re: janetofreno

                                                                                                  No, sometimes they don't win anything. And I don't think Antonia did. I wish they'd fix that. VERY unfair that sometimes people win a great prize, sometimes you just win.

                                                                                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                    Probably b/c there was no obvious sponsor for the EC challenge.

                                                                                                    Maybe Colavita turned them down?

                                                                                                    Padma: "The winner of this EC challenge gets a custom made 5 gallon drum of Colavita extra virgin olive oil!"

                                                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                      Sad but probably true! That's probably also the reason why, as someone else mentioned, they didn't say "Now it's time to get into our (insert name of vehicle) and go to Rao's."

                                                                                            2. re: Indy 67

                                                                                              I noticed that too..It seems like the contestants this season are sore losers. I'm pretty sure the past season's winners would get a moment of congratulations from those facing impending doom and then the winner would say, 'thanks. i'm sorry, but they want to see ***, ***, and ***.' Maybe it was just the editing? But the current editing makes these guys look like rude, petulant children.

                                                                                              1. re: soypower

                                                                                                Especially the male contestants. They seem to resent anyone winning who isn't part of their "boys club." You'll notice that they never give the women any credit, never mention them when they talk about who they think their competition is, etc., always bad-mouth their wins. There's a lot of sexism in Top Chef, and a lot of it spills over into viewers, who tend to take on faith that the male chefs are being legitimately dismissive of the female chefs.

                                                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                  Actually, it appeared that Tre left with much more class than did Jen. I could be wrong though.

                                                                                                  1. re: John E.

                                                                                                    It's not the attitude of the losers, it's the attitude of the other contestants to the winner that annoys me.

                                                                                                2. re: soypower

                                                                                                  Eh... I think the guys were just honestly surprised that Antonia won. We did see them convincing themselves that the judges called in the bottom four first again. And remember that they didn't taste most of the winning dishes - all they knew was that Antonia had made something quite simple and easy.

                                                                                                  I see no reason to think they were trying to be rude - seemed like they just lost themselves in surprise for a few seconds. Not exactly the height of politeness, but probably no harm intended either. They congratulated her once they got their composure back.

                                                                                                  I certainly don't see any basis to start throwing around claims of misogyny due to a few seconds of stunned silence (not that you did, soy).

                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                    Their congratulations were very subdued. And I think part of the reason they thought that group might be the bottom is that they don't think the three women chefs are as good as they are, despite the fact that they regularly beat them. It's not that few seconds, it's that those few seconds are part of a pattern of the way they talk/act about the women. IMHO :-)

                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                      That's plausible. Several of the chefs seem pretty convinced that they're the best in the room. To some extent that seems to come with the territory for chefs, at least in a competition - if they weren't a bit cocky, they probably wouldn't be there.

                                                                                                      I'm still unconvinced that there's much of a sexist vibe in this case, though of course there is quite a history of sexism in professional kitchens in general. The guys talked plenty of smack on male chefs they found undeserving (Marcel, Steven, even Fabio at times though that was more of a general attitude and less outright smack talk).

                                                                                                      In Carla's case in particular, I think there's a bit of an unspoken attitude that a caterer couldn't be as good as/better than restaurant chefs. She's won a couple this season, so that attitude has had a chance to bubble to the surface. In her case, I suspect being female is incidental.

                                                                                                      In Antonia's case this episode, I think it was the sheer simplicity of the winning dish that surprised the others. If one of the fellas had won with the same dish, I bet eyebrows would be raised just the same. But obviously, we'll never know for certain.

                                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                        People who dismiss Carla as "just a caterer" are simply ignorant. Look at her resume. Beyond that, she made it to the finals of her season, and she's done very well this season (much better than Mike I, for example, although you'd never know it from the way he talks). The fact that they persist in looking down on her just shows how ingrained their prejudices are. Just what does she have to do to earn some respect from them?

                                                                                                        In fact, I just looked up Mike I's record: he came in 7th in his season and he's never (in two seasons) won an elimination challenge. He's only even been in the top group three times over two seasons, as opposed to Carla who has won five elimination challenges and been in the top group five more times! And yet, he still thinks he's one of the best chefs -- based, apparently, on nothing more than his own ego since it certainly isn't based on his performance on Top Chef!

                                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                          I love Carla to death, but I sure wish she was cooking somewhere I could eat! When in DC I was sure I'd go to her resto, until I realized she wasn't at one.Any scoop about her career choices?

                                                                                                          from an old interview!

                                                                                                          Arlington, Va.: When you entered, did you have specific plans for what you'd do with the money if you won? Do you want to own a restaurant? You know we'd all want to eat there, but maybe we just need to start having catered events, because your cooking looks wonderful, and you, madam, are a delight.

                                                                                                          Carla Hall: thank you! My plans are not to open a restaurant but what I would like to do is open a kitchen somewhere in D.C. proper and have a chef's table where people can come and taste my food without having to have a catered event.

                                                                                                          I found this! At least I can buy her cookies!
                                                                                                          http://www.alchemybycarlahall.com/

                                                                                                          1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                                                            Just a guess, but I think Carla, like a lot of women, is drawn to catering because the hours are flexible and it's possible to have a better work/life balance.

                                                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                              <but I think Carla, like a lot of women, is drawn to catering because the hours are flexible and it's possible to have a better work/life balance.>

                                                                                                              Having been a full-service caterer, I can tell you that is not the case. Caterers don't have weekends or holidays with their families, unless they are not working. The chefs who have the best work/life balance are those who work in Corporate R&D. They work 5 days a week, pretty much 9 to 5. Caterers are always on the job, or hustling more gigs.

                                                                                                              1. re: ChefJune

                                                                                                                omg +1! corporate chefs also do quite well for themselves. caterers wind up with those fantastic 4 day 16-20 hour/day "weekends," which *suck.*

                                                                                                                1. re: ChefJune

                                                                                                                  Restaurant chefs work nights, weekends and holidays as well. But yeah, I've known people who've worked the corporate gigs and love the hours.

                                                                                                            2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                              Lets not overstate things though - they're not calling names and spitting on the floor whenever Carla enters the room. It's just a vibe.

                                                                                                              I'm speculating now, but i suspect it's not just the catering thing, though that's a part of it. It's also her comfort food style of cooking. Now, I like her style and think she's made some great dishes for Top Chef. But the reality of a cooking competition on TV is you look less bad losing to Michael Voltaggio or Richard Blais cooking something enormously complicated with techniques you've never heard of than losing to Carla cooking sweet potato and peanut butter soup. The viewers at home can't taste the food, so it's problematic for the other contestants to admit she's a front runner.

                                                                                                              "much better than Mike I, for example, although you'd never know it from the way he talks"
                                                                                                              ___
                                                                                                              From the way Mike I talks, you would think he's won every single challenge in both seasons. I don't think his biggest fans and best friends would deny that the man's cocky. Aside from a snide word or two, I don't think Carla has gotten especially harsh treatment from him.

                                                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                Mike is full of himself but that doesn't mean he's sexist. He and Jen are very close and respect each other highly. Just because Carla isn't highly respected on the show doesn't mean it's sexist. When a woman is an excellent chef, as Jen and Stephanie are, they were seen as serious competition. Everyone was shocked when Jen left so early. They wouldn't have been if Carla had. The other contestants don't mention Tre or Dale or Mike (other than himself) or Angelo as possible competition either. No one is thinking Carla isn't a good cook/chef, just that she might not be as competitive as the others. This is a select group and just making it in there is impressive. I think she lost me in her season when she sent out bad food but said she did it with a lot of love. Okay.

                                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                  That still doesn't answer the question of why they continue to have no respect for Carla even when she's beating their asses. She's proven that she *is* an excellent chef, but just because she *no longer* works in a restaurant they look down on her.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                    I don't know if I'd say Carla is beating their asses. She's had some wins and she's had some serious disasters. I said before I think she's like the little girl who had a little curl. I don't put Carla in the same level as I would the top chefs on that show. Sure, she's a great cook when she's on. Is she the same as Richard Blais? I don't think so, personally. Just because they don't consider her a contender doesn't mean they look down on her.

                                                                                                                    OTOH, I don't understand where Mike gets his ego, but then quite a few of them seem to have huge egos. I don't think the other chefs see Mike as a serious competitor either and he won the Prius. I really don't think this comes down to sexism--Marcel won a few challenges and many looked down on him, too. I think Jen was seen by many as a force to be reckoned with, though she did crash and burn. When you come down to it, all of them have done well at some time on the show which is why they were chosen. That doesn't mean that they're all worthy of being considered the best.

                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                      Contestant Progress:

                                                                                                                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Chef...

                                                                                                                      Angelo, Carla, Dale and Richard all have two EC wins.
                                                                                                                      Richard has three QF wins, Dale has two QF wins (granted, those include team wins for QF)

                                                                                                                      Mike has ONE QF win and only ONE "High" group notation. Legend in his own mind?

                                                                                                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                                        Completely in his own mind. He didn't even do that great in his own season.

                                                                                                                      2. re: chowser

                                                                                                                        The question is: why, when she has performed at the same level as Richard Blais, do you not think she's at the same level? There's no objective evidence (i.e. head-to-head wins and losses) to support that opinion. And if you've never eaten her food, you have no personal experience on which to base that opinion. All you really have is the biased opinions of the other contestants (biased if not because she's a woman, in the very least by the fact they don't consider a caterer to be a "real chef" and that they don't respect her style of cooking). The judges, including Eric Ripert, don't seem to find her to be at a lower level than the other chefs either technically or conceptually.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                          I don't think it's about performance on the show, honestly. It's why they were shocked when Jen was sent home. It's not that Jen is a worst chef than Carla that she was sent home earlier. As I said, my problem w/ Carla (and I do like her, I think she's a riot) is that she seems to underperform often. Her quinoa undonetay was funny but terrible. Her sending out a bowl of bad food last time and saying she sent it out w/ love was, instead of fixing the mistake as Tom pointed out, was poor. Richard Blais never did that. None of us have any idea how good the food they produce is, how nice they are, how good they are unless we've been to all their restaurants. You're assuming all the chefs are biased against her and that's how they got their opinions--maybe there's another reason you're not seeing because it's on the cutting room floor. But, I'm not understanding posters who are telling others that unless they've met the person, tasted their food, etc. that they have no right to an opinion. We're all in that boat.

                                                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                            I'll agree that quickfires are not Carla's strong suit. I think it takes a certain kind of personality to do well under those conditions. I wouldn't use quickfire performance (good or bad) to judge a chef's overall talent. Lots of chefs have been reemed by the judges for not "fixing" a problem (personally, I find that to be somewhat unfair -- often the problem cannot be fixed within the confines of the challenge and not serving it is not an option), and Richard Blais is not some kind of culinary god who never produces a faulty dish. As for cooking with love -- while it may not be an excuse for a bad dish (a dish that was not bad enough to send her home) it's a good way of defending her cooking philosophy, which is certainly part of what goes on at judges' table.

                                                                                                                            Of course we all have rights to opinions, but not all opinions are equally valid: it depends on whether the opinions are based on facts or misperceptions. I was just suggesting that since your judgment of Carla's cooking skills is not based on any first-hand experience you re-examine whether your opinion is in fact based on a correct assessment of the factual evidence that you do have.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                              I don't think Richard Blais is a culinary god but think he's better than Carla but his loss to Stephanie was well deserved. Why do you assume that the other contestants only dislike Carla because of biases against her or because of sexism? Could it be that they've seen her up close and personal? She's won but as you said below, the judges are fickle and seem to change their criteria on what a winning dish is. In her wins, she's managed to fit in what the judges expect. I remember a few times when she outright failed.

                                                                                                                              "I was just suggesting that since your judgment of Carla's cooking skills is not based on any first-hand experience you re-examine whether your opinion is in fact based on a correct assessment of the factual evidence that you do have."

                                                                                                                              Correct assessment of the factual evidence the way you see it, you mean. If we don't see it your way, we have the incorrect assessment.

                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                Maybe the chefs are still steaming over her "Yippie, Look at me, look at me, I won, I won" episode.

                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                  That's not what I said and that's not what I meant. Nor did I say that Carla's fellow contestants "only dislike her" on the basis of sexism. In fact, I listed two other reasons they could be biased against her!

                                                                                                                                  "She's won but as you said below, the judges are fickle and seem to change their criteria on what a winning dish is."
                                                                                                                                  ***********
                                                                                                                                  True, but your evaluation of Carla seems to suggest that you think that only applies to her (and Antonia, see a pattern?): it's a fluke or a whim when they win, but it's an indication of their greater skill when the men win. Why do you think that? Are you even willing to consider it possible that your opinion could have been influenced by the comments of the other (male) chefs, who make similar comments about how undeserving the female chefs are and very rarely do when a male chef wins.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                    I think Jen and Stephanie rocked and are highly skilled. I would love to have seen Jen go further here and was really happy when Stephanie won her season, and as I said, it was well deserved over Richard. I have no desire to eat at Marcel's restaurants or Mike's. I think you're looking too hard to apply sexism where it doesn't exist. You're also assuming I'm letting the other male chefs dictate my feelings about Carla--I'm basing it on the fact that she sent out a horrible dish w/ love and let it go thinking that would be enough, that she made a terrible sous vide steak for her finale, that she made quinoa undonetay and that there have been other times I've seen on the show where she underperformed. I do believe there is sexism in the pro kitchen but think if you look for it and apply it in situations where it isn't the case, you undermine when it really happens. And, I never said anything about Antonia not deserving the win here, so no, I'm not letting what the contestants say, sexist or not, determine my feelings. I'm very happy for Antonia for winning and thought her mussels looked great. She embraced the challenge, I thought. You're the one who said the judges change the criteria for wins which is what gave her the win this time.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                      I love that you're taking this position and I tend to agree. I also think people respect the more aggressive female chefs -- like Jen and Stephanie -- more because they act more "masculine." It's true in a lot of fields, including (I think) cooking.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                        What did you find masculine about Jen and Stephanie?

                                                                                                                                    2. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                      <<she's managed to fit in what the judges expect>>

                                                                                                                                      That describes one strategy for a winner. In the Olympics, for example, t's not always the best athlete who wins an individual competition, it's the one who performs the best that day.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                    You're entitled to your opinion, of course. But given her track record in challenges, how do you figure that she "seems to underperform often?" At least, relative to other chefs and how far she's gotten in her competitions so far? Also, being a great chef is a very different thing from being a great competitor. Jen is a great example of that.

                                                                                                                              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                I'm a little late to the party, but where is there an indication that the other chefs have no respect for Carla?

                                                                                                                                I don'y think the response to Antonia can be automatically categorized as a sexist response.

                                                                                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                  Think back to the Restaurant Wars episode. Who was chosen last? Carla. In fact, I don't even think Marcel could bring himself to utter her name.

                                                                                                                                  Do you recall chosing teams at sports? Who was chosen last? There's one indication.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                    i understand but i think even we here have her wrong and i do think it might be a bit of sexism - i AM prepared for the backlash to this - just trying to think it through. she does do some comfort/simple dishes and so did stephanie and kevin who people loved. she USUALLY does them well. she also often shows great creativity. i still think her plating was gorgeous and looked like good food, her bagels and lox dish was creative and apparently divine...
                                                                                                                                    when she bombs she totally bombs. but so does richard. and sometimes dale. and goodness gracious that angelo vomit bag mess. but we write theirs off as creative go big and then sometimes fail big creations, and hers as lack of skill. i think it's because she talks so much (or the editors choose to show so much of her talking). easy to look flaky and unskilled when you open your mouth - which is usually a more female thing - than when you coldly stand by.

                                                                                                                                    fyi, i love richard and dale. just analyzing. not judging. that said, i love carla too. they've been my 3 faves since before the season started. the ones whose food i'd most want to eat.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: AMFM

                                                                                                                                      -but we write theirs off as creative go big and then sometimes fail big creations-

                                                                                                                                      i totally agree with that assessment. i think you definitely get judged a little more closely when you are doing homey dishes like carla does. if nothing else, she makes alot of dishes that we all grew up with and have a idea what our ideal version of that dish is like. when that happens, you REALLY have to nail it to stand out. dale and richard have the benefit of making alot of things that people dont experience very often.

                                                                                                                                      personally, i would love the opportunity to eat anything any of the three of them cooked.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                      Carla being chosen last does not necessarily indicate a lack of respect for her. It might be a lack of respect for her cooking however. She didn't do so well on her previous restaurant wars episode.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                        i do and don't agree-- i'm more inclined to think that chefs can respect other chefs who don't cook anything like their own style, but they may not be all gung-ho to pick them for their own "team"-- they are trying to put together a cohesive stylistic "theme" for their restaurant after all, and all the elements should click. dale and blais have a strong stylistic affinity, carla's style is different. the fact that she wasn't immediately chosen may have more to do with her style of cooking not immediately "clicking" with dale's vision of a cohesive menu. . .and marcel obviously doesn't like the way carla does foams, so he didn't immediately pick her, either ;-P

                                                                                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                          I just don't buy the angle that Carla doesn't get any respect from the other contestants.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                            that's the part i agree w you on! :) i think she is respected for having her own style.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                          The fact is that someone will be picked last. And if we really look hard enough we can always find an 'isim' (sex, race, etc.) or 'the real reason' why that was so. And as much as I hate the expression sometime it just is nothing more than 'it is what it is.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                            "Her" is just a shorthand way of saying "her cooking." Marcel is the only contestant this season whose personality was mentioned as a legitimate issue when deciding who to include on a team. Otherwise, the decisions have been all about who can deliver the cooking skill for the win. Carla repeatedly earns less respect than her wins would suggest using objective standards.

                                                                                                                                            The one dimension we haven't talked about with Carla is her age. I think there's more than a hint of Young Turk contempt for older contests, most of whom were also women:
                                                                                                                                            Season two: Betty (then age 44)
                                                                                                                                            Season five: Carla (now age 47)
                                                                                                                                            Season six: Robin (then age 43)

                                                                                                                                            (I know there's another older female -- a teacher at the French Culinary Institute -- whose age was an issue. This became quite an open issue to Dale? Hung? during a team challenge. I can't remember the contestant's name and my quick research didn't produce results.)

                                                                                                                                            The only one who seems to have escaped the ageism contempt is Ariene (Season 5) who appears to have adopted/encouraged a Cougar persona to be accepted by the younger chefs. I seriously doubt that a married woman who is chef/owner of a restaurant is a Cougar in real life.

                                                                                                                                            Lots of posters mention one particular quote ("Cooked with Love") as a reason to dismiss Carla's seriousness or professionalism. I thought it was a pretty goofy 60s comment, but I have a slightly more charitable interpretation. I think she realized her food was inedible and she tried to escape elimination by being cute and calculating.

                                                                                                                                            Carla is a classically trained chef. She knows that love doesn't replace competence. I think she was tying to up her likeability factor with the judges so she could live another day. Nothing more. No grand declaration of philosophy. That strategy was shot down the first time she said it at Judges' Table and has lingered as the quote everyone uses to dismiss Carla's legitimate cooking skills.

                                                                                                                                            If you look at Carla's bio, she's had a much wider array of life experiences than most of the competitors. I'm assuming she has learned and grown from each of those experience and at some point, she learned that cuteness and sweetness works in many situations. I think many of the younger contestants mistake Carla's cuteness for weakness.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                              you also have to remember that robin just legitimately did poorly most of the time though if thats your theory

                                                                                                                                              1. re: mattstolz

                                                                                                                                                No argument; she often did poorly. Still, there was an unnecessarily cruel tone to the contestants treatment of Robin -- nonsense like how much cooking space would be alloted to Robin.

                                                                                                                                                If a chef isn't a strong competitor, he/she should be a treasured commodity! After all, it's far more likely for a weak competitor to be eliminated than a strong competitor. The strong chefs should concentrate on their own cooking -- on their own success -- and should ignore the weak chefs. Instead, season after season, I've observered a lot of chefs putting a lot of energy into putting down the weak players, often with results that backfire.

                                                                                                                                                This strategy even works on team challenges. If you're on the losing team and your group includes a weak chef, it's likely that's the individual who will be told to PYKAG. However, when chefs squander a lot of their attention and energy looking for ways to communicate their contempt for a weaker team member instead of cooking, those better chefs often turn out to be the ones packing those knives.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                                I don't know why you responded to me with all the info about Carla but I didn't see anything that indicates she is being disrespected or doesn't get respect by the other contestants. On her last restaurant wars experience she legitimately could have been sent home.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                                  In your 11:27 p.m. post (February 5) you wrote: "Carla being chosen last does not necessarily indicate a lack of respect for her. It might be a lack of respect for her cooking however. She didn't do so well on her previous restaurant wars episode."

                                                                                                                                                  My 7:08 a.m. (February 6) post is a direct response to what you wrote. I disagreed with your seeing a distinction between Carla and her cooking and with your opinion that Carla is not disrespected. The detail in my post was intended to support my point of view.

                                                                                                                                                  Incidentally, I don't think you're correct when you write "On her last restaurant wars experience, she legitimately could have been sent home." Are you referring to this season? If so, she was a member of Team Bodega, the winning team. She didn't do well in the Quickfire Challenge that same episode but that's not grounds for PYKAG.

                                                                                                                                                  Even if she had been close to being sent home I don't understand your point. If you look at the convenient Wiki chart that tracks Wins, Outs, Highs, and Lows there's not a contestant who hasn't been in the low group at least once, several as many as three times. Low status once, twice, or even three times doesn't necessarily track with disrespect. I see something distinctive and different in the way her peers talk about Carla, and I've cited incidents to back up my conclusion.

                                                                                                                                                  I wonder if you and I are focusing on two different aspects of the Top Chef competition: the judges' opinion and her peer's opinion. Obviously, from her number of Elimination Challenge wins, the judges respect Carla's cooking. When Carla's peers talk about her in confessional remarks, they often mention her comment about "cooking with love." If her peers respected Carla, they wouldn't be bringing up a remark that, although ditzy, was long ago overtaken by positive events (e.g. going to the Finals in her season and two wins in this season.)

                                                                                                                                                  I think we'll simply have to agree to disagree.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                                    I think the comment about RW was in reference to her first time through, but I don't recall how it came out.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                                      I was of course referring to her restaurant wars when she could have been sent home for two bad desserts. I was not referring to this season since the discussion was about choosing teams for restaurant wars, the competition had not yet been conducted.

                                                                                                                                                      When I mentioned they may have disrespected her food my point was they had a legitimate reason for a lack of respect and that sexism (or age) did not necessarily have anything to do with her being chosen last.

                                                                                                                                                      I do not recall any more contempt for Carla in the confessionals any more than for any other chef's food. The chefs had q problem with Marcel's attitude. I don't see what you are seeing in relation to Carla. I don't recall any contempt f any of her wins. The closest thing to contempt for a win that I rcall is for the mussels' ease of preparation.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                                        "When I mentioned they may have disrespected her food my point was they had a legitimate reason for a lack of respect and that sexism (or age) did not necessarily have anything to do with her being chosen last."

                                                                                                                                                        Even if you're talking about Season Five, your point doesn't make sense. Being in the low group and, therefore, being close to elimination applies to everyone. It doesn't legitimate disrespect unless you believe everyone should disrepect everyone else.

                                                                                                                                                        Most viewers would agree that Michael Voltaggio was one of the strongest chefs ever to compete on Top Chef, but even he earned a low rating in an Elimination Challenge. Using your logic, that near-PYKAG is legitimate grounds to disrespect Michael V. Sorry not buying it.

                                                                                                                                                        Just FYI... Of the three Season Five finalists, Hosea had four low ratings and Stephan and Carla, each had three low ratings.

                                                                                                                                                        You're not seeing what I'm seeing and vice versa. We'll agree to disagree.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                                          You are picking my posts apart and splitting hairs. Bottom line: I don't believe Carla is getting disrespect because she is a woman, is older or is a minority. If her getting chosen last in restaurant wars constitutes disrespect, it could have been because she had a poor showing in her last restaurant wars effort. That is essentially my point that I have been making all along. I really don't care that much about it, so if you wish to pick apart this post too, have at it.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                    Honestly, I've always thought the way JT is set up makes it hard to be a honestly graceful loser. at the same time that you are finding out who won, you are confirming the fear that you very well could be the person going home in just a few minutes. not exactly a time you wanna be celebrating for someone else!

                                                                                                                                  3. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                    I don't think they were trying to be rude, but they don't seem to know how to be polite. From the way it was presented it looked like they were so wrapped up in their own fates that they couldn't even fake a little celebratory 'good for you'. I was raised to be happy (or at least fake it) for other people when something good happens to them.

                                                                                                                                    But I'm fine believing it was just the editing.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: soypower

                                                                                                                                      They're held in that room for hours, and then in front of the judges for a long time being berated, etc. I'm guessing a big part of that is exhaustion and having too much to drink and being sick of being in the same room w/ each other for8-10 hours.

                                                                                                                                2. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                  I wonder if it was a delay because they were surprised to find they were in the bottom? They had no idea when the first group was called out whether they were top or bottom three and which chef said he was sure the first group was bottom because it was a soup, salad, basic stuff.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                    also i think fabio had so set himself up for the win that it got to everybody subconsciously-- "oh what, they were the winners? but wait, that would mean. . . we're the losers!" it can take a few seconds for the mental double-take, accounting for the real-time lag :)

                                                                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                      That's the feeling I got, too. It wasn't that they weren't happy for Antonia but were shocked to learn they weren't the top. I said the same when Marcel made his comment to Carla about not being too excited--it's a shock to learn you're in the bottom when you think, or are assuming you're in the top.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                    I thought the lag reflected everyone trying to come to grips with what had just happened. They were realizing who was in the bottom and who was in the top...and then Richard. That was what confused me about that part of the show. I didn't think Richard was in the bottom. I couldn't figure out what it meant to be called, and I don't think they could either. And why didn't Richard get called at all? Because he had immunity? He doesn't get to hear how his dish was reieved?

                                                                                                                                    What soupkitten and chowser said....

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                                                                                      Only the top and the bottom chefs get called. Richard was neither on the top or the bottom, and therefore he did not get called.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                                                                                        Richard and Angelo were apparently in the middle of the pack for the EC.

                                                                                                                                        I thought the lag time in congratulating Antonia was slow, too, but I think (hope) they weren't trying to be jerks. Just caught off guard and reeling from the realization that THEY weren't the winners and might actually be the losers. Even Richard, normally a good sport, seemed slow to congratulate.

                                                                                                                                        ~TDQ

                                                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                          It's b/c everyone felt like Antonia's dish wasn't up to snuff for an EC win.

                                                                                                                                          Like toasting bread to win a QF challenge.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                        after the bottom 3 trundled into JT, someone in the middle (Angelo maybe?) congratulated Antonia and she replied with *thank you* with a tone that was all, "that's what I'm talking about, knowwhatimean..." I don't remember her explicitly mentioning the lack of courtesy, but it was clearly implied in her response to the later congratulations.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: tastyjon

                                                                                                                                      I imagine that she won for the mussels because they tasted the best of all of the dishes that they tried. Fabio cooked a much more complicated dish, but if they liked the taste of hers the best, then his complexity doesn't really matter.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: JasmineG

                                                                                                                                        You don't think complexity and difficulty and originality should count for something in a competition setting though? I mean, I can make a cobb salad that tastes absolutely fantastic... but I wouldn't expect to win a challenge on Top Chef with that dish.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                          Read Bordain's blog. He offers a very clear explanation about why simple won over complex.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                                                            Read my post below. I elaborated. At any rate, complexity and difficulty should at least be a factor, though perhaps a minor one in comparison to taste.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: tastyjon

                                                                                                                                        Here's my theory. All the talk from the dining table about family and memories and all? They were looking for a "Ratatouille" moment -- remember when the critic ate his first bite, after the entire kitchen staff and he himself had sneered at the idea of ratatouille (which everyone makes)? He was transported back to his childhood...and when Tom said "this reminds me of fishing with Nonno," well, Antonia nailed it.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: momjamin

                                                                                                                                          I like that theory, momjamin! :-)

                                                                                                                                            1. re: momjamin

                                                                                                                                              That's exactly what I was going to point out.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: momjamin

                                                                                                                                                bingo. Tom reacted exactly like that critic in the ratatouille movie. This reaction is more valuable than loads of complex techniques.

                                                                                                                                                I think antonia is the dark horse and may win the entire competition. If I had to pick one of the remaining chefs to cook my meals for a month, I'd choose antonia in an instant.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: TheFoodEater

                                                                                                                                                  Agree with TheFoodEater. Razzle dazzle may look nice on a plate and show mad skillz but is it appealing to eat? I think sometimes the chefs (Marcel in particular) miss that point. The thing that was amazing about Michael V's cooking was he had amazing technique and the judges loved eating his food.
                                                                                                                                                  The Hammer can cook for me any time and it won't surprise me if she wins this competition.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: tofuburrito

                                                                                                                                                    Razzle dazzle may look nice on a plate and show mad skillz but is it appealing to eat?
                                                                                                                                                    ~~~~~~~~~
                                                                                                                                                    which is precisely why i thought the QF in this episode was so silly.