Gail Simmons blogs 'Top Chef: All-Stars': Episode 4
Before we get to this week’s episode, I have some parting thoughts about recent eliminees Stephen and Dale. Stephen was in over his head and I think he knew it. He made no excuses for it. As for Dale, he’s a really great cook, but he does get over-excited and tends to put too much on the plate. When he’s focused he’s really great at keeping things simple. Interestingly enough, in the season 3 finale, I remember that was his problem when he lost to Hung. Some dishes were so focused and beautiful, but for others, he tried to do too many things. But he took responsibility last week as well. He knew it wasn’t his best work. It’s hard to emulate another chef’s idea or take inspiration. These chefs are so established and so known for specific types of food. You have to be careful.
Whenever I’m out for an episode, I call Tom the next day and ask what happened. Nothing formal. But if there’s a big dramatic point that changed the game, the producers will call me the day after and bring me up to speed. Actually, we always have a meeting at the beginning of the day to make sure we understand the challenge and the rules, and they’ll always give us back up if needed if we weren’t there for the last challenge.
I watched the Quickfire as a viewer like you, and to me, a lot of the stuffing seemed really inventive, especially knowing they had no tools to work with. I’m Canadian and I didn’t grow up with Thanksgiving, and I’m Jewish so I didn’t really grow up with Christmas, so I don’t have a family recipe I’m partial to. But I’ve definitely had some bad and good stuffing over the years. I thought Tre’s did look great, like something I’d want to eat. It was savory and had spice, so I was glad he took that one.
For the others, I thought the exact same thing guest judge Tony did when we saw Casey’s plate. That doesn’t look like stuffing at all! It doesn’t even look like a decent structure for stuffing. But overall, I was impressed that so many people were able to finish, let alone make something edible.
I loved that there was this great sense of competition and spirit for the Elimination challenge. The idea of making it into an actual sport energized them. It brought the competition to another level.
What was different this time around was that the chefs never usually get our immediate reaction. They never have the chance to cheer or grieve because they don’t know the outcome until they’re at judges table. They were swept away with the sport, which was exactly the game.
The game had strategy, and in the end, I think that maybe the yellow team over-thought it a little. Spike was right in what he said at the end; they had a strategy but didn’t stick with it. But I guarantee if they had followed through with it, there would’ve been a different outcome. If they had put up Jamie’s dish first, hers probably would’ve lost because from the sound of it, it was undercooked. And then if their team lost overall, then Jamie would’ve been one of the people on the bottom because it sounds like hers would’ve been the worst dish. But rules are rules. We knew when we created the game that if it didn’t go into deuce, there would be one person from each team who wouldn’t have to serve, and that’s where the strategy came in. So Spike’s team may have thought they blew their strategy, and I think they did for their team as a whole, but Jamie sure had a great shot. She knew her dish was bad and was able to save herself from elimination. It worked for her and failed for everyone else.
Tre’s Coho salmon was pretty awful too, but part of the game was that he had immunity. People may think that’s unfair, but that’s how you play the game. There are twists, there are immunities, there are strategies. I don’t know if he threw it purposefully or just called it in. It didn’t matter. He probably had the worst dish of the bottom four. But with his immunity, it became Spike against Casey and Tiffany D. Both Casey and Tiffany D.’s dishes were pretty good but just not as good as the dishes they were served against. But they certainly didn’t have the worst dishes. With Spike’s, we actually found flaws and had to send him home. We had no choice.
But I wondered, where was the Spike we all knew in season 4 who was the provocative one who was driving everyone crazy? That’s why he went far his season, because he could really play the game. I don’t know if he got soft or wasn’t paying attention, but there are of course a lot of things happening in that moment when you’re plating your food all of a sudden. He let Jamie push him around by not serving her dish so he took the fall for her. He let Angelo push him around by getting his hands in his food. I was watching with my husband and he screamed out loud when he saw that happen. He said, “I would smack him! Get Angelo out of there! I would seriously kill him if he did that!” I know Angelo wanted to win for the team but if anyone did that to Angelo, Angelo would kill them! He put a component into Spike’s dish that wasn’t there and he didn’t get consensus to do it. I don’t know how Spike let him get away with that.
Spike said it himself, it wasn’t the dish he intended to serve. But you’re the only person who can control that so you have to speak up or risk taking the fall. Spike is a fantastic chef and a restaurateur. He knows exactly what he did wrong, and it had more to do with what happened after he made his dish than while he was making it. The strategy of the team, the chefs looking out for themselves, and Angelo sticking his fingers in his food — for those things, he has no one to blame but himself. And that’s not to mention his over-poached shrimp. It was also a big flaw. Spike’s wasn’t a great dish, but it wasn’t the worst dish because Jamie’s was probably the worst. Tre’s was definitely worst. But again, these are the constraints of the game.
Marcel commented that Angelo always plates on a spoon, but we could also say all Fabio makes is gnocchi. It could be true, and I think there are certain things that make us think these guys can be one-trick ponies. But at the end of the day, if they do it well and it’s good and it conforms to the challenge, as long as I’m eating good food, there’s no rule that says you can only use a spoon once. If he makes a great spoon of food, I don’t really care how it gets to my mouth. His dish tasted good and he really made something out of nothing. He chose not to serve his mackerel and he was able to think on his feet and use the kindness of others, but I also think people are too kind to him.
I know there are going to be disputes about Jamie’s cut versus Carla’s cut. What’s the fuss? It’s a personal preference and we can’t fault them for being in pain, bleeding, and wanting to take care of themselves medically. That being said, Carla’s wasn’t a deep cut; it was a superficial cut. She bandaged it up and chose to go on. That’s her choice. I’ve sliced my nail bed off in cooking, too, and it’s extraordinarily painful, but there’s nothing you can do about it. She sliced it laterally, not vertically, so there were no stitches to get. It was just discomfort. If she had chosen to go to the doctor, what are we going to do? We can’t penalize her for taking care of herself. If she had, she wouldn’t have been eliminated that night, but she wouldn’t have won either! In Jamie’s case, she had a deep cut in her hand that wouldn’t have closed or healed properly. We have to trust the chefs and what they choose to do is fine with us.
But speaking of last night’s winner, I think the secret about Carla is that people underestimate her, and that works to her advantage a lot of the time. We saw that in the season she was in. If you had asked anyone during the first few episodes, including me, if she would make it to the finals, I would’ve never said yes. But she made it! And here, too, not only did she win but she won over a lot of chefs who made much fancier, refined food. They underestimate Carla. Her food might not be the most precise or have the fanciest technique, but at the end of the day, is it good? Yes! That soup was so delicious. It had so much texture and so much body. It was rich and filled with spice, nuts, seasoning, and protein. It was clean and crunchy and unusual. It was a flavor I never had before. It really excited and woke us all up, which is exactly what we’re looking for from all our chefs. So good for her!
What did you guys think of last night’s episode? How did you feel about Carla’s win and Spike’s loss?
*As told to Archana Ram
Photo: Kelsey McNeal/Bravo