The chefs cook in honor of New Orleans and Paula Deen, who's tougher than she looks

By Mallika Rao
Updated February 24, 2011 at 07:00 AM EST
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Credit: David Giesbrecht/Bravo
S8 E11
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  • TV Show
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  • Bravo

At the dawn of last night’s episode, the chefs were abuzz, talking about how Angelo should have stayed and Tiffany should have gone. Tiffany shook her head in amazement along with the rest of them. “I was completely surprised!” she boomed to us in her version of an inside voice. Dale told us he was sad, but people have to go, and at least it wasn’t him. He sounded like he was very old and talking about death, not reality-show elimination. Tiffany applied makeup to her face to help her perform better. She didn’t look any different afterward, at least not so you could tell from my couch, but everyone laughed and clapped.

The sixsome filed into Quickfire Island to greet Padmabot and their new guest judge: Paula Deen. Paula is famous for being Southern and for loving butter. To a disturbing degree. If there’s ever one of those I’m Afraid of Pickles! Maury episodes about someone who’s afraid of butter, the producers should definitely call Paula in to be the torment monster. They probably wouldn’t even need to tell her what she was there for, just let her walk out on stage to talk normally until the butterphobe runs desperately into the studio audience and the segment can be declared a success. That’s how much Paula instinctively talks about butter! Which makes her more of a novelty item than a chef, but definitely less of a novelty item than any of the Muppets who judged last week’s Quickfire.

Carla and Tiffany, the two Southern-lady chefs, seemed genuinely excited to see Paula. Carla said something about Paula’s “beautiful” hair. Upon inspection, Paula’s hair appeared to be cut in the shape of a shih tzu and dyed a brassy bottle gray. A more honest word Carla could have used is “striking.” I know, I know: not Top Scallops and also not Top Descriptor. (But what a great public radio show Top Descriptor would be!) Paula explained the Quickfire Challenge: The chefs had to use the deep-frying machines in front of them to fry up something audacious enough to impress Paula. As inspiration, Paula listed all the stuff she’s been crazy enough to fry, saving the craziest for last: “Balls of butter!” she proclaimed. She looked amazed by her own words, as if they’d come from beyond. “Let your imagination run wild,” she told the chefs.

Blais went dutifully to his vat of liquid nitrogen. Can we ever know what Blais would have done before the discovery of liquid nitrogen? Probably he would have discovered it. His idea to fry frozen dollops of mayonnaise was a classic example of “knowing your audience.” To Paula, mayonnaise is like liquid butter. As for the rest: Antonia fried up shrimp and avocados, Dale did oysters wrapped in beef, Carla went for fish and hush puppies, Tiffany picked chicken and pickles, and Mike remembered one of Blais’ ideas shared in confidence and decided to steal it. This is called “letting your imagination rape and pillage.”

NEXT: The Quickfire comes down to good vs. evilPaula did her rounds. When she ooohed over the presentation of Mike’s fried chicken oysters served on real half shells, Blais made an I’m not angry, I’m disappointed” face. It looked a lot like his “I’m nervous” face, and also his “I think I’m happy” face. Which are all just variations on the left side of his mouth tilting up. Then Paula got to Blais’ station and cracked a joke about his hair looking exactly like hers in the morning. We all know Blais’ hair is silly, Paula, but this was not the time. He’d just had his innocence stolen. Also, you seem to have a dog on your head. Blais countered with something about part duck fat, part liquid nitrogen, maybe in reference to his hair? I hope it was, and I hope he was serious. I hope he not only gels his hair with liquid nitrogen, but also brushes his teeth with it and feeds all his babies steaming bottles of it. Blais should have everything he wants!

In the end, Antonia missed a win because she plated improperly. It came down to Blais vs. Mike, good vs. evil, Batman vs. Joker. Paula — clearly a terrible arbiter in such standoffs — crowned Mike. Mike — clearly a terrible person in general — said lots of terrible things: “At the end of the day, less is more and simple is better.” And “Richard, it’s not your dish. It’s my dish, ’cuz I won the five Gs.” And “I want to punch myself in the face because I am definitely the worst.” Okay, he didn’t say that last one. BUT HE SHOULD HAVE.

Elimination Challenge!

Chef John Besh walked out to a single audible gasp from Carla. What’s the word for Carla? Gasps loudly…dances like a Fraggle…might screw her talented self over by being so goofy…oh, yes. “Goofy,” there’s the word. So Carla gasped goofily and out strolled this James Beard awardee who looks like a dirty-blond Jimmy Smits. He and Paula are part of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which is doing its part to help the fishermen and women of the Gulf recover from the BP oil spill. The Elimination Challenge was to cater a gala in the GNOF’s honor by cooking Gulf seafood Southern-style. The chefs were to choose both a type of sea protein and a sous chef from among the six returning All-Stars. Mike got to pick the protein/sous chef first. Because as the saying goes: Cheaters always prosper.

The pairings were fairly predictable. Mike chose Tiffani F. and made a point of giving Blais second choice. Not the same as five grand. Blais went through an elaborate thought process that, while totally spot-on (Angelo can under no circumstances be called “mentally fit”), was also just beating around whom he obviously wanted to choose. We know you think Fabio’s kind of cute, Blais. We do too! May you two be very happy together. Antonia chose Spike – also cute. Carla went with Tre, Dale with Angelo, and Tiffany with the white shrimp. The white shrimp happened to come with Marcel. So that was awkward, because Tiffany clearly just wanted to get the platter and make a run for it. But Marcel insisted, and so she took him too.

NEXT: Marcel the chef with shoes onDuring the planning Carla said she wanted to take Tre’s NAACP card away because he hadn’t heard of something called Chow Chow. Marcel tried to pull Tiffany into an unnecessary scheme, but she said no. Angelo whispered villainously to Dale that he was going to win because he’d gotten “underneath” Richard. It is still unclear what he meant by that. Eventually the important six went home and bitched about Mike, before running back into the kitchen to cook. Spike lit a pan of whiskey on fire, and was very good-looking while doing it. Mike let Tiffani F. do most of his cooking while he ran around swatting everyone as they cooked.

Marcel got really obsessed with shrimp heads, which was just sort of fascinating to watch. It was like he was on an infinite loop: shrimp heads, shrimp heads, must flavor with shrimp heads, so much flavor, why no shrimp heads, and then Tiffany snapped at him, and according to the editing, that was that. Suddenly it was GE Monogram o’clock and the kitchen was like a “war zone”! A fragrant one! With nitrogen on the floor! A good-smelling war zone on a Vegas stage!

The gala went off swimmingly. I mean, it didn’t exactly, but it should have, because all events should happen such that a pun can be pulled out. The judges clearly loved Antonia’s crab cakes, Blais’ pulled pork and snapper, and Mike’s grits-battered shrimp. They did not love Dale’s amberjack soup, which had hard potatoes in it; Tiffany’s too-sweet honey-glazed shrimp; or Carla’s meh grouper. Carla, it seemed, had a mental block. She was trying to redeem herself from the Quickfire, when Paula Poundbutter called her hush puppies “spit balls.” She seemed to piece her dish together entirely around that goal. This caused her not to cook “from the heart.” Also, at least three times, she said everyone expected her to knock out this challenge because Southern food’s her thing. But she was the only one voicing those expectations. Are they still external expectations then, if no one but you has them? Probably not? Stewing with expectations, Carla did not deliver, no, not at all. Paula became “a bitch” about Carla’s collard greens (her words), and everyone sort of just did that face like, oh, hmmm. I GUESS I’ll eat this free plate of food. Even though it’s not up to the expectations Carla says we have!

NEXT: Will Tiffany live to cook another day?In the judges’ boudoir, Richard, Antonia, and Mike heard the great news. In both Antonia’s and Mike’s case, the sous chefs were behind the winning touches: andouille in the crab cakes and grits as a batter, respectively. Paula and Mike chuckled intimately over potatoes. It called to mind the evil thing that had happened earlier. But then Blais won! He is going to Barbados and he’s taking Fabio with his family! That’s what you call redemption, Carla.

As the losing chefs trekked out to lose, the winners gathered to tell us more about how evil Mike is. He burps, farts, and flicks boogers at people, apparently. He is maybe not evil so much as mentally underdeveloped. Meanwhile, Padma brought up Tiffany picking Marcel as her sous chef, just to drag out that whole joke. “I picked the shrimp,” Tiffany said, winking along. Yes, and Marcel picked their heads. To love. Paula said something about sucking on shrimp heads that could become a great little Internet clip if any video editors have time to kill. The judges told Tiffany that Marcel overcooked her shrimp. Also, he messed up her glaze. Also, did you pick him, or WAS IT ACTUALLY JUST THE WHITE SHRIMP YOU WANTED? “It’s still my dish,” Tiffany said, causing the collective heart of Beaumont, Tex., to swell with pride. Carla explained to the judges how high their expectations for her had been. They remained silent. Paula told Carla “the dish didn’t make any sayense.”

With Dale, the judges had two questions. First, what was up with those undercooked potatoes? Dale said he got flustered and sent a batch of soup out prematurely. “If the dish wasn’t ready for service, you should have just had us wait,” Colicchio said, clearly forgetting how he’d rolled his eyes at Dale’s station while Dale had them wait. They mentioned a single crouton everyone at the gala had been talking about. Full of mustard? It sounded devilish and like a potentially great weapon. A poison crouton. Anyway, it killed Dale. He lost. Dale lost! Tiffany has officially waited out some of the most talented chefs in this game, and there are only four left beside her.

So, what do you think, All-Stars? Is Tiffany going to win this thing? Is Mike Isabella actually the Penguin from Batman in a wig? And is it just me, or was Dale’s exit speech the best thing he’s done in a season of home runs?

Episode Recaps

Top Chef

Tom, Padma, and Gail tell the cheftestants to pack their knives and go.
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