The chefs work (poorly) as a team to serve a dim sum lunch in Manhattan's Chinatown.

Credit: David Giesbrecht/Bravo
S8 E5
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Top Chef episodes are usually filled with warp-speed cooking and just the right amount of mayhem. But between Tom showing off in the kitchen and the angry dim sum-ers literally grabbing food off plates, last night’s installment was particularly dizzying. And why, oh why did Padma have to wear that striped top? Sensory overkill!

Perhaps fed up with how much praise other culinary super star guest judges get (see: David Chang), Tom rolled up his own sleeves for the Quickfire. His task was to cook a dish as fast as he could so the cheftestants could then prepare a dish of their choice in that same amount of time. The cheftestants ooh-ed and ahh-ed over Tommy boy’s organizational skills, and it’s true, the man is still a force in the kitchen — pots and Padma be damned! Thanks in part to Mike’s figurative fist pump (“like Jersey Shore back in the day, chef!”) Tom plated his sea bass in 8 minutes and 37 seconds. Richard said it takes that long for him to make a peanut butter sandwich, which I sincerely hope was a joke. Jamie, on the other hand, said she’s fast, which I suspect was more of a cheeky sexual commentary than a culinary one.

But back to the game. This was the quickest Quickfire ever! (Ha ha! How long have they been waiting to say that?) The kitchen was “ker-azy,” Carla explained, and in the end, Jamie’s clam amuse bouche was more nothing than anything and Dale plated some self-professed doo-doo. Tom must’ve been kicking himself for agreeing to participate in a Quickfire that resulted in such gross-looking food. But thank goodness for his fellow Jersey-man, because Mike made a flavorful pan-seared branzino and took home the prize of immunity and a Prius. A Quickfire win and a green car? Totally fist-bump worthy!

Oh, but the cultural influences extended far beyond the Garden State last night. For the elimination, the cheftestants served a dim sum lunch to hundreds of diners in Chinatown. You know, that place where everybody is Chinese and speaks Chinese, as Marcel so helpfully explained. The cheftestants had to work as one team, which is bound to be as successful as Anthony Bourdain vowing not to swear on TV. Why were they such a disaster? Let me count the ways. First of all, after essentially avoiding the last two elimination challenges, Jamie thought it would be a good idea to make two dishes. When you have problems completing one edible dish, it’s rather ambitious to try to make double that amount, don’t you think? I suppose it was brave (or should I say foolish?) of her to attempt a scallop dish, considering how much she used the sea creature in her season. On the plus side, it gave producers the opportunity to re-run Fabio’s gem of a quote: “This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop!” Ha. That never gets old.

NEXT: Casey tries to put her best (chicken) foot forward.

The second problem, as Gail told us, is that it never pays to be the martyr, which obviously went over the heads of both Carla and Casey, who volunteered to take one for the team and work the floor. Wait, take one for the same team that counts Busy Hands Angelo and Do-Nothing Jamie among its members? No, you don’t take one for that team; you win one for yourself. You’d think an All-Star would know better. But what can you tell someone who wants to be the world’s “baddest ass female butcher”? So there Casey was, cutting chicken nails, while my dinner was spewed on the floor. Lovely. It was undoubtedly a rough day in the kitchen, so what better way to kick back than with a little game of Bra in Your Face. The girls were more than happy to indulge, but since when do lady undergarments repel men?

On service day, Tre’s cold orange dessert wasn’t cooperating with the hot kitchen, and Carla was busy making spring rolls fit for a king. But there were two more personal moments in tonight’s episode that really stood out for me. One: Fabio and his pet turtle. So many questions abound, the biggest being, Say what? And though I usually roll my eyes when the show plays up his thicka-Italiano-accent, it was somewhat endearing to hear him say, “That’s mean,” when he saw turtle soup at the Chinese grocery store. Speaking of mean: Let’s discuss Angelo’s memory of picking grains of rice with his father. What started out as some sort of emotional reverie turned into a weird confession about their strange father-son relationship. “My job was to sort through every single granule of rice and pick out all the bad ones,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, if there was a black one in there, my ass was grass.” It didn’t help that his dad was proud of him only after he went on TV. Angelo has layers like an onion, I tells ya.

Luckily for Angelo, Asian food is his forté (duh), and we learned that he and Dale T. worked together at Buddakan at one point, so they paired up to make cheung fun. And despite a potential Nightmare on Elm Street experience (oh, Fabio and his cute American references), Fabio managed to navigate the grocery store (which was all in Chinese, darn it!) and deal with an oven that wouldn’t go above 300 degrees.

That’s where the good luck ended, as service was a veritable sh–show. (Without Anthony Bourdain there, I feel I have the right to insert my own profanities.) In a word, service was slow. In three words, it was mind-numbingly slow, judging by the hungry diners, who were literally grabbing food from trolleys. Only Antonia and Tiffany seemed to understand the urgency. Angelo sort of grasped it — if hearing “My Heart Will Go On” is an omen (it often is). Dale, on the other hand, stood in the corner and snarled. Service had gotten so slow that Tom had to make a joke that it was “slow sum,” not dim sum (zing!) before going into the kitchen to scold his kids. It didn’t really change anything, except Mike called the situation “embarrassing” and Dale cleaned his shoes.

NEXT: “The goal wasn’t to make bad Chinese-American takeout.”

When all was said and done and presumably all were fed (though we can’t be sure), it was a good thing that the diners weren’t the ones picking a winner. “Caucasian dim sum!” one noted. But there had to be something good right? The judges thought so, and put Angelo, Fabio, Tiffany and Dale in their top four. Dale’s sticky rice had Tom at hello, and with that Dale took home yet another elimination win. Don’t worry — it didn’t change the sourpuss on his face. Oh, Dale, don’t ever change.

On the bottom were Carla, Antonia, Tre, Jamie and Casey. But once the judges found out Antonia had no part in those awful long beans, she was in the clear, which seemed like a good thing because she was getting awfully emotional. Tom had some nice zingers for the others, including, but not limited to, “hospital food” for Tre’s dessert and “not worth the calories” for Carla’s spring rolls. Though I also want to give props to Gail for her note, “the goal wasn’t to make bad Chinese-American takeout,” in reference to Jamie’s scallop dumplings.

Those dumplings did look pretty bad (too much dumpling wrapper, not enough dumpling filling), but not as offensive as Casey’s “inedible” chicken feet. I can appreciate different food, but what Casey did to those poor feet was exactly why many of us throw up a little bit in our mouths when someone asks, “Would you care for some chicken feet?” No one wanted to eat the feet — not the diners clamoring for a morsel of food or even the judges. Whatever they did ingest was bad enough to get Casey the boot, and off she went with a trail of chicken feet following her. I wonder how much she wished she had made mango pudding instead.

Thoughts on last night’s episode? Post below! And be sure to check out this week’s interview with Gail, who revealed that service at the dim sum restaurant was “way worse than they even showed.” Is that even possible?

Episode Recaps

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