The eight remaining chefs cook Jimmy Fallon's favorite things for a high-stakes birthday party

By Mallika Rao
Updated February 10, 2011 at 11:38 AM EST
David Giesbrecht/Bravo

Top Chef

S8 E9
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  • TV Show
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Well, that was a shock! After winning the hearts of women across the country by adding an “-ah” to the end of every word, Fabio the Italian quote factory has left the building. If the judgment had been based on who makes better TV, no doubt Tiffany would have gotten the boot instead. Back in her original season, she flirted happily with Ed. These days she either talks in a screaming voice or looks like she needs a hug. Versus Fabio, who literally said: “Just beef-ah, I was afraid it-ah be dry out-ah.” Come on! No one can accuse the judges of being ratings sluts with that guy out of the game, except maybe when it came to picking the better winner/guest for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. (Adorable birdlike Carla? Or the weirdo who scrawls “Crocadile” on steel tables?) More on that later.

The hour started out casual as always. Our gang of eight sat around a cozy-looking bar, just a couple of stools, some clinky glasses, and an undercurrent of mutual distrust to keep them busy. Fabio asked Antonia to walk him through her mussels. He sounded curious, like it was his first time asking, but she snapped, “No,” like it was his thousandth. According to her Fabio impression, he’s been pulling his lips down and murmuring in a pretentious voice a lot lately. “Antonia beat me with a French dish,” Fabio explained in a confessional clip recycled from last week, when the challenge was to cook a classic Italian meal. The accusation had clearly circulated among the group and found a friend in Mike Isabella, who threw Antonia’s alleged Frenchness in her face. “I am more Italian than you!” went his silent scream. To which she was all, Well, I won, and he was like, By being French!, and she called him a sore loser.If Mike were even a teensy bit charming, this could have been the prelude to a sexual-tension story line. But no. They pretty much seemed to hate each other.

In Padma’s lair, there was new machinery to be explained. She stirred to life and emitted a single word: “fondue.” For the Quickfire Challenge, each chef had to make their own version of the genre. Fabio gave “fondue” an accurate, strange definition: “a pot of boiling something, you cook it in, or you just flavor it with it, and you eat it out of a stick.” Yes. Padma pooh-poohed the ’70s fondue standard of “bananas and chocolate,” and told the chefs to reach higher. Blais took her warning as a suggestion. “The first thing I want to do is what Padma said not to do,” he said.

His judgment clouded by memories of the nude fondue parties his parents “definitely” attended, Blais got to work assembling bananas, chocolate, and the ingredient that means you’re innovative: liquid nitrogen. Antonia’s smoked-salmon fondue was inspired by a mental image of her mom eating deli food at the kitchen table. She marveled at her ideas and where they come from. Dale said the word “pho” in the totally correct way that sounds pretentious if you’re not Asian. “It’s phuuuuuh-ndue,” he said, describing his dish. Then he smiled deliberately, an anger-management smile. Carlabird chirped about how there’s never any time. Mike told us in no uncertain terms that he’s never been to any“gay fondue parties”because (a) he was too young in their prime, and (b) he’s DEFINITELY NOT GAY. DEFINITELY NEVER MADE FONDUE BEFORE. Angelo, literary theorist of the cooking world, launched into jargon. “I really want to show the other chefs that I am someone with diversity. So basically what I’m doing is a deconstruction.”

Next: Jimmy Fallon is giddyThis time around, there wasn’t a guest judge to impress. Instead, the chefs were to judge one another, though Padma would glide along and consume as always. Blais’ pot of freezing stuff presented a problem. “My tongue just got stuck,” Padma said. “But it’s good,” Blais assured her. “Eating should be somewhat dangerous sometimes.”

The judgments were mostly harsh. Blais called Tiffany’s apple fritters “pedestrian.” He said no one would vote for his dish because of how intimidating he is. Dale wasn’t into Angelo’s plate, which was too “complicated” for him. His pho-ndue burned Blais’ mouth. Too boiling. Antonia, surprise, didn’t care for the feta-cheese-and-lamb creation by her should-be love interest, Mike. It was too Mike-ish, obviously. Her salmon elicited the only approving sound from Padma up until then. “Mmm,” went Padma.

Fabio, Tiffany, and Mike scored bottom. When Padma asked Dale why he ranked Mike so low, Dale slipped out of his anger-management laugh into a manic one. No one explained to Tiffany that her dish was pedestrian, and she stayed confused. High rankers: Antonia, Dale, and Angelo. Angelo was modestly surprised, and Blais still insisted he’d intimidated everyone. Then Dale won, just like he always wins after calling upon the spirits of Asian cuisine for help. He got a three-day trip to Napa Valley. The cameras made a special point of featuring Antonia, who we’d earlier learned was sad over not winning a trip yet.

On to the real stuff! The chefs were driven, probably in Toyotas, to Rockefeller Center, where they somehow landed on the stage of Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show. If only every time anyone wandered around, they ended up on the stage of a late-night show. Oh, hi! Just wandering around! Thanks for the applause! But no, these guys were there because they’re TV stars too. Indeed, Fallon was about as giddy to see some of them as they were to see him. He made his favorites clear. “I’m a fan of both of you guys,” he said to Carla and Dale, before turning to add, “and all of you guys.” Afterthought alert! Jimmy explained the rules: They had to click a cell-phone camera at a screen shifting with what would end up being the main dishes at his birthday lunch. Whichever dish the chef snapped was the one he or she would have to prepare.

Next: Fabio learns about hamboorgersCarla jumped and screamed adorably when she got the dish she’d said she wanted: chicken pot pie. She did this little dance with her head bopping from side to side and her fingers in snap position. She looked like a Fraggle at a discotheque. Twice, Jimmy Fallon called her “unbelievable.” “I’ve been talking about chicken pot pie for a week!” she wailed after regaining her breath. Antonia got the dish no one wanted, beef tongue, but she put on her game face. Fabio picked hamburger, which he kept calling “boorger,” and fries. “If I have to explain to you what a hamburger is, maybe you shouldn’t be on Top Chef,” the cheesy announcer pronounced…ominously.

More nonsexual tension between Antonia and Mike rolled out during the break. She pretended to withhold lobster-and-shrimp ravioli from him (Buitoni brand!), and he pretended to thank her. In a boys’ room scene, Dale called Angelo a “pretty man with a well-manicured five o’clock shadow.” “I still think I’m a better chef, even though he’s a stunning man,” Dale said before letting out a proper anger-management laugh.

The chefs filed into the kitchen at Colicchio & Sons for some lunch-making. Fabio wanted to treat his hamburger like a meatball, and he’d gathered ground short ribs and brisket for the task. The stunning Angelo planned to focus on his strength: flavor. He readied coffee, allspice, and chipotle for his pulled-pork sauce. “I know it sounds really gross, but it’s good,” he said. Not sure if it’s because Mizrahi beat him down so soundly last week, but Angelo’s sense of modesty was striking this round. Actually, none of the chefs were particularly cocky or, for that matter, advantaged.

Despite being a “stoner kid,” Dale had never made a real Philly cheesesteak, and he was nervous his attempt might not go off. Tiffany had a feeling her Southwestern-style chicken and dumplings might be too “nontraditional” to swing, and Fabio continued to call his meatball a “boorger.” The beef tongue was a mystery to Antonia, but Blais told her to pressure-cook it. This led to Mike clucking at Blais’ naïveté. The editors paired Mike’s assertion that competitors are not to be helped with footage of him feeding Angelo a taste of his sausage and peppers for a second opinion. According to Angelo, it did need more salt.

Next: Fallon’s fun fondue fiestaIn the dining room, the family Fallon was gathering. Jimmy and his cute wife, producer Nancy Juvonen, said they pause Top Chef while they’re watching it, to voice what they’d have cooked. I’ll bet they never say “scallops and foam.” More cute stories followed. Jimmy had got his head stuck between bars and had to be mayonnaised out, meaning he now hates mayo forever. Why doesn’t he hate bars instead? Also: Mama Fallon gave him a recipe to share for publication in Food & Wine magazine that she’d actually taken from an old issue of Food & Wine. Oops! Jimmy Fallon is a huge plagiarist!

The Fallons seemed like a fun bunch. They certainly had a pretty relaxed time enjoying the food. The only clear strikeouts were Fabio’s meatloafy boorger and congealed cheese sauce, Dale’s oversalted Philly cheesesteak (overcompensating for last week’s “bland” dis), and Tiffany’s tortilla soup posing as chicken and dumplings. Padma handed off some awkward transition statements to Jimmy, like “I guess that means that you probably liked Antonia’s beef tongue, since it didn’t have any mayonnaise in it.” I don’t know. Is that why Jimmy liked it? I bet he likes dishes for reasons other than an absence of mayonnaise.

When Richard brought his classic take on ramen out, all pork bellies and duck eggs, Jimmy was disappointed. As a “Richard fan,” he said he’d expected smoke and lasers, à la the fondue that grabbed Padma’s tongue. “I have all his baseball cards,” he said, and “it wasn’t a home run.” Jimmy’s announcer man, Steve Higgins, proved to be a big ol’ ham, making lots of winky jokes about maybe being gay, specifically when it came to Mike’s sausage. But Mike never even went to gay fondue parties!

Back in the kitchen, Carla looked like the crazy-colored bird in Up. Her hair was flying, she was all tall and nutty. Dale didn’t want her anywhere near his food. But man, did the diners like her dish. Some sort of long fork appliance came out, and Higgins tried to steal Carla’s chicken pot pie from Jimmy’s plate. I guess he’d arrived with that fork ready to make that joke? Tom was so busy eating, he refused to speak. Jimmy’s head writer and I were both amazed by the concept of “pea salt.” Yeah, Carla. Just yeah.

Next: The beef tongue songI think this was the first Top Chef where two people used the word “luscious” in the same segment. First Padma called Gail Simmons “lovely and luscious,” and then Angelo introduced his pulled-pork sauce as a “luscious liquid.” Everyone agreed with Angelo. Colicchio squinted his eyes in admiration. The dill was unexpected. Unlike Higgins’ gay Angelo joke. Pull my pork! Badam cha!

Birthday candles blown out, Jimmy joined the judges in the place where judgments are made. The chefs convened in that sadder place where judgments are awaited. We learned that back in the kitchen, Dale reminded Carla about some extra crust she would have otherwise forgotten. A tall creature in a red dress entered. A Padma. She said the names Carla, Antonia, and Angelo. When they found out they were the lucky ones, the winners, Angelo clapped with the heels of his hands. The judges started saying happy things. Angelo’s “luscious liquid” was ingenious, Antonia’s tongue was perfectly braised, and Carla’s pot pie hit the spot. Every time Carla spoke, Jimmy looked like he’d met his soul mate. His eyes shone, his mouth was agape. When they announced the winner of the whole package — which included a cooking spot on Jimmy’s show — was it any wonder it was Carla?

Before moving to the losers’ circle…the beef-tongue song! In case you didn’t catch it, Angelo initiated a steady droning beat of “beef tongue,” then Carla started whooping “beef tongue” like a warrior, and Antonia joined in creepily: “Gotta make the beef tongue.” They said they’d come up with it the night before, but was anyone else involved? Had the three of them known they’d be the winners? It sounded so perfect the way they did it, like it wasn’t missing any parts. Luck, I guess. Cosmic, predetermined luck.

Back in the holding chamber, Blais got all defensive and started using his security word, “intimidate.” “It’s really fun to see my colleagues get worked up about Carla winning her third elimination challenge and her third trip, but I’m not intimidated,” he said. Tiffany, Dale, and Fabio were summoned in for criticism. After getting pummeled for their flat dumplings, salt content, and weirdo meatloaf boorger, respectively, they were dismissed by Padma into the “stew room,” to stew. Jimmy sighed a lot about having to make a decision, but it was pretty clear Fabio’s dish had failed on all counts. His boorger wasn’t a burger — he’d even made up a new name for it — and his cheese sauce actually sounded disgusting. Colicchio called the three in. Fabio’s reign was pronounced over. He threw some fighting words on the way out: “Jimmy, I will cook a boorger for you one day in the future and you will go on your knee and beg for forgiveness because you sent me home today.”

What say you watchers? Will Jimmy be on his knees anytime soon? If he is, will Higgins make a gay joke about it? And what with Dale helping Carla on her crust, Blais cooking Antonia’s beef tongue, and Angelo working exclusively (and thoughtfully) on his own plate, was this the friendliest competition yet?

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Top Chef

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