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Top Chef: All-Stars – Ep 8 – Was It How You Felt After the Risotto?


Of course, the title is a reference to a classic Seinfeld episode, and to refresh everyone’s memory, no, you felt full after the risotto.

Now of course, you may feel really full after Tre’s risotto. Because it seems as if Tre has been making the delicious rice dish incorrectly all these years. Even when he won a challenge making a risotto during Season 3, it seems he was doing it incorrectly. So badly, that Bourdain thinks he has never even eaten good risotto. I join Tre in being a tad confused on how he could be so wrong now, but so good a few years ago making the same dish.

It is possible that it just stood out more this time because they were eating in a hard-core, authentic Italian-American restaurant. Maybe the other dishes back in Season 3 were cooked by chimps. Perhaps tastes in risotto have changed so drastically that thick, starchy and covered in garnish has gone the way of the laser disc. Or maybe, as Bourdain said in his blog, this is just the way most of the country treats risotto . And might I add, please don’t piss off Monk, dumb restaurant diners. If you haven’t seen “Big Night” yet – great movie. Just make sure you have some lasagna handy. Or risotto.

Regardless, it was, for me, one of the weaker episodes of the season. Primarily because of the overall awful performance of the chefs in the Italian challenge, and partially because of the truly horrible Quickfire. Yes, I HATED that Quickfire. I agree with Dale that I don’t care what some fashion designer has to say on a cooking show. More so – I don’t like cooking challenges where the taste of the food doesn’t matter one bit. Just so very, very dumb.

But let’s talk about the good stuff first. How awesome is Rao’s? I can tell you right now that by Bucket List just got a new entry. Eat at Rao’s, at least before Chinatown completely overpowers Little Italy. (Note – I am told that Rao’s is actually in Harlem, but since that kills my joke, let’s pretend) That restaurant was worth it just to see the bartender’s sparkly vest up close. Even better – FBI Agent Frank Cubitosi owns it! (be careful – NSFW) If only the All-Stars were able to deliver the goods. Unfortunately it was not to be the case.

The way you can tell it was a bad performance by the chefs is that a very basic appetizer won the challenge. Instead of a showier dish from the meat course or the pasta course, it was a simple mussels dish which won over the judges. Guaranteed that if any of the other six chefs had really brought the goods, they would have beaten Antonia. Tom’s blog states that hers was the unanimous choice from the entire table of judges and guests to be the winner. She did it well – and understood the essence of the challenge. Simplicity.

And as Tom also stated, Fabio’s complaint that hers was more of French dish than an Italian dish was misplaced. The challenge was not to cook authentic Italian food. It was to be inspired by the restaurant – which is “homey Italian-American food.” And as he lays out, Italian immigrants to America had to improvise on ingredients and style because the available food was obviously different, so the two styles have diverged over time. Just ask Paulie Walnuts about that. (Again – very NSFW, it is the Sopranos after all!) If you haven’t read Tom’s blog on Bravo’s website – you need to. Amazing insight.

So, good for Antonia, and I must say, boo to the other chefs for not even trying to hide their distaste over her win. Yes, she made a simple dish. That’s what she was required to make! Perhaps if they didn’t “eff up the pasta dish” as Bourdain said, or produce somewhat mediocre proteins, they could say something.


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