Padma Lakshmi blogs 'Top Chef All Stars': Episode 3

Padma-LakshmiGail was off for last night’s Top Chef but will be back next week. For Gail-less weeks of the Bravo series, turn to EW.com to find out which judge will be blogging. This week, host/judge Padma Lakshmi shares her thoughts on last night’s challenges. (As told to Archana Ram.)

Last night we had an incredibly hard Quickfire. I really felt for the cheftestants because what they had to do was very difficult in the time they had. Frenching all those lamb chops is really difficult and it has to be done really perfectly. Turning the artichokes — those are things you have to do with precision and anytime there’s speed involved, the precision suffers. It was really striking a balance between the precision and the clock, which is always an issue on our show. The clock is their worst enemy. They knew the faster they got done, the more the time they’d have to cook and that’s what they’d be judged on, but if they took too long, they were never going to get to cook, and so on.

There were times when David Chang would get close to the chefs to check out their work, and I purposefully hung back because I didn’t want to be in their way. Normally, when we go around for the Quickfire, I’m right there like the guest judge, but I just wanted to give them space because they were so frenzied, and they had knives in their hands.

With the two lamb Carpaccio, it was a question of knife skills. The white team’s was sliced better. Raw lamb is a really ballsy thing to serve and on the other hand, there’s no cooking involved so you gain time there. So if you’re going to serve a lamb Carpaccio, it better be the most delicious out-of-this-world Carpaccio. Also, the white team didn’t have cheese on theirs and the red team did. Pairing cheese with raw meat doesn’t do you any favors.

The reason the blue team won was because, first and foremost, the lamb chop was cooked really well. Lamb can take a lot of flavor. That’s why you always crust it with black pepper or cumin or mint sauce. It was a matter of execution and coming together on the flavors.

The Elimination challenge was great, and I was really proud and impressed by our producers. It was a wonderful chef-y challenge, not to mention it was very difficult to film going to these four restaurants, moving the crew from one location to the next all in a day’s work. It was really New York and really culinary-based. There were no bells and whistles. It was just amazing food, amazing captains of industry and the amazing café society and restaurant life of New York.

But I was really disappointed to see Dale L. go. I think he’s the sweetest guy. I love having him in the kitchen. I think his food has been really delicious and in his season, he went really far. It had been a pleasure to watch him because you could see him getting better and better each week, very similar to Carla in her season. So I was very sad to see him go, but I think he could’ve done way better. I think he was very excited to have the opportunity to do a David Burke-like dish because he felt his own food was so whimsical. And it was, but I think he went too far. He forgot about the restraint. He forgot about one central thought. Get rid of the popcorn. Get rid of the peanuts. That was just like junk on top of stuff. He had this cool butter and he was like, “I don’t know what to do with the butter. I’ll make popcorn!” But the popcorn and peanuts had no place. And it was just too sweet. I’ve had North African pies with honey roasted nuts, powered sugar and dried fruit on top, and they haven’t been as sweet as Dale L.’s veal loin with French toast.

Dale L. loves sweet and savory. You can still do that with veal. Veal doesn’t have that much flavor so you can give it any personality you want. Why not do a maple-glazed veal sausage paired with an egg soufflé? You can still do a breakfast dish. You can still make it sweet, but you have to edit. It has to have one story. The dish that inspired them, the lobster arrabiata, which means an angry lobster, is also very witty because a lobster is red and it snaps, so you get that double meaning. But it’s basically a lobster in spicy tomato sauce. The presentation is part of it, but it’s very focused. It’s not an angry lobster with, say, steak on the bottom.

Stephen’s salmon fondito was the most revolting thing. It tasted like soap. You didn’t hear what the rest of us said because we obviously never have time for all of the comments. I thought it was god-awful. The presentation was quite beautiful and I will give him credit for that because that’s important, too, especially when you’re at one of the best restaurants in New York City. But it was so perfume-y and had a bitter after-taste. It tasted like potpourri, almost with an herbal shampoo quality. You know when you open your mouth in the shower and you get just a little water with shampoo? It was like that. Plus there was nothing Mediterranean about it. I loved Tom’s comment, “I have a really thorough knowledge of Led Zepplin, but it doesn’t make me Jimmy Page.” It was really pointed but really on the nose.

I didn’t think either Dale L. or Stephen in hindsight, tasting their food on that day, would say it was a successful dish. Nine out of 10 chefs, food writers or average people on the street would’ve said these two dishes are inedible.

Fabio was saved because Stephen and Dale L.’s dishes during that meal were worse than his. Simple as that. Fabio really knows Italian food very well and he does one kind of food. He has ideas about what he likes and doesn’t like, and I don’t think he’s gastronomically curious. I don’t think he’s interested in exposing himself to Asian flavors. I’m not French, but I can make you a cassoulet. It’s probably not as good as Jacques Pepin’s or Daniel Boulud’s, but I can make one because I’m interested in food. I feel like Fabio thinks, “This is the food I do and this is the food I want to do.” For me, I hate organ meat and I hate liver, but if I taste a good version of it, I can appreciate it. Anything can be good if it’s done well. Fabio just never delved into that cuisine.

I always tell young chefs that sometimes it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver and both Casey and Antonia did a great job, but Antonia’s technique and finished product was a little better. Plus, the idea of serving peas and carrots as your main dish is also a bit whimsical. I do think Antonia’s dish was a bit salty, but she didn’t go overboard.

We all really loved Dale T.’s dish. We thought it was smart and very soulful at the same time. He knew that Wylie loves egg, but he’s Dale. He says it right it in the episode that he’s not going to try and do Wylie Dufresne. He’s going to be inspired by him. That’s what great chefs do. They take an idea or a flavor or technique that they’ve been exposed to, and make it their own.

So he stayed true to his Asian roots and made a dumpling with an egg that was still soft in the yolk and a milky broth, which hearkened to breakfast. That kind of storytelling on a plate sings to Wylie’s heart as a chef. Wylie, while he’s very technically skilled, has a great sense of humor. He’s a poet with food, and people forget that because he’s scientifically advanced in his food. But that’s never at the price of telling that story.

What did you guys think of the episode? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Read more:
Annie Barrett recaps ‘Top Chef All-Stars’: episode 3
Gail Simmons blogs ‘Top Chef All-Stars’: episode 2

Comments (35 total) Add your comment
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  • Hoboken Chef

    I have to agree with the Asian Dale’s win this week. Though not a fan of his, I thought his dish looked delicious and sounded fun. Casey’s coconut “Scallibut” looked great too. I wish we could have taste tv.

    No loss with Stephen. I will have to take your word on the flavors there and Gay Dale’s dish was just ????.

    My two favorites Richard Blais and Angelo Sosa had good showings this week as well. Definitely curious about Angelo’s fish with white chocolate!!

    • yummycupcake

      I like angry dale.

  • old john

    I once had Chilean Sea Bass with a white chocolate sauce at a restaurant named Savannah’s in Sedona, Arizona. Unfortunately the restaurant is now closed, because it was the finest meal I have ever eaten.

    • Karate Pants

      Chilean Sea Bass? Geez. Why don’t you just admit to once enjoying a meal of grilled panda?

      • amandam38

        Mmmmm….grilled panda with hollandaise sauce is soooo delicious. I haven’t been able to find it in the states. Any recommendations?

      • Karate Pants

        Grilled panda with hollandaise sounds awfully rich…such a heavy sauce with a fatty meat like that. You must have a very high metabolism.
        Costco carries organic panda, but if you aren’t a member or don’t have a Costco in your area and you’re looking for a similar experience, I would recommend Newfoundland.

      • Stephen

        Or St. Bernard.

  • KarlHall

    Tasted like soap?!?! How are these people even wannabe Top Chefs?

  • Fridge

    So apparently Stephen hasn’t been cooking a lot lately? Why agree to come back on the show when you know you’re not at the top of your game. Also, does anyone else thinks he hunches over a bit? He reminds me of a lurky butler or something, snootily trying to pick out my wine or tell me what to wear or just creeping around the house lol. I don’t know, there was just something about him that really annoyed me so I’m not too sad to see him go.

    • UNO

      Freakiest thing about Stephen? He’s only about 30! Looks like 45.

    • Paula

      Watch Stephen’s exit interview on the website for the show. He’s actually an interesting guy with a good sense of humor. He knows food and runs a first class restaurant; he just doesn’t cook much anymore.

    • Christine

      I’m not a big fan of his either, but I appreciated how he handled his elimination – namely with class, grace, and a bit of humor.

    • Nicole

      Every time he was on camera, the only thought in my head was “that dude really missed his calling as the world’s best undertaker”. I mean, is he not like every funeral director you’ve ever met times ten? Plus he could wear his suits with the weird collars all he wants, and no cooking.

  • TGS

    I’m really sad that Nice Dale’s meal was such a flop, because I think he’s a fantastic chef, such a pleasure to watch on TV, and I really wanted to see him go far. Each week it’s going to be tougher to see my favorite chefs get eliminated! Last week’s elimination was obviously a huge shocker, and this week losing Dale was just like pouring salt on a wound… I am in love with this season though. I think they have a great group and it’s going to be amazing to see who makes it to the final.

  • Karate Pants

    It looked like the garlic is what hung some of the teams up in the Quickfire, more so than frenching the lamb or cleaning the artichokes.
    Glad for Dale T.’s success…broth tasting like buttered toast?!? Wow. And kudos for wooing Wylie with egg. Brilliant. Of course, I probably would have gone the other way, trying to use Wylie’s techniques – and failing, just as Tiffani did. Although I DO love frozen melon. ;)

  • darclyte

    It sucks that Dale is gone, he’s fun and I always like seeing his food. I don’t think he’d have won, but he’s gone way too soon. Also, is it just me or does Padma use the word “really” way too many times in her blog above? If someone did a word count, I wonder how many times it popped up. It was like a book report from an average 6th grader. I love Padma, but a wordsmith she is not.

    • Jim

      She used “really” 16 times

    • Elly

      It says “as told to” the EW writer – I think we all overuse words when speaking as opposed to when writing.

    • ZRob

      Padma is not a very good writer – she doesn’t seem to be very articulate or comfortable. She’s a great TV personality though. I will really miss sweet Happy Dale. He’s someone you’d really want to hang out with. Sad to see him go.

  • Karate Pants

    Oh, I also want to thank Padma for raiding Trudy Campbell’s closet and wearing her peignoir to dinner. A nod to Mad Men is always appreciated, and you looked super hot.

    • lauren

      Who was that dress made by? I loved it.

    • Christine

      I enjoyed this episode of Top Chef. I wish I can taste the contestants food myself! Since I’m in NYC you’d think I’d be able to run into them… apparently not… On another note,it was so upsetting when Dale left because he was hilarious. I really liked Fabio during his season, but he seems to be off his game, I hope he gets better as the season goes on.

      I know this has nothing to do with Top Chef, but the pink off the shoulder dress Padma wore was gorgeous. Does anyone know where I can get it? I read below that it’s from Isabel Marant, but I haven’t been able to find one online. If someone can tell me where to find it, I’d really appreciate it.

  • mark in nyc

    I always think it must be a hard thing to be a judge on these shows. Not the judging part but conveying to any audience why something did not taste right. There are only so many ways to say it sucked (although if you read the ew boards you will discover a fwe new ways).
    I always enjoyed Dale on the show but during his season thought he always was not the worst and got by that way. Out of all the contestants this season, nothing he has cooked has ever made me want to go to a restaurant of his.
    I was very impressed with this episode’s production of getting so many people to so many places in NYC in one day! I was sort of hoping that the judges would hop ito the cash cab though and make it areal NY moment.

  • Chris

    I agree this was an impressive production. With the chefs all cooking on a clock at different locations, it had to be difficult syncing-up the judges’ arrival with the timer going off in the kitchens. And they had to do it at four locations in a row. Could you imagine if the chefs at the last stop were done, only to fine the judges stuck in traffic? So much could have gone wrong, but it turned out to be a terrific episode.

  • Tim Smithson

    What was with Chang suggesting that it’s a bad thing that Tiffany’s food was something you could find at Daniel? And tom agreeing that you could find it in mnay restaurants? The suggestiong that food worthy of Daniel is beneath Chang and Tom is laughable.

    • Mark

      Tim, the challenge was to make a dish inspired by the restaurant they were cooking in. Making something served in other restaurants is not a successful way to approach the challenge.

    • Myk

      He was suggesting that the food was supposed to be inspired by the restaurant that it was made. So, it didn’t fit the style of his restaurant.

  • CaliJ

    The quickfire on this episode was definitely right up there as one of the best ever.Truly represented what Top Chef is all about.
    BTW…Padma hailing cabs is just Lovely :)

  • Laura

    How can you compare Dale and Carla?! Dale is so much better!! Well atleast it always seemed that way, he had a steady progression to the top in his season while Carla was seemed pretty awful and then got it togethor.

  • Jody

    Ah Dale, I miss you so. I love your humor and playfulness. Who else will make comments like “a 10 year old rave” or “jazz hands” reference? Surely not the utterly devoid of humor and personality Jamie. Why is she back? It was a kinder and gentler Top Chef when blessed with Dale. I do hope he is back before Top Chef Seniors (again, a witty Dale comment). Sniffle.

  • SAM

    Why was this not written? It makes for an article that reads poorly. The first five sentences are pointless and the first five paragraphs are flat. It isn’t until she starts to spill on Dale that there’s any spirit in the text. On the up side, I like the fact she calls out Fabio for his lack of curiosity.

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