Top Chef: Caucasian Dim Sum


This week’s Quickfire Challenge was essentially conceived as a chance for Tom to show off his kitchen prowess and Padma to show us the very bad things that can happen when horizontal stripes meet puffed sleeves.

For the Quickfire, Tom cooked a dish of black sea bass with clams, tomato, and zucchini in eight minutes and 37 seconds, which meant the contestants had to cook their own dishes in the same amount of time or less. The winner would get immunity and a Toyota Prius, which gave Padma an excuse to say “Toyota Prius” no less than 15 times in the next four minutes.

Marcel got points for craftiness after grabbing Tom’s unused sea bass instead of joining the bum rush to the pantry, while Angelo ignored the judges’ instructions not to make something raw and Jamie took the opportunity to confess that she’s also pretty fast, har har. Sadly, the one measly clam she managed to make before time was called failed to convince the judges of her kitchen velocity. Angelo was also chided for making “Asian crudo,” and Dale won only scornful pity for the literally two pad Thai noodles he managed to slop in a bowl before admitting they were “doo-doo.”

On the Toyota Prius end of things, the judges liked crafty Marcel’s black sea bass with dashi broth, Richard’s foie gras with corn, and Mike’s pan-roasted branzino. The branzino won the challenge, and the car, which we then got numerous gratuitous close-up shots of as Mike declared himself both “stoked and pumped.”

For the Elimination Challenge, Padma announced, the chefs would have to go to Chinatown to serve dim sum to the locals at Grand Harmony, a Mott Street establishment that even the Yelpers don’t seem to very much care for. But Marcel got excited anyway, because “going to Chinatown is like going to China” — you get “cheap massages!”

Everything about the idea of reality TV contestants attempting high-volume dim sum service whispered “shitshow.” As the challenge drew closer and we watched Jamie plot a scallop dumpling, Casey buy a bag of chicken feet, and Jamie and Antonia attempt to season long beans, those whispers became strangled screams.

By far the best thing about the challenge was the sight of a dining room full of disgusted-looking Chinese folks who clearly weren’t going to tolerate the kind of service mishaps that always seem to be swallowed down whenever there’s an episode where the chefs serve, say, Dana Cowin and 75 of her closest friends. Disgusted with the lack of food coming out of the kitchen, the guests began grabbing whatever they could off of the dim sum carts. “I fought for these myself,” one woman told us grimly through subtitles. “Caucasian dim sum,” said one of her dining companions, summing everything up beautifully.

The judges (who were joined by Susur Lee), of course, didn’t have to fight for food — hilariously, you could see people at the neighboring tables standing up to get a glimpse of the bounty being served. Tom, Padma, Gail, and Susur had nice things to say about Angelo’s shrimp and pork spring rolls (served as Angelo guilelessly recounted a childhood of sorting rice for his disapproving father), Tiffany D.’s steamed pork buns, and Fabio’s soy honey-glazed spicy pork rib. Carla’s Vietnamese summer roll, on the other hand, was bland, as were Marcel’s boneless chicken wings.

As the chefs continued to move not very quickly and Casey, who worked the front of the house, made the fateful decision to have Antonia tend to her chicken feet, Tom finally went downstairs and yelled at everybody. He then returned to the dining room to pronounce Antonia and Casey’s long beans and sausage greasy and overcooked, though everyone liked Antonia’s other dish of shrimp toast. Jamie’s scallop dumplings were a disaster, and Tre’s orange ginger dessert wasn’t cold enough. Nothing, though, was as bad as Casey’s carbonized chicken feet, which all of the diners sensibly abandoned on their plates.

Dale’s sweet sticky rice with Chinese bacon in a banana leaf, on the other hand, earned high praise, as did the cheung fun he made with Angelo. And finally, the whole miserable exercise ended, with Mike providing a perfect post-game recap: “Everyone sucked and everything sucked.”

For their part, the judges decided that Carla, Jamie, Antonia, Casey, and Tre sucked most of all, and called them in to account for their failings. Carla cooked with her eyes instead of her stomach, Jamie’s dumpling wrappers were flabby, Casey’s chicken feet were inedible, Tre’s dessert was runny, and as for Jamie and Antonia’s long beans, “the goal,” Gail said, “was not to make bad Chinese food.”

Before the evening’s loser was dispatched, the judges called Dale, Angelo, Tiffany D., and Fabio to the table to praise them, and named Dale the evening’s winner.

And then they called back everyone else, and shockingly allowed Jamie to stay. Instead, Casey took the fall for her chicken feet, even though, as she told the camera, she and everybody else, including Jamie, “expected to hear Jamie’s name.” But that’s OK — next week’s episode involves Montauk and deep-sea fishing, so there’s a chance that Jamie will be eaten by a giant squid, or, better yet, finally be sent home for her myriad crimes against seafood and the viewing public.

Archive Highlights