Food

Top Chef: ‘If Y’all Can Eat It, Y’all Can Fry It’

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Oh, how we love Paula Deen. We may fear her food, her absolute media domination, and her line of wicker chairs, but we have nothing but respect for a woman who calls Richard Blaise “Mr. Hairdo” and makes sucking on shrimp “haids” sound like something with an NC-17 rating.

After mourning Angelo for the requisite 30 seconds, the chefs show up for the Quickfire Challenge and are greeted by the woman Padma introduces as “the queen of Southern cooking.” Tiffany is “com-PLETELY surprised,” and Carla is, well, Carla:

But Antonia knows this can mean only one thing: “This is going to be ‘fry me something, roll it in butter, and dip it in mayonnaise.'” And right she is. Because behind the chefs are deep-fryers, and in front of them is Paula, yelling, “If y’all can eat it, y’all can fry it!” And because this is Top Chef, they’ll be frying for $5,000. That’s motivation enough for Dale, who, despite the 30 grand he’s already won, wants more, because “I’m a greedy American.” Mike, meanwhile, tries unconvincingly to make us believe that his ingenious idea to make deep-fried chicken oysters is original, but of course he just happened to see it earlier in the day in Richard’s notebook. Richard is not pleased, but takes solace in, yes, his liquid nitrogen canister, which he uses to freeze mayonnaise before throwing it in the deep-fryer.

Right as “time” is called, poor Antonia realizes she didn’t prepare two judging portions of her fried avocado shrimp with grilled corn. And that is a crying shame, because it turns out to be Paula’s favorite dish. “I could come over there and put you over my knee and whip your cute little ass,” she admonishes Antonia, who weeps for both her mistake and the idea of being spanked by Paula Deen.

Carla and Dale also don’t fare well: Paula likens Carla’s badly fried catfish to “spitballs,” and doesn’t dig Dale’s steak-wrapped oysters. She doesn’t say anything about Tiffany’s fried chicken and pickles, despite Tiffany’s disclaimer that “I’M FROM BEAUMONT, TEXAS!”

With Antonia eliminated by default, Paula chooses now-mortal-enemies Mike and Richard as her favorites. Despite her fascination with Richard’s hair (“My hair looks identically to yours when I wake up in the morning!”), she gives the victory to Mr. Plagiarism. “This sucks,” Richard rightly observes.

What doesn’t suck: John Besh, who then appears to announce the Elimination Challenge. The chefs will cook for a fundraising dinner for 300 people to benefit the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which, among other things, helps fishermen affected by the Gulf oil spill. The chefs will be cooking Gulf seafood.

Mike, who knows a thing or two about taking things, is excited because “it’s about giving back and helping out.” But no one is excited when they learn that they’ll each be paired with some of their recently eliminated colleagues. As Fabio, Marcel, Tre, Angelo, Spike, and Tiffani F. walk in with trays of seafood, Richard looks pained. “I’m more concerned with who might not be mentally fit right now,” he says, as the camera lingers on Marcel. “I’ve worked these last six challenges to get these guys out of here, and suddenly they show up,” Dale later grouses. “They’re like bedbugs.”

Mike ends up with Tiffani F. and her brown shrimp, Richard gets Fabio and a pile of Gulf snapper, Carla picks Tre and red grouper, Dale takes Angelo and a huge amberjack, Antonia chooses “Spike and his crabs,” and Tiffany reluctantly picks white shrimp. Oh, and Marcel.

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Everyone runs off to Restaurant Depot, which looks like Ikea. Fabio informs Richard that he reminds him of his ex-wife. Carla, perhaps in honor of the challenge, wears a fishing net:

Later, at the penthouse, the ladies gossip about how Mike broke “chef law” with his plagiarized chicken oysters while Richard sulks and Mike drinks beer.

The next day, everyone goes to the Puck Building to prep. Dale is wigged out by all of the people in the kitchen, while Tiffany more or less ignores Marcel. Carla frets over Tre’s utter lack of knowledge about Southern food — “Seriously? Can we check your NAACP card?” — and instructs him in collard greens preparation.

Finally, it’s time for service, and the chefs scramble to serve a bunch of people in evening wear. The judges appear and demand to be fed. They first eat Mike’s grits-crusted Gulf shrimp, sour cream, and chive potatoes with pork and lobster sauce. It’s a big hit, as is Richard’s crispy Gulf snapper with pulled pork and citrus grits. The judges aren’t as fond of Carla’s fried grouper with collard greens and chow chow pico, and also don’t care for Tiffany’s honey-glazed shrimp grits with jalapeno and cheese shellfish sauce, which is undermined by Tiffany’s decision to let Marcel make the sickly sweet glaze.

Dale’s amberjack stew with andouille sausage and potatoes with creole mustard crouton is likewise undermined by undercooked potatoes and too much mustard. But Antonia scores with her blue corn crab cakes with corn, jalapeño and andouille relish and crab broth.

And then it’s back to the stew room, where Padma appears to summon Richard, Antonia, and Mike. Even though the judges always call up the winners first, Richard looks like he’s about to pass a torpedo:

But soon he starts smiling, because the judges appreciated the risk he took by serving pulled pork with red snapper. They pronounce him the winner of both the challenge and a trip to Barbados.

At the fuzzy end of the lollipop stick are Carla, Tiffany, and Dale. Carla’s dish “didn’t make any sense” to Paula, who was also disappointed by Tiffany’s shrimp. “I love haids on shrimp because I know I’m gonna be suckin’ on that haid,” she says, as the judges avert their eyes and the FCC heaves a collective sigh. And Dale, of course, was hijacked by those damn potatoes and flavors that made the dish, in Tom’s words, “taste like a hot dog.”

In the end, there is no excusing amberjack that tastes like a hot dog, and Dale gets sent home. He’s very emotional about it, but consoles himself that he’s “leav[ing] a better person” and “a better chef.” And we console ourselves with clips from next week’s show, which involves a boat, family members, and an alarming home visit from Padma.

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